so public telephones then

The earliest type I remember are the ones where you waited for the person to answer and then waited for a series of beeps. On the beeps, you pushed your coin into the slot past a sprung metal bar. If your credit ran out during the call you heard more beeps and had to push in more coins to continue the call. If you had no more coins, there were a few seconds after the beeps finished to say a few more words before the call cut off. Phone boxes were sealed environments with concrete floors and a very heavily sprung door. There was a metal shelf for the phone book, and there was often a pool of urine on the floor left the previous evening by someone caught short on their way back from the pub. The thin glass panes were often broken, until replacing them with riveted perspex became the thing. Later designs, when GPO had become BT, had a gap under the door so that liquid could flow away; but for many years if you had no phone in your house you went to stand in some anonymous urine to make a call. Fortunately this ad hoc unofficial redesignation of the purpose of the cubicle never seemed to extend to the depositing of solid waste.

The town of Hull had white phone boxes because the phone system was not run by the GPO.

They are still out there, along with the truth that Mulder so pointedly failed to find amongst the debris of narrative psychosis which that series descended into. Some red phone boxes ended up as shower cubicles, some as garden features. There are firms that sell them, and nicely restored ones cost a significant amount. The word “phone” has lost its apostrophe and a phone has become a possession, an expression of identity, a gateway to social media. It lets me spend thirty minutes or so in the morning immersed in personal publication. If I lose it I can call it and listen carefully for the muffled vibration behind a cushion somewhere. This has led people vainly to wish that they could call other objects that they lose. How often have you wished you could call your wallet or your car keys? How often has a comedy ringtone been a harbinger of extremely bad news?

Now let me find a dark private space and reconnect. I warrant I will keep my eyesight.