We needed a new telephone for the lounge, and the reason I knew we needed a telephone for the lounge was because Julie said, “We need a new telephone for the lounge”. It was explained to me that the model we were currently using was a little dated and when I tried to argue that it was adequate for our humble needs it was explained to me that technology had moved on to some greater degree and we needed to embrace it. It was further pointed out that the model we had was the same one Eve had used when discussing with the snake as to what after-dinner fruit to partake of following the dessert course. So that was decided then, and off the two of us went to Currys to get a new phone. The choice was astonishing. There were hundreds of them! But the one that caught my eye was what was termed ‘retro phone’ which was all black. It was as near to damn it the same as the first black Bakelite telephone that Mom and Dad had installed back in the early sixties at 28 Connell Road except that it didn’t have a little drawer at the bottom front where you could write down the numbers of all the other two people you knew at that time with a phone of their own. It got me thinking back to when I was about nine or ten and the upheaval and chaos that phone installation brought to our lives in those mid twentieth century years.
Mom and Dad decided that before the telephone was installed alterations were necessary in the living room to bring the pre-war house into line with fashions of the time. A battle plan was drawn up whereby the fitted wooden cupboards which had been fitted when the house was built would be ripped out and the front window frames of the house would be converted from numerous small ten inch square panes of glass to just four large panes. The living room was also to be completely redecorated and when all was done and 28 Connell Road was truly in the modern nineteen sixties, the crowning glory would be installed. Neither of my parents seemed daunted by the mammoth task that they had set themselves and it was concluded that the alterations and redecoration would be completed within three weeks maximum with Dad working evenings and weekends. It all started off so well, who would have dreamed...
One Saturday morning the work started. The furniture and floor was covered in white sheets and Dad went to work with what is locally know as a ‘Dudley Screwdriver’ which is in essence a ten pound lump hammer. The cupboards came away from the wall with relative ease, as did the majority of the plaster from the wall where it had been attached. This, Dad said, was only to be expected and that Mom would have no problem later that evening vacuuming away the debris whilst he was out at the club playing a very important snooker match. It turned out that Mother was up to the task but the technology of the early nineteen sixties cylinder vacuum was not as the dust somehow blocked the machine and hence burned out the electric motor. On his return that night I recall Mom pointing out to Dad, in a somewhat forceful manner as I recall, that as he earned a living as a fully qualified electrician he should have foreseen the limitations that the machine clearly had and a new replacement was expected to materialise no later than Monday evening. The rest of the weekend passed without event and without a great deal of conversation as I remember.
The following Friday evening Dad returned home from work in a Ford Anglia 307E Thames 5cwt van that he had borrowed from a mate at work with all the glass panes he needed to modify the front windows of the house that weekend. He came up the side entry as usual and opened the back gate where he was greeted, as he was every evening by a frantic Bruce (our very affectionate Alsatian dog you may recall from previous tales) who always went berserk when Dad came home as though he hadn’t seen him for a year. The dog calmed down and Bruce retired to his quarters in the converted Anderson shelter to resume his dozing. Father was clearly in a hurry as he had promised to return the van as soon as was possible. The result was that he carried the panes of glass from the van in the street outside through the back gate and leaned them against the dustbin next to the Anderson shelter door whilst he returned the van, intending to stack the glass on his return in a more secure location. Now who would have expected that two Jehovah’s Witnesses would call at 6.30pm on a Friday evening? The result was when Bruce heard the front door knock he naturally thought the house was under attack and exited the Anderson shelter at speed in order to repel boarders, as he did every time there was a knock at the front door. On this occasion however, and unknown to Bruce, someone had moved the dustbin from its normal position. The dustbin didn’t stand a chance when it was struck by a seven and a half stone Alsatian travelling at terminal velocity and neither did the glass. Once again we enjoyed a very quiet weekend.
Eventually the windows were replaced, the walls re-plastered and the living room prepared for the final phase of the project, redecoration. That Saturday Dad painted all the woodwork in the living room and finished at around 4.30pm deciding that he had done enough for one day and that the wallpapering could wait until tomorrow, Sunday. This suited me and Stephen, my young brother who was about three and a half at this time, as our favourite TV programme, The Lone Ranger came on at 5.15pm just after Grandstand. Stephen was already in character, dressed in his cowboy outfit, hat, chaps, gunbelt and all. Dad went to get washed and changed for a night up the club playing snooker. I settled on the dust sheet covering the settee and Stephen settled himself behind one of the big chairs which was in his mind a boulder somewhere out in the Arizona Badlands. The Lone Ranger started and it was “Hi-Yo Silver Away”. We were about half way through and the masked man was in a tight spot. He was holed up in an outcrop of rocks engaged with no less than six or seven of Black Bart’s gang and Tonto was nowhere to be seen. Black Bart himself had circled around the back of the Lone Ranger and was creeping up behind him. The excitement was at fever pitch and Stephen was more than holding his own as Black Bart got nearer and nearer. Then disaster struck, Stephen’s gun jammed. I think actually his roll of caps just ran out but from Stephen’s perspective and from where he was, crouched behind Arizona Badlands big chair boulder, matters could hardly get worse. He stood up from behind his cover having no regard, I might add for his own safety, his six-gun clicking uselessly on empty chambers and shouted to his masked compadre, ”Look out Lone Ranger, he’s behind you!”
It must have been the frenzied gunfire coupled with the prevailing Sierra Madre winds which drowned his words of warning, for the Lone Ranger failed to respond. Once again, “Look out Lone Ranger, he’s behind you”. Again no response, the situation was getting critical. In one last-ditch effort he called again at the top of his lungs, “Look out Lone Ranger, he’s behind you”. Nothing!! The weapon Stephen held in his hand was next to useless. Then he must have remembered seeing what everyone does on TV when their gun runs out of ammo. They throw it! I never did know what happened in that particular episode. The six-gun went straight through the screen smashing the tube and the Arizona Badlands was transformed immediately to a shower of sparks and a cloud of blue smoke. Now everyone says that they remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. I'm not so sure on that one but... I am absolutely positive I was at the epicentre of Armageddon that late afternoon when my kid brother took the TV out at 28 Connell Road with his ‘Bat Masterson silver repeating six cap’ firing western pistol.
The next day was Sunday and it was decided that come hell or high water Dad would finish off the living room and get back to normality. Papering the ceiling was the first task to be under taken. The wallpaper paste was mixed in a bucket, the ceiling paper unwrapped and the red Formica leaf topped kitchen table carried into the front room to act as a pasting surface and as a platform to stand on to paste the paper to the ceiling. And so armed with a liberally pasted strip of ceiling paper cut to the required length Dad climbed onto the table and started to fix it aloft. I think he was a little engrossed in what he was doing because as he walked backwards along the table he failed to take into account the canter levered table leaf. Gravity has never been an ally of my father on numerous occasions in his life and this was not to prove to be an exception to the rule. The decent was rapid and catastrophic. The Formica table top went from a horizontal elevation to the vertical in a split second where it then made a rather forceful contact with the bridge of Fathers nose. He ended up in a heap on the living room floor wrapped in wet pasted strip of paper he had been hanging and looking not unlike an ancient Roman wearing a damp toga. The rapidly swelling nose tended to reinforce the illusion. I can’t remember the exact verbal exchange between my parents but I do seem to recollect Mom mentioning something about a chocolate teapot and organising some sort of party at the local brewery. The living room was finally finished and the telephone was installed and our telephone number was STO 2828. Dad still has that same number today although the old exchange code has been replaced with a set of numbers. I think it’s only fitting that he does still have that same number all these years later because let’s face it; he went through a hell of a lot of pain and expense to get it.
We did get a new phone and it does everything. It’s an answer machine, a fax, it has ten ring tones, caller ID and I’m sure if a horse ever found itself in my living room with a stone in its hoof the phone would have some in built system to treat the animal. It goes without saying of course that it doesn’t have a little drawer in the front for phone numbers and I don’t understand it at all.