Getting a kick out of a call box

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The Independent Online
BT shareholders can return to the seasonal gluttony with an easy mind. The telecommunications giant is confident that the latest spate of vandalism to its public telephones will not develop into a national trend. Neither, as has been privately suggested, will it necessitate an immediate redesign of the humble payphone (at great cost to the company).

The "few isolated incidents'' of phone abuse appear to have their origin in the Leicester area. A mindless sub-culture has taken great delight in delivering a sharp kick to the doors of BT payphones when someone is making a call. If executed properly the blow jams the door, trapping the helpless caller for hours on end (it's at times like this when you discover that you don't have the right change).

For the technically minded the problem results from the steel frame of the payphone door being forced over the rubber trim. Once this has happened the caller can not then generate enough force from the inside to reverse the process.

"It is not a design fault,'' a BT spokeswoman assures us. "But it is obviously a factor that will be taken into account for the next redesign. These are extremely rare incidents and it does require huge force to block the door. - a sustained and deliberate vandal attack.''

Payphones were last redesigned in 1985. Are we about to witness the rebirth of the sturdy red callbox?

A Christmas card from Patrick Minford offers a rare glimpse into the obsessive mind of one of the Chancellor's "wise persons''. Not content with a traditional missive garnished with sprigs of holly, Prof Minford and "his berserkers'' at the Liverpool research group in macroeconomics have seized the opportunity to indulge in some crystal ball gazing. In short, Prof Minford's Christmas card is little more than an economic forecast masquerading as a seasonal greeting. So what's up in '96?

In February the UK will dip into a mini recession, says Prof Minford. Inflation will drop below 1 per cent and there will be a Tory backbench rebellion over inadequate interest rate cuts.

European tension on monetary union will be resolved in April by postponing the starting date.

In August the economic slowdown will have sufficiently undermined tax cut hopes for the November budget to put pressure on Ken Clarke to resign. And in November Bob Dole will replace Bill Clinton in the White House.

That should sit well on the Number 11 mantelpiece.

Ale in the mail is not the sort of concept you would expect to appeal to the sophisticated woman. But it has been going down a storm in the US this Christmas. A decision by America's mail order beer clubs to place ads in magazines such as Vogue proved inspired - sales of special brand beers rocketed as wives and girlfriends grasped at an easy alternative to socks and ties for presents. "I'd say 75 per cent of our customers right now are women,'' drawls Todd Holmes, a 28-year-old former estate agent who runs Beer Across America, the country's largest mail order beer club. For $15.95 a month an American woman can buy her man two sixpacks of unusual beers - something like Hurricane Lager from Miami or Honkers Ale from Chicago.

On reflection the socks sound like a good deal.