It wouldn’t be true to say I’d never seen our local public phone box being used.

I did once, on a chilly, drizzly late February afternoon – by a man in a woolly hat and a blue anorak.

The chap seemed to be having a nap. Either that or he’d collapsed into a foetal-position slump while holding on, in a queue, to be connected with someone at a customer services call centre. Hard to tell, without closer inspection and that, at the time, seemed unwise.

Best to let sleeping dogs (and men) lie.

Suffice to say though, for so long as I’ve known, the payphone has never been the most popular spot in town.

To my knowledge, it has never attracted excited crowds nor even the kind of individual who, in days long gone, used to bang on the glass with that impossible question: “Are you going to be long in there?”


Anne Pickles “Don’t know, mate. I’m ninth in the queue at British Gas.”

In line with the use-it-or-lose-it principle, the poor neglected thing may not be with us for very much longer.

Use for snoozing tends not to count in audits of popularity for these important services.

So the good folk of remote Seathwaite, in the Borrowdale Valley, found when their public payphone was threatened with removal by BT because only 378 calls had been made in a 12-month period.

Have to say, that seemed like quite a lot to me – more than one a day, anyway. But when the disappointed people of Seathwaite protested, backed by Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, the payphone was saved.

There was a U-turn – and you don’t get many of those to the pound these days.

It was perhaps not a Champagne-popping triumph of major significance on the world stage, but it was a little victory showing how sometimes bad decisions can be overturned by a few good people. Good for them!

Progress, eh. What a minefield that is when, as so often happens, progress regresses that which has always served a necessary public purpose.

At Seathwaite there’s no mobile signal. In an emergency a public phone is a vital lifeline.

“But you haven’t had an emergency all year,” said BT in its own cost-saving defence. E

rm… not exactly the point, is it? Unless life-threatening events are supposed to be created deliberately, in order to keep a communications link open. Who knew?

No such problem where I live. We have the required signals for our smart phones. We have broadband and wifi and all that mysterious tracking stuff that makes it easy for the world and his wife to follow our digital footprints wherever they inadvertently lead. Or some of us have, anyway.

But would we be comfortable with the loss of a well maintained, fully functioning public phone?

Wouldn’t that be like removing a local community hospital because not enough of us were sufficiently poorly to be admitted last year? Oh, hang on… perhaps a poor comparison.

You’d have to be of a certain age to remember those old red phone boxes – the grubby, smelly ones that used to be a feature of almost every street end.

They stank nastily of stale tobacco smoke and worse.

Buttons A and B facilitated greedy consumption of coins and the refunding of unused ones – theoretically.

It was never a good idea to study the phone numbers on cards on their back walls – unless you needed a taxi in a hurry. We’ll say no more of that.

They were pretty disgusting but we accepted and tolerated them as a necessary evil to keep us all safely connected – even, or perhaps especially, those of us without a party-line at home.

However rapidly most of us have moved on to embrace new heavily marketed kit, begging costly upgrade every six months, isn’t safe connection still the point?

Seathwaite’s admirable defeat of a bad, accountancy driven decision has shown that it still is. With or without emergency. Well done to them.

Now, about those community hospitals…