Monday, 20 April 2015

Don't Phone Home

Don’t bother phoning home, no one will answer, says Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
The first words uttered over what we now quaintly call a ‘landline’ was the plea: ‘Mr Watson, come here, I want you.’ Seven words from Alexander Graham Bell to his trusty assistant that changed the world.

Three years later, in 1878, he was turning the dial as Queen Victoria made the UK’s first long-distance calls to London and Southampton from Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Almost immediately, having a telephone became a sign of wealth and prestige.

The Queen’s number was listed in the first telephone book as Victoria 6913, one of 248 luminaries, including Alexander Graham Bell himself. When Bell died in 1922, the phones across America were silenced for a whole minute – a feat that would now be impossible due to the advent of the ubiquitous mobile phone. Now, his ingenious invention is seen as little more than a decorative object with one in four of us not able to remember their own telephone number and 80 per cent of the under-30s having no home phone at all.


Even though the landline is not dead yet, it is certainly in intensive care, with little sign of a cure and the majority of the 25 million still in existence now used solely for the purposes of accessing broadband. If a phone is ringing, it is dismissed as a ‘cold call’ and ignored. As someone born in the 1960s, I feel bereft at the possibility of its extinction – a decline for which Ernie Wise has to take some responsibility. Ernie made the UK’s first mobile phone call from Vodafone’s head office, then above a curry house in Newbury. Then, they were the size of suitcases and cost thousands of pounds, now they can be bought for the price of a cup of coff ee and there are over 65 billion in use worldwide.

Unlike its aged relative. Party lines, phone boxes, directory enquiries answered by an actual person, honesty boxes on the bar of the village pub, all gone. As well as telephone tables with inbuilt seats for the hallway – phones were always kept in the hall when I was a child – with usage accompanied by the sound of grown-ups shouting: ‘Get off the phone, it costs a fortune.’

In a sentimental nod to the past, I’ve bought a refurbished 1930s wall-mounted phone for Rock House complete with an old-fashioned dial and a bell loud enough to raise the dead. But will it be loud enough to wake up the rest of the country?

Next week: National park news

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