Monday 26 May 2008

The phone box affair

13st 12lb, sod it; 9.0 units of alcohol yesterday, since the Government keeps telling me that is how many there are in a bottle of wine; 1,348; in a rural backwater where every remaining service is being systematically withdrawn because we foolishly refuse to vote Labour.

It’s a Bank Holiday Monday and the sun is beating down on Northumberland. Even more remarkably, news reports and personal e-mails confirm that Biblical quantities of rain are pouring onto almost every other part of the country. This is a complete reversal of the normal laws of nature, like a chicken pecking a fox to death, or England winning the World Cup. Perhaps it is another sign of the impending Apocalypse, like the continued progress of the “false prophet” Obama in the American presidential race. That description comes from my deranged friend in New Zealand, who has emigrated there in the doubtless vain hope that the Four Horsemen might overlook it on their impending World Tour. According to him, the next thing to watch out for is the complete collapse of the US dollar (which unfortunately does sound horribly plausible) and their adoption of the euro. Then the trumpets will sound on 23 December 2012, meaning that we will have to endure all the trouble, expense (and crushing disappointment in the medals department) of the London Olympics, and won’t even get to open our Christmas presents. A real sod, that. But at least you can’t say you weren’t warned. And being plunged into a bottomless pit of eternal fire will no doubt be a bit of a boon in speeding up the defrosting of the turkey.

I set out in the sunshine on my electric bike, intending to pick up the newspapers from the village shop during its one hour window of Bank Holiday opening. I paused at the bottom of the hill to take a picture of the utterly filthy local telephone kiosk, to which some enterprising local campaigner has now sellotaped two sheets of A4 paper bearing the words “Save Our Phone Box”. It is on BT’s hit list of useless facilities which they want to remove, and in truth it has not seen much use since some Bloke had an affair a few years ago. His car used to be parked there for hours. I couldn’t find anyone who knew who he was, so we all just called him “the Bloke who is having an affair”. Particularly if we ran into him in the pub or shop in female company.

A Lost Cause: the Gordon Brown of BT kiosks

My local councillor claims to have attracted 100 signatures to her petition to save this vital lifeline, which is surprising given that BT assert that it has been used to make precisely one call in the last year. Albeit a “life-saving” one to summon help after some kid, who lives all of 400 yards away, fell off his bike. Admittedly if the child is anything like the size of his mother, it would have required a Chinook helicopter or a well-stabilized heavy lift crane to get him back on his feet.

There are apparently no records of those who have made use of the kiosk in its primary function as a public lavatory, though one suspects that demand is less intense in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hedgerows, woods and fields, than it is in the middle of London or Newcastle.

The ironic thing is that the statistics are about to be distorted hugely in favour of the campaigners, because there was some sort of Outward Bound trek for teenage hoodlums taking place past my house on Saturday, and when I passed the phone box there was a long queue of them outside it, no doubt hoping to order takeaway pizzas and taxis. Or maybe they were all just townies who identified it as the only place for miles around where they could have a wee.

Shortly after I left the one remaining public asset in the parish, I heard a clattering sound which proved to be caused by a vital component falling off my bike. I turned around to retrieve it, but it had completely disappeared in accordance with Sod’s Law Chapter V, sub-section A, clause 24. So I carried on until the point, precisely halfway on the round trip, when the motor packed up. As I contemplated the weary push up the long hill back to my house, I looked at the forlorn phone box and reflected that, if it were removed, there would be no way I could ring anyone and ask them to come and rescue me. Unless I used the mobile phone in my pocket, obviously. What I need is not a payphone, but a friend with a car who would not laugh and / or tell me to f*** off when I rang him asking for help.

Though just a friend of any description would obviously be a start.

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