Drifting and striding with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


After the best part of two days on the train to Chicago I decided to walk the mile or so from the station to the hotel – I was carrying very little luggage, as is my way.

I was trying to get to Congress Avenue. The map made it look easy to find, which was just as well because I didn’t want to have to say to somebody, “Excuse me, I’m looking for Congress.”  

As I walked I saw plenty of “street people” on the streets.  In LA we’re used to seeing tents and improvised shelters on the sidewalks, and I couldn’t tell you if these guys hanging out were homeless or not.  Some were certainly what we used to call panhandlers, but some of these guys seemed more interested in talking to each other that approaching passersby.  But as I passed a small group of men at a corner one of then said very loudly, “Motherfucker!” I couldn’t tell whether he was addressing me or the universe in general.  I chose to believe the latter, but I speeded up in any case.

That was not my best walking moment in Chicago, but this was, at the Art  Chicago Institute there was this, an installation by James Webb titled Prayer:

It involves a long broad stretch of carpet with loudspeakers embedded in it, and you experienced the work by taking your shoes off and walking among the speakers each of which is broadcasting a prayer from a different faiths. As you walk you can stop and concentrate on one message or listen simultaneously to two or to many of them in a cacophony.

Apparently some people kneel or even lie on the carpet, but I didn't see any of that, and for quite a bit of the time I was the only one in the time I was there I was the only there, at least until these gals arrived.

Friday, September 21, 2018


I went by train from LA to Chicago: it took 45 hours or so on the Southwest Chief.  I knew I’d do plenty of walking when I got to Chicago but on the train the walking opportunities (obviously) are strictly limited.  

You can walk to the toilet, to the observation car, to the cafe or the dining car but this isn’t real walking, (again obviously).  The train conductor also made many doom-laden announcements about the dangers of walking around the train without shoes.
      And very occasionally you can look out the window and see somebody walking alongside the tracks or along the station platform, but that doesn’t seem very real either. 

However there's lots of opportunity for reading, and I had a copy of the New York Review of Books with me, and in 45 hours you can read every single word of it, including the slightly sniffy review by Ian Jack of Iain Sinclair’s The Last London.  I have only ever seen Ian Jack from a distance and frankly he didn’t look like much of a walker, which may explain something:

In the review he writes, 
“As a playful way of exploring and interpreting urban environments, psychogeography has a history in both England and France that goes back to the 1950s and the Situationism of Guy Debord, but it was Sinclair who resurrected it as a popular, or at least a fashionable, idea. Like ley lines (discovered or invented in 1921), psychogeography wasn’t designed to survive rational scrutiny …”

I think that’s pretty good, especially in a review that is essentially positive, and especially since it echoes my own prejudices about psychogeography and ley lines.

Saturday, September 8, 2018


My dad was in many ways an odd man (that's not him in the picture above).  We did a lot of walking together, and we talked, though I think he did most of the talking.  And one of his oddnesses was that he was absolutely sure he knew things even when he didn’t. 

When I started reading “grown up” books he encouraged me read HG Wells’ The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, though I don’t  know if he’d read them himself.  And he also told me about The History of Mr Polly which he said was a book about a man who grew poisonous mushrooms in his cellar and killed his wife with them.  This sounds like a perfectly reasonable premise for a book but it’s not what happens in The History of Mr. Polly, which I only read very recently.

It's possible that he meant a short story by Wells, titled “The Purple Pileus,” about a hapless and unhappily-married  shopkeeper named Coombes.

Mr. Coombes was sick of life. He walked away from his unhappy home, and, sick not only of his own existence, but of everybody else’s, turned aside down Gaswork Lane to avoid the town, and, crossing the wooden bridge that goes over the canal to Starling’s Cottages, was presently alone in the damp pinewoods and out of sight and sound of human inhabitation.

In the woods Coombes finds what he thinks are poisonous mushrooms, and eats them in an attempt to kill himself, but he doesn’t die.  He’s transformed into a masterful and confident man, and his wife falls in love with him again.  So again, not at all as described by dad.

So yes, I’ve been walking again and it does seem that here in Los Angeles we’re still in fungus/mushroom season.  These, not especially lovely specimens, are in Culver City:

This is in East Hollywood, fungus thriving as it coexists with a traffic cone:

And when I got home, there was this waiting for me.

Fans of cacti may recognize that that the plant in the pot is a cardon, or “false saguaro,”  but what, I hear you say, are those two pale yellowish nubbins down at the bottom of the pot?  They are these things:

Arguably this is an indication that I’ve been overwatering my cardon.  I've been trying not to, of course, but we know it happens.  Anyway, the next day they looked like this:

Using the online “Myokey fungus identifier” it seems they could be one of 150 or so different mushrooms including amanita.  So then I did a reverse image search which suggested it might be this: 

In fact that’s mochi ice cream, but even so I don’t want to risk eating it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


Sometimes Hollywood really gets up your backside.  

Though the gal doesn't look like much of a walker.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Look, obviously I don’t expect everybody to share all my obsessions, but since I got “hooked on obelisks” (title for a book?) I see them everywhere.  Why only this morning this image of an obelisk by Athanasius Kircher popped up unbidden, and inscrutably, on my Facebook feed:

A little research reveals that it’s from Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, and it’s demonstrating the principle of the camera obscura, the devil being associated with shadows (I think).

Then I found this image by Edward Gorey (he was quite a man for an obelisk) – and as I’ve said before, everything’s better with skulls, even obelisks.

There are also two lines by Gorey in a poem titled "The Chinese Obelisks" that run as follows:
          A was an Author who went for a walk
         B was a Bore who engaged him in talk.

And then last night I was walking past Amoeba Music, a shop that’s been in business in LA about as long as I have, with the consequence that the mural on the side that runs down Ivar Avenue, is looking a little faded these days.  

But then – holy smokes – I see that in the two bottom corners there are fantastical beasts and obelisks!  Coincidence?  Synchronicity?  The universe sending me a message? You decide.