Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, 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.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Statues are peculiar things aren’t they?  All this perfectly reasonable (though not always strictly rational) debate about Confederate monuments and statues of Christopher Columbus in America has got us all thinking.  At the very least it reinforces the fairly obvious notion that statues are usually erected (and then sometimes demolished) in the name of some ideology or other.  There’s no such thing as a value-free statue.  Anybody who’s praised by one set of people is likely to be condemned by another set. 

One of my favorite and most blameless statues is the fellow above, The Walking Man, by George Fuller, a statue in my home town of Sheffield, England.  It dates from 1957, though I only became aware of it in the 1980s.

I’m not sure which city in the world has the most statues, but I’d think London has a pretty good claim, and the fact is most Londoners walk around without really noticing most of them.   Sure, we know that’s Nelson up on the top of his column and we know that Peter Pan has a statue in Kensington Gardens, and there are various kings and queens are all over the place, but we don’t really pay much attention.

Remarkably few Londoners I’ve talked to were aware of the bust of JFK on Marylebone Road, which was paid for by Sunday Telegraph readers apparently.  It was recenty vandalized, and I wonder what its future is, and equally I don’t know if the vandalism was the result of anti-Americanism or just a night on the piss

There’s a fine statue of Bela Bartok near South Kensington tube.  Bartok lived a blameless life as far as I know, though I suspect not many people wandering the streets of South Ken know his music or would like it much if they did.  
          I found this, from The Observer, May 13th 1923 by Percy A. Scholes, a review of a Bartok concert,  "I suffered more than upon any occasion in my life apart from an incident or two connected with 'painless dentistry.' To begin with, there was Mr. Bartok's piano touch. But 'touch,' with its implication of light-fingered ease, is a misnomer, unless it be qualified in some such way as that of Ethel Smyth in discussing her dear old teacher Herzogenberg - 'He had a touch like a paving-stone.' I do not believe Mr. Bartok would resent this simile...”  You really think that?
       Bartok first stayed in the area in 1882: the statue was originally erected in a different location in 2004, some 60 years after Bartok’s death.
So yes, by definition statues tend to be backward looking and conservative with a small c.  You want their significance to last a while.  Here is Los Angeles we try to jazz things up a bit, and arguably the sense of history is short.  There’s a statue of Bruce Lee in Chinatown.

James Dean, up by the Griffith Park Observatory,

Rocky and Bullwinkle on Sunset Strip:

And, for a time there was this statue of Elvis Presley outside a store on Hollywood Boulevard. 

But this is a mass-produced statue, one you can buy.  Here’s a doppelgänger in situ in Great Yarmouth, in East Anglia.

And so t’other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills and I came across this memorial to General Don Jose de San Martin, who I admit is not exactly an open book to me:

And of course that’s another aspect of statuary: the ignorant can get a sort of education from statues.  As you see, he was the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, though Peru does look like a bit of an afterthought, at least on the part of the memorial-maker.

And best of all, around the back of the memorial there’s this somehow very wonderful map of South America.  You aren’t here.

Monday, October 9, 2017


A walk to remember

OCTOBER 09, 2017 12:31 IST
UPDATED: OCTOBER 09, 2017 12:31 IST

Taking mind and body on a long, long walk through the woods

I’m glad that Charles Dickens didn’t own a Fitbit. He would have probably put us so-called “active” types to shame. On an average, the man used to walk 20 miles a day, meandering through the streets of London and plodding through the Kent countryside with equal aplomb. “No gipsy on earth is a greater vagabond than myself; it is so natural to me and strong with me, that I think I must be the descendent, at no great distance, of some irreclaimable tramp,” he writes in his series of semi-autobiographical essays, The Uncommercial Traveller.
Exploring the world by shank’s mare seems to be a popular pastime of many a writer. Think William Blake, William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Henry Miller and Vladimir Nabokov. Perhaps it is because, as Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, says, “Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively.”
Of course, my own tryst with walking started off with more prosaic intentions: weight-loss. It is probably the best form of exercise for someone who has a lot of weight to lose. It’s accessible, cheap, fairly easy on already-stressed-by-excess-weight joints and less intimidating than a gym or a class. Today, I fight with brawny men for barbells, lie askew on the gym floor unmindful of whether my (not flat) tummy shows or not and emit guttural, slightly-orgasmic sounds on my final rep. But when I started, I was uncomfortable in my skin, hated my body and was terribly shy, so walking was ideal for me.
As the weight came off, I graduated to other things. The gym, of course, but also yoga, boot camps, running, martial arts, swimming, Zumba, aerobics and parkour. Walking got relegated to the back burnerSure, I walked and explored new cities when I travelled or had the occasional walk-date or resorted to it when I had no access to any other form of activity, but it was no longer “cool” enough to count for exercise. Why would I want to walk when I could upload pictures on Facebook wearing a running bib, lifting a massive barbell or in some magnificent, gravity-defying yoga pose?
An injury last month changed all that. The only thing I was allowed to do was walk, so, walk I did. This was a temporary thing, I told myself. I would be back in the gym soon. Or so I thought. What I didn’t factor in was falling in love with it.
For starters, I get to choose the music echoing through the chambers of my mind, as I walk. Which means no more snazzy, gym workout tracks of the Hips Don’t Lie genre but my music. My friends laugh when I tell them I walk to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Joan Baez, Jethro Tull, Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger, but I find it deeply therapeutic. This music, that holds nostalgia-braised memories of great happiness, allows me to escape into myself. I’m mentally in a better place when I walk.
And guess what, fitness-wise, walking is pretty legit. Walking is LISS (Low Intensity Steady State Cardio) and while it doesn’t torch fat the way HIIT (Hight Intensity Interval Training) does, is fairly popular among trainers like Kayla Itsines, Joanna Hall and Bob Greene. On her website, Itsines notes that since LISS is“unlikely to impede your recovery by training over the top of sore muscles, “it can “actually help to increase blood flow to damaged muscles and reduce post-workout stiffness.”

Like Thoreau, I’m beginning to believe that, “an early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” It has been so far. And so, I intend to, as another fine gentleman once said, "keep walking".


Sunday, October 8, 2017


And on the subject of looking at cars while walking, I remembered something somewhere in Kingsley Amis, in a letter to Larkin I think, where he defines a bore as someone who “when he sees an unusual car in the street GOES OVER AND HAS A LOOK AT IT.” Well, just one more thing to disagree about with Kingsley Amis.

So I wonder how he’d have felt about wrapped cars.  It’s not specifically a Los Angeles thing, the English do it too.  This one was in Suffolk:

This one in Essex:

But LA seems to contain a higher number than anywhere I’ve ever been.  I suppose it protects cars from passing vandals, and I think from the burning sun.  Only the first of these is a problem in England.

You assume there must be a really nice care under the wrapping, something worth protecting, but you can never be completely sure:

And if you’re enough of a motorhead I dare say you can always tell what’s under wraps, and some are obviously much easier than others.  VW Beetles are especially easy to spot:

And you know, aesthete that I am, when I see wrapped cars I’m often reminded of the bondage photographs of Araki:

And more often of Christo – like this:

And this:

But then, wouldn’t you know it, I found this picture; a Beetle wrapped by Christo himself – well worth going over and having a look, I’d have said.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


I know that a lot of walkers think it’s their duty to hate automobiles, but I’m not one of them.  I like looking at cars when I'm walking.  Ten years or so ago when I first started living and walking in Los Angeles it seemed there was an amazing classic car, or piece of wonderful automotive junk, on every block, and I found them incredibly cheering.  I took a few photographs at the time, but now I wish I’d taken more.

The situation’s changed a lot while I’ve been here. Cool cars are much rarer.  I assume many of them have been scrapped because they’re just not up to the rigors of  L.A. driving anymore.  A few endure but they’re part of a dying breed, although all the more attractive for that reason.

I’ve always been skeptical about this whole “the car you drive expresses your personality” thing, but in the end, one way or another, I guess it does, whether you want it to or not.  And of course one way you can further express your personality, if you have one, is to put a sticker on the bumper or the back window of your car.  Religion, sports teams, political affiliations, are the obvious things to announce to the world, but some are more enigmatic than that.

This one’s suitably literary:

This shows a love for country, though not America:

This one shows a possibly, though not necessarily, ironic love for both Benjamin Franklin and Kiss.

And I think this one is great, though I could be wrong: