To recap, then: a week ago I told you how, after nearly twenty years of determined Luddism, I had finally succumbed and taken ownership of my first-ever mobile phone. Such a momentous event could not pass without some kind of celebation, so- as a tribute to the Twentieth Century I am leaving behind, and a rite of passage into the brave new world of the Twenty-First, I hereby present the fruits of a week spent scurrying around the streets of Manchester with a digital camera and a scrap of paper. Yes, the time has come for...
Public Telephone Boxes of Manchester: The Showdown.
I am sure you are just as excited as I am to find out which item of Twentieth Century chic has emerged victorious- so let's get straight down to business, shall we (you will get the hang of the scoring system as we go along):
Telephone number one: The phone attached to the wall in the downstairs Cornerhouse Bar.
The sparse, contemporary look of the diminutive facility, along with its cream colouring, allow it to blend pleasingly into the subdued, modernist decor of its iconic arthouse location. Three out of five.
In common with most non-British Telecom boxes, you can't put the money in until the call is answered- at this point you have to get coins to the minimum value into the slot quickly before you can start talking. This system- along with the absence of any shelving within easy reach- raises the possibility of unseemly fumbling, or in the worst case scenario, the outright and premature termination of the call. If this hurdle can be overcome, the conversation can ensue- the sound quality, however, can only be described as adequate. Two out of five.
You have to put a fair few coins in to avoid getting cut off, it always seems to me. But not quite as many as in some places I could mention (and will in a minute), so I will award a charitable..... three out of five.
The Cornerhouse Cinema, Bar and Art Gallery complex- Manchester's very last word in avant-garde loucheness- is the meeting point of choice for the city's bohemian elite. The intellectual atmosphere is so rarified, in fact, that you may hesitate to use the venue's telephone for lumpen, proletarian purposes. So for those calls to your bookmaker enquiring about the prices for the 2:45 at Newmarket, best off nipping across the road to the Palace Theatre. However this is a minor quibble. Four out of five.
Total marks for the telephone attached to the wall in the downstairs Cornerhouse Bar..... twelve out of twenty.
Telephones Number Two: the old fashioned red ones in front of Central Library
Well what can we say? These things are design classics- so much so that their withdrawal from general usage in the 1980s was met with widespread mourning and sporadic outbreaks of rioting in the inner cities. Many of the scrapped kiosks were snapped up by collectors, to be given new homes in unlikely settings, such as patios, launderettes and cowsheds. A few- mostly located in tourist-friendly settings- survived this vicious Thatcherite cull, however. The City Library is the site of central Manchester's last surviving set of red cabins. Five out of five.
These fellows didn't stay around for the best part of a century for nothing, you know. The sturdy design dampens the sound of passing trams, and there is plentiful shelving for your loose change. Not surprisingly, however, the workings are looking a little ragged after ninety years of service to the citizenry. Three out of five.
Standard BT Rates- thirty pence minimum, but that gets you a fifteen minute call to anywhere in the country. So not the best value for that series of increasingly desperate calls to your bookie in Longsight- but unbeatable if you are stepping out of Central Library and are suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to catch up with that fellow from college who left town to become a used car salesman in Bishop's Stortford. Three out of five.
The tiny glass panes afford views of Manchester at its best: the architectural delight of the circular City Library, and the sleek trams swishing by on their way from Altrincham to Bury. Just a shame that you have to keep the doors open, because in keeping with the tradition that has made the British Red Phone Box a favourite of collectors worldwide, these ones smell of piss almost all of the time. One out of five.
Total marks for the old-fashioned red telephones outside of Central Library: Twelve out of twenty.
Telephone number three: The one along from the ticket office in Deansgate station.
When the red boxes were summarily uprooted from Britain's High Streets, they were replaced by these futuristic visions in grey steel and frosted glass. I am sure at the time the ungainly new contraptions were vilified by purists for their utilitarian, almost Stalinist, approach to the task in hand (certainly this is what I was saying to my mates in junior school at the time), but the passage of time has been accompanied by a mellowing of this reactionary stance, which, while stopping short of outright rehabilitation, has led to this now-quaint-looking 1980s artefact being regarded with something approaching affection. Three out of five.
We could do with another shelf here, gentlemen. Other than that, ruthless Stalinist efficiency prevails. Four out of five.
It's that BT Standard rate again. Which means three of your new 10p pieces (it won't take your little five p ones, mind, but then nowhere will), and you're in. Three out of five.
Deansgate Station, plonked awkwardly onto a half-forgotten corner of the city centre as if as an afterthought, and useful for nothing much unless you want to catch an especially slow train to Liverpool, is the poor cousin of Manchester's proud quartet of mainline train interchanges. On a slow day the air of downtrodden provinciality pervading the corridors might lead you to believe you had alighted by mistake in Sutton Coldfield, or Boston, Lincs. Having said that those brown ceramic tiles are quite attractive in a retro kind of way, and afford a pleasing echo to the conversation. Three out of five.
Total marks for the telephone along from the ticket office in Deansgate Station: Thirteen out of twenty.
Telephone number four: The one at the top of the stairs in Piccaddilly Station, outside Yates Wine Lodge.
The latest BT design retains the steely, awkward, angularity of its 1980s ancestor, but its more lightweight appearance lends it just the very slightest soupcon of sleekness. The overall impression is still one of charmless practicality, however, and one cannot imagine queues of Japanese enthusiasts queuing up to rescue this box, when the time comes for it to be usurped by an even more up-to-date model. Two out of five.
I know, I have said it before- but I've got a handful of loose change here, the number of Honest Larry the Longsight Turf Accountant scrawled on the back of a packet of Rislas, and today's Racing Post open at the formcard for the late-night racing at Wolverhampton. And I might just nip into the bar there for a swift half to sip at during what promise to be somewhat delicate negotiations- so I could really do with a couple of shelves here, gentlemen. Just the one, even? Oh, I see, it's against Health and Safety, or something, is it? I should have bloody known. Two out of five.
It's that standard thirty pence for fifteen minutes lark again. But we are going to award an extra point for the availability of change from the Yates Wine Lodge adjacent- for the mere outlay of two pounds fifty you should be availed of a pint of Carlsberg in a plastic glass and enough silver in your change for a quarter-hour call to Dulwich Hamlet, Adlington (Lancs), or Droitwich (Worcs). Four out of Five.
Piccaddilly station has been redeveloped in recent years to a level of glittering opulence in keeping with its status as the city's flagship rail interchange. The upper concourse location of our kiosk allows us to look down on the bustling populace heading on and off the platforms, while the gigantic windows flood the wide-open spaces with light, affording a panoramic view of the ever-changing Cityscape. Only the ultra-tacky interior of that vulgar chain bar just visible on the right detracts from the urban splendour of the setting. Four out of five.
Total marks for the telephone at the top of the stairs in Piccaddilly Station (by Yates Wine Lodge): Twelve out of Twenty
Telephone number five: the one inside of the Royal Exchange
You could be forgiven for missing this telephone altogether, as its metallic form is hidden away at the end of a short, dark corridor at the foot of a huge marble pillar. Certainly amidst the ornate fittings of the Royal Exchange Theatre (lovingly reassembled following extensive damage by the 1996 Manchester Bombing) this miniature grey contraption, in the boxy style favoured by most non-BT manufacturers, comes across as unassuming in the extreme. Two out of five.
Damn it if you haven't got to put your coins in on answer again. The attendant inconvenience, however, is offset by the presence of large cube-shaped overlapping bolsters at the foot of the nearby pillars, which serve admirably as impromptu shelving. And the sound quality of the contraption is exemplary. Three out of five.
14p per minute for a national call (yes I actually wrote this one down on my scrap of paper), which works out at, er, £2.10 for fifteen minutes, I think- or seven times more expensive than the BT standard rate (which suddenly starts to look like quite a snip). Scandalous! One out of five.
The Royal Exchange Theatre Building, with its marble staircases, stained glass windows, and well-heeled culture-vultures discussing Ibsen in hushed tones over lattes at the neon-lit European-style cafe-bar, is an oasis of calm amid the hustle and bustle of the city. On Saturday afternoon harassed shoppers come in for a break from the manic activity of Market Street and just stand in the middle of the floor taking in huge gasps of air, the pile of Primark bags at their feet momentarily forgotten. And this being a theatre and all, the acoustics are of course of the highest quality. Five out of five.
Total marks for the telephone inside the Royal Exchange: Eleven out of Twenty.
And that concludes the voting. Meaning that Ladies and Gentlemen, we can announce that after a quite excruciatingly close-run contest, the winner of the Crinklybee Award For Manchester's Most Splendid Public Telephone Box goes to the twelve-to-one outsider....
Telephone Number Three: the one along from the ticket office in Deansgate Station, which scored an impressive thirteen out of twenty points with our judges.
Thank you for tuning in to our first-ever glittering awards etravanganza, everyone. Now all that is needed are the glittering awards- who is going to start off the petition for our winning box to be awarded one of those snazzy blue plaques?