Payphones in St George’s Street

Our remaining public phone booths are an ugly joke

For decades, our telephone boxes were – like the red pillar box and even Her Maj – symbols of Britain.

While Queen Elizabeth II is still going strong at the ripe old age of 91, the same cannot be said for our phone boxes – and certainly not those in Canterbury.

They’re unloved, unsightly and unclean. Take the messy quartet in St George’s Street (pictured above), for example.

It’s dirty, has muck all over the windows and was recently the centre of an environmental farrago after it emerged that  traders operating at the twice weekly market had been effectively using one of the cubicles as a bin.

The St George’s payphones are of the variety which first appeared on Britain’s streets in the 1980s when portable phones were only for high-flyers or the super-rich and convenience came in the form of a BT Phonecard.

Graffiti adorns a red city phone box

It, of course, doesn’t take a genius to figure out that their demise has come about thanks to the near ubiquity of mobile phones. Even those unfortunate enough to be living rough on Canterbury’s streets have their own mobiles these days.

Last year, BT announced that it was culling around half its existing public phones because they “are now never used for their original purpose”.

That prompts the question of their purpose into today’s world.

Phone kiosks in Stour Street

The older sturdy wrought-iron boxes, much loved around the UK, appear now to fulfil the function of props for tourists wanting that uniquely British image to take home with them.

All too often, however, they serve other roles: a magnet for detritus, a canvas for spray-paint vandals, a place to take drugs, to urinate or even copulate.

We would feel sadness at the loss of a distinctive symbol of British public if they vanished forever.

But then again, with some kiosks used an average of once a month and some not at all, why should BT maintain them?

Tough one.

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