I can remember when call boxes were at the end of almost every street. They needed to be at the end of almost every street as, in the dim and distant days when I was growing up, few people had landlines in their own homes. Nowadays, people once again don’t have landlines, but that is because they choose not to, having a phone in their hands already, or in their pockets. In the olden days — about twenty years ago — you needed call boxes because…
You might actually need to make a call from them.
You have missed your train / plane / ferry and you need to let the people meeting you know that you aren’t going to materialise before they start wondering where you are and calling the police. You might say: “I have no idea when I will arrive because no-one is saying anything or knows anything.”
You have newly arrived at a train station and the person you thought would meet you hasn’t materialised. You call an ancient number written on a piece of paper to find out where they are. The message might say: “Where should I be standing? I’ve been under the clock for half an hour now.”
You are booked into a hotel / restaurant / holiday camp and need directions to get there, having fruitlessly driven up and down the A57 looking for helpful signs several times.
Nowadays, we send a text, email from our hand-helds or consult a Google map. What we don’t do is seek out the next red phone box.
Despite our best efforts to render them redundant, some call boxes still exist. People have petitioned for their continued existence in places such as the Scottish highlands, where mobile networks are weak and courageous rescuers have to have some way of calling the ambulance crew when hoisting down lost and frozen hikers from the slopes.
People have fitted thousands of the boxes with defibrillators, which could be a life-saver if you’re having a heart attack in a rural area, as it would take an ambulance many minutes to arrive. Some boxes have been turned into libraries (handy when your mobile library service has been cut), others into art galleries.
In other places, the boxes seem to have abandoned any telephonic aspect. In my home town, they didn’t even bother with a pretence at communication and transformed themselves into sunglass shops.
If you’re sad to see the iconic K6 red boxes go (and you’ve a couple of grand to spare), you could buy your own and put it in your garden as a small monument to a changing landscape.
BT certainly won’t let you make calls from it. (See 5.5.4.)