Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sepia Saturday 151 : Telephone Exchange


Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows an old telephone exchange. Dozens of young women plug wires into boards connecting people from opposite ends of the earth. It is a bit like an old-fashioned Internet when you think about it, a pre-digital web spun out of twisted wires rather than fibre optics. I say this, however, from the standpoint of someone who has never really quite understood how the internet actually works : for all I know there is some freshly-permed lass who has just plugged a wire into a socket and connected your computer to mine so that you can read this post.

But, I digress and I am in danger of getting my wires crossed. The theme image immediately sent me searching among my collection of old prints and negatives for photographs featuring telephones. And to my surprise, I found precious few, and none at all dating from more than about 30 years ago. I am not sure why I was so surprised; although telephones are so ubiquitous these days, it was well into the 1970s before we had a telephone at home. All the time The Lad had been at University, I have been able to contact him on an almost daily basis via telephone, to hear of his triumphs and disasters, to receive his requests for food and cash, and to reassure myself that the chap is still safe and well.

My photograph dates back to 1968 and shows my desk at Fircroft College in Birmingham. I have always been fond of photographs like this; ones you can have a good old nosey about in, see what people are reading, writing, drinking and - if the box of Swan Vestas is anything to go by - smoking. If you look, you will find my beloved old typewriter, my precious old dictionary, even my ever-faithful hole punch; but you will not find a telephone. Although there were public call boxes in the building, neither my parents nor my then girlfriend (then girlfriend, now wife) back in Yorkshire has access to phones. We would communicate by letter or by postcard, scribbled messages on bits of paper and card. I am tempted to say that we were better for it, but no, that isn't the case. I would have gladly exchanged my Parker pen for a telephone. There was many a lonely night when I would have liked nothing better than for someone to have plugged a wire into a socket and brought me a little closer to those I loved.

You can get connected to other fascinating old photographs by going on over to our digital image exchange, Sepia Saturday, and following the links.

23 comments:

  1. Like you, I couldn't find pictures of telephones either. But I must ask, what was going on back in those college days that you looked at this desk and thought, "Let me take a picture of this"?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! Look at that - an actual typewriter. "Mommy, is that what they used before computers? Did it link to the Internet?" You should send this picture to the Smithsonian Institute so they can set up an exhibit for "The Way Life Used to Be".

    ReplyDelete
  3. Alan, your photo brought back many college memories -- I wish I could figure out what the pictures/posters on the wall are...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I never had a typewriter until the 1990s; no phone till 1970, no mobile till this century. Now I'd be lost without the internet and those connections made somewhere in the ether. How times have changed - my youngest grandson would be lost without his Iphone. I? I haven't reached 'A' yet!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've always loved pictures of desks and windows. The desk doesn't have to have a window but even better if it does, but I also love pictures of windows alone looking from the inside out. I have no idea why except perhaps it has something to do with a glimpse into how the owner's mind works.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ooh that looks like a typewriter I had, when I thought Tipp-ex paper for mistakes was the greatest invention. The mug looks familiar too. I'm with Wendy on the desk photo, did you send yourself back in time from SS.

    ReplyDelete
  7. And now Penguin Books will merge with Random House... Let's hope the hard copy dictionary will survive. More likely it will be an app on your iPhone :(

    ReplyDelete
  8. I don't have an iPhone either, but am surrounded by people who do. Wendy's question reminds me that iPhone users - especially - take a multitude of pictures just like this... Of the every day, every moment variety. When you took this shot that was not always the case.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am in the midst of writing a paper for a university class I am auditing and am glad I don't have to use a typewriter (and wishing I hadn't said I wanted to write papers that I don't have to write as an auditor).

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hard to believe that technology actually existed. Many thousands women and girls were employed as telephone operators and now there are none of them.

    ReplyDelete
  11. A brilliant essay, Alan, that clearly demonstrates the value of long ocean voyages. Like Wendy, I also wonder what inspired you to take this photo?

    I don't suppose you thought of trying to get cellphone reception and make a call from the middle of the Atlantic?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post! I think it's fun to have photos showing our everyday lives, and not just of special occasions. And isn't it amazing how we have come to rely on our phones these days, especially cell phones?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Okay Alan, my curious side believes you snapped this picture possibly to show off your brand new typewriter (which is really the only thing that dates this photo) otherwise we could believe it was shot last week- on a ship (no not really- the window tells you that!) Or just maybe you snapped this photo to send home to share how hard you are working- and might need a bit of help keeping things tidy!!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. You speak of the phone and the '70s, which surprises me!! I was born in 1961 and there was always a phone around, something my mother had to race me for because I liked speaking on the phone as a toddler, apparently. I don't like phones now so much... Your pic brings me back to my High School years. I remember learning typing on an old model were you had to sink in forever each key, while my parents got me one with light touch. I remember those cartridges containing the ribbon. The lamp resembled somewhat what you had, but instead of posters, I now remember I had an oil painting of Che Guevara in psychedelic tones of green and red, done by one of my babysitters, back from the days when I needed one, a remnant from the '60s... Strange, the memories your pic can trigger... It would all eventually be replaced by a [very] large table with a portable inclined table covering half of it, when I went to study Graphic Arts, after testing Administration for one year [in a public school, which I hated] and taking a one year sabbatical afterward.
    Alright, that's enough!! See you next week!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

    ReplyDelete
  15. You are right a great photo to nose around in. I think modrn day communication is fabulous. We can see and here our grandchildren grow up on the other side of the world with Skype

    ReplyDelete
  16. My mum was a telephone operator. She told me they used to answer with "bread and cheese" sometimes when they got bored of saying "number please". No-one ever seemed to notice. I think the advance of communications in our lifetime has been stunning. I did computer studies as part of my course at uni and it was all about programming a huge main-frame. No-one had dreamt of PCs then, much less iPhones. I sat at work the other day and saw a photo of my colleague's baby, on his phone. The baby has not yet been born - and I haven't even met his wife! Incredible.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have often said to my father how much today's technology would have changed our lives when he was far away in the Navy. It boggles my mind that a soldier can Skype to their loved ones from a battle zone. I think it's amazing, especially when I hear my father talk about what it took aboard ship to call home on a rare occasion. And even more amazing when you think of those trunk lines beneath the oceans that have carried messages for so long. Now, satellites zooming above our heads.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm also surprised there were no phones in your life at such a late date. I think I would have preferred to have no phone. I still like them best to arrange a time and place to talk face-to-face.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I love this photo. I hate photos where someone straightens everything up and arranges every thing like for just a show. No one works like that. Of course I would have to rearrange a few things to show my work station, like three pair of shoes on the floor and pillows everywhere. Some of the grands were here yesterday. I sometimes wish I still had a typewriter. Glad you are home safe and sound.
    QMM

    ReplyDelete
  20. We had a phone in our apartment where I lived as a kid with parents in 1954. It appeared in many photos because the place was so tiny. But the photos are in a pile lost in a box amongst boxes. I do have a clear image of one in my memory though.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Oh when I saw that photo I thought, aha a typewriter. I still have my dear old portable underwood, although it needs a ribbon so the keys could print...your dictionary was paperback? That had to be modern. Well written, and glad you have returned, I like QMM like the natural photos...a wll written piece.

    ReplyDelete
  22. That's a Staffordshire "Kilncraft" mug circa 1968 on the sill, isn't it? Of course, I'm wondering if you still have it.
    And is that a photo of David Essex?

    Sorry I'm late, but better late, than never!

    ReplyDelete
  23. This was a kind of surprise. I had a portable typewriter very much like this one when I was selling pots and pans across the southwestern US. I was in Houston and sitting on the bed and remember typing a letter to my father back in Ohio asking him for $40.00 so I could buy a one-way bus ticket back home. I brought the typewriter with me but don't remember what happened to it.

    ReplyDelete