Saturday, May 30, 2015

Something For Nothing

UK Telephone boxes

 Getting something for nothing is desired by us all. The advertising industry across the globe constantly offers us “Freebies”.

As a writer I am constantly bombarded with ways I can publish my novel by clicking on a web address that will guide me through to a newly released hard back, or to a free domain and my own web site. I’ve clicked on many of these offers only to realise after many hours of clicking that there is a huge $ sign at the end if I am to fulfill my dream.

Genuine “Freebies” are hard to come by and virtually impossible to find, unless of course you are prepared to cross the boundary and enter the world of crime.

During my life I have acquired the occasional “Freebie”, usually a drink and a few buffet snacks at some launch or other, either of a book or a theatrical first night party. Very occasionally I have crossed the line into the realm of petty larceny like in Harrods delicatessen counter while working as a night watchman.

It was during this latter adventure that I discovered another way that I could get something for nothing.

In the late sixties and early seventies I was an avid reader of spy fiction and science fiction and the operations of the CIA, MI5 and 6 fascinated me.

Trunk dialing had just reared its head in the UK. From a coin operated telephone kiosk you were able, after inserting coins, to make calls anywhere in England or overseas. The Frederick Street flat were I was staying in Kings Cross London had just had a coin operated telephone installed by the landlord. This was a wise choice on his part as he wouldn’t be left with huge bills after his tenants had scarpered into the London smog. It was a blessing to us as tenants as we could give
our number to friends and receive calls.

Frederick Street

 One evening after I’d just finished reading John Le Care’s novel “The spy who came in from the cold”, when Bat, a fellow tenant at the time rushed in clutching a tattered piece of paper with numbers, written with a kid’s crayon scribbled on it. He dived for the phone and punched in six of the numbers. He waited anxiously, about two minutes later he entered another six numbers, another delay, then he said proudly, “You want to talk to my mate in LA?”

“Los Angles, in the States?” I enquired.

“Yep, and it’s free!”

Back in the sixties we were intrigued as to how, and from whom Bat had acquired this marvellous twelve digit number.

“From a guy drunk in the Arms who said he’d joined MI6.”

“From a pissed spy?”

“Yeah, said he’d just been released from the cop-shop opposite, they were holding him because he’d been tailing some professor from Cambridge who had a connection with Philby and Burgess.”

“The Cambridge five? They were caught in sixty one, he’s a bit out of touch. How does the number work?”

“The first six numbers put you through to a computer, you wait for a dialing tone, then in you put the next six, wait again for a dialing tone and then dial the code and number you want; You’ve just seen it works.”

And sure enough it did. For the rest of that night and all of the next day we all dialed our mates up and down the country and in America, Australia, and Europe without having to put a single coin in the machine.  The scam lasted about six months and then suddenly it didn't work.

If like me, you don’t believe that spies like their drink and get pissed you may find my explanation a little more credible.

I think Bat’s pissed reprobate was a disenchanted Telcom technician who had given him the numbers to get his own back for firing him for being pissed.

To this day I still do not know the explanation, but I have just read on the Net even in today’s high tech environment the secret way of making free telephone calls drew the attention of time magazine in 2011when they published the following article.

“If you’re willing to go to the trouble of dialing your own number, waiting for the prompt, hitting 2, and then dialing the number you really want, then, yes, you get a free cellphone call. You’ll never be billed for any minutes at all.”

This information was released by David Pogue of the NY Times and he details the  legal, not-entirely-secret hack for making free cell phone calls, which involves Google Voice, careful selection of your cell plan’s Friends & Family numbers, and jumping through a few annoying hoops. But the reward for punching in a bunch of extra numbers on your phone is: free calls!

The high tech available to today’s hackers certainly beats the method I learnt in childhood from my days as a Boy Scout. Then the technology was almost non-existent and we had to rely on very fine sewing thread, cello-tape and an old penny.

You attached the thread by cello-tape to the penny, using the minial ammount possible, and dropped it into the slot. Very carefully you moved it up and down through the mechanism four times, hence you’d paid your four-pence and retrieved your coin. It was a time consuming and often the thread got caught but nine times of ten it worked. And if you were really lucky you could press button B and get the money you hadn’t used back, a reimbursement from the previous caller. 

This was a bonus “Freebie”.


Anonymous said...

In SA this was known as a long tickie. Boarding school would have been unbearable without it.

Elsa Lyons said...

Very convenient and affordable way for those who do not want to pay for something once again. I recently found a convenient software for the phone, it allows you to read the most hidden corners of chat rooms