The Isle of Wight holds several records for the smallest, largest and fattest things. Well, perhaps not the fattest but it does have the UK’s oldest pier (Ryde) and the largest constituency (for now at least) amongst other things.
One of my favourites is the UK’s oldest phonebox in Bembridge, which I had peered at on Google Streetview but hadn’t actually seen in person.
On the way to the seaside at Bembridge we stopped to try out the K1 phonebox, which is next to the fishmongers in the High Street (PO35 5SD if you are looking for it).
Despite the odd looks from Bembridge’s tweed wearing shoppers we began snapping away at the Grade 2 listed ‘attraction’. Presumably they thought we were just phonebox enthusiasts who were touring the country photographing phoneboxes. Little did they know that we were carrying out an important piece of research for Isle of Wight Guru.
The first observation to report is that Bembridge’s phonebox doesn’t smell of wee – quite an achievement really based on my previous experiences of such things. Admittedly, there is a smell of fish, but you can’t really complain when you are outside a fishmongers.
It’s now owned and looked after by the Parish Council and they look to be doing a terrific job. There’s even a small notice explaining why the box is significant, which will hopefully put off the little turds who vandalised the box in 2011.
I gave the handset a quick rub against my jumper (my mother taught me to do this for hygiene reasons) and I was delighted to hear a dial tone, so it was still connected at least.
For those of you that haven’t used a phonebox since 2004, you might be surprised to learn that the minimum charge is now 60p (remember the fuss when it went from 10p to 20p?) so we spent a fair amount of time rummaging around looking for small change.
Not only do you have to find 60p, but it also has to be a certain combination of coins – you can’t just fill it with 10p coins. If I was cynical I would say that trebling the price and making them harder to use led to less people using them, which helped BT’s justification for closing them. I’m sure that definitely absolutely completely wasn’t the case.
Next I needed to decide who to call. Was this the time for a prank call? Perhaps I could call Moe’s Tavern and ask for Hugh Jars or Amanda Huggenkiss? Or relive my youth and play Arnie clips down the phone to a schoolfriend for 5 hilarious seconds before they hung up?
No, I decided to call my mum. I imagined it would be like the guy who used his phone a friend on Who Wants to be a Millionaire to phone his mum and say that he knew the answer to the last question. Perhaps not quite as momentous, but up there.
I put the first coin in.
My 20p went straight through and came back out into the coin return section, which BT designed to be unnecessarily fiddly to get your own money back.
Coin number 2.
The second coin got stuck. I pressed the ‘coin return’ button.
Coin number 3.
Nope, no luck. My fellow explorers handing me three more 20p coins. One suggested I use a shilling.
“Clunk…ching. Clunk…ching. Clunk…cling”
Oh dear, none of the my six 20p coins were accepted.
At this point we gave up as we had run out of coins and didn’t much fancy registering a credit card for a 60p call.
So, we failed but I am pleased to report that the phone box is most definitely there, and you can always use it to shelter inside and use your mobile if it won’t take your coins.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog