Hard to imagine a time before we had mobile phones.

Telephoning has made a come-back.  Not just WhatsApping but real chatting. Picking up the phone to catch up with people you haven’t spoken to in a long while.

I’m a great one for emailing but I have always preferred to have a catch up on the phone.  Emails can so easily get misconstrued or misread. Unless someone ends their sentence with multiple exclamation marks and countless smiling and winking emojies how do you do know if they’re joking or not when they say they never want to see you again. And that’s just from OH (other half) in the next room.  And with WhatsApp it’s so easy to mistakenly send a reply to the message before last so you end up having to clarify by sending at least three messages more.

So give me the phone in preference any time. Not a mobile phone but a real, honest to goodness I can hear every word you say phone.

Back in the day there used to be a red telephone box within walking distance of everyone’s home.  I’m talking about a time before it was used as a notice board for “escort” services and a handy latrine. It was also used for other purposes. I was once asked to teach some secondary schoolgirls about contraception.  Their idea of contraception was that “if you did it standing up inside a phone box” you could not possibly get pregnant.  Yes, it was a new one to me too.

In the days before mobile phones there was no way to let someone you were going to be late meeting them.  I lost a number of hot dates when I had to unexpectedly work late and there was no way to let the new love in my life know that I could not meet them in time. They just thought they’d been stood up and never contacted me again.

When I was a child we had a phone box in our street.  If we were bored (and that was pretty often) we would make random calls to strangers pretending to be a long lost relative coming round for tea.  That gave us hours of fun.

As a teenager, coming home from the station late at night I would use the call box to let my parents know I was on my way home.  I would let the phone ring a certain number of times and then press button B to get my money back. My father would then start walking towards me and would meet me halfway.

One time when our children were young  OH (other half) and I were being woken every morning at 7 by the phone ringing. Every time we answered the phone the person at the other end would put the phone down.  This went on for some weeks before we took action.  We reported it to the telephone people and they in turn involved the police who did a trace on the phone.

It turned out that we were getting calls from RAF Northwood. We had no idea why.  But it led to a visit to us from the police, security advice and so on.  Because of the military connection I think they were suspecting us more than they were concerned about the caller. The calls kept coming.

One day I actually got to speak to the person at the other end of the phone.  It was a woman who said she had the wrong number. And hung up.

The next time she phoned she insisted that it was WE who had the wrong number.  This is where a suitable emoji would come in useful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These exclamation marks will have to do instead.

Eventually, the police found out more. The caller was a woman who worked as a cleaner at RAF Northwood.  She was calling every morning from the same phone box at the same time to wake up her errant son. When he picked up the phone, it meant that he was awake and would go to work.  It was his alarm call. Then she would press button B and get her money back.   Except that she wasn’t waking up her son every day, she was waking us up every day.  It turned out that she was one digit out on her call.

The next time the woman called we explained to her that she had been dialling the wrong number. But she just would not accept it. She insisted that it was in some way our fault. We never found out what happened to her or her son.  I guess he probably lost his job as he was sleeping in every day. In the end she got the message and the calls stopped.

I think it was around that time that we changed our number for ex-directory which has also cut down on the number of unsolicited phone calls over the years.

So, maybe it’s a good thing that the red phone boxes have all but vanished. Must go now – expecting a WhatsApp video call any minute.







© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems




  1. Phone boxes! yes, I remember them. I can’t smell an ashtray (not that I do often, I hasten to add) without being transported to the box around the corner where I would phone my then-girlfriend. She lived in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll…so speaking was easier than writing out the address on the envelope! And phoneboxes kept me sane at times when I was in uni and needed to hear the reassuring voices of my mum and dad. And (unless they were blue and had a flashing light attached) they were distinctly un-mobile, so couldn’t follow you around and dominate your day. But, they did stink…


  2. Brings back the good old days of extension phones, party lines, etc. And I miss the red boxes, as that always signified we were in England! Well done!! XXXX >


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