17 November 2009

In Your (60s) Neighbourhood, Where You Gonna Call?

The inspiration for the title of this article came from Ray Parker Junior's very catchy 1984 hit, the Ghostbusters:

However, I must confess that the inspiration for writing this article came from Chun See's article on a similar topic.

In the 1960s, whenever we "city folks" wanted to call someone, we would use the phone of the coffeeshop located below our block.

The coffeeshop owner was nice enough not to charge us for the use of the phone. (But then again, my mother paid in another way via her illegal chap ji ki bets placed through the coffeeshop owner.) The numbers "9" and "0" were locked with a copper padlock so that people could not make unauthorised IDD and trunk calls which required the dialling of a "0".

The telephone looked exactly like the one in the illustration above but was black in colour. On its front (bottom portion) was emblazoned a gold-coloured logo with the letters STB which was superimposed onto an image of a flying swallow, if I remember correctly. The letters stand for Singapore Telephone Board, I think. (Telecommunications, both the capability and the word, may not have been invented then.)

I would not be surprised at all if people of the younger generation today tell me that they do not know how to use the telephone. So how would a telephone number be dialled then? You must follow adhere to the following dozen steps strictly:

1. Make sure no one is using the phone. (Queue for your turn, if necessary.)

2. Ask the coffeeshop owner for permission to use the phone.

3. If permission is given, lift up the handset.

4. Listen for the presence of a dialling tone in the ear piece.

5. Dial the first digit by poking your digit index finger into the hole marked with the correct number behind it.

6. Turn the dial clockwise with your finger until it stops at the metal catch at the 5-o'clock position. (Try as you might, the dial could not be turned anti-clockwise.)

7. Unplug your finger from the hole. (The dial will return to its original position.)

8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 until all the numbers are dialled.

9. Listen for ringing tone in the ear piece and answering party's "Hello".

10. If connected, say what you have to say and keep your conversation short (less than 3 minutes).

11. When call ends, replace handset onto the cradle of the phone.

12. Last but not least, remember to thank the coffeeshop owner for using his phone unless you are not going to do it ever again.

As you can see, the elaborate dialling process itself could take up to half a minute or more. Luckily in those days, local telephone numbers were only 6-digit long.

Although I am not an engineer by training, I can tell you that there was another way with which you could get connected without ever touching the dial. How? You use the cradle instead of the dial. Follow Steps 1 to 4 above but instead, Step 5 onwards is as follows:

5. Tap the cradle in quick succession the same number of times as the first digit of the telephone number.

6. Pause for about a second.

7. Tap the cradle in quick succession the same number of times as the second digit of the telephone number.

8. Repeat Steps 5 to 7 until all the numbers have been entered.

You should get a connection if you have done the process correctly if the coffeeshop owner has not stopped you by now. I know it works because I have tried it before. This is because the telephones in those days work on a "pulse dialling" system. (You can't do that with the later "tone dialling" system which is still in use today, if I am not wrong.) The pulse dialling occurs in Step 7 if you use the dial, and both Steps 5 and 7 if you use the cradle.

It was certainly a good thing that we finally got our own telephone when we moved to our new Haig Road flat in the mid-70s.

Update on 20 Nov 2009:

I have found a National Archives photo of the black telephone described above on Laokokok's blog here:


Icemoon said...

Wow, no joke, this is how fast Victor can churn out an article. And he has done it twice!

peter said...

This is called responding to the competition. Bloggers are like telecom companies.

peter said...

Males (of course males only do such things) dialing the rotary dialing phone this way are very good with their second finger. This second finger works wonders in other situations - Victor u get it?

Anonymous said...

Is he on Windows 8? Victor, how come your old phone is not black?

Lam Chun See said...

My goodness, you must have worked into the wee hours of the night becos I posted my article at 11+ last nite. Some more got videos and photos. I am really impressed!

Or have you been hacking into my computer?

Icemoon said...

Or have you been hacking into my computer?

Chun See, did you say your computer is slow nowadays?

stanley said...

Peter- What do you mean when you say that the second finger can also work wonders in other situations. Care to elaborate?

Icemoon said...

The second finger is the middle finger used for vulgarity?

Victor said...

Icemoon - I don't remember when was the first time, I mean when I responded quickly with an article. Care to refresh my memory?

Chun See - I was typing a comment on your phone article. But it got so long that I thought, "why not write an article on my own blog". That's how a comment became an article. I posted the article at 1.30 am.

Peter/Stanley - Er, let me guess - the second finger is also good for "gold-digging"?

Laokokok - The phone is a very rare one - an albino version. Haha.

Icemoon said...

Victor, I mean the British withdrawal article.

Victor said...

Icemoon - Oh that one! I don't think it was a fast response - both Chun See and I probably got the same email from Kah Seng at around the same time.

Lam Chun See said...

But I just posted it without a proper article to go with it.

About that old phone, didn't Wee Kiat share a photo with us of such a phone which he took at the old Bt Timah railway station? But I can't seem to be able to locate it.

peter said...

icemoon - it's the third finger for "Up yours".

Victor got one answer right, there's some more.

Victor said...

I have updated the post with an NAS photo of the 60s black telephone. It was taken from Laokokok's blog here.

Comparing the 2 phones, there are some obvious differences (besides the colours) - the mouthpieces look different, the base of the black telephone is higher and its logo has a swallow in it.

Anonymous said...

It was very interesting for me to read the post. Thank author for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.
Phone jammer

Thimbuktu said...

I was a 9-year old "chap ji ki" illegal runner at Havelock Road. I must confess that I committed innocently 53 years ago for my late mother not because I was a partner in crime to commit sin or live in regret or guilty for all these years.

Like Victor, I was a filial son too. So God, please forgive them for they know not what they do. Meaning, I was the youngster who knew what I did. Wouldn't know whether I would have tried reasoning to my mother to defy her against my errand to buy the "chap ji ki".

I am not being blasphemous or flippant to speak with disregards to whatever religious faith.

My mother was not a compulsive gambler though. If I remember correctly, it was only a few times after end of the month when she gets the little extra family budget for salary.

"Chap Ji Ki" is a daily lottery before 9 pm. Result is issued at noon to get the result. I was told that there was a clock at a coffee-shop in Chinatown for the announcement of the wrong time at 12:00 noon, unless of course it happen to be 12:00 noon that day!

Singapore Pools was incorporated in 1968 to curb illegal gambling, ostentatiously for first projects was to raise funds for the Singapore National Stadium.

I believe "Chap Ji Ki" for small time gamblers in Singapore just for luck (rather cheating betting syndicates),is now history. The days of my mother's "chap Ji Ki".