While driving home early on Sunday morning after a weekend away, I passed a red telephone box on the main street of my village.
My first thought was that it probably does not get much use in this day and age – with land lines in most homes and a mobile phone in most pockets.
But then my mind went winging back to my youth when a telephone box was a place where queues formed.
My parents moved to their brand new council home in 1954 when I was 6 months old and a telephone line was definitely not on their list of priorities. I don’t remember being bothered by this, we communicated with family and friends by post or by simply visiting the ones who lived close enough. I had a pen pal in America for years and used to love receiving her long and fascinating letters.
My best friend had a home telephone and as I grew up I began to see the value of this piece of equipment particularly when boys suddenly became interesting to speak to. My friend used to sit in the comfort of her well lit hall for hours chatting to her latest love but me? The nearest telephone box to my house was around a quarter of a mile away and I had to walk across a dark unmade track – formidably named ‘The Black Pad’ to get to it. The phone box stood at the end of Black Pad – its light shining dimly, the nearest streetlight being some thirty feet away. Behind it were the gates to the cemetery which was another dark eerie place.
And this is where I had to go if I wanted to speak to the boy of the moment and, if he didn’t have a telephone at home we used to exchange telephone box numbers and run the risk of somebody else answering the call when they were just passing the box or worse still somebody using the box at the exact time that I was supposed to be calling.
I have vivid memories of standing in the telephone box with the receiver to my ear pretending to be on a call but in reality holding down the receiver rest waiting for my boyfriend to call. While he was eight miles away queuing to get into his box I had my own queue forming outside. This went on for years, turning out in all weathers and conducting most of my relationships from a telephone box.
When I was nineteen years old I went to work for the Post Office as a telephonist. Oh what joy, we had a kiosk inside the exchange and all calls were free. Queues still formed but we were warm and dry at least. I remember when the engineers wanted to test the ‘new’ international direct dialling system to the United States, they were looking for telephonists who knew somebody over there and were prepared to allow half an hour international calls on Boxing Day that year to prove that the system worked. That year was the very first time I had spoken to my American pen friend Bonnie and her family. It was an amazing experience, they had ‘phones in every room and were all talking at once, I couldn’t get a word in edgeways! Sadly I have lost touch with Bonnie since then – I wonder what she’s doing now?
Maybe I can find her on the internet, and then maybe I can call her again for free on my Skype internet ‘phone as I have broadband at home. Or perhaps I could text her from my mobile once I have her mobile number or as a finale I could call her from my home telephone in the kitchen or from the bedroom extension. How my life has changed I still wonder if anyone uses that little red telephone box in my village?