Friday, April 30, 2010

The Telephones of Olden Days

It didn't fit in your pocket, you couldn't send text messages with it, you couldn't take photos with it and it most certainly didn't have any apps.

You may not recognise it if you're what is technically known as Young.

But this, dear reader, was a telephone.

One that was very like it stood on our hall table when I was a child. The one in the photo's slightly older than ours - I took the photo at Bletchley Park so I expect it's a wartime phone.

In those days you picked up the phone and spoke to the operator, and they put you through - - that's if they could find anyone else who actually owned a phone that they could put you through to.

Ours, being more modern, had a dial on the front. In those days there were letters as well as numbers.

So as a child I would ring York - 0Y04 78796 and the Communist would answer.

"Blass and Fisher Chemist's, Acomb."

"Mum says could you bring us some soap and shampoo, please?"

"Okay, that's fine. Got to go, I've got a queue of customers."

(Mr Fisher was the Communist's business partner but died when I was quite young. His ghost hung around for years. Whenever a sales rep tried to get the Communist to stock something that he didn't fancy, he would always say he couldn't possibly stock it as Mr Fisher wouldn't approve.)

In those days, talking on the telephone always had a slight air of importance and mystery. Calling anyone at all was quite something and calling long-distance was a big thing. To some of my older relatives, it still is.

In 1983 we stayed in Ireland and the call box's phone number was Allihies 5. Now that's a proper phone number. I rang my parents to say we'd arrived safely and it was still rather amazing talking to them from so far away.

In December 2008, the last proper conversation that I had with the Communist was from the Kennedy Space Centre, a place he had always longed to visit. He was in a nursing home. I was ringing him every day from America, even though he wasn't ill at that time, because you never knew, did you? I stepped out of one of the exhibitions and just thought "My Dad would love this!" and rang him to tell him about it, and he loved hearing about it.

The next day he got the virus that turned to pneumonia. So I'm so glad I rang him that day.

I love being able to get emails on my Blackberry now, and I'm certainly not one of those people that thinks it was better before we had mobiles.

But young people these days - ohhhh! I sound about a hundred and three! - will never experience the sense of occasion that used to come from picking up the telephone and dialling the number.


Blogger Silverback said...

After reading this I want to press button B !!

(only joking for those who understand that)

12:23 am  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

In my East Yorkshire hovel we had a phone. It was just like the one in your photo and when you answered it you said "Leven 272" for that was the number. That phone was there when I was born and it was there when we left that house in 1970. Modern phones insult the idea of environmental concern as people replace them every year. More proof that this is a crazy world.

12:57 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Dial? What's a dial?

I still remember my aunt's phone number in the fifties was TUrner 6-9280. She lived in the big city. Our own telephone number was simpler, 4726, and before it got a dial version we just lifted the handset and spoke to an operator. Our first phone in rural Texas in the forties was mounted on the wall and included a crank that you turned to summon an operator. Our number then was 157J-3, meaning the phone would ring 3 times if the call was for our house. There were 8 or more other homes on the same line, each with a unique ring -- one, two, one long and one short, etc. No one had any privacy; everyone listened in to everyone else's calls.

Now is better than then. But people still listen in on everyone else's calls because everyone makes or receives them in public, all day long, everywhere.

2:26 am  
Blogger Debby said...

Olympia 96184 was our phone number. It then changed to OL96184. We were then made to use just numbers 659-6184. I rather liked saying Olympia 96184 myself.

I love my Droid. I love how when I'm out, I'm never away. I love hearing the deep 'DROOID' sound it makes when someone I love sends me a text or email. I love that I can send an email from my phone here in America and you can get it in England. Yep, love my phone....just wish it's phone number was Olympia 96184.

4:08 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

Silverback - - I've just worked out why you usually make those button-pushing gestures whenever I start to talk - - !
YP - I've always kept mobiles for several years and many people think that's strange.
Bob - really interesting anecdote, thank you, and I love your addition about how everyone now hears everyone else's calls. Especially on trains!
Debby - I think that modern phones should have an application where you can change the number to Olympia 96184 or whatever you wish! Splendid!

10:21 am  
Anonymous Sven said...

I went to dinner with a twentysomething friend the other day when he saw something funny on the menu.
"Oh," he said, "if only I had my phone to take a photo."
"Well," said I, "shall I call home on your camera and get someone to bring it down?"

This message was sent from my iPhone. Excuse any typos.

11:09 am  
Blogger Jennytc said...

I think that model of phone was called the 'Whitehall' and I have always loved its design. In factabout 15 years ago I had a replica with a push button dial - the closest I could get to the real thing.

4:53 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

My children can't comprehend it at all. They won't need to use an operator's assistance for anything other than reversing charges, I imagine.

9:36 pm  

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