dial a disc

today’s tumblr post; elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2012/04/19

photo by leo reynolds

this is the dial of a uk red phone box from THE OLDEN DAYS. not only were there no mobile phones, but also BT were a state monopoly, and it was expensive to get a phone line, and they would take ages to put one in, so if you were living anywhere less than permanent then it wasn’t worth having one put in. so, as a student, for example, away from home from age 19, i’d have to go to a public phone to call home. i also had a big crush on a boy back home so i phoned him, too. even though they were outdoors, people would queue for ages – i know because it was me holding them up. i remember some woman opening the door and giving me an earful. i just thought “bugger off” and carried on with my VITAL chit chat.

i remember the feeling of my nail scraping along quickly inside the dial, the sound as it slowly clicked backwards. the stopper was rather sharp and cold. domestic dial phones were plastic, so a different feel.

people often pissed in phone boxes, but even without that, there was the cigarette smoke and the damp metal. and the glass on the box would steam up in the cold.

by the time i moved to liverpool for art school proper i had graduated to using pay phones in pubs. much cozier. they still had those dials, though, until the push button ones came in.

i offer this, then, as my madeleine, my proustian moment. seeing this photo fills my nose with the smell of the phone box, makes my left index finger fizz in that nails on chalkboard way, and i can taste a metallic taste on the front of my upper palate. my nostrils want to contract in defense of the smell. and i am reminded of our appalling diet at the time – chips with sweet and sour sauce, bread seconds from greggs, and a soup i called ‘square soup’ which was really just a jumped up gravy cube.


6 thoughts on “dial a disc

  1. Aw, the Proustian reference made me smile. I remember pay phones, and the waiting, and the drama of it all. It always made you feel like you were in a movie. I wouldn’t go back to it for anything – I love my cell more than almost any inanimate object – but pay phones do bring back the nostalgia.

    1. did you have ‘dial a disc’? it cost a fortune, and you rang a number and just heard whatever song they were playing that day. no choice, or anything.
      i see teenagers now listening to their music on their phones without headphones and i think there’s something about that age, where you don’t care about quality, you just want the song. like a photocopy of a picture of a painting.

  2. Perfectly evoked Elaine, yes, yes that’s right, the metallic tang, lingering cigs, bad breath & pee. But I don’t understand… I wanted to weep, how could I miss this ammonia soaked supposed to be amenity? I think it was because it was still a kind of solid glass & metal red haven on a stormy lonely night, clunky but uncomplicated, & a link like the last bus home.

    1. good question. no doubt about it, they were pretty horrible *objectively*. i can only imagine that because we did use them to talk to people we loved, that the otherwise unpleasant sensations turned to ephemera of joy.

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