Ant Cule Reviews... Being Alive

An Extremely Subjective View of Being A Human

Tag: 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.

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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… 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.