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Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Phone boxes

The other day, when I would have gone to Valencia on the train if I hadn't left my phone on the kitchen table loaded with the train tickets, I did a bit of a tour around Alicante as compensation. In Fontanars de Alforins I saw a phone box and I thought I'd phone Maggie to tell her what I was up to. I didn't know her number (it's on the memory of my mobile, why bother to learn it?) but I do know the house number. The instructions on the public phone looked very complex and, when I tried to push a 1€ coin into the slot it didn't seem to want to go in, so I gave up.

I read an article today that says there are twelve phone boxes in the Plaza del Sol in the very centre of Madrid. On the day the journalist checked just one of them had been used and, at that, just three times. The remaining public phones throughout Spain are due to be phased out from December 2016 unless the Government does an about face.

The article said there are 25,820 phone booths left in Spain. In 2000 there were over 100,000. Not a single one of them now covers their maintenance costs which is why Telefónica, the old state monopoly telephone company which maintains the network, is keen to see the back of them. They are currently obliged to provide one public phone per 3,000 people in large and medium sized communities and at least one in villages of less than 1,000 inhabitants.

I was talking about this to Maggie. "We have one in the village don't we?" I asked. "Where?" she countered. "In the square." But we checked and there isn't one. Maybe it was by the social centre. Anyway it isn't there now if it ever was.

I don't suppose it's surprising in a country with 45 million inhabitants and 50 million mobile phones that phone boxes are a thing of the past. They didn't really last long. Although there was a token operated phone in Retiro Park in Madrid in 1928 it wasn't till 1966 that Franco's regime began installing coin operated booths the length and breadth of the country. I used to use them to phone home when I was on holiday. One model had a coin shute where the peseta coins rolled down a gentle slope into the coin mechanism where they were eaten up by the remarkably expensive international phone calls. Most of them didn't bother with providing a connection anyway - they were simply happy to swallow the coins.

It's strange though how things, once so commonplace, think red phone boxes, think Doctor Who, can disappear almost unnoticed.

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