Ant Cule Reviews... Being Alive

An Extremely Subjective View of Being A Human

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Ant Cule Reviews… Returning From A Holiday

On the off chance you’ve checked in here over the last week or so and wondered “What the-? Where are all the reviews at?!” let me tell you this: I’ve been on holiday.

We had something of a staycation (as modern parlance has it) and went to Centre (Center?) Parcs. And very relaxing it was too, being in a foresty environment, all bracing walks and cosy evenings in. A very refreshing break.

And now we come to the nub of the review. Returning from a holiday. It’s a different beast entirely to going on holiday. Returning from a holiday signals the end of “official” relaxing time, and the beginning of “feeling guilty for relaxing because it means you’re not being productive” time, aka what the world is pretty much like.

Returning from a holiday always leaves me grateful for the time I’ve had to relax and to read and watch films without the back-of-the-head-tingling feeling that I could and should be doing something else. Why is it that a holiday is the only place I permit myself those pleasures – and pleasures they are for I love relaxing and reading and watching films – without nagging myself?

And I certainly still do these things whilst not “on holiday”, it’s just I feel bad for doing them. For doing them in the day especially. That is something that feels like a luxury when not “on holiday” and like a real delight, like how I would love all day every day to be when “on holiday”. What are these arbitrary distinctions we impose on ourselves? I’m constantly amazed by the invisible worlds we construct for ourselves and the rules we choose to live by. I’m sure that’s probably come across if you’ve read more than a handful of these reviews.

Overall, I would not recommend returning from a holiday, and implore you instead to reserve a little holiday spirit for even those times when you don’t consider yourself “on holiday”. We could all do with relaxing a little more, I reckon.

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… Reviewing on the Go

Hi, Ant here. I wrote this on the tube yesterday, and have only just managed to publish it. Sorry for missing Monday. You can read me berating myself for such things here.

—–

I’m writing this on the tube. What a world we live in. I’m hurtling along in a metal tube underneath London, with dozens of people I’ll never see again, tapping words into a magic screen that changes at the touch of a button and the swipe of a finger.

The future is magic.
I’m on my way to the second night of Drawn In – a play that I made with a friend, through the theatre company we founded; Speechless. It’s a play with no words. That’s what we do. Speechless Theatre. Get it? It’s on until Thursday, at Theatre N16 in Balham. So if you read this on the 16th, 17th, or 18th of February 2016, then come on down. Tickets are only a tenner, which is pretty good value I think.
Is this review a hollow shell for promoting my own play? Partly. But the play has come up because it’s on my mind a lot. I’m really proud of it, and proud of what we’ve built so far, and are building with Speechless. It’s shown me how, with a little determination and passion and good people around you, you can do anything you want to. I mean, okay, that’s not strictly true. But you can put your energy and passion into something you want to do, and it works! It’s not something you should be scared of.
I was scared for a long time. I still am. But I’m scared and doing what I want to do, rather than scared and not. I know which one I’d rather.
Overall, I recommend reviewing on the go. It lets you think whilst you’re on the tube, or the train, or whatever your preferred mode of transport – and public transport isn’t really a place conducive to thinking. It’s liberating to be able to do so, even for a short while, before putting your headphones on and disappearing back into the crowd.

Ant Cule Reviews… Missing A Self-Imposed Deadline

Today is Saturday. I’m supposed to be following a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule on these posts.

Monday: tick.

Wednesday: tick.

Friday: NOTHING.

It haunted me yesterday. It would just creep in, whilst I was out for dinner (at a delicious Ethiopian-food place), tap me on the shoulder and remind me – “You can’t relax, because you have this to feel guilty about.”

And yet, this has got me thinking. We all miss deadlines, even just once in a while. And it’s fine. It’s annoying but it’s fine. And this is a self-imposed deadline. No-one’s paying me for this. No-one’s demanding I write three posts a week. No-one other than myself.

I often bind myself up in knots about missing a self-imposed deadline, I take it as a reflection on my inability to do anything well or efficiently. I take it as a mark of my inherent tendency towards laziness, towards slapdashery. I resent myself for my strict deadlines, and I resent myself for not meeting them.

But none of that is actually useful. None of that helps me write more, or makes me any more productive. It just makes me seethe at myself. It creates negative energy, and makes me tense. And I don’t want to be tense, I hate feeling tense.

So I’ve decided to forgive myself for missing my self-imposed deadline, and while I will try and meet it in the future, I’ll try not to beat myself up if I don’t. After all, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

Overall, I recommend missing a self-imposed deadline once in a while, as it can give you a chance to reflect on what you value, and what you think of yourself. And a spot of self-reflection can be an important thing.

Ant Cule Reviews… Writing A Sonnet

The act of sonnet writing is a treat,

You write the thing across some fourteen lines

Of iambic pentameter – so neat!

And lines that end in alternating rhymes.

Each four lines ought to make a different point,

And culminate in the last lines; there’s two.

These four lines, for example, will anoint

The middle section of this poem-review.

But hang on! There’s a twist yet unexplored

Which forms the basis of this last quartet –

They suddenly subvert what’s come before,

And set us up for the final couplet:

Overall I recommend you try it,

Sonnet-writing can be quite inspired.

Ant Cule Reviews… Baking Banana Bread

Is it a bread? Is it a cake? Is it a banana? Is it all of these things, or none of them? Or simultaneously all AND none? Just what is banana bread?
I don’t propose to solve this mystery, no sir, not right now. I don’t if that’s a mystery that can ever be solved. What I propose to do, is simply review the act of making and baking some banana bread.
Bear in mind this is just this one specific instance of making (and baking) banana bread. This is not necessarily reflective of how I always make banana bread, nor even how banana bread should always be made. This is only reflective of how I made it on the evening of Monday the 8th of February 2016.
First things first, I mashed up some very ripe bananas. I used a fork to mash them, but you could also use your fist or your feet. Make sure you mash them in a bowl, rather than on the floor.

Here is evidence of how ripe the bananas were (posthumous)

Here is evidence of how ripe the bananas were (posthumous)

I then mixed up some sugar and butter in a different bowl. This is very satisfying, especially if you soften the butter prior to mixing as I did. Softened butter means it becomes much more malleable and thus you feel very strong when you mix it with the sugar – provided you then imagine it as being HARDENED butter.
Next, I smooshed the banana (mashed) into the sugar and butter (mixed), along with some vanilla essence (nice) and something else that I’ve forgotten. Oh yes. Two eggs. I remembered. I chose to remove the shells of the eggs, I find it less jagged that way. Also cracking eggs makes me feel like a Boss Chef.
I then weighed some flour (plain) and some baking powder (beautiful), before manhandling them into the banana/egg/sugar/butter goop.
I yelled “¡I am a Boss Chef!“, and then poured the mixture of all of the above into a baking tin.

Here is the mixture at the "Uncooked" stage of cooking.

Here is the mixture at the “Uncooked” stage of cooking.

I had poured about half of the mixture into the tin when I realised that I had intended to add nuts and seeds into the mixture. So I then added some nuts and seeds into the rest of the mixture. This was a real thrill. I felt like a total maverick and Boss Chef, improvising on the fly.
Once I’d mashed the nuts and seeds into the mixture, I shuttled it into an already hot oven. It is important that your oven is hot, else it won’t cook, silly!
Here’s what it looks like.

Here is the cake/bread/banana finished and fresh out of the (hot) oven.

Here is the cake/bread/banana finished and fresh out of the (hot) oven.

Over all, I highly recommend baking banana bread for it makes you feel like a ¿Boss Chef?. I don’t recommend it if you’re keen on having your baked goods easily definable.

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.

Erika Cule Reviews… Having A Birthday

Hi it’s Ant here at the top of this post. This is also a new ‘innovation’ whereby a guest reviewer comes in and reviews something from their life. Wednesdays shall henceforth be called ‘innovation Wednesdays’. This is a guest review by Erika Cule, whose regular blog is Blogging Beyond.

Having a Birthday, eh? An odd subject to review. Everybody Has a Birthday, whether Having one is Recommended or Not.

Or do they? If someone’s date of birth is not known, do they still Have a Birthday? What about the Queen, who reportedly has two? Or twins, who share a birthday? Does that mean they only have half a birthday each? 

I considered reviewing “Celebrating a Birthday”. However, Celebrating a Birthday is not a universal human experience. One can come up with all sorts of reasons why someone’s birthday might never be celebrated. I myself am in the fortunate position of having had only had one or two birthdays that were not celebrated. Incidentally, having a birthday that is not celebrated is Not Recommended, but having a birthday that is not celebrated is different to Celebrating a Birthday, and neither of those are the subject of this review.

Anyhow, I recently Had a Birthday, well, within the last year at least (haha), and it led me to reflect on birthdays, and what it means to have one. I have had a large enough number of birthdays (no, I’m not going to tell you how many) to be in a position to look at them in the collective, and overall, I conclude that having a birthday is recommended, at least by me.

A Birthday can be inspiration for contemplation.

Birthdays are about connecting. Because my Date of Birth is special to me, it leads me to connect with a handful of people who share my Date of Birth, whose presence, let alone birthday, I wouldn’t otherwise routinely think of. There’s the ritual of birthday cards, which I used to dismiss, but as I got older I saw birthday cards as less of a hassle (dammit! their birthday was two days ago and I still haven’t found a stamp!) and more of an opportunity, to tell someone that you care about them, that their special day is more special than a Facebook message to you, too.

Birthdays are an opportunity to celebrate. My birthday is in mid-winter, at a time many people view as gloomy and dominated by post-Christmas restraint and Blue Mondays

A Birthday can be an excuse for cheer in an otherwise gloomy season.

I am there with a cheerful expression, to remind them that despite the greyness of the sky there can be colour in our moods as we light candles and share a special meal. Big Birthdays can be marked with Big Celebrations, and birthdays that you’d prefer to observe only with a passing nod can be noted in that fashion. You are even free to ignore your birthday entirely, should you so choose, although doing so does not halt the passing of time. But for an excuse to spend time with friends and loved ones you can’t beat a birthday. If you’re not having one, someone else will be.

I am fond of birthdays, of anniversaries and dates, and milestones and navel-gazing and contemplating of the nature of time. But more than that, I believe that our relationships with others are what makes us human, so I Recommend Having a Birthday to you and to your loved ones, not because of the presents, cards, and candles nor the anxiety that increasing each year as your birthday approaches and you remember that you are Getting Old. I Recommend Having a Birthday as an opportunity to connect with others, to remember that we are All In This Together, and to cheer each other up along the way. 

Photo credits: S. S. H. / Erika Cule / S. S. H.

Ant Cule Reviews… Getting A Reading Nook

This weekend saw the addition of a few of attractive new members of the household.

A couple of lovely red armchairs arrived – hand-me-downs really, from my parents. No, I don’t think it’s weird to describe armchairs as ‘attractive’, why do you ask?

They will provide lovely seats for when we have guests, and also for when we wish to sit down.

But I’m not here simply to gloat about now being able to sit down to eat my dinner. No, no. I’m here to gloat about other things as well.

You see, I’m very excited about where we’ve positioned one of the chairs. What do you mean you wouldn’t really consider armchairs ‘new members of the household’?

Previously I might have had to stand to peruse our bookshelf. But now:

One of the chairs, situated by the book shelf, thus becoming a reading 'nook'

One of the chairs, situated by the book shelf, thus becoming a reading ‘nook’

I can sit! I can sit and look at books!

I love to have a chair to sit in and have a book on my lap whilst I idly flick through my twitter feed. And now I have one right next to a bookshelf! I’m going to look very distinguished in my attractive new member of the household.

Overall I would recommend getting a reading nook by putting a chair next to a bookshelf. For a similar effect, drag a bookshelf with you wherever you go for a portable, permanent reading nook wherever you sit down!

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.

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