Dial a number? Punch a number? Party lines? A tickey box? A card phone?

Yes, telephones have come a long way and now, when the use of cell phones has become so widespread, people wonder how we travelled so far or dealt with crises without having ready access to a (cell) phone.

In the Kruger National Park recently, we occasionally came across vehicles parked at the side of the road at a high point – not because they were watching anything in particular, but because the cell phone reception was good. On the other hand, I was washing dishes in the communal scullery in Satara Camp when a young man, having terminated a conversation and vehemently thrust his cell phone into his shirt pocket exclaiming, “You would think they would let me enjoy my holiday at least!” That is a marvellous aspect about most of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: no reception.

My early memory of a telephone at home is a squat black contraption that brooded in silence on a little shelf. Its occasional sharp rings were enough to place everyone on alert. Its only decoration was a coloured transfer of the country’s coat of arms. It was a household item not to be messed with by children!

The party line in our farm house was great fun, even though we had all been sternly warned not to listen in to other people’s conversations. We soon became familiar with who’s call sign (a combination of short and long rings) was whose so knew who was using the line when. What made our telephone special, however, was the extra earpiece that hooked underneath it.

After a particularly violent storm, during which we had been blasted by thunder and lightning, we children were delighted to discover that if you sat directly under this extra earpiece you could eavesdrop without even touching it. The novelty wore off of course, for the conversation of grown-ups is seldom of absorbing interest for young children.

Now, if people still have a landline (telephone) in their homes it is to facilitate their computer connections. Many more do not even bother. Ours seldom rings anymore: there are so many other ways to contact friends and family.


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