Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruinswithcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
We’ve talked before about trap streets – fake locations that cartographers
put on their maps so that if somebody else reuses the map and claims it as
their own, then it’s obvious where it came from. The culprits can then be
hounded down and prosecuted for copyright theft. Trap streets have figured in a
Dr Who series and a China Mieville novel.
Prosecutions seem to be incredibly rare. True, in 2001 the British
Automobile Association paid £20 million to Ordnance Survey because they’d been misusing
O.S. maps, but they weren’t caught by trap streets, rather by cartographic
“fingerprints” of distinctive design elements.
A little while back I found, posted by a Facebook Psychogeography
group, the above image of what may or may not be a trap, though it’s a place rather
than a street.It’s on an O.S. map and the post said it refers to a field in Suffolk. The only Lover’s Lane in Suffolk that I can find
on Google maps is in Leiston, site of the Household Waste Recycling Centre.
Now, life being as it is, I used to live fairly close to Leiston,
walked around there from time to time, and I still own a copy of the map O.S. Pathfinder 987
Leiston, and a good look reveals this same Fiscal Policy, right on
the fold. The map is copyright 1983, and
there’s no indication that it’s been updated.
Since it’s not a street, there’s
some speculation that it might be an Argleton – the name given to phantom
settlements that appear on Google maps. However, although a look at Google maps and Google satellite images locates Lover’s Lane and the other features, thereby confirming that
this is the right place, Google doesn't label any site as Fiscal Policy.Go pick the cartographic gristle out of
Need I say that in the days when I walked in and
around Leiston, I never noticed the name Fiscal Policy on the map I often
carried.If I had done, I’d have been off
like a shot looking for it.
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
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
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
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,
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:
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.