Hang Ups

Derelict Phone BoxWe once arrived back from Cyprus in the early hours and our plan was to phone a local taxi firm to get us home from the airport, but it proved more easily planned than than done.

We only had Mrs P’s new iPhone and the battery was flat. That was my fault because I had wrongly assumed that we could use my iPad cable to charge it, only to find that the new model had a totally different fitting.

But that shouldn’t have been a problem should it? All we had to do was use a public call box in arrivals and all would be well. Except there wasn’t one, not an old fashioned handset to be seen anywhere.

Actually, I tell a lie, there was one. A freephone connection to the main airport switchboard. I gave that a go and asked whether it would be possible to make an external call or direct us to a call box? Profuse apologies, but no they couldn’t help.

Our only option was to grit our teeth and get a black cab from the rank outside, a journey that cost me £35, more than three times the fare than if our local firm had collected us. It rankles still more than a year later.

But this story isn’t intended to illustrate my meanness, but rather the slow and sad disappearance of the public call box as this article from the BBC shows. I appreciate that they have fallen out of regular use these days, but the assumption that everyone has a mobile phone is plainly wrong. And even if it wasn’t, what happens if you have a flat battery as we did?

AB Phone Box

Image from 1900s website

Strange to think that the idea of public telephony has come and gone in my lifetime. I recall being taught how to use the old AB button phone box, like the one on the right, when I was in the Cubs. I don’t think you got a badge for it, but it was thought to be a necessary skill to learn, but then the telephone was an alien object in the home, at least in the one that I grew up in.

Then there were the long calls to girlfriends when I was in my teens. We still didn’t have a phone at home, so if you wanted to share distanced sweet nothings, then the only option was a walk to the nearest phone box and hope that no-one else had the same idea, keeping you waiting while tapping your watch outside.

And there were emergencies, of course. I once had two flat tyres in the middle of a winter’s night and had to call the AA for help. I had to wait inside the box for an hour and a half, freezing to death and with only the phone book to read by way of distraction.

Mind you, phone boxes were treated with a degree of respect back then. They were relatively clean and had a distinctive smell that had more to do with bakelite and the cheap, newsprint type paper that the phone books were printed on, rather than the smashed handset and makeshift urinals they were to become.

Before too long, the iconic red telephone boxes will have vanished completely and ended up as garden ornaments, or curiosities in themed pubs. If you want to find out more about their fate, see this article.

Viz Top Tip: Don’t waste money on buying an expensive address book, simply take a telephone directory and cross out the names and addresses of all the people you don’t know.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

2 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 18th February 2016

    When I am out walking and I come across a surviving red phone box, I always take a photo of it in the sure knowledge that it will soon be gone. In any case, most of the surviving kiosks are unusable. This is a slight worry to me because I have never owned a mobile phone but hey, this isn’t Antarctica or The Gobi Desert.

  • Trevor Rowley 18th February 2016

    I suppose the telephone people (is it British Telecom?) will have decided one day that public telephone boxes just weren’t worth it. They were always either vandalised, with the phone out of order and the floor swilling in pee/chip wrappers/fag ends and every other form of waste to the extent that you took your life in your hands by merely entering the telephone box. They seem to have suffered the same fate as public toilets – hardly any around now in our town centres, So it’s nice to get home to be able to use the phone in comfort (after you’ve had your pee, of course!).


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