Friday, 4 December 2015

Bring me a picture of that red telephone box from my youth

Now writing about the telephone box is not so daft given that they are disappearing from our streets or are  being turned to other uses.*

Down in Lewisham with the book library, 2015
The mobile revolution has pretty much done for them which is a shame because if you are of a certain age they were as much a part of the street furniture as the pillar box or Belisha Beacon.

There was that brief spat of competition between Mercury and BT in the 1980s which seemed to lead to shed loads of telephone boxes appearing all over the place but now it is increasingly difficult to find one at all.

Those new ones were by and large made to a new design which did away with the familiar red box with its heavy door in favour of a three sided cubicle with big glass panels and which was open at the front.

 I have to say I didn’t like them.

It wasn’t that they were new, it was just that they were neither inviting nor practical.

The absence of a door and the fact there was a gap half way down made them less private, let in the weather and the noise from passing traffic and people.

In contrast the red box offered up a quiet secure place to make a call.

It began with pulling open the heavy door which didn’t always open easily, and then inside there was that familiar slightly sweet smell which came I guess from the disinfectant and the stuffiness of the small cubicle.

No phone but lots of books, 2015
Added to which there could also be those lingering set of smells which were a mix of stale tobacco, perfume and unwashed bodies.

But they did the business and I still like the idea that each had its set of telephone directories much thumbed through and adorned with scribbles, obscure messages and the occasional obscene drawing.

And the kiosk was an essential part of growing up which included that childhood game of pushing the buttons to see if any pennies were released and later still dialling those secret GPO numbers to get a free call which was always more about the thrill of the illicit act than ever it was about defrauding the Post Office.

Not that we used them that often, after all when you were ten in 1959 there was pretty much no one to phone.

Most of the people I knew still didn’t have a phone and most of the time I was actually with the people who I might want to contact.

But of course they became essential as I reached those teenage years and wanted that romantic conversation away from the ears of parents and nosey siblings.

Not that this was always easy, for first you had to explain why on a wet cold Sunday afternoon in February you needed to go out, and then there was the suspense of waiting for that special person to pick up and the inevitable embarrassment of asking her dad to get her to come to the phone.

Saved and in Kath's garden, 2015
And worst of all was the agonising wait in the box for her to phone you which always seemed to coincide with the lady from across the road who had got there first leaving you standing counting the minutes which hung like hours.

After a while you became adept at watching the hand movements which might signal Mrs Radcliffe was about to finish or more usually left you in the pit of despair as she came close to but never quite finished the conversation.

So I suppose the mobile phone has much to offer but I miss the old red box and so like the water troughs of the summer I throw out the challenge to bring me pictures of the surviving telephone kiosks along with stories.

And just after the story was posted my old friend Kath came up with the first pictures of the appeal.

This magnificent one stands in her back garden beside the coal bunker.

"in full working order and linked to the house phone"
It is, Kath tells me a  "Jubilee Kiosk (K6) and was commissioned to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. 

It appeared on the streets in 1936 and was the first standard kiosk to be introduced nationwide. This one came from Skinflats Village, Falkirk."

And she went on to add that "you got that perfect, the heavy doors, the smells, we used to ring the operator and say 'are you on the line - well you better get off there's a train coming' and then run like mad just in case we got caught ha ha ha.You brought back some good memories."

And I hope just the start.

Now I think there is another story that could be written about the foot prints but that's for another time

Pictures; the Lewisham telephone box courtesy of Adam Burgess* and the Skinflats kiosk from the
collection of Kath May

*Down in Lewisham with an old telephone kiosk, Lewisham Micro Library and reflections on all those private lending libraries,

No comments:

Post a Comment