Brits apparently love red. From their pillar mail boxes, to the uniforms of the Buckingham Palace guards, to double-decker buses, to the blood spurting from fans when Manchester United plays Liverpool; red inserts a nice splash of color into what has been an amazingly gray (excuse me, grey) trip to London. It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow, and if the time I’ve been here is any indication, this might be the last sunny day until September 2014.
One bit of red remained elusive until today. The classic British telephone box, which to an American is much more recognizable than Prince Philip. Seriously, the Duke of Edinburgh has been married to the queen since 1947 (OK, so she wasn’t named queen until 1953, but still), and I have no idea what he looks like.
Once, more than 20,000 of these cast iron telephone booths, designed in 1924 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, dotted English cities. The first Kiosk 2 (K2) models went up in 1926, and many more smaller K6 models were put into service in 1935. Unfortunately, upkeep on these beauties was expensive, and most were sold to silly places like American taverns and replaced on British streets with telephone booths that have all the charm of an empty tissue box. Only about 2,000 of the red boxes remain.
A red telephone box appeared in every British television show I watched growing up. I had to find one.
The walk from the Embankment tube station toward Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament took my group past Victoria Embankment Gardens and through a shady, green tree-lined stretch all the way to Westminster Bridge. And there we saw it. Our first red telephone box. With only a couple thousand left in the entire country I didn’t think finding one would be this easy.
Alex was first up for a photo in this box with “Not a photo op” scrawled on the front glass in Sharpie.
“It smells kind of stuffy in here,” Alex said as he stepped out.
Paul was less optimistic. “We may all need to get checked for AIDs.”
Olivia and Lucas both took their turns; I was last. Stuffy was a compliment. The homeless have been using this dignified piece of British history as a toilet.
We found plenty more K6 boxes on Great George Street set up for tourists like us to nab a picture with; and they looked clean. I wish we’d waited for pictures. We may all have hepatitis.