We were the last family in our street to get a telephone. Dad just wouldn’t have one. He’d say.
“People can call you whenever THEY like. I could be watching the tele or having me tea and I’d have to get up and see who’s there and what they want. No chance.”
As kids we’d try to counter the argument.
“But Dad what if it’s an emergency and they need you straightaway?”
He’d just look at us.
We’d give him the obvious answer.
“Like someone’s died!”
He’d have none of it.
“Well if they’re dead they don’t need me do they. They need the undertaker, call him not me. Nothing I can do if they’re already dead.”
The conversation was finished and dad went back to watching the sport on the tele.
We all decided (including mum) that it would be a long process before dad agreed to a telephone. But we wouldn’t give up.
In 1974 my sister was training to be a Premature Baby Nurse at a Hospital in Solihull, Birmingham. She’d call us about twice a week and let us know how she was getting on. She’d call “Uncle Bill” who lived two doors away. He wasn’t really our Uncle but our family had known his family for years and so we called him Uncle Bill. The poor sod would have to stop whatever he was doing, answer the phone, put on his shoes and walk to our house, knock on the door and tell mum or dad that she was on the phone, then they’d both walk to Uncle Bill’s house to take the call. This went on for months.
In November of that year we were all sat watching the tele when there was a Newsflash. Bombs had gone off in two pubs in Birmingham and it was likely that many people had been killed. Instinctively we all stood up and rushed to Uncle Bill’s house. Dad called the lodgings where my sister was staying but there was no answer. Uncle Bill put the kettle on knowing that none of us were going anywhere for a while. Mum and dad called the number every fifteen minutes for the next three hours. Eventually my sister answered. She’d been out with friends in the City centre but nowhere near the bombings. She said the city was in chaos and it had taken her hours to get back to her digs.
Everyone was relieved that she was okay. Mum decided to use this as leverage a few days later.
“I’ve been thinking maybe it is about time we got a telephone. I mean, what with everything that happened the other night. It would have been a lot easier.”
Dad gave her one of his looks.
Mum came back strong.
“Well, what if Uncle Bill had been out or away on holiday. What would we have done then?”
Dad played the trump card.
“We’ve got his key, just like he’s got ours. We’d have let ourselves in and used the telephone. Left a few coppers in the box and that would have been it.”
Again dad had said the final words. Case dismissed.
Mum wasn’t beat yet. A year later she took herself on the bus to MFI and returned with a big cardboard box. She followed the instructions carefully and with the help from dads toolbox put together a new piece of furniture. A telephone table!
She put it in the hallway right next to the back door. No way could dad pass it and not notice. He did.
Over tea that night mum brought it up.
“Got us some new furniture today from MFI.”
Dad continued eating his egg and chips.
“Oh yeh. What did you get?”
Mum told him straight.
“A telephone table.”
Dad didn’t flinch.
“That’s nice. Does it come with a free telephone?”
That wasn’t the answer mum was expecting.
Dad stopped chewing for a few seconds and looked up.
“So why do we need one?”
Mum was already up and at the sink.
“Because it’s a nice piece of furniture. It’s got a padded seat and a shelf. It looks nice in the hallway.”
Dad was intrigued.
“Is the seat in case we get tired from walking from the back door to the front room?”
Mum ignored his sarcasm.
“No. It’s just for decoration. Now eat your tea.”
Over the next year or so the telephone table looked impressive. Mum even got telephone directories and put them on the shelf, she even had one of those boxes like Uncle Bill had to put your coppers in if you used the phone that we didn’t have.
Then in 1977 I read something in one of the papers that I knew would be a winning card. I was nineteen and still living at home. I was desperate for us to have our own telephone.
I brought it up after Sunday dinner when just me and him were watching the Big Match.
“I was reading the paper the other day. Amazing the things they’re up to now. Did you know there is a number you can ring on the telephone and you can listen to your favourite song?”
Dad wasn’t impressed.
I played it cool.
“They also reckon that soon you’ll be able to ring a number and hear the latest news.”
Still dad wasn’t impressed.
“That’s what we’ve got the tele for.”
Then I went in for the kill.
“They also said that it won’t be long before you’ll be able to get all the horse racing results just by dialling a certain number. Imagine that, no more waiting for the paper the next day or having to go to the betting shop to get the results. You just dial a number on the telephone!”
This stopped him in his tracks. He looked at me. A serious look.
I knew there and then I had him.
“That’s what they reckon. Coming soon apparently.”
It took just a few seconds before he answered.
“Best get one then. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. Makes sense.”
Before he could say anything else I decided to close the deal.
“Shall I set it all up? Do the paperwork, place the order?”
His eyes went back to the football.
“That would be great son. Crack on.”
And so finally a few months later we got the telephone we all wanted, well, apart from dad.
It took him years before he would answer it. If it rang he simply shouted out “Mum…the phones ringing.”