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Nick-Papadimitriou-and-Sam-BurcherAlmost twenty years ago I found myself sitting eye to eye with Nick Papadimitriou in the basement of an art gallery, just off Queen Square in Bloomsbury. It was our first day on a research project and we were both nervously rearing to write, even if science was not our primary concern. Over those weeks, I got to know Nick and admired his roll-your-sleeves-up dedication to writing, and was intrigued by his wayward and somewhat wild side.

I enjoy eccentricity, so happily listened to Nick prattle on about Gilbert White, the Woodcraft Folk, and the mysteries of Middlesex. His tales of a marginalised, middle-aged man with glasses bearing a sort of resonance. And, the more he told his stories and repeated his often humorous schtick, the more I realised that Nick had everything he needed to become a successful writer.

Over the years Nick would often call round to mine. We talked about everything as he would lend a helping hand in the garden, editing my first collection of poetry, playing with the assorted cats and dogs, and amusing the long-term boyfriends that might be around. Once, I switched on my recorder and just let it run while we talked. ( During another lovely day, I held my film camera on my lap as Nick talked about his latest project. (See below).



Nick’s literary gift lies in transforming the mundane and seemingly ordinary suburbs of London into a magical realm. His love and intense wanderings of the landmass known as the North Middlesex Tertiary Escarpment, or Scarp for short, was to become the name and the place of his first novel ( Scarp is like Narnia for grownups, where sex cults, hallucinogenic drugs, unsolved murders and car crashes on the A41 facilitate an intimate absorption into the landscape. A central character is Merops, a batchelor crow once belonging to the naturalist Eliza Brightwen. Merops is an eternal spirit narrating the past and future events in Scarp from his aerial perspective whilst Nick weaves in his own experiences as he comes as close to the ants, hedgehogs and herbs as humanly possible.

Applying formidable scrutiny to place and the historical subjects of his researches, it’s no surprise that the author Will Self, who takes a keen interest in all things psycho-geographical, has utilised Nick’s talents for one of his novels, The Book of Dave. Together they have undertaken many walks, and recently taught a course related to topography at Brunel University. A student at London University has just finished his Masters dissertation on the subject of Nick himself.

For many writers the Government’s command to socially isolate in this time of the Corona Virus, or Co-Vid 19, is not such a great stretch. And, it provides the opportunity to reflect on one’s daily practices, be they physical or spiritual. In any event, Nick’s inclination is strongly to be alone: the effort of walking the earth is his form of yoga that he says triggers atavistic or future neural circuits designed to incorporate regions and zones directly into the brain’s deep cortex. He traipses the scuttery alleyways running behind mock-Tudor houses to do his magic.

Nick's walking has already attuned the circuits of his brain that are designed for radically different circumstances. And, he successfully imparts some of his deeper wisdom in a documentary film about his walks, The London Perambulator. He worries that mass digital technology has enabled us to atrophy these circuits before we even knew we had them. He believes we have some sort of zonal radar system that also operates trans-temporally, enabling us to introject directly into our cortex whole chunks of regional memory at the level of danger - from humans, animals, floods, earthquakes, microbes (particularly) and fire. The zone or place, in this case is Scarp, where the language of the land is wonderfully flexible and intuitive, also 'sings' and there seems to be some hi-fidelity, precision exchange of signals between the walker and the region.

Nick's words take on greater significance the more familiar you become with a zone or a place of your own, bringing rich meaning to walking, truly one of life’s pleasures.