Do you remember making calls from a phone box?

Do you remember making calls from a phone box?
  • Every issue, our Editor at Large, Valery will be reliving the best bits of our lives. This fortnight, when the only phone was at the end of the street

How do you make your grandchildren incredulous? Tell them that when you were young, not only were there no mobile phones, but many of us didn't even have a landline. As a student in digs in the mid-Seventies the phone-box at the end of our street didn't have any glass, so in the winter you would have to wipe the snow off the dial before trying to get through. But at least my mum always appreciated my call... “It was winter, 1974,” emails Diane Kell. “My army husband was on a tour in Belfast. We lived in army quarters and didn’t have a phone, so every evening around 7pm, the wives would gather at the only telephone box near married quarters. Our husbands were stationed on the Falls Road and as it was very active at that time, we were especially anxious. Come rain or shine we would be there. One Thursday evening, my husband spoke to me quite grumpily, complaining that I’d rung while Top of the Pops was on and he was missing the number one single. Never mind that I’d been stood freezing for 40 minutes in the bitter cold, just so I knew he was ok!”

Go back a decade and those forces phone calls required even more military precision. “In 1960,” recalls A B Paice, “I was a boy soldier stationed in Harrogate and my girlfriend was living in Wrexham. In order to speak to her I had to first write and ask her to be near a specific phone box at a certain time. I would then have to walk two miles to the nearest phone box and hope it wasn't busy, then ask the operator for a 'person to person' call to make sure I was actually going to speak to my girlfriend. This, of course cost extra. Once the operator had established that it was my girlfriend, I was then requested to push button A to get connected and then my allocated three minutes started counting down until we were cut off.”

But planning could have its charms... “When I met my husband-to-be on holiday, I lived in Lancashire and he lived in Cheshire,” writes Marjorie Roberts. “We didn't have a home telephone so I used to walk to a phone box at an arranged time for him to call me. After chatting we would then arrange a time to both play our records simultaneously and think of each other. We married 12 months later.”

John Nicholls phone-box story has a musical theme too: “Nearly 60 years ago in Rhyl, we teenagers were allowed only limited use of our Dansette record players due to rock and roll not being appreciated by our parents and the constant need to put money in the meter. One of our gang, Susan Harrison, realised that by changing the plug on her record player and using the light socket in the street telephone box we could enjoy free music without annoying others, except those waiting to make a call when a record was only halfway though. Happy Days!”

But phones weren't just about fun. “In the Sixties we had no house phone,” emails Rose Janes. “I had been on a school trip and when I was dropped at the nearest town, I realised I had missed the last bus home! I knew my mother would be waiting at the nearest bus stop to our home – three miles away. I was tired and very frightened but found a phone box and rang a neighbouring farm. The farmer then went to my home and told my dad where I was. He then drove his car with my young brother to the bus stop to tell my mum where I was. She then drove to town to collect me. What a performance! I'm so glad I now have both a home phone and a mobile.”

Pat Berkshire's mum might have been glad of a phone too. “My dad was in the merchant navy and my parents communicated by letter, telegrams and the occasional telephone message from Dad via the village post office. The message read: “Arriving Immingham docks Friday, sailing Tuesday. Join me for weekend. Bring hat.” Aged five, I was very indignant to be packed off to my grandparents and my mum couldn't understand why Dad wanted his hat. But off she went with his bowler. On greeting my mum, Dad's first words were, “Where's Pat?” It should have read, “Bring Pat”!

But the important thing is that the message gets through, as Glennys Wood knew: “In 1961, aged 17, I was diagnosed with appendicitis and the doctor had ordered an ambulance to take me to hospital. I had to let my then boyfriend know what was happening so I walked to the telephone box at the bottom of our street to ring him at work. While holding on to be put through, I fainted. I came round to find the receiver hanging down and a voice asking if I was all right. I said, ‘I’m ok, I’ve just fainted’, gave the message and walked back home where the ambulance soon arrived and took me to hospital.”

But who needs a phone when you've got a pet. “My dog Rex would often come with me to my boyfriend's house, a couple of streets away,” writes Mrs Roper. “One day Rex came home with a note tucked in his collar. He had gone round to the house himself. As we didn't have phones, this became a great way to keep in touch and this went on for three years until we married. But Rex would still go to visit and get a biscuit in a paper bag to take home.”