Life on the Grimshill estate was grim exactly as the name suggests. We didn’t have much in the way of games consoles and the web hadn’t been thought of yet so we actually had to leave our homes and venture forth into the world using our imaginations to provide us with entertainment that the children of today seem to have to rely on others to generate.
With limited resources we made forts, camps and bases often using things the everyday folks left behind in the manner of real life Wombles. What could be achieved with a few pieces of rotting wood and some rope was nothing short of miraculous and could be anything from a neolithic cave dwelling to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
This leads us neatly to one of the iconic fixtures of the 80’s landscape –
The Red Phone Box
I expect just about everyone remembers these and some still exist but I remember when the phones inside took 1p and 2p coins! I also remember the outrage by a number of people when these coin denominations were no longer available, meaning a call could only be paid for with 10p or more. This sense of being robbed was repeated a few years later when the announcement of a 20p minimum call charge was introduced.
I can clearly recall the massive phones inside having strips of metal inserted into the slots to block them up. Obviously a much cheaper alternative to replacing the phones.
Whether K2 or K8, cast iron or concrete our history is interwoven with these bright red boxes. Yet despite their intended use, there have always been a few enterprising individuals who’ve adapted them to suit their own agendas.
As a child the red phone box could be a sanctuary from any number of hostile forces including, but not limited to, bad weather and bullies trying to nick your pocket money. The older kids also managed, with just two skipping ropes and very basic knot tying skills, to re-purpose the kiosks as ‘prisons’.
I clearly recall the image of a sobbing child, sealed up in a red phone box while a group of malevolent, evil boys danced gleefully in a circle around the box, hitting the bullet proof glass with sticks to make him jump. Click here to see my earlier post about the abandoned car which could also be used as a prison. I have seen similar things to this done on prank shows like Just for Laughs where the jolly japesters wrap an occupied box in cling-film while the hapless phone user is held inside. These people probably think they invented this type of imprisonment but they’d be wrong. It was nasty-minded, pre-teen kids on council estates across the land.
On hot days this torture had the added fun of the prisoner being slowly cooked as the sun hammered relentlessly down, bringing the internal temperature up to the level of a convection oven.
Other uses were employed by older kids and adults. Many times I recall entering one of these phone boxes to find it had been previously occupied by a gentleman who had been ‘caught short’ and used it as an emergency lavatory. The vile stench of hot urine serving as a natural expedient to your visit made sure you cut your phone call as short as possible.
Another activity some people utilised the red phone box for was as a make out room. Teens and some adults could be found engaged in a number of late night, intimate acts ranging from kissing and groping to full intercourse. Why people chose to enter a phone box which was mostly glass and illuminated at night time, for privacy is beyond me but I assure you it happened. Maybe this is where the more recent invention of dogging has its origins, who can say?
Oddly I always felt there was some kind of etiquette involved in using a phone box. One that was never shared by anyone else. At all, ever.
If I was on the phone, regardless of the fact I had no one to actually speak to, I always felt a certain pressure if someone was waiting outside. This would be infinitely magnified if the weather was unpleasant. I would feel almost obliged to cut my own call short to allow whoever else was waiting to use the phone.
Never seemed to affect anyone else, however. The deep feeling of doom that would hit you if you turned up to make a call and found some bloke chatting to his girlfriend with a roll-up in one hand and a foot high stack of silver coins on that little black metal shelf beside the phone. You knew you had either a long wait or a long walk in store.
If this post brings back a sense of nostalgia in you or you just like my entertaining and wittily dry sense of humour, feel free to massage my vast ego by commenting, liking or even following this blog for more of the same.