The humble telephone – how it has transformed our worlds. My parents still talk of their lives here in the UK in the 1970s and the way they would try and seek a connection for a phone line back home to relatives in India. It would sometimes require up to three days notice, the line was fuzzy, intermittent and barely existent – and that was a good day. The bad days saw no lines at all, each heart-sinking disappointment widening the berth of home-sickness that they already coped with on a daily basis.
Calls abroad were prohibitively expensive so the phone conversations themselves were more a matter of informing family they were alive and less of a chit-chatty catch up scenario. How could they have possibly ever imagined a world in which they and everyone around them would own a pocket-sized phone that could read the time, show the news, reveal the weather, take a photograph and pay a bill? Nowadays, we laugh that it is my Mum out of all of us who is most glued to her Samsung but even I, a generation beneath my parents, could never have imagined a world like this.
Hand Model – @LondonKiwiEmma
Day upon day for years throughout high school, I would stand at our local train station using the last couple of coins in my purse to phone my Mum from a public phone box outside Platform 5. I would let her know my train home from school had just pulled in, my hungry appetite and impatient teenage temperament desperately hoping she would be done from work in good time. Those phone booths were the only channel of communication Mum and I had during the school run time of day (and importantly, my only way of knowing whether I had time to squeeze in a bag of peanut M&Ms from the newsagent just outside the station.)
It was my generation that observed the transition from a mobile phone-less world to a world in which a day without our phone becomes a (somewhat first world) catastrophe. It leads me to wonder who, now, uses the phone boxes that are still dotted around my city so affectionately and so many other cities across the world? Are they merely for the few who have left their phones at home or been the victim of phone theft ? Are they solely for the posers who hang their heads out of red London phone booths and post a gram an hour or so later – or are these iconic emblems that were once such an integral requirement on our streets, simply now being defaced and used as urinals for late night drunken revellers?
Evidently not, thanks to a bunch of creative, forward thinking, social enterprise artsy sorts, who have stepped in to up-cycle these phone booths and give them some much-needed TLC. But if you think that the renovation comprises naught but a fresh lick of paint, think again. All the phone boxes I am featuring today are ones I spotted around the globe (all by sheer chance) and all of which have re-surfaced in guises you may never have imagined.
The Street Art Phone Boxes
Every time I walk past a red phone box in London’s popular visitor hubs, such as Westminster Abbey, Charing Cross or Piccadilly, I spot tourists, sometimes queuing tourists, waiting to have their photos taken inside one, beside one, against one, towards one, the list of potential poses goes on. Whether it’s the blood-red façade or the retro appearance, the good old London phone booths never fail to turn heads.
But they don’t turn heads anywhere near as much as these Porto phone booths did, standing tall, dressed in haute couture with brazen bold prints and chunky colours. One was enough to catch us by surprise but little did we know that a whole catalogue of original street-art phone booths were about to decorate our walking route.
The Phone Box Libraries
One of my earliest blog posts was about the Lewisham Micro Library, a tiny book exchange filled with reading inspiration from crime thrillers and children’s picture books to travel guides and century-old renowned classics.
Utterly enamoured by the concept, one I had never heard of or laid eyes on before, I kept my fingers and toes tightly crossed that the community would respect it and love it for the free, welcoming and embracing treasure trove of literature and education that it was.
I felt an instant connection with the place and hoped that heartless thugs wouldn’t prey upon its open doors and social heart but having been back just a few weeks ago, I am pleased to report it is going strong and continuing to share the love of books among locals.
Once I had seen the first phone box library, a cascade effect ensued and over the following months, I found others in Sussex and Surrey. Any misplaced notions I may have had about the phone box libraries being confined to British soil were also dispelled during my visit to Ponta Delgada last year, when I learned that the Azores’ answer to the phone box library was this dainty little white number.
A Phone Box Library in The Azores
All of a sudden, energised by the novelty of an unusual coloured phone box in an unfamiliar island, I found myself becoming the poser hanging out of the phone box. 😊
The Phone Box Defibrillators
At Chedworth in the Cotswolds, a tiny village where some of my closest friends and I frequently convene, a phone box book exchange has been born – but this one comes with a twist and seemingly, with healing properties. Just opposite a shelf of books within the booth sits a functioning community defibrillator, available for the public to use. I can’t imagine that anyone would ever hope to find themselves needing it but in a tiny remote place, where it may take an ambulance longer to reach, the presence of a defibrillator in a phone box at such an easily accessible and memorable location could be the difference between life and death. Simple yet genius no?!
The Phone Box Fish Tank Aquarium
Just when you think it can’t get any stranger in the phone box world, I present to you the phone box fish tank aquarium. Not a permanent installation thankfully, as can you imagine all the crowds who would flock outside and paparazzi the heck out of the poor fish with their flash photography and selfie sticks?! Those of you who went through the Lumiere London festival with a fine tooth comb may already be aware of this enormously popular pop up, where a London phone box was sealed up, filled with water and converted into a temporary home for a range of colourful fish.
The first time I visited Lumiere London, I wasn’t able to see it before the festival ended so this year, it was at the top of my viewing list and after being elbowed a bit by the masses ahead of and behind me, I managed to catch a glimpse.
There was something truly mesmerising about seeing the natural world coming to life within an inanimate booth, a harmony to the way in which everyone who had made it to the front yelped “oh wow” with the synchrony of a coordinated choir group, all united by the blue life unfolding within this red box in front of us.
So, there you have it – from life saving equipment to homes for fish, micro-libraries to art canvases, the versatility of the good old-fashioned phone box seems boundless so whilst the Apples and Samsungs of the world might have muscled in on our daily lives for the last couple of decades, something tells me we won’t be seeing the back of these phone booths quite yet…
Have you ever come across one of these phone boxes on your travels?