Saturday, July 14, 2007

Six red telephone boxes

Rose Jacobs at the FT on the uses of the phone box in the age of mobiles:

Silvia, a 20-year-old from Barcelona working as an au pair in Gloucester, is the first person I see actually use a phone. She arrives at 10.30am to call her twin sister in Spain. She has a Spanish mobile but it is too expensive to employ here. Of only 22 people who use the phones in the boxes over this 12-hour stretch, 11 are foreign visitors whose home-country mobiles are either prohibitively expensive in the UK or have run out of battery power. Add in four times that number of tourists taking photos of the boxes, and you quickly see that the phone box isn’t quite akin to other outmoded technologies; its advocates aren’t Luddites pining for the days of quill pen or manual typewriter because, unlike typewriters, phone boxes serve a purpose that mobiles and BlackBerrys have not yet usurped. For drug addicts and visiting businessmen, they are pockets of private space in the swirling city; for tourists, they are a necessity; and for London, they are a symbol, an extended hand, a splash of friendly red, allowing visitors to slip between a mind’s-eye view of the metropolis and the reality of the British capital itself.

They also provide vital information to men seeking sex. Two and a half hours into my watch, two merry policemen visit the phone boxes to rip down the cards advertising prostitutes. Two hours and 15 minutes later, an older man dressed head-to-toe in khaki but for a herringbone hat and glasses with the sun-protection lenses flipped up, comes looking for the cards. He finds one in a modern booth overlooked by the officers, peers through the glass door and types the digits from the card into his mobile phone.


  1. Dear Jenny Davidson,

    Masterly reticence on your part not to comment on this FT article.

    And the journalist left out the fact that such privacy as is provided by phone boxes allow men, whether seeking sex or not (SUCH an empathetic term), to urinate freely.

    PS: found you through Maxine (Petrona)