Cellar Phones


Ah bless the ubiquitous little devices, personally I still prefer my stupid-phone, no interwebs, no apps, just phone calls. Of course I remember seeing my first cellar-phone, I think I must have been doing some volunteering for a Scout merit badge of some description, I was helping out at a local Owl Rescue. It was basically one guy who had a serious thing for owls, he still lived with his mother. In fact her house was the owl sanctuary, much to the delight of his neighbors in the little village of Middleton-On-Sea.

All told there was about 50 owls in various cages in the back yard, except for one who resided in the house, a Snowy Owl who could not fly and felt itself to be a member of the household rather than being on the same level as the other owls outside. The owl was fine with me when either the sanctuary owner or his mother were around, but there was this one time when I had to go back in for my coat, when I was alone, that she went for my feet, and it was only by quickly retreating with some fancy footwork that I escaped unscathed. Oh and there was also an attack goose outside, who bossed some chicken around. Not being as intelligent as the Snowy Owl, the attack goose simply attacked everyone including the owner and his mother, who came into his fifedom.

Anyway, he also ran a sideline of Owl Awareness, he took some of his owls along to school, civic groups, and did a little show, you got up close and personal with an owl, he did the thing where he stands the owl on a perch and walks around it, and the owls head almost rotates a full 360, but not quite, everyone likes that. So as part of the business side he had a cellar-phone, a huge Vodaphone, a combination of a huge ni-cad battery, carrying case, a full handset, and all the analogue technology. It was a bit bigger than your standard kids lunchbox, and of course a lot heavier. it had hands-free mode, so he could dial while driving, which back then was unheard of. So my earliest impression of cellar-phones was  a combination of marvel, and impracticality, it was more like packing a small suitcase, than putting a phone in your pocket.

So the first time I actually had to use a cellar-phone was a few years later, I had been a Police Constable for a while, and got chosen for a special vehicle crime unit in the local station, purely in-house, just a few of us. As a part of the detail, we were issued one cellar-phone for the officers, and one for the supervisor. They were the old “brick” type, so called because it was about the size of a brick, and about as useful as one, the reception was terrible, the battery was awful, and it was heavy, but at least it was smaller than the bag phone.

Well you put four officers in a small cruiser with no supervisor and they will very quickly become bored, and then find some mischief to get into. At the time I was living just outside of our patrol area, just a quick five minute drive, and we happened to be on the edge of our patrol area near my house when we found ourselves with nothing to do. So I called my better-half on the cellar-phone to warn her there would be company for tea in about an hour, since we had some work to finish.

She was a little surprised to get a call from me, it may be difficult for kids now to realize, that if you worked a job that was out in the field, like a police officer, or anything not attached to a desk, you had no way of communicating with you family or fiends, you could not keep updated every moment with what they were thinking or doing. If I got held over at work because of an emergency, we had the control room call home to say we were going to be late, but other than that, I would go to work at the start of my shift, and would not get to communicate to my wife until I got home after the shift. There was no posting to Facebook, In fact there was not even email, we did not have a computer at home, nor did I even have an email address at work to send an email from. Even if I did, the computer in the patrol room was notoriously slow, taking six to eight hours to download one officer schedule to print for court, but that was incidental, since I had no home email address to send it too. But that was the way of the world back then, you did not expect or really need to be in almost constant communication with your loved ones. Of course with the police radio you were in theory in constant communication with the control room, except for the places you had no reception of course.

So yes, it was a little unusual for me to call home during a shift, and quite surprising that I invited myself and three other officer home for tea. Well after we had visited, had a nice cup of tea, and left, I put the cellar-phone back in my jacket pocket, and thought nothing more of it. My wife however thought about it every few minutes as the cellar-phone proceeded to dial my home phone number repeatedly over the next hour until we actually arrived at the house for tea. I thought I had heard a small voice somewhere, but with a local police radio and a force-wide radio going at the same time, you get used to hearing a lot of voices simultaneously. All told the calls were probably over an hour, and this was before calling plans, when you pretty much paid for all calls individually, depending on where the call was placed too. Also in the UK, there is no free ‘local’ calling, all calls have a charge, and back then when the mobile phone networks were just establishing themselves, you were paying for the build-out of the new network, so as you can imagine the call was probably very expensive.

Well of course I had to admit to the supervisor that the cellar-phone I had been issued had racked up a lot of calls to my home number for non-police business reasons, and offer to pay for them. Luckily the Sargent was very forgiving, and said not to worry, the calls would be lost in bureaucracy, and would probably never even be questioned, and he was right!

So after that I was a little wary of cellar-phones for quite a while.


About limey6

Father of four, husband of one, Ex-pat ex cop Englishman living in rural Maine
This entry was posted in English Police and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cellar Phones

  1. Pingback: “Paddy Wagons” | Common Sense, it's not common, and doesn't always make sense.

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