Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Boxed Off

The Sun has a very sad story this morning. It seems that British Telecom is finally starting to phase out traditional call boxes after payphone usage halved in the last two years, and continues to fall at around 20% per year.

BT claims that thousands of the once-essential telephone boxes are now unprofitable, and is planning to take them out of service. To make the point, the Sun carries a photo of a modern-looking steel and glass phone box, from which just one call has been made in the past year. Located up north in Poynton, Cheshire, it's just one of six in the area that face the chop.

And I think it's unreasonable. Telephone boxes - particularly the classic K6 red boxes - are part and parcel of British life. Even their modern replacements have a certain grim charm, even if it's only to evoke memories of "real" boxes. They provide a sense of familiarity and reassurance, something solid and proof against the the twin torrents of time and the British weather, as anyone who's ever sheltered from a storm in an (unvandalised) phone box will appreciate. Just you try doing that with a mobile phone - YOU are far more likely to provide shelter for IT!

It's mobile phones that have precipitated this national disaster, of course. Useful though they are, I can't help thinking that the world was, in the main, a better place for not being full of people trying to walk and talk at the same time - especially those who just aren't qualified to do it! Before the day of the mobile, you weren't forced to listen to just one half of a conversation as you stood in line at the supermarket checkout, sat on the bus, walked down the street.

Conversations that didn't happen in the privacy of the babbler's dwelling were, at least, safely tucked away inside a relatively sound-proof box, sparing the rest of us from hearing needless repeated cries of "I'm on the bus. No.. THE BUS. YES. BUS. I'll be home in 10 minutes. 10 MINUTES..."

Naturally, the demise of the telephone box doesn't come as any great surprise. I've seen reports of it in the media before, and I can't remember when I last saw someone using a phone box. Not for making a call, anyway. But that's not the point. They were always THERE, just in case you wanted them. Now they are being taken away, and I, for one, will mourn their passing.

Billy Seggars.

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