A Thousand Words - The Wonky Phone Box

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A picture speaks a thousand words, or so the old saying goes. What then, does this picture say? There are many messages hidden in this photo, and many memories that can't be seen without the eye of someone who was there.

The snow tells us much about the time of the photograph. The fading and flaking paint of the phone box tells us that this is not a well kept box. The reflection in the window shows us the photographer. That photographer is me. Behind me is my father. We were out for a walk at the beginning of February 2009, in a village not far from my family home in Cornwall. I was still in college when this photo was taken, but now, seven years later I have long since finished my degree and am beginning my life proper.

I was a keen amateur photographer and, on this cold February morning, I took my camera with me on our walk. Snow is uncommon in Cornwall so I didn't want to miss the opportunity for some beautiful snowy scenes. I would later go on to sell handmade Christmas cards using a photograph I captured while on this walk, so it was certainly worth it. But this is one of my favourite photographs from that time. Not because of any particular skill in its capture – the reflection wasn't something that crossed my mind after all – but rather because of the memory it dredges up.

At first glance, you might think the composition of the picture is wonky, and while it may not be perfectly framed, I would not say it was wonky. The thing that is wonky is the telephone box. It is tilted noticeably to the right and there is a story behind that. I was there when it moved.

Forgive me for being uncertain of the exact date, but I am sure it was while I was in secondary school, probably somewhere between 2004 and 2008. It takes roughly ten minutes, at an amble, through various fields and a graveyard to get to the village with the box from my home. If I were to walk along the road, it would take me fifteen minutes to get to another village in the opposite direction, which was slower and had more potential for danger – plenty of blind bends along the narrow country lane. These two villages were my options to catch the school bus in the morning, or rather to get off the school bus in the afternoon as my parents would often take me in on the way to work but could not bring me back home again afterwards.

Since it was shorter, I usually went for the first option, unless it was incredibly muddy, or I wanted to visit the corner shop (this village only had a church and pretty much nothing else). On the way back from school the bus would have to leave the main road and wind its way up a narrow lane until it reached the village to drop us off. It would then turn around and go back the way it came to rejoin the main road towards Camborne and its final few stops. Usually there would be a handful of children getting off the bus with me at this stop, but occasionally I would be on my own, and I would feel bad for making the poor driver go all that way just for me. On more than one occasion the driver would call out and ask if anyone was getting off there, or even skip the stop entirely as it was such a hassle.

On this day, I did choose to get off at the usual stop, and thankfully other people did as well otherwise all this could have been considered my fault. After creeping its way up from the bottom of the valley, we reached the village, but before we could get off the bus, the driver had to turn around ready to head back to the main road. The bus would stop outside the church where there was a rocky car park and would then have to reverse up a driveway in order to get back onto the road. To the side of the driveway was the Sunday school building and the red telephone box. The driver had done this manoeuvre before as she was a semi-regular driver for our bus route, and as far as I remember, she was absolutely lovely. It is however a shame, that on this particular day she made a mistake as she was reversing and ploughed straight into the phone box with around fifteen kids still on the bus. No one was injured, but when I got off to go home I was surprised by the damage. The phone box itself was almost completely intact, barely a dent or scratch (there was more of a dent on the rear of the bus), except that the box had been torn up from the concrete foundation. A crack had formed around the bottom of the phone box, much like an ancient tree coming up at the roots. The crack and box are still there to this day, though more worse for wear than ever.

I don't know whether the bus company had to pay anything, but the box was never repaired. The driver didn't get fired as we had the pleasure of her company several times since the mishap, but living up to the unfortunate stereotype of women reversing was probably punishment enough.

The wonky phone box is part of my life, it's a solid reminder of my own personal history. It is still there, unlike so many things from my childhood that have gradually faded away, or been knocked down, bulldozed or otherwise lost to memory. My memory is fallible, some of the details could be wrong and I wouldn't remember, but what I do know is that it happened. I was there and that is proof enough for me. I'll remember, even if one day it may no longer exist, the evidence of the crash wiped clean from the Earth. After all, who uses telephone boxes anymore?