Death of a Friend

I was in Durham this evening, wondering what to shoot for my blog, when a couple of splashes of red caught my eye and I knew immediately what I would write about.

When I was young there were no mobile phones, in fact we were just entering the time when most homes had a phone of their own.  Nevertheless the public phone box as immortalized in OMD‘s “Red Frame, White Light” was an essential part of life.  I can still visualise a number of events where they played a significant part in my developmental years:

Phoning the father of a friend who’d fallen prey to Cameron’s Red Barrel at a school disco, and explaining to said father (a police officer) that his son was unwell and needed collecting.  With the acute observational skills that had doubtless served him well in the force, he arrived to ask “Have you been drinking son?”  The litotes was unintentional.

Prank calls were always good fun to a group of young boys with mischief on their minds and a few pence to squander.  No caller id in those days.  Never afraid to go for the obvious target we’d phone fish and chip shops to ask:

“Have you plenty chips left?”


“Serves you right for peeling so many”

Not exactly comedy gold.  I do recall the incredible powers of persuasion shown by one of my friends on the occasion that we didn’t have the change between us to make a call.  He coolly telephoned the operator, complained of a fault in the box (“I’ve pressed button B but nothing happened”) so that she connected us to our victim for no charge at all!

Elsewhere these glowing cubicles have played host to courting couples, and in London are notorious for providing a more commercialised sex aid as receptacles for the calling cards of prostitutes.

Everyone of a certain age will have some memories of using the call box; even more recently when on a training course in the Lake District, a group of us carried pockets full of change to take advantage of these red lifelines and report our progress when mobile signals were pure fantasy.

It’s against this backdrop that I read this week of a programme being undertaken by those lovely people at BT to remove over 1000 rural boxes because they don’t get enough use to make them commercially viable.  BT of course will make the decision based on cold financial logic, but those little red boxes tug at the heart-strings like old friends wherever you encounter them.  They are part of our culture, our heritage and the landscapes of our lives.

Our relationships with these structures may be changing, but you don’t discard a friend just for that.  We have too much of our souls invested in them.

Guess the post box will be following suit.




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