I recently came across a dusty box of cassette tapes, one of which was an interesting anthropological recording made by my family in 1981.
My sister Julie had moved to England with her husband around 1979 and lived there until 1984, during which time she had two children. Back then there was no email of course, and international phone calls were prohibitively expensive and so reserved for special occasions.
I can clearly remember when mum & dad had our phone line updated to support ISD – or International Subscriber Dialling, now known as International Direct Dialling. This meant we could call Julie’s home phone in England directly, without having to go through an operator. (Sadly we had to change phone numbers, but our old number – 574576 – will always be burned into my memory.)
Anyway, with the cost of phone calls to England being what it was, we didn’t get to speak to Julie very often. Then sometime in 1981 local radio station 2KO did a series of broadcasts from various cities in the UK, perhaps as some sort of loosely defined cultural exchange. And in the spirit of Anglo-Australian good will 2KO was giving Aussie expats the chance to broadcast a message home to their family in Newcastle. My mum was all over this in a flash, and so it was arranged that Julie would record a message to be aired at a specified time.
Such an important occasion had to be recorded for posterity, so dad’s mono cassette recorder (more used to playing Johnny Cash at full volume while dad worked in the backyard) was brought into the kitchen, a blank tape purchased especially (a “Tempest” brand C-90!) and the “record” button pressed as the time for Julie’s message drew near.
What with radio technology being what it was back then the broadcast sounded like it was being beamed from Pluto rather than northern England, but thankfully the cassette recording – now 28 years old – is still reasonably clear and intelligible. Here’s what my sister had to say:
Hello. This is Julie in Yorkshire. I’d like to say “hello” to Marj and Les ***** of New Lambton. We’re all happy here, mum and dad, our expected baby is coming along nicely; we think it’s going to be a girl. We’re very much looking forward to seeing you next year. Love to you all, and many thanks to 2KO for making this possible.
The tape ends as my mother bursts into tears of joy.
Somehow I ended up with this precious cassette – I think I made a case later on that as only three minutes of it had been used I could certainly fill the remaining 87. And although I was always careful to preserve Julie’s message I seem to have made good use of the remaining blank tape. One side has Australian Crawl’s “Sons of Beaches” album while the other has “Screaming for Vengeance” by Judas Priest. (The guitar solo in “Riding on the Wind” blew my 13-year-old mind.)
I’ve now transferred the message to computer, so it’s safe forever. Right? I’ll email it to my sister, she’ll probably get a kick out of it.
In other phone-related trivia, here’s something I just remembered. For years we had a little wooden box sitting next to our telephone, with a slot in the top like a money box. The intention was for people who used the phone to drop a coin into the box, to pay for their call. Exactly who these “people” were I don’t know – presumably “visitors” who had to use the phone, which was basically nobody that I can remember. The box always seemed to have a solitary 20c coin rattling around in it, and no apparent way to get it out. I remember the box had a picture on the side of Stockton bridge – one of Newcastle’s most conspicuous local landmarks – and a little poem that went:
Call from here when e’er you will,
But don’t forget who pays the bill.
If there is another single object that sums up 1970s suburbia more than this coin box I’d like to know what it is.