The day a call on village phone shaped my life

THE folks who battled to save various sub-post offices – including some in Redbridge – deserve our sympathy. Such threatened cuts reminded me, not for the first time, of Rob Wilton s reply when, back in the 1930s, a worried fellow music hall artiste asked

THE folks who battled to save various sub-post offices - including some in Redbridge - deserve our sympathy.

Such threatened cuts reminded me, not for the first time, of Rob Wilton's reply when, back in the 1930s, a worried fellow music hall artiste asked if it were true that the Cardiff Empire was closing?

"Yes it is - and if it's a success they're going to close all the others too," answered Rob drily.

It's a yarn I quoted when, living in rural Wales not long ago, I added my name to a couple of Save Our Post Office petitions. Both were hundreds-strong. Neither got anywhere.


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Last time I was in my old Berkshire village the sub-post offices either end of it were fit and well. I must enquire if that's still the case.

For years Mrs Webb was in charge of the one up our end. Rarely was there much in the village she hadn't latest chapter and verse on.

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My pal Ernie Charlton, who lived next door to her, reckoned the good lady had been christened with a gramophone needle.

Three Fridays a month I visited her to cash the shilling postal order received from mum that evening. (The fourth weekend I got it in person, in cash.)

It was meant to be pocket money, but almost always was turned on the spot into sixpenny war-savings stamps. A �1 certificate of those was worth 25 bob if held for five years. Such largesse I could afford because of the pennies picked-up running errands around the village, and which were enough for a small boy's essentials, like the Champion and Hotspur.

Mrs Webb, a close friend of my foster-folks, made sure I'd no second thoughts over boosting the war effort with my shilling.

By the time I effected that transaction the post office's pension day rush was over. But there was usually several gossips standing in there chewing scandal's fat.

Which was more than could be said for the adjacent village store. Three customers and the cat had to move out.

It's hard to imagine our end of the parish without a facility that served the community in different ways beyond its purpose.

It was not unknown for Mrs Webb to send us tearing off on our bikes to find out why one of her elderly regulars had not appeared as usual.

Always with the instruction we need only to report back if there was a problem.

If her old office was among the many axed, I hope they didn't also do away with the phone box outside.

For there, on an early September Thursday, 59 years ago, one of my life's pivotal moments befell.

I waited anxiously in the box as Mrs Webb put through a call to Recorder editor Basil Amps, who was expecting me next day for a job interview, now I'd left school.

Trouble was I was all set for an eagerly-awaited debut in the village cricket team at neighbouring rivals Hurst that Saturday. Loathe to admit a game of cricket came before the interview, I told Mr Amps a problem had arisen that prevented my attending next day.

As I held on, while he checked his diary for another date, we both heard Mrs Webb telling me to put in three more pennies.

"Where are you calling from?" asked Basil.

"Oh, you wouldn't know it, sir, a small place in Berkshire called Shurlock Row, in the parish of Waltham St Lawrence," I replied.

Not only did Basil know it, he'd played cricket on our ground as a young sprout from the far side of Reading.

The truth came out why I was ducking the interview.

From a somewhat forbidding individual, Basil became all enthusiastic, advising me to watch out for Hurst's old umpire.

"The ball hits any part of you, but the bat, he'll give you leg before," warned Basil.

To this day, I've always believed that cricket connection swayed Basil, who demanded I see him first thing the following Monday. The interview then was largely about Waltham's seven-wicket humbling of Hurst on their own midden, and of which my part was limited to run-saving.

Eventually Basil said: "You sit there for a moment. We'll sort out your contract this afternoon if that's all right."

He'd chuckle now if he knew how all right it still is - more than 60 years later.

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