Perhaps a History of Phones … (1)
When I was young, I was part of a very large church community, only one person I knew in that community had a phone at home.
Growing up phones were almost unknown, in fact so were T.V.’s. I remember the big uptake of black and white TV’s came in 1953 for the queen’s coronation. One person in my street had bought one. Their house was crowded with neighbors to watch this phenomenal apparatus.
In terms of phones, the strange thing is that my Aunt, who had a great job at the Austin Motor company was able to afford one and had put one in my Grandparent home where she lived. The funny thing was that my Grandmother was afraid of the ‘thing’ and would not answer it, I think she thought it would bite her.
One evening my Mother sent me to phone my aunt, I say sent me because to phone I had to go quite a walk to the nearest phone box, these boxes are still around in tourist areas of the UK and also in Malta, they make good photos because they are somewhat iconic. In my younger days, the consisted of a big black phone, on top of a big black box. To make a call you put money into the slot on top of the box and then lifted the phone and dialed a number on that funny machine that went around and then click, click, clicked back before you could dial the second digit.
The big black box had two big silver buttons on it, as you listened to the dialed number ringing out, once the person the other end of the line answer, to make conversation you had to press the silver button marked A and the money was transferred to some other section inside the box and you could start talking. If no one answered you pressed the big button B on the side of the box and your money was returned to you as no call had been made.
On one such occasion when I had been sent to make such a call to my Aunt, I returned with the money to my Mother, because no one had answered the phone the other end. In my grandmother’s house they had a dog, when you called on them an pressed the bell at the door the dog would always bark. It also always barked when the phone rang. My mother on my return asked me, well if they did not answer the phone did the dog bark? Dear oh dear. I tried to explain to my Mother if the phone was not answered, I could not hear if the dog barked or not!
On starting work in a large building supply firm, the company had a good reception area, the area was also the place where the many phone calls for the various department came into the building, requiring the company to have its switchboard. Just one young lady, Rita, handled all visitors and all phone calls.
The problem was that Rita from time to time needed a toilet break, and a coffee break and then there was lunchtime. What to do. Oh well let’s train the 14-year-old, me, to work the switchboard and he can do it at the break times.
Rita dutifully taught me how to operate the switchboard all the tangled wires, buttons, flashing lights, drop-down clicking things. Put the headphones on so your hands were free. Plug this plug into that number hole, pull back that key and wind that handle. It was complicated and great fun. Rita I think did a good job, her first break, I sat in the swivel chair and looked at the spaghetti wires, and the flashing lights. I knew what to do, but the problem was when I was taught to use the thing, a thing it was quite a board was empty so I had no tangle of wires to understand and only one flashing light, it looked a mess. I know what to do says I, pull out all the wires switch of all the light and start again. Let me tell you some of those company directors could swear at a 14-year-old. I did eventually master it and was a proficient switchboard operator, but I have never forgotten that first day.
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