In the late 1960s I kept a little diary for about two years, in which I recorded not so much what I did day by day, but what curious or unexpected things happened. I just found this diary, and was most amused by some of the entries. The entry for this date in September 1966 describes a day in the house of a schoolfriend I was visiting. I wanted to make a phone call to my parents, and in those days, at least in parts of Ireland, this required calling the operator and asking her (invariably) to place the call. All that went well, and my mother answered the phone. I spoke German with my mother, and about 30 seconds into the conversation we were interrupted by the operator, still on the line, with ‘Speak English, please.’
It would be difficult for the younger generation today to understand how complicated phone calls could be back then. An almost impossible task was to use a pay phone, which required having the exact money to hand needed for a three-minute call as advised by the operator, and proficiency in working out when to push Button A, or if it had not worked, Button B. But the presence of the operator on your calls had particular charms. Some of these operators throughout the country were important social figures, dispensing advice and commentary during other people’s phone calls and being, as a result, extraordinarily well informed. I miss that. Change and innovation is not always good.