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, May 21, 2019


You know me and I know you.  And we all like trails and we all like desire. Which is why we like desire trails. OK, sometimes they’re called desire lines, but that’s far less sexy, and let’s face it, these things are trails not lines.  And sometimes they get called desire paths.

There was an article in the Guardian last year titled ‘Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners.'  To which one can only say “Illicit? Oh, please.”

The article contained a link to an academic paper from the University of Wollongong (you may make up your own joke here) which contained this fabulous bit of prose: ‘The theme of grounded practice returns in a very different way in Nathalie Casemajor Loustau and Heather Davis’ discussion of their project – “Ouvert/Open: Common Utopias”. Expanding out from a particular and local phenomenon of urban life in Montreal where desire lines record collective disobedience.'  To which one might say, ‘Oh, double please.’  

Anyway, above and below are some desire trails/paths/lines I walked recently.  Me, I’m just SO illicit and disobedient.  And OK, I'm not sure that the one below really counts, but it's a top quality trail in any case:

Monday, May 13, 2019


I’ve been reading David Toop’s memoir Flutter Echo: Living Within Sound.

It turns out he’s a bit of a walker.  In fact that title comes from walking.  He writes, “My first memory of a listening experience comes from a walk, a regular journey during my early childhood.” He used to visit his grandparents, “we would take the bus from Waltham Cross to Enfield, then walk from the centre of the town to their house in Bush Hill Park …” 

"Shortly before the railway bridge that took us over the tracks into my grandparents’ road the path was bordered on both sides by a concrete wall.  The narrowness of this path meant that the walls reflected echoes from our footsteps very rapidly, an effect described as flutter echo by acousticians. Like the fluttering of a moth’s wings, sound bounces back and forth between the two parallel walls to create a ‘zing’.”

Later he lived with the artist Marie Yates, and together they did “Field Workings,” described by Toop as “walking and working from within the self and under the sky, deeply private even though conducted on open land and documented.” She made environmental sculptures, he made recordings, one of which consisted of “hanging my microphone on a wire fence, then walking away as I played sounds that were snatched from me by the wind …”. This an image from one of Yates's pieces.

Also, from his days as a (for want of two better words) music journalist there’s an article on the Artangel website about walking and art and sound related to Francis Alÿs, Seven Walks (2005), though he references quite a few other walking artists too.
He quotes Alÿs as saying, “I think it’s a natural state for somebody who’s interested in cities or architecture in general to walk. Walking offers a very convenient space for things to happen, and it allows a certain awareness in between an ongoing chain of thoughts and a series of incidental informations around, glimpses of scenes, sounds, smells, etc…” 
         This is an annotated map for one of Alÿs’s walks, titled, Guards.

Toop says, in his own write, “Urban space is divided up according to ideas of visual drama, social connectivity, and the pragmatics of movement, yet sound is taken for granted, forgotten, or ignored despite its vital role as an element in urban design. Sound is not reducible to a text, so not susceptible to ‘reading’.” 
I like that.

Monday, May 6, 2019







Saturday, May 4, 2019


Well, my billeting in Chelsea is about to come to an end.

It’s been a good time, and of course I make friends wherever I go, but I never got over the feeling that I wasn’t quite Chelsea material.  Few are.

When I arrived there was a place nearby in Kings Road called the Diva Café – it has now become Bye Bye London. 

I haven’t been in there since the change of name. As you may guess from the sign, it’s an Arabic restaurant, specifically Kuwaiti, and I don’t quite understand what the man on the sign looks so cross about. 

Meanwhile a little way up Kings Road there’s shop called London Bonjour, selling 'eyewear' (kids, that's what we used to call glasses!) and I’ve never been in there either but the name does seem a little more welcoming.

And here are one or two other sights I've seen while wandering around Chelsea.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


Sometimes an urban drift really doesn’t have to be all that dramatic.  Yesterday’s went from Green Park to Oxford Circus, which neither I nor anybody else would think of as prime drifting territory, but it had its moments.

First stop, and in fact most of the reason for the trip, was the William Eggleston exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery.

It was great: a smallish show of big pictures, and it was truly wonderful.  In general I’m all for exhibitions that take place in unconventional and alternative spaces, but sometimes you go into a white, bright, high-ceilinged space and you understand why some galleries choose to be that way.

Picture from David Zwirner Gallery.

Next, up behind Oxford Circus, it was time to new, and perhaps last, look at the Welbeck Street multistory car park which used to look like this:

 but now looks like this:

and will soon look like nothing at all, as it’s about to be demolished.
Oxford Circus, of course, was recently one of the scenes of the Extinction Rebellion protest, which I walked past, or through, a couple of times, and it all seemed fairly good humoured, and there was no problem getting in and out of the tube station, but we know not everybody saw it that way.   

Although there were many complaints about the real or imagined middle-classness of the protesters, I didn’t see anybody objecting on the grounds that it was “too white.“ Maybe middle-class is synonymous with whiteness. On the other hand there were these two who were slapping on the white face:

 and there was this guy, who carried his whiteness with a twist:

Thursday, April 25, 2019


You know, for all that Andy Warhol is embraced as a ‘gay icon’ (not my words but plenty of other people’s), it was the women in Warhol’s films that first really grabbed my attention.  

Mary Woronov, Edie Sedgwick, Ultra Violet, Nico.  They looked fabulous, like nobody I’d ever met, and of course I knew that in the real world they’d never give me the time of day, but then a lot of the women I met wouldn’t give me the time of day in any case.  Better to be rejected by a superstar than some girl from the high school.

So yes, watching Warhol’s films, I could just about put up with the antics of Ondine, Taylor Mead et al, as long as Viva (nee Janet Susan Mary Hoffman) popped up once in a while, generally without many clothes on.

Now, I would never have thought of Viva as much of a walker, so imagine my surprise delight when I came across this 1975 interview she did for Interview magazine:

BOB: What’s your life like in California?
VIVA: We live in a mountain cabin with no central heating. While Michel saws wood, i’m writing books for five hours a day. And then we take a drive to the coast to watch the whales migrate and the pelicans. So I’ve had a completely domestic life. A Virginia Woolf life. You seem to be getting bored already.
BOB: No. I’m just listening.
VIVA: And Virginia said to write good literature, you have to read good literature and take long walks. So I began writing at 9:30 in the morning with a bottle of Jack Daniels and when the tip of my tongue got numb around two, I quit. Michel took Alexandra [Viva’s child] to school and finished sawing wood for the fireplace. This is after living in a trailer with no windows, a 30s trailer, you know, that costs a million dollars today, full of inlaid wood, with Alexandra sleeping on a table…
BOB: But…
VIVA: … in the rain, in the mud, typing on a battery-operated typewriter, outside the trailer, in the mud – alright we finally got into a house. So I was living like Virginia Woolf, taking long walks through the mountains, reading Proust and writing. 

If I never imagined Viva as a walker, even less did I imagine her as a fellow traveler with Virginia Woolf.  Walking creates some strange bedfellows.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


My pal and fellow writer David Belbin was staying in the INK hotel in Amsterdam, which describes itself as – “a bohemian lifestyle hotel where the traditional rules of hospitality are freely translated to the modern day, writing a contemporary story in INK.”   There in the room, David tells me, perhaps in all the rooms, was a copy of the Soft Atlas of Amsterdam by Jan Rothuizen, a book of hand drawn, very personal, annotated maps of the city, though also usable (I imagine) for getting around.  

Not only that, the walls had wallpaper based on drawings from the book.  As an occasional map obsessive this sounds like a fine idea to me. What could make it finer?  Why the appearance of Nicholson.  I'm not absolutely sure if I'm on the walls, but definitely in the book.  Rothuizen bought a copy of my Lost Art of Walking -  it says so!!

I can hardly tell you how chuffed I am by this.  Writers are simple creatures.  We toil in melancholy darkness, and very small things can sometimes make us very happy, and this is absolutely one of them.  Thanks to David and to the hotel, and even more to Jan Rothuizen.

Naturally I did some research.  Rothuizen is everywhere, not only in Amsterdam, Tokyo, Colombia, drawing, map-making and walking, but also in London where he had a rat thrown at him.  I know this after watching a TED talk he did (available online) in which he talks about walking in New York, “This has to do with the hierarchy of information like I would see things, think about memories, I would hear songs, there were a lot of different things going on at the same time and I thought this was very worthwhile but also very rich.”

Yes, this is what we do, some of us.  And I was feeling very good to have discovered a fellow-traveler, and one that was a new name to me, but then – knock me down with a feather – it clicked and I suddenly realized I haveseen his work before, and that the two of us can be found between the covers of this book, edited by the very wonderful Katharine Harmon.

It’s a small world, unless you decided to walk it all.

Thursday, April 11, 2019


From The Practice of Everyday Life, of course.

‘The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below,” down below the threshold at which visibility begins. They walk – an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘”text” they write without being able to read it … The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author not spectator, shaped by fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other.’

I think from you could argue that in fact there are spectators of this manifiold story  - has he never heard of 'people watching' - but you know, who’d want to get into an argument with Michel de Certeau?

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


I’ve been reading GK Chesterton’s English Journey, ‘being a rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey through England during the autumn of the year 1933,’ published a year later.
Chesterton doesn’t look like much of a walker from the photographs I’ve seen of him:

Nevertheless, the book has him doing a fair bit of walking.  He finds himself in Liverpool and is given a walking tour by a local vicar.
‘We set out to explore this queer parish of his, which was in the very middle of Liverpool’s more picturesque and exotic slums, populated by the human flotsam and jetsam of a great seaport.  We had not gone twenty yards when he pointed his stick at some figures mooching in the square.  “I call that the fo’c’sle walk,” he remarked.  “Old sailors. Just watch them. You see? A few short paces one way, then the same number back again.  They do it all day.  It’s the result of spending years in ships.  Yes, that’s the fo’c’sle walk.”  We passed near the men and he waved a greeting with his stick.’
         I had never heard of the fo’c’sle walk before.

Later Chesterton is in Blackpool, about which he has ambivalent feelings (as do most of us). ‘If you do not like industrial democracy, you will not like Blackpool,’ he writes, and although he does like industrial democracy (as do most of us) he doesn’t find Blackpool a very joyous place.   He goes for a ‘sharp walk’ along the prom in bad weather.  ‘I trudged on like some purposeful little insect moving along a dark wet shelf.’  
         This sounds very, very familiar from my boyhood visits to Blackpool.  My memories have not been colorized, unlike this postcard:

And some other wise words from Mr C:

Sunday, March 31, 2019


I like maps and you like maps, of course we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be such good friends.  And if you’re a regular reader with a moderately good memory you may recall this pic of me unfurling a map I bought in Tokyo, showing the whole of Japan:

I suppose it’s a kind of ribbon map, but I’m sure the Japanese have a much better word of their own for it.

And here’s an 1866 ribbon map of the Mississippi that appeared on Atlas Obscura recently, from the David Rumsey Map Collection.  It’s eleven feet long and three inches wide, totally pocket-sized, and its title is Ribbon Map of the Father of The Waters.

Now that I’m temporarily living in Chelsea, in London, every time I walk up to the tube station I pass, and in some cases walk over, this map set in the ground near to Duke of York Square:

If there’s any onsite information explaining the map I’ve yet to find it.  It’s near to the Saatchi Gallery so it might be a work of contemporary art, but I can neither confirm or deny that.

However, digging around online I did find this map on the National Archives website.  

Paper and concrete versions aren’t identical, not least in the variant spellings of Majesty’s and road, but they're close.

The paper map dates from 1830, but according to the National Archives  it shows King’s Road (nobody seems to care either way about the apostrophe) as it was in the early 18thcentury.  Before that, King’s Road, was the road belonging to the King, in this case Charles II, for the use of the royal family, travelling between London and the out of London palaces.  I don't suppose they walked.

1830 was the year it cased to be a private road and became a public highway, but from 1720 or it had been a toll road that the public could use if they paid for the privilege.  So the map is a kind of route finder and a guide to the fare stages.

In vaguely-related matters, a few weeks back I picked up, for a quid, a copy of the Ladybird Book, Understanding Maps.  No mention of ribbon maps, but there is this totally wonderful guide to help you understand gradients: