Ant Cule Reviews... Being Alive

An Extremely Subjective View of Being A Human

Tag: Review

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… Getting A New Pet

Say “Hello there lil’ fella” to the latest addition to the household.

Be warned, though; he’s cute though perhaps not ‘traditionally’ cute – depending on what your deeply-etched, engrained-by-society expectations of beauty are.

Okay. Without any further ado… Here he is…

Wait wait wait wait wait. I just need to emphasise, okay… He’s not furry or fluffy and he doesn’t have big eyes. In fact, he’s slimy and scaly and has very small eyes. And his breed are quite notorious for their bad tempers. They can be quite aggressive, actually. So, you know. Go easy on him.

Okay. I’ll take a picture now.

Wait, that wasn’t a good one.

I’ll take another.

Okay… Mmmmyeah, it’s okay. I’m just not sure I’m ever going to capture his best side, you know? I’m not sure he has a best side, even. It’s quite sweet, the way he always looks angry. Like he wants to bite you. Like he wants to headbutt you. Like he wants to put you in hospital. Sweet.

Okay. Okay. Here we go:

Isn’t he sweeeeeeeeet?

What a cutie. Like I said, not conventionally cute. We can’t let him out of his cage, ever, unfortunately.

But I really feel like, you know, if he gets into a loving house, how bad can he be?

Ow, he bit me! Ouch! What a prick.

Overall, I don’t recommend getting a new pet, unless you opt for a dog, because dogs are the greatest. Don’t get this guy. I suggest the best way to deal with this breed is to show them that kindness is a better long term solution than meanness, and that thought, debate, listening, and trying to understand each other is better than open hostility.

NB. Clearly, this fresh piece of satire is an April Fool’s prank! The pet we actually got, is this guy:

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… 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.

Ant Cule Reviews… Combing Your Beard.

I don’t know if it’s good having a beard. I haven’t made my mind up on that yet. In the last year or two I’ve discovered the joy of having a good shave and a smooth face. But at the moment I’m particularly beardy.

What I do know, is that it feels extremely lovely to comb my beard. The longer it’s getting, the better the combing feels. I use a simple black comb, standardly split into “Wide Bristles” and “Closer Together Bristles”, just like any other comb – you know, I’m just like you guys really! – and I go to town on my beard with the “Closer Together Bristles” setting.

The black comb used to comb my beard. You can clearly see the "Wider" and "Closer Together" bristle settings.

The black comb used to comb my beard. You can clearly see the “Wider” and “Closer Together” bristle settings.

Now, I like to follow the grain of my beard, which arranges the chin hairs into neat little rows, so when it’s getting a little chaotic on my face, I can inject some order. It’s important to keep that cosmic balance of order and chaos everywhere, I find. Especially when it comes to facial hair.

Here you see the way the comb effortlessly orders the beard.

Here you see the way the comb effortlessly orders the beard.

I wouldn’t recommend going against the grain at all. Not at all soothing.

The thing is, it’s not even about managing my facial hair or ordering it or anything. It’s about how nice it feels. Like a tiny sweet little family of mice are smoothing my face with their tiny sweet little paws. Or like Athena herself has come down from Mount Olympus and is running a special olive branch through my beard.

The “Wider Bristles” setting of the comb is less satisfying on the beard, but it turns out it is quite good for combing through one’s regular head hair! Bonus!

All in all, I highly recommend combing your beard. And if you don’t have a beard, I would recommend just stroking your face from time to time for a similar effect.