It used to be the case that if you wanted to telephone somebody while walking down the street you would go into a phone box, get some change out of your pocket and make a call. Easy.
But then BT came to the conclusion that it was losing too much money through vandalism and suchlike, and decided that getting us to pre-pay for our phone calls would be a better idea. Thus the phone card was born.
Like a credit card, but for telephones. It could be used to make unlimited calls anywhere in the world for ever and ever. Or until your credit ran out!
What this new system actually meant was that now when you wanted to phone somebody while walking down the street, you would go into a phone box, stare hopelessly at the card slot, look in your wallet for a card you knew you didn’t have, pat your pockets forlornly for a card you knew you had never purchased, and then go off in search of a shop which sold them or a phone box which accepted coins . . .
As an incentive to get people to buy more cards, BT even started customising them to make them “collectable”. And naturally, collectors fell for this ruse and started hoarding the bastard things – making them an even rarer commodity.
“Do you sell phone cards?”
“Yes we do.”
“Great, I’ve looked everywhere. Can I have a £5 one please?”
“The limited edition Princess Diana card? Sorry mate, just sold the last one to a collector.”
“Bollocks. Okay, I’ll have a £10 card then please.”
“The classic Triumph TR6 card? Sold out I’m afraid.”
“D-Day Landing? All gone mate.”
Three cheers for the invention of the mobile phone. They may have annoying ring tones, rubbish cameras and loads of features you never use, but at least they let you make a phone call without needing to mug a passing card collector first.