Ant Cule Reviews... Being Alive

An Extremely Subjective View of Being A Human

Category: London

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.

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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… 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… 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… Driving A Van

This week has been a week of firsts. Not least because this week I drove a van for the very first time.

On Sunday I had to drive (in a van) from Greenwich to Leyton, and then around the East of London, and back to Greenwich from where, on Monday morning, I had to drive this van to Balham and back. This was all in aid of the very first London airing of Drawn In, by Speechless Theatre Company – that which I set up with a great friend. Thanks to everyone who came to that by the way (I know some of you regular readers were there!!!!!!).

I’ll be the first to admit it; I was bloody scared of driving a van. I’m used to driving a Mini. Van’s may be many things, but mini they are not. Unless you count minivans? But I was not to drive a minivan. No no, I was to drive one of these.

A big ol’ Ford Transit van, rented from Hertz.

Glorious. Powerful. Deadly. With a functional yet elegant design, and plenty of room out back. And all for a perfectly reasonable price, as far as I could tell. My experience in van pricing isn’t especially large.

Honestly, I was so scared that my co-founder came down to Greenwich to do the trip up to Leyton with me. Vans are big. I am small. Vans are strong. I am weak. Vans are vehicles. I am human. There are many differences between me and a van, and differences are scary.

But let me tell you, buddy – once I got used to the clutch control required (it feels very crude), and the having no rear-view mirror (liberating, as you no longer have to panic about looking behind you to see a trail of destruction) – it was hella cool. In a van you feel like the king of the road.

The seats are much higher up than in a normal car, giving you elevation and a sense of superiority over other vehicles in the road. The windscreen is really big, giving you a panoramic view of your enemies. The engine growls pleasingly, like a lion’s roar. And you drive along just knowing you can fit a shit-load of stuff in behind you, and still be the king of the road.

Of course, despite these feelings, I still drove incredibly cautiously, and kept to the speed limits at all junctures. I can see the temptation to drive like a complete idiot when in a van – you feel absolutely invincible – but I think it’s important to not drive like a complete idiot when you’re in a vehicle of any kind. You might be invincible, but not everyone is! You gotta take other peoples’ safety into the equation! Okay guys??!!

Overall I recommend driving a van for the pure visceral thrill of being the king of the road. For a similar experience, you could wear a crown and declare yourself king of all roads.

Ant Cule Reviews… Sitting in a Coffee Shop

Hi there, Ant here, just apologising for the lateness of this. Normally I post Monday – Wednesday – Friday, as you well know. However, I was out all day yesterday so couldn’t publish it. I promise, though, that I wrote this yesterday, whilst sitting in a coffee shop. Thanks bye!

—–

I’m sitting in the corner of a well known coffee chain, watching and listening to what’s going on. There are wooden, or at least wood-effect, seats at matching tables. The tables are small and round.

A man with a goatee and a bald man with a stubble-beard shake hands. I don’t know if they’ve just concluded a business deal or a meeting, or if they’re just good friends. The man with the goatee has walked out, and the bald man with the beard is now wearing headphones.

A man and a woman sit at a table by the toilet door reading something off their phones and noting it on paper. A marriage of the modern and the timeless, bound by two silent parties across a table strewn with white paper cups. He is wearing a baseball cap indoors. I don’t mind that.

Two Asian men sit at right angles to them, chatting and relaxed. Any silences between them are comfortable and well-worn. I can’t hear what they’re saying over the jazz coming from the speaker in the corner.

I know I shouldn’t come to this coffee-chain, and I know I should support independent coffee shops, but I have a soft spot for this place. It was where I first defined myself as a coffee drinker. In my teenage years, I got impossibly sweet and milky coffee from here. Gradually I grew to like the underlying taste of the coffee more and more. This place was my gateway into actually enjoying coffee for the taste and experience of coffee. I don’t think that’s to be knocked. I know they don’t pay their taxes, and I know that they should. But I’m a sucker for a nostalgia trip.

There’s an ever-changing cast of characters rotating on and off the empty tables around me. There’s an endless stream of people wandering in and out of the toilets. Certainly not all life is here. In fact, only a very thin sliver of life is here. Yet, I can’t help but feel like wherever some life is present, then in some way all life is present. All life is held in some life. In the specific things they do, and the specific ways they hold themselves, and interact with where they are, and with each other. Connected by the space we share, and separated by social spheres we inhabit.

Overall, I recommend just sitting and watching people in a coffee shop to feel that stomach churning excitement that all of these people will never again be in the same space at the same time, and that that’s what makes life so magical.

Ant Cule Reviews… Having No-One To Go To The Circus With

Yesterday I was given tickets to the circus. Two tickets. Bright and shiny. Promising joy and fun and maybe clowns though I’m not really sure about that.

Two tickets, I thought, Excellent – one for myself and the other for… Who?

My girlfriend, alas, was away, else she would have been first on the list, as UK law dictates.

I asked friends. They couldn’t get shifts covered, were working till after the start time, WAS EVERYONE WORKING ON THIS HALLOWE’ED THURSDAY EVE??

At least some were honest and just said they plain old didn’t want to go to the circus.

But what of the gymnasts? What of the trapezists? And the elephants? What of them?

My panic deepened. Did no-one truly want to go to the circus? Would this circus be performed to a room full of empty seats? Does the circus exist if no-one goes to see it?

I never found the answers to these questions as I stayed in and had a bath. I was racked with guilt for not going, though the hot water soon sluiced those feelings off me.

After all, I was given those tickets, I hadn’t sought them out. They had sought me out. And I couldn’t sort out a circus-going colleague.

The worst thing? The thing the clowns would all laugh/cry at?

A friend contacted me this morning, a friend who didn’t want to go to the circus, and who answered on their partner’s behalf with a no. They said they’d mentioned it to their partner this morning. The conversation went something like this:

Friend: Do you like the circus?

Partner: Yes.

F: Would you have gone last night?

P: I wouldn’t have said no.

SO CLOSE! At least the tickets would have been used then. If only. Alas. What might have been.

But I still had a bloody lovely bath. So every CLOWN has a silver lining.

Overall I would not recommend not being able to find anyone to go to the circus with, for the existential and relational questions it brings up, along with the angst for the tickets and indeed the circus.

Ant Cule Reviews… Needing The Toilet on a Long Bus Journey

THIS IS THE FIRST IN A NEW SERIES! 

The series is ‘Requested Reviews’ whereby I review an experience (that I have been through) as requested by YOU, the reader. In order to request a review, either send me a ‘Holochat’ or, if technology hasn’t yet advanced that far, leave a comment! On any of my articles! And it will be added to the list!

This was requested by Kate. And the subject is ‘Needing the toilet on a long bus journey’.

It’s raining. A Sunday.

Yesterday was the worst day of travel of my life (which, okay, isn’t that much of a hardship). I ended up having to fly to Gatwick, when my car was parked at Stanstead. It was either that or fly to Southend. I didn’t even know Southend had an airport. I didn’t even know Southend had running water.

Which leaves me, the next day, to make a weird Ouroboros of a journey, and get a bus out to Stanstead in order to pick up my car and drive it back home.

So I get the tube out to Stratford, and buy a coffee to keep me warm. It’s raining, by the way. Maybe I didn’t set the scene well enough. It’s raining miserably. The sky is heavy with rain, and also, rain is coming down from the sky. It… Well, yeah, it’s raining.

I arrive at the bus terminal in time to see a bus-conductor sell the last of his tickets, meaning ar wait for the next shuttle-bus to Stanstead.

This is similar to the bugger I was waiting for. Imagine it’s raining for full effect.

Now, what I didn’t mention on Monday is that coffee goes through me like water through a sieve. Not literally. That would be WEIRD. I mean it seems to travel through my system very quickly. So by the time the bus  arrives, my bladder is tingling with the early tickles of needing a wee.

Push it to the side, think I. You’ll be at the car soon enough.

It’s raining. Like in Inception when they need a wee. It’s like this is my dream, and I need a wee, so it’s raining.

The bus journey takes about 1hr 20mins. Not excessive for a bus journey, but as the coffee sets to work on my bladder, the pressure grows. After half an hour, I’m crossing my legs. After an hour, I’m crossing them both ways at regular intervals. After an hour and twenty I’m sure I’m more water than man, and more urine than water.

And then the bus drops us off in the middle of a car park some way away from the airport.

It’s okay, I’ll just walk to the car, think I.

Big mistake. It’s raining. I need a wee. There are too many people coming and going to their cars, to and from their holidays, to successfully pass water without prying eyes.

Eventually I stagger to a bus-stop and get on a bus to the terminal. I’ll have to go right the way round.

But at least there’s a damned toilet.

HALLELUJAH!

I’ll spare you the grizzly details. Needless to say, the rest of the journey was a breeze, tired and damp though I was – I was free! Free from the oppressive chains of bladder-pain!

Overall, I would not recommend needing the toilet on a long bus journey. To mitigate the likelihood of such an event, always carry two water bottles with you. One for drinking (hydration is important!) and one for urination. Just don’t get them confused!

Ant Cule Reviews… Staring Out of the Window

Morning. Kettle boiling. Head still bleary with sleep. I stare out of the window.

It’s one of those kind of unfocussed stares, where I’m simultaneously taking in the cars rushing by and I’m inside my head thinking “My god I wish I was still in bed.”

Where I live the view is a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of cars and people. I can see a bridge over a road, basically.

The traffic isn’t too bad this morning. Yet still I wonder how so many people have already woken up and got behind the wheel of a two tonne death machine. Do they feel as foggy as I do? And these people crossing the bridge over the traffic. On their way to the train station. On their way to work. What are they thinking of?

People zooming underneath other people rushing as quickly as their feet will carry them – everyone on the way to somewhere.

Every person in this scene has a headful of thoughts.

Every car here has at least one person in it. How are there this many people in this city?

On the bridge a man in a black coat overtakes a woman pushing a pram. Is it cold out there?

Three traffic cones sit at the far side of the dual carriageway, and make me think of Toy Story 2. Just waiting for their chance to cross.

The author stares out of the window (a reconstruction of the events)

The author stares out of the window (reconstruction of the events)

The kettle clicks off the boil and I come back to the room. Make the tea. Head still bleary.

Overall, I would recommend staring out of the window of a morning and watching the world go by for a pensive start to the day. For a similar effect hide around a corner and spy on people going about their everyday business.