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Call me!

One of the most iconic symbols of Britain - formerly a ubiquitous sight all over the country, sadly dwindling in usefulness and popularity, and now endangered by encroaching, more compact modern technology - is bringing a taste of home to Spain this summer. Currently making a three-day visit to Madrid, it will be coming to Seville next weekend, and then moving on to Malaga a week later. In case you haven't managed to guess, I'm talking about the red telephone box, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1936. Normally, the closest we Andalucia-dwellers ever get to one of these wonderful objects, is a shopping trip to Gibraltar. But if you're in Seville on 1-3 July, or Malaga on 15-17 July, you can see, touch and use a K6, as it officially known (Kiosk 6, or the sixth version of the design, after a 13-year consultation process - the Heathrow T5 of its day). Not only that, but you can make calls to London for free (yes, yes, Skype, blah - this is about the experience, dear reader). No strings attached, no forms to fill in (I checked). You can just pick up the receiver and dial any phone number in London. And, there are competitions - if the phone rings while you're in the cabina, you pick it up, and, if you can answer the questions about London, you could win one of several prizes - a trip to London for two, entries to British shows and film premieres in Spain, or tickets for the "Made in London" parties which will be held on the Saturday nights (Seville 3 July and Malaga 17 July). English are equally free to enter as Spanish - the only restriction is that you have to aged over 18, since all of this is a promotion by Beefeater Gin. They want people to learn about London, home of gin and of beefeaters, and become, as they put it, londonizado, from the verb londonizar (in English: londonize). It is defined as "1) To impart (to one) a manner or character like that which distinguishes Londoners, 2) To imitate the manner of the people of London". Hmm. As someone who lived a large part of their adult life in London, I feel I am qualified to comment on this. 1) Rushed, stressed, bad-tempered, overtired, miserable, longing to get away from the place (or perhaps that was just me). 2) Since London has eight million people speaking 300 different languages, I'm not sure you can homogenise "the people of London". I guess they mean the young, attractive, trendy, media-friendly ones, not the marginalised one-parent families on sink-estates, drug addicts and gangsters. But still, it's a fun idea. Buying your own phone box costs about 2-3000 quid (a friend of mine, who is obsessed with the design classic and has models of varying sizes displayed all over his house, was given one as a wedding present - it sits proudly in his garden), and some local authorities have bought them from BT, to save them from being scrapped - just over 1,000 have been rescued. One village turned theirs into a community micro-library ("the smallest in the world"), others are enjoying new leases of life as art galleries and mini-cultural centres and green spaces displaying poetry and potted plants. I just can't wait for the whole visual effect - in Plaza Nueva in Seville, a great venue for outdoor exhibitions if ever there was one, with its huge open space at the heart of the city, a statue in the middle, lampposts, palm trees, and surrounded by an amazing mixture of architectural styles; and in Calle Marques de Larios, (ironic, since Larios Gin is one of Beefeater's main competitors), the famous broad pedestrianised thoroughfare in Malaga, heaven for shopaholics and shoe fetishists, and traditional heart of its old town. I'm always up for anything free, and if it's about the Home Country, its design history and such a Very British Icon, then it's got to be done - who knows, you might even win a free trip to the big smoke. And the best thing is, you don't have to stay there - you get to come back to sunny Andalucia instead. Phew!
Blog published on 24 June 2010