Paul Kerensa: “I’m smitten with a phone box”
PUBLISHED: 14:35 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:50 08 October 2020
While the traditional phone box may seem a little redundant these days they have a variety of other interesting uses
It’s strange to admit it, but I make regular excuses to visit our local phone box. “The dog needs a walk.” “Just stretching my legs... again.” “Must go and see that neighbour about that hedge trimmer.”
I should add, this one isn’t like the old ones. I grew up in a time when phone boxes were for two things: phone calls and certain business cards. I’m delighted to say that nowadays our phone box has reading matter of a different type.
The Onslow Village phone box is rammed from floor to ceiling with books. Joyous marvellous surprising second-hand books. Now and then some chancer will drop off a jigsaw or a DVD, but we’ll allow that for now. They move on pretty soon too.
There’s a pretty high turnover, so every new visit yields new stock. I’ve picked up novels, biographies, history books and cookbooks. My kids have nabbed ample reading matter since our now phone-less box gained its new life. Most of these books end up back in the phone box again, for others to find/enjoy/put back. It’s a library with no late fees.
I’m so smitten by it that when I recently passed another phone box, several counties away, I had to pull in and check if it was a book stash or a genuine old phone box. I’m sorry to report that it was... another phone box of books! I’m only sorry because my kids felt the need to enforce a ‘one out, one in’ rule for books. I clearly bring back too many.
Having picked up two new novels, the rules were that I had to move on two old ones. It didn’t take long to find which books of the kids I’d be moving on.
There are other ingenious uses for these cuboid relics. Another Guildford suburb, Compton, is known for its decorative phone box, dressed for the time of year (Halloween, Christmas) or a topical event (the Royal Wedding, Thank You to the NHS). I’ve heard of tourist information kiosks, mini community stores, and defibrillators, all being housed in phone boxes across the land.
In fact, one of the first phone box libraries nearly a decade ago was set up in yet another Surrey village, Horsley.
Long live the phone box, I say. They may mostly have stopped dialling out, but they’re still connecting communities, as we all benefit from each other’s pre-loved literary gems.