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{20/10/2012}   Phone boxes

Last night, I fully registered that there is a phone box at the end of my street.  I only noticed it because it was dark and I convinced myself there was a couple “making out” inside it.  There wasn’t but there were a couple of cans of Carling crumpled up inside and I just know there would have been a stench of urine had I opened the door.  I lamented the loss of necessity of phone boxes and realised that I have lots of childhood memories involving phone boxes, believe it or not.

Reverse charges.  There was a phone booth at Maidstone East station and from that phone I know I made lots of reverse charges calls to my parents when trains were late, etc, while I was at school in Maidstone between 13 and 18.  I wouldn’t even know what number to call to make a reverse charges call now.  Operator?  Is it 100?  I know I can Google it but if I needed to make that call I would clearly not have a mobile smartphone with me so couldn’t have Googled.  I will check though.

One New Year’s Eve, my boyfriend at the time and I had gone to Leeds Castle, a few miles from my parents’ house, in deep snow.  We had planned to get a bus home.  However, it snowed a lot, so much so the buses were all late – we were lucky one came at all – and we had to stand at a bus stop that was totally exposed to the snow and wind for maybe an hour, so we sheltered in a phone box, the more modern kind with the c 10cm urine stench vent/exposed ground level area.  My feet were numb.  I got mild pneumonia and frost bite and spent New Year’s Eve vomiting and trying to regain warmth to my body, particularly my feet.  But the phone box probably saved us from far worse chills.

I also remember an old red phone box at the village green.  A friend and I for some reason hated a girl band around at that time (if I’m not mistaken they were one hit wonders, though I can’t think of their song, and I have a feeling Denise Van Outen was in the band!) so from that phone booth, plying the machine with 10p pieces, we rang their record company and told them how crap the band were.  They hung up on us in the end but it was strangely satisfying to be making abusive (exaggeration for effect)  phone calls from a phone box.  From that phone box, I suspect (know) a few of my and my friends’ crushes were also called, to uncontrollable giggling!

Thinking about these occasions, I am reminded of a kind of enjoyment that I had forgotten about.  There is something really familiar about opening a heavy phone box door, ideally a red one for the sake of this memory, having collected all the 10p pieces you could find, then wrinkling your nose at the wee smell before lifting the heavy black receiver off the chunky phone with its heavy duty cable and, do you know what, I can remember the sound of slotting your 10ps in and hearing them register.  Ahh, back in those days it was exciting and a bit out of the ordinary to use the phone, in part because my mum kept a very tight rein on phone usage.  I remember the pip sound and I remember the feeling of annoyance and loss when the phone gobbled your 10p a split second before realising an answerphone message was about to cut in when you had no intention of leaving a message or indeed wasting 10p.  And queuing for the phone or being on the phone and being aware that others were waiting.  Oh, and the pipping sound when your money was about to run out.

It’s all flooding back to me and I am feeling an unexpected love for the hay days of the phone box.  But then it went up to 20p, phone calls from home got cheaper and then, the final nail in the coffin, we pretty much all got mobile phones.  Nowadays, phone boxes are a rarity and often overlooked, but they provide advertising space for strippers and escorts, a shelter from the wind and rain, a urinal and a place to drink beer so at least they are not redundant.

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