A Word In Your Ear with Jon Rhodes - March 31, 2011

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IT is strange how something as simple as a phone book can be mourned. Very soon, they will be no more. Come on, have you seen the size of the new one which arrived through your letter box in the last week?

I remember the time when they had to be delivered by pensioners pulling tartan shopping trolleys.

They were so big, the poor old guy dropping them with a thud on your doorstep could only do half a dozen houses before he had to go back to refill his trolley.

As for the new one -– well I’ve received bigger flyers for my local takeaway.

Big deal, I hear some of you cry, given they have become largely defunct because we can now get a phone number within seconds, free of charge via the internet or from our own mobiles.

There are also those moustachioed running chaps who will give you the number if you pay them cash and can be bothered waiting for them to stop their kung fu exercises.

Me, I’m a little more old school than that, and see the passing of the phone book into the annals of history as further erosion of the little England that exists only in Margaret Rutherford films . . . oh yes, and in my head.

When I was a kid, everyone who was anyone was in the phone book.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, it was seen very much as a status symbol. If you were in the book, you had a phone, and that meant you had made it. It was the visible version of the inside lav, and it was a wonderfully classless document. Mrs Forbes-Frobisher, of the West Cheshire bridge league, was in there, alongside Eddie Frobslocker – long distance lorry driver.

It was also, when I was a kid, where my grandad lived.

My father’s father died when I was just two. I have but one memory of him, a hazy vision of him filling his pipe in my gran’s sitting room (the front room saved for the vicar calling round and the gramophone).

As a youngster, I used to look at the Birkenhead phonebook because for years after his death, and right up until gran moved out of her own house, the name Alexander Rhodes was there.

Gone but not forgotten.

When I became a journalist, I was taught the phonebook would become my friend and so it did, helping me track down many a person for interview.

It still has its place in newsrooms, but as there are now only five people listed, its use is limited.

I blame the era of security scaremongering and market research cold callers for the book’s demise.

But are we just paranoid?

Let’s face it, ex-directory or not, your address is given to anyone who wants it by profiteering companies and councils – the phone number you use to shop online given out far and wide.

I suppose there is one good thing. At least I can rip the new phone book in half – and now my kids think I’m a circus strong man.