Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Once upon a time there was a Telephone


When I was a kid growing up in the East End of London, we were lucky that the electricity was working. We had open coal fires for heating, gas for cooking and the electricity for light. With time we bought our first television and the wiring got more and more adventurous. My dad was not exactly talented in such things, We generally had one electric point in a room, a hole was knocked into the wall and a lead was attached to make another electric point. I think the house was eventually wired up from one main plug. However, we survived and only had one fire when the hair dryer's leads once caused a fuse, explosion and flames, but nothing serious. So a telephone was just a dream.

We lived in attached houses in a small East London street, and if you wanted to tell someone something you wrote a letter. As East London people were usually equipped with loud voices - who needs a telephone. This was in the 1950's. I remember one lady in our street that actually had a telephone. If anyone wanted to call anyone you asked politely if you could use her telephone and she would let you. If I was late coming home from somewhere (we young teenagers did not really look at the time so much), you phoned up the neighbour's house and she passed the message on. We were a closely knit neighbourhood in the good old days.

Then I started work in the city of London, my aunt got a telephone and so did my other aunt that lived opposite. I said to my mum and dad perhaps it was time for us to have a telephone and through my friendly persuasion we eventually belonged to the telephone club in the street. Strangely enough at this time there were telephones being put into every house - a sign of the times. My dad had been through one world war and worked in Ford's car factory making the hubs for the wheels. In those days there was not discussion about it being too noisy, and after five years in the royal artillery, his hearing did suffer, which meant that when the telephone rung he just did not hear it. After missing a few calls from important people (like my various boyfriends at that time) we organised an extra bell in the corridor. So when the telephone rung it was heard in the street from one end to the other, but my private life was saved.

As the years went by a telephone just became part of life and you could not imagine how life could be without. When I got married 38 years ago we had a telephone but it was only really used for long distance calls at high days and holidays to call my mum and dad in London from Switzerland. Today this is no different than calling someone in the local village. I have been working as an export clerk for the past 27 years and it is or was in the normal day's work to call up the customers abroad. China, Australia, Europe - it did not matter, you could call them, bearing in mind of course the time changes.

And then what happened - the mobile telephone was discovered. It is a funny thing with those mobiles. Every language had to have a name for it. In England it is a mobile (I think). America a cell phone, in Switzerland a handy (pronounced hendy) as well as in Germany, although in Switzerland we often refer to it as a Natel as that was the company name for the first ones. The French call it a portable and the Italians it is a telefonino which I find the sweetest name for it. So I eventually got my first mobile telephone, whether I was for or against it I can't remember. Mr. Swiss had one and I was a housewife, mother, and working woman. I had the chance to keep in touch with the family during the day.

My first mobile was small, but thick and a bit clumsy looking. Mr. Swiss also started off with something like that but through time he would be buying the next generation and always asked me if I wanted the old one. Most of the time I accepted the offer, so I became a sort of hand-me-down mobile user. The last two changes I rejected the choice as I realised they were not much better than the one I already had. They were getting cheaper and more difficult to handle. I can do a lot on a computer, but messaging was never my thing. I did get the hang of it, but it seemed to be a bit of fiddling about.

They do have their advantages. If you lose your husband in the supermarket, just call him on the mobile. He might be on another floor or just around the corner, but you will find him. If you have a problem, like falling down - just call your husband and he will come and pick you up. If you are going to be late for work (come to think of it just forget it). My oldest son is handicapped, but he has a mobile and knows how to use it. My youngest - well he has the best of all - I think he could send signals to Mars if he wanted to. His mobile takes better photos than my digi camera. So everything developed in a normal way until this happen yesterday.


At the front of the photo is my good old mobile telephone, the one I always had nicely fitting in my handbag. I didn't always hear it when it rung, or find it, but it was useful. I could even block the keys to make sure there were no accidents with it when it was moving around in my handbag. I liked this mobile, not complicated. Now for some time Mr. Swiss had stopped getting mobiles and had a gadget which was bigger, better and something like a small computer. You can hang it onto your computer and it talks to your computer, although you are not at home. It is not a blackberry but something similar. Anyhow the worse has happen. They have got cheaper and he decided it was time to update, so before I could say no thank you or yes please I have inherited this monster in the background. I had lessons yesterday and tried today to send an SMS, but without success. Suddenly Mr. Swiss called me on it, after searching for five minutes I found out how to pick the call up and I asked if something had happened. He said no, but I had called him. I then realised that sending an SMS on this gadget could lead to problems when you don't know how to handle it. Anyhow I have not given up. We have made an appointment for the week-end for a training course in how to use it. In the meanwhile I have been promised that my new computer will be fitted up this week to receive and send messages to this new sort of gigamobile thing that I now have. Sometimes I think back with nostalgia at the good old days in the East End of London when we went to the neighbour's house to make a telephone call.

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