Ant Cule Reviews... Being Alive

An Extremely Subjective View of Being A Human

Ant Cule Reviews… Discovering All The Things An Aeropress Can Do

Have you ever thought you know a piece of equipment, only to discover its boundaries are far wider than they appeared? That’s exactly what happened to me with the Aeropress.

For those who haven’t read my review on coffee, I suggest you do, just to get a flavour of how much I love the taste of that sweet brown muck. I now own four different methods of getting my sweet coffee fix. The Aeropress, the coffee pod machine, the caffetierre and the Moka express. I have no preferred way of getting my coffee. It all tastes good. Or at least, I had no preferred way. Until now.

It began with me in the kitchen, making a cup of coffee with my Aeropress. For Christmas, my girlfriend and my sister got me coffee bean subscriptions from here. Each of these bean packets comes with a little card- board flap which describes the best way to get maximum flavour from these particular beans. I saw these beans were best made using the Aeropress, so I made them in the usual way, as recommended on the packet of the Aeropress. That is to say, put in the grounds, put in some water, let it sit, stir it, let it sit, press it. And that made a very tasty cup. But something about the instructions as written in the card- board flap gave me pause for thought.

They showed the coffee brewing in the Aeropress… upside-down.

My stomach danced. They couldn’t mean it, could they? And yet it made so much sense. It’s long been a bugbear of mine that as you let the water and coffee grounds mingle in the Aeropress, it starts pouring through into the cup below… but to brew it upside-down… It couldn’t work… Could it?

The very next day I tried. And I took photos. And it worked! My boundaries had been extended! I found a new way to use this remarkable piece of technology to extract yet more delicious flavour from the coffee without prematurely sending it into the cup. And ordinarily that would be where it all ended.

img_1768 img_1770 img_1769 img_1774 img_1773 img_1775

But then I discovered this. And I have not. Stopped. Experimenting. And the results have been delicious. Like, seriously, some of the best coffee I have ever made.

Overall I highly recommend grabbing something you thought you knew the limits of, and discovering what else it can do. The Internet is a great resource, be- cause other people have done the trial and error for you and you just get the sweet sweet caffeine infused nectar.

Ant Cule Reviews… Paying The Dartford Crossing Toll

It was a crisp, cold day in November, and I was in Borehamwood to pick up my car. Because my car, without me ever sitting in the driving seat, was in Borehamwood.

Welcome to Borehamwood.

Welcome to Borehamwood.

I woke up on Saturday with a skip in my step. I put porridge in the pan and set it cooking. I had a great class planned for my students at Theatre Peckham. Ros and I had planned a feast for the bonfire night party we were hosting that night.

In the distance I heard a car alarm that sounded like mine. Better check, I thought, just incase.

It definitely wasn’t my car’s alarm. Because my car was gone.

There, where my car normally sat, was an empty space. My mouth popped into a neat little O. I walked into the bedroom, looked out the window there.

“What’s wrong?” said Ros.
“The car’s gone,” I said.
“What?” said Ros.

And so began one of the most rollercoaster Saturdays I’ve ever experienced.

There was no glass where the car should have been. It looked like the car had just stood up and walked off. I rang my dad.

“The car’s gone,” I said, “I think it’s been stolen.”
“Oh that’s a bugger,” he said. “Ring the police.”

Ros and I came back inside. The porridge was burnt.

The police asked me if it’s a controlled parking area (it is) and if I definitely have permission to park there (I do). They took my details, name, date of birth, the registration plate number. They ran a check.

“Ah,” said the policeman, “I’ve found it. The bailiffs took it. Unpaid court fines.”
“What?” I said.
“I’ve got a number here, have you got a pen and paper?”

I rang the number they gave me – the number of the person who took away my precious car.

Please leave a message after the tone.

“Hello. Erm. You took my car? Could you ring me back please?”

Ros and I sat at our kitchen table. The bailiffs took our car. Why? We still get mail for the previous tenants of this address. Mail from HMRC for their business, Ria Ventures. We still have no idea what Ria Ventures does. Could the bailiffs have taken my car thinking I was the owner of Ria Ventures? I rang my dad.

“The bailiffs took the car.”
“Okay.”
“For unpaid court fines.”
“Erm… Okay.”
“I don’t have any unpaid court fines, dad!”

I explained our current working theory. Email the bailiffs, he said. Best to get something in writing.

I sat at my laptop, head in hands. My car was gone. What the hell. Normally I spent Saturday mornings watching Saturday Kitchen and eating porridge. I wasn’t prepared for this.

I sent the bailiffs an email with the subject, White Mini One – Reg. XXXXXX – Incorrectly Seized. I told them, as passive-aggressively as I could, our current working theory. Ros had made porridge in the mean time. We ate, and we laughed. What else could we do?

My phone rang.

“Hello?”
“Hi, just got your voicemail. I took your car.”
“Yes?”
“Yeah, it was for an unpaid trip over the Dartford Crossing. In March.”
“And they take your car for that?”
“I’m afraid so. I just live round the corner actually, are you at home now?”

I told Ros. Dartford Crossing, end of March. I checked my diary. What was I doing in March? And then I saw. My sister had borrowed the car for the Easter weekend, which fell at the end of March. The plot thickened.

In the car park where my car should have been, the man who took my car showed me his ID. He showed me the details of my forgotten crossing, 29th of March, I’d paid one way but not the other. And showed me the cost to get my car released.

He was a nice guy, which feels weird to say about the man who TOOK MY CAR. He said I should appeal. He seemed like he was on my side. He came out to my place on a Saturday morning. They must have sent the letters to my address in Norwich, as that was the address attached to the ticket. I didn’t get any letters through. If I had, I would have paid. I wouldn’t have let it get to the point where they TOOK MY CAR.

“I’ll have the office send a note to the place they’re holding your car first thing Monday morning, and text you to let you know. Did I tell you? It’s being held in Borehamwood.”

So, it came to pass that on a crisp cold day in November, I was in Borehamwood to pick up my car. Which had got there without my knowledge or consent thanks to the British driving authorities. Because I forgot to pay the Dartford Crossing Toll. It was me. The 29th was there in my diary; I went up to Norfolk. I remember it now. I remember trying to remind myself to remember to pay as I drove across the Dartford Crossing. Sorry Juliette for briefly suspecting you.

A few things I noticed about Borehamwood. The drivers are generous at letting pedestrians cross the roads. It happened at least five times for me. The high street had a lot of charity shops. There’s a lot of building work happening in Borehamwood. I couldn’t tell whether that was because it’s up and coming, or because it’s being torn down. The local school wear maroon blazers. There is a huge Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower, with an enormous warehouse. Seriously huge.

I saw one magpie. One… for sorrow…?

But then, later on on the walk I saw two other magpies. Two for joy. Or does that make a total of three for a girl?

After my walk through Borehamwood I found the car recovery centre. More a glorified car park with a few port-a-cabin offices. Smashed cars. Burnt out cars. My car. In the corner. My car.

img_1995

My car. My sweet precious car. In Borehamwood.

img_1997

The car next to my car. Yeek.

I will always keep an eye on you, my car. I’ll never let you out of my sight again.

Overall, I highly recommend you pay the Dartford Crossing toll. Because if you don’t, THEY WILL TAKE YOUR CAR.

Ant Cule Reviews… Seeing Someone Taking A Note On Public Transport

A cool man with slicked back hair, thick rimmed glasses, and a finely kept goatee was on the bus when he reached into his bag and took out a notebook. He wrote something in it. Then he stared out of the window, watching the world roll past. He might have written something else, I didn’t notice. Because I was too busy thinking:

Yes mate! You’re having ideas! You’re having a discussion with yourself about what to note down! What a rich inner life you have! You’re awesome!

The bus looked passingly like this. (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0c/London_Bus_route_249_interior.jpg)

The bus looked passingly like this. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0c/London_Bus_route_249_interior.jpg

I was sitting behind him, by the way.

What a great feeling, seeing evidence that another person thinks, and deems their thought write-downable. It’s not that I don’t think other people think at all. I do think they think unthinkingly, though. I think.

When I see another person with a notebook and pen, or a notetaking app open on their phone, I am struck with admiration. I am reminded that we all have our own inner lives, and we’re constantly in dialogue with ourselves. It’s a real sign of belief in yourself, that your thoughts are worthy of writing down.

Pen and paper note taking in particular gets me going. So much in our world today is stored in The Cloud, wherever that is. Putting a thought to paper is a real act of commitment in a world of Twitter Streams and Blog Rolls and Facebook Algorithms. It’s saying, this will stay in this one place for ever. It’s making a mark. It’s a fundamentally human thing to do.

This post has turned out to be a bit less goofy than my other ones, but there we go. Sometimes seeing people being people makes me feel like not being glib.

Overall I highly recommend watching someone else take a note. Admire them. Nod at them. Touch their leg softly, to reassure them that their thoughts are worthwhile.

Ant Cule Reviews… Washing Your Hands

And Also Seeing Someone Else Not Wash Theirs.

Everybody poops. You. Me. Your mum. My mum (sorry mum!). Everybody pees. Including our parents. It’s only natural. But what’s not natural is not then washing your hands.

And yet, the question pops in my head, is it natural to wash your hands after making your toilet? For that matter is it natural to wipe your bum? Did our ancestors on the savannah make sure they did their business near a nice big non-toxic leaf? Or did they walk around wafting poopstink wherever they roamed?

Did all these incarnations of humans wipe their butts? (image from here: http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/images/archive/fullsize/1678_fs.jpg)

Did all these incarnations of humans wipe their butts? (image from here: http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/images/archive/fullsize/1678_fs.jpg)

A brief internet search shows me that our cave-dwelling ancestors must have just dropped their bits in the cave, before eventually designating one area for pooping. As the nature of humans is to streamline processes more, so pooping must have become more centralised. In the agricultural revolution there may have been designated poop-zones. Kind of like festival portaloos, but less awful. Then as farms grew to cities so we developed sewers. And as our effluence mingled together so bacteria grew, thus illness was tracked back to open sewers and piles of poop. Thus poop was seen as evil. And as medicine advanced, and with the rise of antibacterials, so came post-toilet hygiene.

Wow, that was a weird tangent. A very brief history of pooping. Sorry about that.

I saw someone make the valid point that we actually use potential drinking water to hurry our little turds on their merry way to the sewer. That’s crazy. I blame the Victorians. I’d be happy just burying my little leavings in the back garden. Is that why they call it soiling yourself?

Where was I? Oh yes, although I have all these questions about society’s fecal etiquette, I actually enjoy washing my hands. Warm water and soap on a cold day is a sweet remedy. To what, I don’t know, but it’s definitely a remedy. It’s like having a little bath in the middle of the day. A little bath just for your hands. And I don’t need to tell you how much I love a bath, do I? I do? Well, read it here.

What I can’t ABIDE is weeing next to someone then finishing at more or less the same time, walking towards the sinks, and then, as I go the sinks to wash my hands, the other weeer (pronounced ‘oui-er’) walks straight out of the public toilethouse. Like, whaaaaaat?! You’re going to go and handle apples with unwashed hands? You’re going to go and stroke soft looking furnishings after touching your junk? Or do you have some kind of prehensile penis, which means you only have to undo your zip to pass your body-water? WHICH IS IT?!

Overall, I highly recommend washing your hands after using the toilet in any form. Especially if you happen to pee next to me. If you don’t I will judge you. And it won’t be a nice judgement.

Ant Cule Reviews… Clearing Out Your Email Inbox

It’s no exaggeration to say I’m not a particularly organised person. Recently, though, I’ve been making a push to become more efficient. Or at least less messy. I don’t know quite what prompted this switch. Societal pressure? Podcasts with people bragging about workflows? Exasperation at my messy desk? All of these are questions. I don’t have the answers.

One of the first steps I took was to look at my email inbox. Not a pretty sight.

I thought I stayed on top of them. At least, I knew what to search if I ever wanted to pull up an old email. What’s a few unread emails anyway? But that bold 167 unread emails started to nag at me. And then I noticed how many emails I had in my inbox in total. Around the 2,000 mark. Not so bad maybe. But then I realised that the ‘in total’ Gmail gives you is just for the particular ‘tab’ your on. As it happens, they’ve also helpfully divided my emails into three other ‘tabs’: social; promotions; updates. I only recently discovered that each of those has around the same amount of emails. More in the case of ‘updates’. That had around 4,000. The amount of emails I had to tame increased fivefold, without me doing anything. Which was great.

I'll just keep chipping away until I reach the hallowed 'Inbox Zero'. (This snazzy picture is originally found here http://www.nycrgb.org/images/email%20icon.png)

I’ll just keep chipping away until I reach the hallowed ‘Inbox Zero’. (This snazzy picture is originally found here http://www.nycrgb.org/images/email%20icon.png)

My technique so far has been to start from the oldest and work backwards. I set up my email address in 2010. I have mostly deleted anything from pre-2015 unless it looks ultra important. It’s amazing how few emails look ultra important.

And then I discovered the ‘labels’ feature that gmail has. So I’ve been merrily labelling up my emails with all manner of things. Receipts, Writing, Personal, Personal/Family, Work. Now all I need to do is remember the fifteen and counting labels I use.

I’m now down to around 4,000 emails total. But I am on Inbox 54. Obviously that’s still a swollen bloated mass of an inbox, but you know, credit where it’s due.

And what of the act of doing all this? Of clearing out, organising, deleting, labelling? It’s liberating. I’m removing clutter. With every email deleted it’s a small amount of my past that I no longer have to carry around with me. And those bits that I keep, are bits of my past that I want to carry around with me. It has given me tremendous perspective on what is important to me. Emails from friends and family are important. Emails from hotel chains I stayed in once, six years ago, not so much.

Overall I highly recommend clearing out your email inbox. It is at once liberating and practical, and gives you real perspective on what is actually important to you. The next step is to unsubscribe to all those damned mailing lists I’m somehow on.

Ant Cule Reviews… Driving for Eight Hours Non-Stop* Twice in A Weekend (Sixteen Hours Total)

* With several stops for breaks

Without wishing to overstate it, driving for eight hours non-stop is an abysmally miserable experience for all involved. I speak from experience, for on Friday and then Sunday I made the journey from London to Bigbury-on-sea, and then back.

Don’t get me wrong. There were things to cherish about the journey. The company; my girlfriend on the way down, then my girlfriend _and_ my sister on the way back. The view (sometimes); we drove past Stone Henge. The entertainment; Desert Island Discs.

Ugh. Me. (NB. Not me, actually from driving.ca)

Ugh. Me. (NB. Not me, actually from driving.ca)

But oh! The numb buttocks! A lament for my unfeeling rump! Hold a vigil, light a candle, pour a libation to my poor old bum. Humans are evolved to walk a lot. It’s an open secret that you have to sit down whilst driving. Thus, driving for a long time is not what we are meant to do. We get uncomfortable. I think the Flintstones had the right idea.

Furthermore, driving is bad for the planet. Or rather the burning of fossil fuels is, and that’s what driving does. Unless you’re driving an electric car, which even so probably burns fossil fuels to generate the electricity. And pretty soon, if it doesn’t do that, it will probably generate a heap of nuclear waste SO THAT’S GOOD. Basically there’s no two ways about it, driving in a car = environmental doom.

There are people driving cars who are not safe or pleasant to drive on the same road as. These are the people who undertake you and whip in front of you, when you yourself are about to overtake a lorry. There are people who give you a wanker sign in front of their two young kids when you’ve reversed to get out of their way on a country lane. I want to like people, I do. But sometimes they make it difficult.

Then there’s the traffic. Cruising down the motorway is one thing, knowing you’re ploughing through those miles. You can enjoy staying alert and lively, and you can revel in obeying the speed limit. But once you hit traffic, and you start crawling through the miles, there are few things more tedious. Don’t even get me started on stopping on a motorway. It’s unnatural.

Finally, there’s just the interminable length of the journey. After six hours of driving there’s still another two to go. Half an hour remaining on the journey feels like a snip. It feels even longer than slogging through this post, if you can conceive of such a thing.

Still…

The most magical weekend here for mom and dad's 60th birthday party.

A photo posted by Ant Cule (@antok87) on

…It was worth it to have the celebration of a lifetime down in Devon for my parents’ joint sixtieth birthday party. It was a special weekend. Not even the loads of driving that bookended it could take that away.

**Overall** I do not recommend driving for eight hours non-stop. Why not go for a jog instead?

Ant Cule Reviews… Houmous

Or Hummus. Houmous. Or Hummus? Why not both? They both amount to the same thing. Chickpeas smashed into a glorious paste, flavoured with manna from heaven. And tahini.

Glorious and tasty paste. Eat with crisps (not pictured)

I am a vegetarian. Houmous (hummus?) is often associated with vegetarians, being as it is one of the only things they can physically consume. But even before I became a vegetarian I ate a hecka load of houmous. Hummus. The thing is, I love crisps, but on their own they’re so dry and crunchy. They don’t have nearly enough wet paste smothering them, is the problem. And that’s where hummus steps in. Hamas?

Houmous on its own, is a delicious wet paste, but it doesn’t have nearly enough crunch to it. Do you see where I’m going with this? How do you spell hummus?

Crisps and hoomoose combined are what I call ‘God’s Own Confection’. Just the perfect balance of slime and crunch. Like eating a delicious insect, I suppose, with a crunchy exoskeleton and gloopy innards. I’ve only ever eaten one insect on purpose – a deep fried locust. The wing-casing was stuck in my teeth for the whole evening.

I eat so much humous (woah! Autocorrect just gave me yet another spelling!) that I ought to be a brand ambassador. If only I could spell the damned substance. I can’t say that since becoming vegetarian I’ve noticed a major spike in my own hjummush intake, but that’s probably because it is literally my snack of choice. I was born in Surrey, by the way.

Things I love about hommos:

  • how no-one knows how to spell it!
  • The plastic wrapping that you have to unwrap from around the lip of the pot.
  • The many ways you can spell it; It’s so versatile!
  • How great it tastes with crisps!
  • The many different variants you can get.
  • How scared I am to make it myself.

Overall I highly recommend houmous – the delicious paste you can eat!

Ant Cule Reviews… Spring Cleaning

When does Spring spring? Is it the weather? Is it purely the month? Is it when you see the first goslings drifting down the river? When you’re honked at by a goose-mother? When does Spring spring?

For me, there’s one definitive measure for if Spring has sprung. And that is “Am I wearing sunglasses and a jacket at the same time?” If the answer is yes, then you’re bound to be in the season known globally in English as Spring. Wearing sunglasses and a light jacket makes you immediately look like a badass, I’ll tell you that for free. You can imagine yourself as the Terminator, or as the kind of person who walks down the street talking loudly into a bluetooth earpiece. That’s the feeling Spring should invoke in you.

And traditionally with the ushering in of Spring, comes the ushering out of old clutter.  I’ve never consciously indulged in a “Spring Clean” before. I’ve only recently started consciously indulging in cleaning of any sort. Haha, no, just joking, hahaha, I’m a filthy pig.

What is it to Spring Clean? It is to look at your living area afresh. Check your shelves for books you’ll never read again, films you’ll never watch again, bananas you’ll never eat again. It is to look at your clothes and be honest about those t-shirts you’ve now been wearing for more than ten years. It is to move beyond giving the surfaces a good wipe down, and investing in some elbow grease. It is to take everything out of a cupboard and put it back in in a different order so it looks more appealing. It is to change over from your Winter to your Summer duvet.

Spring Cleaning is to let go of your attachments things. It is to become a Buddhist for the day. It is to take an itinerary of your life-things, and adjust it accordingly. It is to finally get rid of that vacuum cleaner that has long since been usurped by Henry. It is to marvel at the length of Henry’s wire, as it stretches down a full flight of stairs. It is to lambast your previous vacuum cleaner for its poor suction and its comparatively short wire. It is to throw out your old kettle.

Anyone want some free stuff?

Anyone want some free stuff?

To Spring Clean is to clear a new space in your life, where you didn’t think space could be found. Space that you can fill with better, newer stuff.

Now, does anyone want a free vacuum cleaner, kettle, or one of a selection of books and films?

Overall I highly recommend Spring Cleaning to give your life a good once over, and to help you stop being so bloody attached to things. Also, it’s nice to live in a clean flat.

Ant Cule Reviews… Getting Caught Photographing The Aftermath of the London Marathon

Okay, I’ll level with you. This one is a little niche even for a website about reviewing specific elements of my life. And yet here I am writing it, and here you are reading it.

Allow me to set the scene. I had been to the shop. Tuesday. Slung over my shoulder, a canvas bag full of gubbins for dinner. My mind ambled this way and that, and walking along the Woolwich Road ultimately led me to thinking about how I’d watched the London Marathon runners doing their running on the Sunday. It seemed so alien, that this road, now swarming with traffic, was home to thousands of betrainered feet, pootling along the ginormous running course. Traffic of a different kind, I suppose.

One particularly striking aspect of the marathon runners was the gleeful abandon with which they cast aside their (presumably free) bottles of Lucozade and packets of energy gunk. Sure, at the time I didn’t begrudge them pelting the pavement with basically full bottles of orangey-sweet goodness, but, you know, over 30,000 runners came through. That shit adds up. And so it struck me that despite a superhuman effort on behalf of the organisers, there still remained evidence of the drink-chucking frenzy that had taken place.

It came to my mind to photograph such a piece of detritus, with the half-formed idea of reviewing what it’s like watching the London Marathon (it gives you motion sickness, the sound of thousands of feet clomping along is very satisfying). I whipped out my phone, and snapped an empty packet of energy-goo nestling by a car wheel. At just that time, someone came walking briskly around the corner carrying some sort of cardboard box. I gawked, open mouthed at him, as if he had just busted me, trousers around my ankles, popping a squat at the side of the road.

And here it is, the photograph that caused all the trouble

And here it is, the photograph that caused all the trouble

Needless to say, he didn’t care. If anything, he looked shocked that I looked shocked. I, meanwhile, waddled off ahead of him, cursing my stupidity. Doubtless he would think I was off to send an email to the council; Subject: Marathon Detritus. I wanted to grab him and say “I’m not a nark, man!” Instead, I cast a furtive glance back at him, and kind of snorted coolly, as if it was all one big misunderstanding.

Overall, getting caught photographing the aftermath of the London Marathon is not recommended, for doing so will surely damage your street-cred.

Ant Cule Reviews… Receiving A Postcard

The world is full of surprises. But mostly, they’re big and/or nasty surprises. There are very few small and good surprises.

Finding 50p in your pocket. Walking through a nice-smelling section of air. Seeing someone reading a book that you’ve also read and enjoyed. Seeing a pigeon in an unusual place.

Spotted doing a bit of after work shopping in "Coo-stle" Mall #businesspigeon #norwich

A photo posted by Ant Cule (@antok87) on

And one of those pleasures, the small pleasures, the pleasures that make you feel a little spark that the world might be alright in the end, is trotting down to get the post and seeing a cheery little piece of card beaming up at you from the matt. You turn the card over, and there’s writing – actual writing! in pen and ink! – in a hand you distantly recognise. No matter whether the message is short, there is something so personal about knowing someone has taken the time to pick out a postcard, uncap a pen, and write you a message.

We live in a world of digital ink, and emails and whatnot. But I can’t see, no matter how much we try to humanise ‘tech’, how it can connect with us in the same way as seeing someone’s handwriting. There’s physical effort in handwriting. There’s connection between human and pen and pen and paper. There’s mistakes that you can’t get rid of (unless you have one of those pen erasers).

Receiving a postcard automatically makes you think “I wish I sent more postcards”. And that’s a great thought to have. You should send more postcards! So should I! On my desk I have a book called ‘Chekhov; A Life in Letters’. No-one in this day and age is going to be known as ‘A Man of Emails’. Man I wish I lived in the 19th century. Just the 19th century with wifi and all the modern conveniences that we enjoy (eg. coffee, Netflix, etc.)

All in all I highly recommend receiving a postcard for getting a warm feeling and one of life’s little surprises. Why not surprise someone whose address you happen to know today? Send them a letter, or a handmade postcard, or just a regular postcard!

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