Phone box of my youth

Change is always in the air, and as we mature there are more layers of transformation to observe.

When I lived in Hackney in the mid to late 1990s regeneration was in the early stages of gestation. I lived on Richmond Road, overlooking London Fields. As I walked along Richmond Road to Mare Street I would pass Flowers East Gallery, and an old factory, which became derelict while I lived there.

There was a group of shops at the Mare Street/Richmond Road junction among which was a newspaper shop, Hair By Byron (Greek barber called Vic), a rundown off licence (selling more special brew than anything), and a builders’ café.

Now the area is unrecognisable with high blocks of offices and flats with beautiful cafes and shops below. The factory and Byron are long gone.

Sometimes however, it’s not just areas that disappear and alter beyond recognition, but parts of our heritage. The change is slow and sometimes we don’t notice until something is gone. Perhaps even several years later we ponder ‘What happened to…?’

Library

Libraries for one are reducing in number and a recent report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport tells us that the proportion of adults using them has fallen from 48% to 36%. How long before they become defunct, empty and destitute?

How about the humble British telephone box?

phone-box-2

The iconic red boxes started to disappear from our streets as far back as 1985 when BT announced modernisation and redesign. They are no longer being modernised or iconic but disappearing. The availability of mobile telephones has rendered them more redundant. Many sit derelict, vandalised and unused.

Recently while I waited for a friend outside Camden underground station I noticed two telephone boxes, side by side, keeping each other company as everyone walked by them, and didn’t even notice they were there.

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I kept focussed on the phone boxes to see if any of the multitudes of brightly coloured pedestrians even noticed or acknowledged their existence. After a few minutes a solitary, rather desperate looking, middle-aged woman went into one and attempted to make a call but was soon out to try the other. She left that swiftly too and I had to deduce that both were ‘out of service’.

These phone boxes, booths, kiosks or whatever you prefer to call them were once the centre of society. Everyone knew where their nearest was. They played a key role in social planning and events. People planned to call or to be called at a public telephone at set times so as not to miss each other. There was not the modern convenience of being able to call, and reach your friends, family and business acquaintances at will.

The mind is an odd contraption and it’s bizarre how memories are triggered. Thinking of telephone boxes in Camden took me right back to my youth…

In the Hertfordshire village, Flamstead, where I grew up there were two phone boxes. One was adjacent to the combined Post Office/grocer’s store and the second was directly outside my childhood home.

Our boundary was a privet hedge and gates across the driveway. Beyond that was a grass verge with a phone box situated on the corner. The grass verge wasn’t part of our property but Dad always mowed the grass when he cut our own. He reasoned that he didn’t want the verge to look unkempt as it affected the street side vista of our home. He would also park his van on the grass verge to keep a vehicle off the street, particularly as we lived on a sharp corner.

The phone box presented a challenge. It had been there for a significant number of years and long before the roads were so full of cars. Vehicles would frequently park directly outside the box creating a hazard, or worse, blocking our driveway. Mum acted as a great sentry and would charge out when she spotted the vehicle and demand that the vehicle be moved immediately. On a few occasions several callers actually pulled into the drive which generated a similar, if not even more, strident response.

Eventually my parents made representations to the local Council to have it removed. The response was disappointing and the letter confirmed that Trowley Hill was a public highway and unless there were yellow lines present vehicles may park at will. Our corner was not considered in need of yellow lines. Further representations concerning common courtesy and blocking points of access fell on deaf ears.

That said, Mum would also go out armed with a dustpan, brush, dishcloth (as long as it could go straight in the bin after as it wasn’t welcome back in the home after servicing the box), polish and duster to ensure that the phone box had the same level of sheen as our home.

I asked her why she would expend energy cleaning a public telephone box. She replied

‘I am not having that filthy thing outside our house!’

She would also collect stray one and two pence coins and deposit them in the charity box in the aforementioned village Post Office.

I guess it was a love-hate relationship.

Many of the village inhabitants also used the phone box and quite often there would be groups of my friends making calls to whomever. I even received a phone call once from an admirer asking if I was at home. I had no idea she was calling from the telephone box outside my house!

Do you remember your own phone box experiences? Ask anyone under 35 when they last used a phone box, and if they even know where their nearest is. I sadly now don’t know where my nearest is, or when last I used it. They are indeed confined to the past, but that doesn’t mean we should forget them and this blog shall serve as my homage to a disappearing but vital part of our social and communications past.

TNW

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Rules of a displaced Boulevardier

To celebrate over six months of weekly blogging I thought it was time to share with you the very essence of a displaced Boulevardier.

The trusty World Wide Web tells us that a Boulevardier is a man who promenades the fashionable streets of Paris. In other words an urbane, fashionable city dweller, who is usually of higher class and has knowledge of the city, and in particular how to find the best advanced cultural entertainment.

I do think that Crouch End is a suitable replacement for Paris. I also just about manage to replicate the criteria albeit in a displaced fashion.

I will now enlighten (and hopefully entertain) you by providing the seven areas of consideration in my self help guide.   

Hair

A Boulevardier, however displaced, should have a good head of hair. This should be coiffured into a chic style. The quiff is a good example of en vogue tresses, which equally retains a classic and classy element.

Regular visits to the salon are also required. Barbers do serve a purpose, but seem to deal more in volume sheerings than dazzling creations.

The most important part of the appointment is the initial consultation. It is not enough to provide the instruction

‘Just a trim please.’

The Tonsorial Artist will perform much better with a detailed description of each area of the how the cutting should take place for each area of the head.

For example ‘Please don’t cut any length from the front and top. The sides and back should be much shorter, and as short as possible without showing the scalp, and disconnected from the top rather than graduated.’

Healthy (some might say excessive) attention to clothing

Fashion is constantly changing and evolving, and while it would be fantastic to keep right up to the minute with every microscopic change it’s simply not practical. It is important to ensure sartorial sophistication exudes from your wardrobes and this can be achieved by developing your own essence of cool. Of course this will be wrapped around various genres, from hippie to punk, but it will be your own.

A cautionary note should be added. Please check with your friends and family first to validate your ability for natural panache, as without this creating your own style could lead to disaster.

Adding the right and the right number of accessories is vital. Think jewellery, manbag (to manbag or to not?), and shades. Shades are mandatory and the choice should be around which pair to wear.

And contrary to popular belief a man can never have enough shoes.

Social Media Presence            

Updating social media is an art. Each tweet, status update or photo should be interesting and make the reader or viewer wish they were in your world.

For instance if you wake feeling too tired to get up, then you post should read something like the following

‘Decadently lounging in bed savouring endless cups of tea.’

Timing your updates is also key and ensuring you still pay sufficient attention to any company you are keeping. It’s not wise to constantly update when you are in a social situation but sometimes needs must. Much will depend on the duration of your social intercourse. If you are meeting for a short lunch then it’s probably not prudent to be constantly tapping your phone or tablet, but if it’s a longer affair then it’s only reasonable to keep in touch with your wider circle.

Theatre, concerts and the arts

Regular visits to all manner of cultural events are required and enjoyed. Crouch End is vibrant with its own annual arts festival, and with so many nearby local theatres there is always something to watch and enjoy.

From the revue showings of new plays in bars to the acoustic music sessions in the cafes there is always something on.

These experiences should enrich your cultural conversational referencing.

We even had crocheted squares and woven pompoms decorating the trees and railings near the Clock Tower this summer.

Immergence and appreciation of all artistic expression is required.

Elegant Hosting

This is the area of Boulevarding (I think I just invented a new verb!) I struggle with most. The kitchen is not my natural sanctuary. If you think Carrie from Sex and the City, and her redundant kitchen you won’t be too far from the truth. However, I would like to protest that it is almost sacrilegious to stay in when there are global gastronomical opportunities minutes from my residence. Crouch End is bountiful with eateries. Everything from Caribbean fusion to Pan Asian via Spain, Italy, Turkey and Japan to name just a few.

The hosting at my home is finer tuned to thirst quenching and entertainment. My piano forte is often in use.

Drink Sherry and Tanqueray

A preferred tipple which coincidently sets you aside from the pack is also a bonus.

Sherry has certainly made a comeback in recent years, and our palates have been warmed to an excellent Fino or a darker Amontillado. Sherry is an elegant drink to enjoy and certainly raises the eyebrows of most bar staff when requested.

However, while it has been revived Sherry is not freely available. It is therefore important to have an alternate in mind. I oft for Tanqueray a lesser known London gin. My spirit of choice has long been gin, and I really don’t like the taste of the default Gordons. Amy Winehouse introduced me to the joys of Tanqueray when she sang of it in her track You Know I’m No Good.

If in doubt ask ‘What would Amy do?’

Replace ‘Amy’ with your own hero but it has to be someone qualified in style, cool and presence.

I hope my short and perhaps self-indulgent guide spurs some of you into the joys of Boulevardier hood.

TNW

The Paris Hilton of Berkeley Square or not…

I do honestly believe that being a Boulevardier was in my blood. And it’s about time I told you all why.

My extended family on my mother’s side were once the proud owners of several central London hotels. I say proud as I can not imagine having such a legacy and not feeling a sense of accomplishment.

I do not know which hotels exactly but the word ‘Berkeley’ is often bandied around. Whether this relates to the Berkeley Hotel, a hotel in Berkeley Square or both I do not know but I am not sure this finer detail is important at this stage. My grandfather was born in one of these hotels.

Unfortunately, or so the story goes, they were all lost as a result of gambling…

How unfortunate! I should be a hotel heir, but instead have to make do with the middle name Berkeley. Don’t get me wrong it’s not something that bothers me daily, or that I have undergone extensive therapy for but crops up sometimes in my dreams both conscious and unconscious.

I love having the middle name Berkeley. It wasn’t always that way though. As a child my uncles, on my father’s side, always made fun of it. I was called ‘Barkers Sausages’, usually accompanied by a lot of sniggering, which my cousins readily joined in with. And our family is large in number. I don’t even know if there was ever a company named thus, but I hated it as a boy. I really only started to appreciate it once I was a young adult, and then it gave me a sense of unique, and class. I also only understood the relevance when grown up. Prior to that I understood only that the eldest male in each family was given the middle name Berkeley.

I developed such a love for the name I wished it was my Christian name or even double barrelled surname. Does that make me slightly pretentious!

As a child though I lived the life of a hotel heir, which was fabulous. Not in the sense of living in palaces and having maids and butlers to attend to my every need, but with doting and generous parents who didn’t allow me to lift a finger or want for anything.

Gifts were constant, despite the fact they had little money. This was the 1970s after all. Each morning I was woken with a cup of tea in bed (this actually continued until I moved out in my 20s), and after leaving the warm of my covers and headed for the bathroom, my bed would be made. When I went downstairs breakfast was waiting, and my shoes were polished daily. I never ironed, cleaned, washed (other than myself) or made any meals expect the odd sandwich.

When I wanted to be in a school play, I was ferried to and from rehearsals. When I wanted to learn piano I had the best teacher in the locale (this is a story in itself which will appear here at some point in the future), and when I got a car it was regularly cleaned both inside and out. Some might say spoiled, but I prefer to say loved…

The downside however, is when you do head into the big bad world its rather a shock to the system. I remember ironing several shirts and a friend called in to ask if I was about to start ironing looking at the various hangers around the room exhibiting my handiwork. I confirmed that I was just finished. She roared with laughter and told me that you had to let the iron know who was boss. My first and only ever lesson in ironing ensued.

Repeat this for all other daily tasks as I gradually learned. I still to this day hate cleaning, ironing, and am incapable of fixing anything! Don’t you just throw clothes away when a button falls off!

I actually think it’s in my blood. Other memories flood back as when I was offered seafood as a child I didn’t want cockles or whelks, I only had the taste for prawns. I didn’t really take to cod but loved plaice! If it was more expensive I loved it, even before I knew or understood the differing costs. I just knew my taste buds.

I have bewailed the lack of ‘trust fund’, rather tongue in cheek, but have to confess to also being guilty of many a true word spoken in jest.

Would it be so wrong to seek out which hotels were part of my legacy, and go see if they are waiting for me to arrive? Surely a Boulevardier however displaced with a love of sherry, snowballs, Battenberg and French Fancies would be an asset to any such establishment!

And so I drift back into my dream world yet again!

TNW