Oh, for the days of the cheery red phone box – Neil McNicholas

HANDS up all those who still remember a time when if you wanted to make a phone call it involved a trek to the nearest phone box?

A traditional red telephone box.

It was also a time, therefore, when no one could reach you by phone because you didn’t have one.

We managed because that’s how it was. But not any more – a point I’ll come back to shortly.

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I haven’t watched Doctor Who since the astrakhan-hatted William Hartnell was the Time Lord.

This phone boxin Horbury housed a World War Two exhibition last year.

Back then everyone knew what a police box was because you saw them all the time.

They provided a base for officers on the beat and a phone to summon help – a phone that could also be accessed from outside the box by members of the public who needed to call the police.

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On every street corner it seemed, back in the day, you had a good old K6 phone box, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1936 and painted red, presumably so they could be easily spotted if you were looking for one.

Except, that is, in Hull, where the Corporation Phone Department (later Kingston Communications) chose to paint theirs cream as a mark of independence. And they are still cream to this day.

I also remember as a youngster that on the road between Stokesley and Helmsley there was (and still is) a green phone box in the hamlet of Laskill (if memory serves), the first one I’d ever seen at the time.

Explanations for the unique colour ranged from the fact that green helped it to blend in more in a rural setting, to it having been painted that colour during the war so it would be more difficult for any Germans landing in the area to find a phone!

I know which one I’d put my money on – especially as it was never painted red again after the war (unless, of course, the man with the red paint couldn’t find it because it blended in so well).

These days, of course, the ubiquitous phone box has lost some of its ubiquitousness because everyone now has a phone –whether in their home or on their person.

Some boxes have survived by being used for other, more novel, purposes – mini-libraries, mini-museums, charge points etc. But most have been removed, having become redundant.

Somewhat amazingly, two in Yarm High Street have survived, though I can’t imagine they get very much use these days – at least not for making phone calls. I’ll say no more.

At a time when very few people could have afforded to have a phone in their homes there was little incentive to join that elite minority.

What was the point in having a phone if none of your friends had one?

Why would you need to have one anyway?

In the event of an emergency there was probably a phone box a short walk from most people’s homes.

It was probably the 1960s that saw the home phone become more popular, as equipment and installation costs became more affordable.

Increasingly people began to experience the convenience of having family and friends and businesses at the other end of a home phone instead of having to use a phone box.

Also the invention of the answer machine meant anyone trying to call you could leave a message and you could phone them back – or not as the case may be.

We have now gone to the opposite extreme in that having a phone with us at all times –and using it – has become an obsession, even an addiction. Why do people have to be instantly available at all times?

As in the good old days, why can’t we let callers wait until a more appropriate time for us to get back to them if we are doing something else or are spending time with someone else when our phone rings?

Why do people in restaurants have to have their phones on the table and switched on, despite how bad mannered that is?

Why on buses and trains do people have to use their mobile phones, thoughtlessly imposing their usually loud conversations on everyone else around them?

And then you get phones going off in theatres, cinemas and churches, despite requests to switch them off.

I have always said there should be a bucket of water to throw errant mobile phones in – but now they make them waterproof so that took care of that.

Call me a Luddite if you will, but do it from a red phone box.

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest 
in Yarm.