Red Telephone Box
My first memory of one of Britain’s famous red telephone boxes was when I was about seven and tried to call home. The door was heavy, akin to the gateway to a castle or prison. Everything was metallic and cold apart from the floor – concrete and cold. Once inside, I didn’t have the strength to pull the door closed: it did it on its own, under its own steam, on its heavy hinges. Very slow until ajar, until a few inches from closed, leaving just enough space to trap small hands, small feet, and those loose bits of coat – or the strings and toggles of coats.
The apparatus was solid, including the cable: that was malevolent spaghetti, twisted and curled, impossible to straighten, frozen in knots like gnarled and petrified branches. There are instructions for the uninitiated: have your coins ready, lift receiver, dial number, listen to phone ringing, listen out for the ‘beeps’ as your callee answers – then cut a groove into your thumb as you dig and press your coin into the slot – at slot blocked by a sprung bar; that was the hardest part for me – pressing the money in. No such thing as just dropping money the way one could with a coffee machine. There were other horrid machines; the chocolate machine at railway stations and the bubblegum machines outside sweet shops and newsagents, where coins were placed flat against a disc before you struggled with a key-like lever to send you coin on its way.
Another aspect of the red telephone box (or kiosk) was the stench, the nasty little puddle on the concrete floor. No telephone kiosk escaped the humiliation of being used as a public toilet. Keeping in mind the heavy door, the best thing to do was to suffer a foot jammed to hold the door ajar, or a strong lean with your back against it: try not to shiver too much as the wind whistles in.
Great idea: grab a book.
Should you have time to kill, or are perhaps kicking your heels as you wait for someone to finish their call – groaning with hatred as they shove another coin into the slot – as you stamp about for warmth, you can read the postcard notices. These were offering kittens and puppies for sale, promising rewards for lost moggies, advertising cleaners and plumbers, laundry services and gardeners. Other notices, with silhouette pictures, were full of promise, offering services that went over my 7-year-old head, part of that mystical adult world where whip-wielding women wore heels like steeples, offering something unique, a personal service – and always discreet.
Telephone kiosks were early forms of social media, message boards for those boasting of their love for someone – often accompanied with an arrow through a heart, giving earthy opinion of someone’s manhood or lack thereof, or giving a somewhat condemnatory reference to the sexual exploits of a local – always with a number to call should you be keen to judge for yourself – first-hand, so to speak. These gossipy tales, often in Limerick form, rhyming couplets, or the odd splash of blank verse were often supported with diagrams, penned, or scratched, hit-and-miss with scale and proportion, but recognizable enough.
Okay, the historical stuff. British symbols, red buses, red letter boxes, and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box. Scott’s K2 design was the winner of a Post Office competition in 1924 – to be updated by the K6 in 1935. 2000red telephone boxes remain in the UK – classed as listed buildings. Why so heavy: made of cast iron and weighed a ton, although the 1935 models were 25% lighter – but I bet the kept the blasted doors as heavy as the originals.
The Seven Ages of Man
You may have noticed by now that pelham Hardimann is not averse to pinching the odd quote from hither and thither, swiping verse to make his point. To help explain to the younger reader – as is your hero’s want from time to time – Pelham snatches a wedge of wisdom from Shakespeare to give you some idea of how our bodies betray our minds as we grow older, believing we can still leap a five-bar gate, scissor-kick over the driver’s door and into the seat of your jalopy, prance about and jig to the rock ‘n’ roll of youth, dancing, young minds in old bodies: so unfair.
Pelham – your hero – is forty, and maybe forty was seen as getting old in the 1930s. Sure, people supposedly live longer these days, with sixty being the new forty, as science and medicine keeps us reasonably well fuelled and well oiled, but nobody told evolution. Evolution is slow, very slow. Your author – Carl Plummer – is three score now, and even he forgets he is no longer strolling about in white Levi’s, cheesecloth shirts, Chukka boots, with Led Zeppelin albums beneath an arm in the 1970s, especially that scorching summer of 1976. Some people may smile sweetly and think ‘young in mind’ but I often put it down to crass stupidity. “All the world’s a stage…” from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques explains it well.
Do things slow down? Oh yes, the metabolism takes a beating. Alcohol is a fun one; gone are the drinking into the wee hours before strolling into work with the tiniest of hangovers. A few glasses of wine of an evening, and I am soon nodding off – invariably halfway through a film I had settled into watch. But do not panic, dear reader. Your favourite author is not yet at the elastic waistband stage, although some letting-out has been called for, and comfort took over from being fashionable many years ago. There are more adventures on the way. Pelham and the Plan on the Clapham Omnibus is already in the publishing pipeline.
As you should know by now, dear reader, Pelham Hardimann is a man of sartorial elegance and style – clothed by Anderson and Sheppard and shod by Church’s. Northampton company, Church’s was founded in 1873 by Thomas Church. (The company taken over by Prada in 1999). A small company at first, Church’s expanded in the footwear world between the two world wars. Now producing at least 5,000 pairs of shoes a week in a former tram and bus depot, the company sells classy and refined shoes in the USA, Europe, Hong Kong, and Japan. Me, should I ever get the opportunity – I would use their store in Jermyn Street, London.
Very 'Pelham Hardimann'.
Now, I understand, it is not easy to spot the make of a shoe, although I suspect women can spot fancy stilettos from a mile off. Pelham is a fan of suede – not the most sensible shoes or boot while our friend Pierce Brosnan wears them in his Bond films, and even Mr. Bean has been known to sport them.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair would wear his ‘lucky pair’ during ten years of Prime Minister’s Questions – but I would rather ignore him – if the truth be told.
Peeing in a policeman’s helmet.
What a shame. There is no law or local bylaw anywhere that states it is legal for a pregnant woman to pee in a policeman’s helmet. It is a myth, an urban legend, but a great myth that should be made real – should be made law. Keep in mind, although it may not be legal, it is not and never has been deemed illegal. I dare any woman with child to approach a constable and ask; Studely is a decent sort of chap – ask him. By the by, while we are on the subject of ‘woman with child’ – a pregnant woman is sometimes referred to as a woman with child but once the child is born…woman with child?
Photo from Meghan Henry Designs (https://megmacdesigns.blogspot.com/)
Something that has always puzzled me. Why do women lift a leg when they kiss? Do they lift a leg when the kiss? I cannot tell you from experience because I have never been able to see. 1: I am short – only 5’ 4”. 2: It is nigh on impossible to peer over a shoulder to check while…you get my gist. Disappointing, I know, but Justin Garcia of the Kinsey Institute states there is no definitive evidence or scientific research to suggest that women lift a leg mid-kiss. Well, this should be studied; I am sure they will have no trouble finding volunteers. Some searchers put the ‘foot pop’ down to the Rom-Coms of the 80s and 90s. Yes, it is just an on-screen trope.
Mick the Miller
I am no fan of greyhound racing, or horse racing for that matter, but even as a child in the 60s and 70s I would hear of Mick the Miller.
Born in Ireland in 1926, Mick the Miller was famous throughout his three-year racing career, and along with being world famous is still considered as one of the UK’s greatest sporting heroes – along the lines of Red Rum or Desert Orchid, according to John Henderson’s list of 100 top British sportsmen. Mick the Miller ran a total of 81 races of which he won 61: 15 wins from 20 in Ireland and 46 wins from 61 in England.
Why am I not a fan? I hear too many horror stories about the treatment of animals in sport – simple as that. Should you also be concerned, I suggest reading Judy Kody Paulsen’s article: Health Concerns in the Retired Racing Greyhound.
Jimmy James, born James Casey, was known as ‘the comedian’s comedian’. Born in 1892, he was a star of Music Hall, Film, Radio, and even Television. I say ‘even television’ because he retired in 1964 and died in 1965.
He began his career with Willy Netta’s Singing Jockeys as ‘Terry, the blue-eyed Irish boy’. During the First World War he served as a sergeant in the Northumberland Fusiliers – gassed on the Western Front. By the 1930s he was appearing at the London Palladium.
Born in Stockton-on-Tees, James Casey, aged ten, hitched a ride to Darlington and joined a travelling show. The police picked him up (reported as a missing child) two years later – and too late: he was, by then a seasoned performer. Jimmy James declared bankruptcy on several occasions, mostly owing to his addiction to gambling but in his shows, he was a master of the on-stage drunk – invariably with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He was a teetotal and did not smoke off-stage.
I don’t remember him well, apart from one act – maybe his most famous act, along with Eli Woods (formerly Bretton Woods) in Our Eli.
Silver Cow Creamer
You will have noticed by now, should you have rattled your way through a few chapters of Pelham on Parole, that your author likes to add the odd nod to his favourite authors and characters from time to time.
Yes, Studely’s tale of the cow creamer and Pelham’s ‘I wondered what happened to that, and it was nothing to sneer at’ is a friendly and respectful wave to the great P. G. Wodehouse.
In The Code of the Woosters, (1938) Bertie is charged, by his wonderful Aunt Dahlia (the pleasant aunt – not the one who eats broken bottles), to go to a local antique dealer and sneer at a silver cow creamer. This is an attempt to drive down the price of the said article, all to put Aunt Dahlia’s husband, Tom Travers in a good mood. In the shop, Bertie encounters Sir Watkyn Bassett, another collector of silver, and the leader of The Black Shorts – Fascist Roderick Spode.
All goes awry, Sir Watkyn Bassett buys the cow creamer, and aunt Dahlia orders Bertie to steal it from Totleigh Towers.
Jeeves, fine fellow that he is, comes to the rescue, saving Bertie from jail, marriage, and the violence of Roderick Spode while wangling his way to getting Bertie to agree to a world cruise – something Jeeves is hoping for right from the start.
If you have never read any P. G. Wodehouse, I suggest you start now. You have years of joy ahead of you.
St. Mary Mead
Not Saint Mary of the Mead, as Pelham at first assumes. If you have ever watched or read a Miss Marple, you will know about Saint Mary Mead – the fictional village created by Agatha Christie. Christie’s St. Mary Mead, in the fictional country of Downshire, is quaint, and quintessentially English. I have always imagined the village to be somewhere in the Cotswold, the reason for Studely’s ‘out Oxfordshire way’ comment when referring to his aunt.
Nether Wallop, Hampshire.
The BBC adaptation used the Hampshire village of Nether Wallop. There are other Wallops, believe it or not. I used to ride by bike through them as a teenager in the 70s.
Why did I choose St. Mary Mead? Well, I had Mrs. Glendower – a dangerous Miss Marple with Stalinist tendencies, and what better place to have an explosion?