The door creaked in well-rehearsed protest, suggesting it might choose to fall from its hinges at any moment and that I’d better be grateful if it didn’t. I wasn’t worrying about that, however – the surge of memory was too overpowering, struggling to recall days of yore. Fleetingly, I wondered when the door had last been opened and whether it too was experiencing memories. Or maybe it was secretly glad of simply being called into service.
It’s a long time since I found myself somewhere like this. I haven’t needed to do this in years…
Inside, it smelled nothing like as bad as I expected it would. In fact, nothing conformed to any of the usual stereotypes – everything was clean, everything worked. There was nothing pinned up – no ‘business cards’ or adverts for dubious services offered by local ladies. It was just like phone boxes used to be! I glanced outside to make sure nobody was watching and promptly checked the ‘change return’ compartment, but there was nothing doing. Presumably somebody had got there before me.
Not that I’d entered the phone box just to check for spare coins. I had genuine reason to use this dwindling public facility, having accidentally stranded myself on an island in the sea of technology. By which I mean I’d left the house without my mobile. And boy was it a struggle to find an alternative.
Being ‘mobile-less’ was a strange, unfamiliar sensation. I was out all day and kept patting my pockets to make sure I had everything I should, then wondered why one was empty. Oh yeah, it’s at home. It caused me to reflect on how technology has become so integral to us, and how disconnected we feel without it. Sometimes it’s good to take a break, but on this occasion it was at best a mild nuisance. And because of the nature of social interaction these days, I naturally felt the need to share my inconsequential predicament WITH AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE.
I don’t own a smartphone but can at least text tweets if I want to update my Twitter feed, and even this was beyond my capabilities. I was walking round with amusing thoughts and witty observations about trying to locate and then use a phone box coursing through my head, bereft of anyone to share them with! It’s a miracle I didn’t suffer a breakdown…
Where my head nearly did suffer a (genuine, non-sarcastic) meltdown was in trying to work out how to actually make a call from the phone box. A fee of 60p was demanded, two-thirds of which apparently covered a connection charge. The challenge lay in how to pay the 60p, because the instructions also demanded that NO MORE THAN FOUR COINS BE USED TO MAKE UP THE INITIAL CHARGE.
Eh? This is a phone box we’re talking about! And I’m a pathetic modern man who has forgotten his mobile phone and needs to make a call! ONE CALL!
Okay, it wasn’t that bad – mercifully there was plenty of change in my wallet. But in an alien environment, the last thing you want is to be confronted with a puzzle from one of those Mensa ‘Test Your IQ’ books. How many different ways are there of making up a pound in change? When is a 50p coin not a 50p coin? And how can BT make using a public telephone far more difficult than it needs to be?
There was some suggestion in the small print to the instructions that the remaining 20p provided half an hour of call time, but when the connection was eventually made and the crude display showed the remaining credit, it offered no more information than: £0.00. I expected the line to go dead any second, and once I’d said everything of import and the line was still functioning perfectly, I felt inclined to keep my Mum on the line for as long as it took to use up all three 20p coins swallowed by the machine.
Ironically, faced with a chasm of time that possessed unknown length/depth/whatever else might make this ridiculous metaphor work, my mind went blank of what to talk about and I elected to surrender whatever credit was left and go about my business. Perhaps it was the relief of establishing contact – however limited – with ‘my’ world. Perhaps it was simply that, in the end, using a phone box wasn’t quite as peculiar experience as might be expected these days – after all, the principle of credit is no different from anyone with a pay-as-you-go phone.
It’s just a shame there are only three – maybe four, at a push – telephone numbers I can actually remember. And one of them is the same home in which I’d left my mobile. Call me a visionary if you feel it appropriate – I think the mobile phone is here to stay.