Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Another Sign of the Times

Clearing the usual drift of junk mail and flyers from the front door mat yesterday, I was about to bin a flimsy item I assumed to be yet another mail-order pitch, when I realised that it was - the telephone directory! Or rather 'The Phone Book'. About a quarter of an inch thick and measuring barely 6 by 12, it was decorated with a photograph of Daley Thomson clearing the pole-vault bar on the front cover, which was also adorned, predictably, with Olympics 2012 logos, while the back cover was given over to an ad. Inside too, ads predominated - indeed the only readily legible pages were those of the classfied section in the front third, which consisted largely of display ads. After that, densely printed in challengingly small type, came the business A-Z section, and, crammed into the pack pages in type barely visible to the naked eye, came the poor residents (myself, as I discovered with the aid of a magnifying glass, still among them).
How times have changed. Telephone directories used to be dauntingly thick volumes, printed in easily readable, if clunky, type, and bound in plain unfussy covers, coloured in dull pastel tones. In my earlier life as a reference librarian, I had custody of a complete UK set, and a handsome sight they were, lined up in numerical order over shelf after shelf. London Residential alone came in four stout volumes (if I remember rightly, A-D, E-K, L-R, S-Z). Those were the days when telephone directories were telephone directories, and tearing them in two was a feat of strength (or seemed so; actually there was a trick to it, and the late, great humorist Alan Coren - no Hercules - was able to do it if pressed). Today's 'Phone Book' would barely test the strength of a Mr Puniverse - though it would test the eyesight of a Superman. It is of course expressive, in its thoroughly dispiriting way, of how times have changed...

12 comments:

  1. Blog regular Tricia reminds me that in phone boxes (aah phone boxes...) there used to be metal-bound directories hanging down below the telephone. You had to flip them over to open them, and, in my recollection, they often seemed to have suffered a recent dousing in some nameless liquid, giving the pages a wavy edge and a pulpy feel. Then there was Button A and (always worth a try as a source of unearned pennies) Button B. I remember the feel - and sound - of the big clunky metal buttons...

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  2. I don't know to this day whether he was kidding me, but my grandad told me, when I was still in short trousers, that he included on his income tax return 'one shilling and sixpence gained by pressing button B in a telephone kiosk'

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  3. Metal-bound directories, Buttons A and B, and magical telephone numbers. For an unsophisticated girl recently arrived from a farm far away in a foreign land, dialling a phone number like Ravensbourne 2264 was thrillingly glamorous. I can almost smell the Je Reviens now.

    And, yes, boo to the new directory.

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  4. Goodness Mahlerman - what an honest person your grandad must have been. Those were the days!

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  5. Yellow Pages has shrunk too since t'internet. Not that it matters much. Each new one only prompts me to throw out the last, which is generally still in its cellophane wrapper.

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  6. ... in fact, I think the only people who still use Yellow Pages might be the candidates on The Apprentice.

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  7. Well Tricia, we are talking about the late 50's here, and if memory serves, honesty was woven into the fabric of life much more half a century ago. The dreck we have to listen to these days from the so-called ruling classes would have been unimaginable in those far off days. An error of judgement (never mind a hand in the till) would bring about an immediate resignation from a politician.

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  8. I'd love to go back to those times Mahlerman. Much more relaxing.

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  9. I believe everyone ought to browse on it.

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