Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Whitehall 1212

My parents acquired our first telephone in 1970 - and that was only after much arm-twisting by my mum on my dad who was reluctant to get one for a number of reasons. One was the cost, but his main complaint was that it would be intrusive. My dad's social life revolved around his work at the factory and any event would be carefully arranged in the staff canteen. Consequently he had no need for a telephone and didn't want people ringing up at all hours of the night (which, for dad, would mean between 7 and 10 pm) and keeping mum chatting for hours.

Mum had a much wider social circle, though and argued successfully that she needed a phone to keep in touch with her friends and relatives and so it was that in July 1970 the Post Office installed a glorious cream telephone in our Slough semi. It was located in the hallway at the foot of the stairs between the kitchen and living room on a special shelf that dad had knocked up in his shed one afternoon.

It caused much excitement in our household at the time and we all became familiar with the phone number so that, when someone called, we could answer with the name of the exchange and the four figure number which I can still remember vividly to this day.

The reason the phone was in the hall was so that it could be heard wherever you were in the house, but also so that any of us could chat on the phone without having to compete with the sound of the television, radio or whatever else was going on in the house. Of course, as soon as it was installed my mum was ringing around all her friends to tell them the new number- and to natter.

So for the first hour or so the phone was constantly engaged, but we weren't expecting any calls anyway - so it came as a bit of a shock when five minutes after mum had hung up for the last time the phone rang. I wanted to be the first to answer the phone, but as it was "mum's phone" we let her be the first to answer it. Besides, it could only be a wrong number or one of mum's friends ringing back.

So off mum went and in her best telephone voice she said "Hello, Slough 6125" (that wasn't actually the exchange or number, but I don't want to give that away). Remarkably it wasn't a wrong number or one of my mum's friends she had called around to, but her sister who lived in St. Albans. My mum had written to her telling her that we were having the phone installed that day and her sister had got the number from directory enquiries that morning even before the phone had been installed!

Why am I telling you all this? Well, partly out of nostalgia, but also because I have just spent the morning ringing several people to pass on some family news. Invariably, every person I called answered with a blunt "hullo?" and nothing else. I then had to ask if I was through to the right person before I could go on - but more than that, one of the people I rang wasn't there so their flatmate said they'd ask him to call back. Great! He then asked me for my number - and do you know what?

I couldn't remember my bloody phone number! I never ring it and, like everyone else these days, I never say it. I know what the numbers are, but I couldn't remember the order of the last two digits. There was then an embarrassing silence until the guy at the other end said not to worry as the number shows up on his phone.

Maybe it's my age or maybe it's the fact that we don't answer phones like we used to and it's certainly true that we have a lot more numbers to remember these days - but that doesn't explain why a telephone number from almost 40 years ago remains fresh in my memory, but my current home phone number doesn't!


Blognor Regis said...

Directories built into gadgets. Want to ring Tony, go to contacts, scroll through, hit green button.

bernard said...

I share your nostalgia and reminiscences Stan!
So vivid is my recall of our old London number(Arnold 3287)circa 1951, that I still use it for various pin numbers and even on my combination bike padlock.
The telephones back then came in one colour, black, and were heavy as lead for a wee kid. The solid 'Bakerlite' lasted decades and slowly turned a whitish grey with use and developed a mosaic pattern of tiny cracks.
Ahh, thems were the days me old pal me old beauty....!