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.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

"HAS ABSENCE EVER SOUNDED SO ELOQUENT, SO SAD?" Beats me.

There are all kinds of good reasons to go walking in Sudbury, in Suffolk.  The water meadows: 


The wildlife:


The achingly quaint archtecture, including silk weavers’ houses.



There are pill boxes – and I’m not sure if that mushroom-shped thing is a warning against nuclear attack, or an indication that some shrooming has been going in:


There are many passion fruits:



and VW campers, at least one of them for sale (18 grand seems to be about the going rate)


It may all seem a little bucolic, a little green and pleasant, but there's something that might make the journey to Sudbury a different proposition, if you’re a fan of Guy Debord’s psychogeography, 


or of Scott Wallker’s later work,


is this house sign:



You couldn’t make it up.  You don’t have to.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

FREUD FEVER


The first volume of William Feaver’s The Lives of Lucian Freud has just been published.  That's Lucian below, walking:


A very minor part of Feaver's book describes, in 1948, Freud being invited to Cecil Beaton’s home at Reddish House in Wiltshire.  When he gets there he’s delighted to find that Greta Garbo is a fellow guest.  
          Now, the ‘affair’ or whatever it was, between Beaton and Garbo has always been a matter for speculation and mystery, and Freud’s account doesn’t clarify matters much.

Feaver writes:
I thought she was wonderful he (Freud) recalled. “She said, ‘Comm and sit ‘ere,’ and it was a chair for one, not two and I squeezed in.  She looked marvelous.  She drove Cecil mad and he’d become gruff and manly and say, ‘We must go for a walk,’ and she’d say, ‘I’ve left my shoes in New York.’

Now, I can totally believe this would the kind of thing Garbo would say and do, but it’s quite a stretch to imagine Beaton being ‘gruff and manly.’


Still, here are Cecil and Greta walking together on some occasion when she’d remembered her shoes.


And here she is walking alone.  Boy, I love that battered car behind her:


Sunday, September 1, 2019

WALKING IN BUNKERS

Of course I don’t actually walk IN bunkers.  I walk to and from bunkers, or past bunkers, and occasionally I go into one one, but many of them are too small to stand up in, let alone walk in.  And I admit that I'm using the term loosely, some of the things I call bunkers are no doubt actually pillboxes and observation posts, along other things, but then, I’m a layman.

This one, which is I think the most extraordinary bunker I’ve ever seen, was somewhere near San Diego on the Pacific Coast, though nobody was allowed in.


There is no shortage of bunkers and such along that coastline.  This is part of a series just north of San Francisco, and you could poke around there to your heart’s content: 


There’s a great pleasure in going for a walk and suddenly coming across a bunker when you least expect it, like this one by a recreation ground in Saxmundham.


This one is near Walton-on-the-Naze:


This one I did go inside this one – as had others before me – hence the phallic graffiti.


And here’s one that’s local to me, by the river Stour, in Essex, well dug into the earth, located between Manningtree and Cattawade.  


The council just sent somebody just cut all the tall weeds around it so you can walk down and peer in through the gun holes, or embrasures, though I couldn’t see much of anything in there. And you could go inside if you really wanted to, but you’d have to crawl through broken glass and who knows what else:


And last weekend in Hackney Wick, which is generally ‘street art central’ there was this rather well decorated one.  


And I did wonder for a moment whether decoration this was in some way ‘a bad thing’ but actually it reinforced the idea of how surprisingly (not completely) untouched so many of the similar structures are.  Why is that? Respect for wartime ‘monuments’? Maybe, though it seems unlikely.

But if you really want to bunker down, you could do worse that head for Harwich, in general.  


And specifically for the Beacon Hill Fort with shelters, gun emplacements, underground magazines, petrol and oil stores, and some things called spigot mortars.  Paul Virilio would have had a field day, as did I.


And if you just wanted to walk, there’s always the Squirrel Trail.


Our hero amid the bunker ruins:



Sunday, August 25, 2019

THE PERMISSIVE PATH NOT TAKEN

Two roads (actually paths) diverged on a flat bit of grassy land near Flatford, in Constable Country, in Essex.  One of them had a sign saying Public Footpath, the other said Permissive Path, which (I now know) is just a way or saying, ‘Ok you can walk along here for now but don’t get any fancy ideas about it becoming a public right of way.’


            I’m telling this with a sigh, obviously, but not ages and ages hence: I took the public footpath which was in fact ‘the one less traveled by,’ since the other one was the tourist route to Flatford Mill and then Dedham, where apparently lots of people want to go. 



And it did make a bit of a difference, because the public footpath less traveled by was heading to Manningtree where I wanted to go, as opposed to the permissive path which led back to Flatford where I’d already been.


I am of course pastiching Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ possibly the second most misunderstood poem in the English language.  I’d say Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ is themost misunderstood.  (I know you’ll scarcely  believe this, but some people apparently think it’s about daffodils).  What is it about walking and poetry and incomprehension?

But thinking again about the Robert Frost poem, paths being as they are, it’s perfectly possible to take one path one day and then go back another day and take the other one. Which in fact is what I did with the public footpath and the permissive path between Flatford and Manningtree. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

On the other hand, should you find yourself in Hackney Wick, you might come to the conclusion that all roads are equal.






Thursday, August 15, 2019

WIDE OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Of course I enjoy walking in the wide open spaces.  What kind of fool doesn’t?

And yet I realize, all else being equal (and I also realize that in this context all else is never equal), that given the choice between walking in open spaces or taking a turn down some potentially claustrophobic, potentially threatening alleyway, most of the time I’d take the latter.  






I also realize that in the greater scheme of things we may all have bigger, more pressing, choices that need to be made.


Even so, finding myself in London, more or less in the City, t’other week I started walking down and photographing a few narrow constricted alleyways, as seen above. 

Did I think of Tony Christie singing ‘Avenues and Alleyways?’  Yes, I’m afraid I did.


And what is it about constricted spaces? Does it have something to do with the birth canal, or does it have something to do with pretending to be the kInd of guy who can comfortably walk down mean streets, and damn the risk of being mugged or blackjacked? A little of both, I'm guessing.


Above is the (or at least a) bridge in Silverlake, in LA. which I used to think was sung about by Red Hot Chilli Peppers in ‘Under the Bridge’ but various sources place that bridge in many different locations all over LA.

This is (or at anyway was) in Chelmsford, but I understand there have been some 'improvements' around the station.


This is definitely in Berkeley:


And this I'm reasonably sure is Tinderbox Alley in Mortlake  (I had to walk down it because of the name), and here it’s made somewhat more constricted by somebody parking a car in it.


And back home in Manningtree, I found this amazingly constricted space between two garden fences.  



Again I felt I had to walk down it, and at the end there was an undergrowth or perhaps overgrowth of nettles – and I broke on through to the other side and found I was on a dangerous stretch of road with no pavement or grass verge, where any passing car might run me down.
Friends, it made me feel ALIVE.

Friday, August 2, 2019

WALKING WITH AGE AND CARDUS

I’ve been listening to Toby Jones on BBC radio reading The Great Romantic: Cricket and the golden age of Neville Cardus, by Duncan Hamilton.


Some claim that Cardus is the greatest cricket writer ever.  I’ve always thought there was something not quite authentic about his ‘poetic’ style:  the guy on the right below seems to share my opinion:


It was interesting to hear in the broadcast that Cardus carried an ebony walking stick ‘purely for ornamental purposes' because it ‘allowed him to pose.’  There is supposedly some footage of this, but I can’t find it in the usual places.

Cardus did list walking as one of his hobbies, and in the radio reading, and therefore I suppose in the book, there was a nice quotation from him about walking.  He said, ‘The tragedy of what is called old age is that the body gets older and the mind gets younger.  I want to go for an eight-mile walk.  My mind goes for an eight-mile walk.  My damn legs won’t go.’

I haven't experienced that yet, and I hope I'm some  way from there, but it sounds all too likely.


Incidentally, there’s a street in Manchester called Neville Cardus Walk .  It looks like this:


Monday, July 29, 2019

SO LONG, HUGH

I’m not quite sure of the etiquette of this, and if any members of the family think this is inappropriate I’ll immediately take it down, but here’s a very small memorial, a photograph of my friend and occasional walking companion (and many other things too) Hugh Paton who died last week.  


The picture shows him and his wife Anna walking in Suffolk some years back – I can’t be any more precise than that. He’ll be missed by a great many people, including me.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

OBELISK FINDER GENERAL

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  I believe that most things happen for no reason whatsoever. And I don’t believe that life brings you what you need.  And yet and yet ...  

I currently find myself billeted (for reasons that make more sense some days than others) in Manningtree in Essex. That’s where Matthew Hopkins, aka the ‘Witchfinder General,’ did some of his best work.  Funny thing about witch hunts – they always find lots of witches.  He did look at least somewhat like Vincent Price who played him in the movie.




 Quite independently, and before I moved here, I had developed an interest in obelisks.  Now I discover this area is strangely well-supplied with obelisks.


If you start somewhat to the east of Manningtree you’ll find the Mistley Towers, op cit, quite the folly landmark, but rather more intriguingly from my point of view it’s also the site of the obelisk commemorating Jean Death, a hard name to live with.  




In fact there’s a bakery in Manningtree called the De’aths Bakery, so presumably there’s some connection, and something for me to investigate.




If you go into Manningtree from Mistley and walk up the hill to the Trinity Free Church, you’ll find a churchyard which looks rather older than the church, and in there you’ll find a couple more obelisks, small, discreet, unspectacular and all the more appealing for that.












And then last weekend, I walked to Cattawade, part of which I’d often seen from the train heading up into Suffolk, and I’d spotted some fine industrial ruins; ICI, Ilford films, Xylonite, as I now know.  Part of the area was once known as Highams Park. Some say that Margaret Thatcher worked for Xylonite at this location, but others say she worked up in Lawton – more research needed there too.

Most of the Cattawade site has been demolished or left to collapse, which was why I was there, but (need I say) I discovered an obelisk.


In fact it's a war memorial that used to be in the grounds of the now absent ICI compound.


At one time it had obviously had commemorative metal plaques attached to it, but they’ve been removed for safe keeping, and so the stone has become a canvas for some profoundly unambitious taggers. Couldn’t any self-respecting street artist do wonders with an obelisk? This one’s in Lincoln County Oklahoma (pic by MJ Alexander, I believe).