More Tales from the Dales

Conflict and war cost Governments a lot of money.  Here’s one case study for you. Victor was a full-screw (corporal) in the British Army.  He was awarded a GSM (General Service Medal) with a clasp for service in Northern Ireland, two tours, the first being Operation Motorman.  His second tour of duty was spent at HMP Maze, somewhat less risky from a life insurance point of view.  Enough of the history lesson, however. The saying goes that, “War is 95% boredom and 5% excitement.”  Northern Ireland service at HMP Maze was 99% boredom and 1% excitement.  The 1% excitement came from the telephone in the guardhouse.  Remember, good people, we are talking pre-internet, pre-remote control, pre-digital watch days.  In fact, let’s get purr-lit-i-curl, pre-privatisation days.  We are talking of the days of having to wait weeks to get a phone line installed.

So, what did people do to stay in contact, pre-internet, pre-SMS days?  By post and by phone.  Mrs MAW was Victor’s mother and lived in the tiny hamlet of Burrill in the Yorkshire Dales, Village life in the Dales in the 70’s was 93% contentment and 7% excitement: 2% – the daily visit of the travelling shop, 2%  – the arrival of the postman, 3% – the weekly phone call from Victor, serving Queen and Country at HMP Maze, while the inmates were serving time there. Imagine the scene.  The kids of the village playing hopscotch, skipping, hide and seek and chatting outside the village phone box and postbox  (actually, it’s a lampbox).



The payphone rings.

“Hello there.  “Who’s that?”

“Evening, it’s Kathy H.  Is that Victor?”

“Aye, it is.”

“How’s it in Northern Ireland?  Been to any riots today?”

“No, I’m still at the prison.  Can you go to … and tell Mrs MAW that Victor’s on the phone?”

At the speed of a thousand leaping gazelles, all the kids of the village, all ten of them, dash to MAW’s house and tell her Victor is on the phone.  No need to rush.  The Army is very generously paying.  Two minutes later, MAW takes her coat and waddles along, Woodbine hanging out of the corner of her mouth, off the Burrill phonebox, and chats with her son for a few minutes, bring him up to speed on all the village gossip.

  • George S from next door is claiming sickness benefits, but still able to dig in his back garden.
  • Mrs Cathcart from number 7 sent off a big parcel from the village sub post office and moaned about the cost.
  • Mr P from across the road has got some new underpants (dark blue).  I saw them hanging on the washing line yesterday.
  • Glen, the travelling butcher, had run out of pork chops by the time he had reached Burrill this morning.

Phone call over.  MAW waddles back to make more scones, probably also to make more notes on the villagers’ activities. Next phone calls to:

  • Brian B, old schoolmate and neighbour, recently emigrated to Australia
  • Random number in Alabama, America, to ask if it’s snowing there (at 0300 local USA time)
  • Wolfenbüttel Primary School the next morning towards the end of night shift, to wish his eldest son happy birthday

In 1976 the phone bill for the British Army in Northern Ireland was 3 million pounds.  2.5million was doubtless due to Victor at HMP Maze…


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