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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, December 17, 2002
    Pedestrian Culture
     
    Walking. That's something which is doubly good, because it's good for the physical environment and it's good for the mental environment too. I like to think so, anyway, because I'm a bit of a walker.

    I'm not as much of a walker as 'Captain' Robert Barclay Allardic who in 1806 successfully betted that he could walk one mile in each of 1000 successive hours. The London public rewarded him with 16,000 guineas, 320 times the average annual wage (read about him here).

    I'm not as deliberate a walker as Iain Sinclair (read about him here), who specialises in what Wilfried Hou Je Bek calls 'constrained walking'. I love the way he describes Sinclair's methods:
      For his Lights out for the Territory Sinclair walked large scale V's, X's and circles juxtaposed over the city's street grid. The gonzo reports of these strolls are supplemented by a wide range of unbelievable obscure facts that are the product of Sinclair's habit of having read every second hand book that was ever on sale in greater London for the last 20 years. While making his way through the city, the scenery of streets, buildings, unexpected encounters and crowds evoke memories from Sinclair's past and from books long forgotten of ever having read them. Sinclair adds his psyche in the geography and after this stream of thought canalised into his highly compressed, information dense, style we have got the most perfect of psychogeographical writers at work today.
    I may be a flaneur, depending on the definition. Walter Benjamin said,
      "The fl‰neur is the stroller, the pedestrian who finds delight and pleasure in ambling contentedly and unhurriedly through the city."
    Ok so far, but then he continues:
      "To promenade without purpose is the highest ambition of the fl‰neur. Walking in the city is its own reward. ... an intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets. With each step, the walk takes on greater moment"
    Ah. Hou Je Bek calls fl‰neurs 'slackers' and suggests that rather than being the radicals they fancied themselves to be, they "were stoned out of their heads from hashish. It was under the influence of this drugs that they took so long to go nowhere and found so much hilarious interest in even the most boring aspects of things."

    However, there is a tradition of radical walking which Benjamin and others like to affirm. And I do like to think that sometimes I'm a radical walker, akin to those described by Donna Landry in her interesting essay, erm, Radical Walking, those who over the years have trampled Britain's byways and highways on protest marches, or in search of poetic inspiration, risking association with vagrants and poachers - those who "together constitute a society based on the twin principles of freedom of movement and freedom of speech." She suggests, for example, that "Iain SinclairÕs walk round the M25 signifies, among other things, a radical pedestrianising of territory otherwise abandoned to motorised aggro."

    Today, walking round the parish on a route which, plotted later on the map, is vaguely heart-shaped, these things happened to me:
      I met a dog-walker, a middle-aged man carrying a backpack with a picture of a Wild West cowboy stitched onto it. He was singing lustily;

      I noted that the charity shop was holding a one-day-only half price clothes sale but declined to go in;

      I relished the painful freedom in realising, passing outside Woolworths looking in at the tempting shelf of new cds, that I'd left my money at home.

      I discovered that the parishioners I visited have painted their house in the deepest, bloodiest red imaginable. But failed to discover why;

      I thought of various people who would otherwise not have been in mind, simply by passing by their streets;

      I got invited into a party at the Blind Club and emerged with pockets full of tangerines.
    And so it went on. Not much of this would have happened had I not been walking. Pedestrian culture - it's good.