Lifts: the things that go up and down in the day and the night. I have a hate-hate relationship with lifts. This is because I am, at heart, an exceptionally lazy person. I like to use up as little physical energy as possible, and am happiest when in my own head, or in someone else’s. So when a lift presents itself to me as an option – in a shop, in a hotel, although never yet in a private house ( I don’t move in the right circles – I don’t move at all if I can help it) – it looks unbeatable as a means of transport. A little carpeted room. A mirror in which to check how badly I have aged over the previous fifteen minutes. But also a slight sensation of sea-sickness (I have always had motion sickness, by which I don’t mean I am sick of moving, but that the slightest tilt and I am off-balance, which is why you don’t catch me on ships or boats or ferries or dinghies). The claustrophobia is all right. I don’t mind it. I may even be a claustrophile. But the going-up-and-down: no, that’s not good news.
I think: I’ll take the stairs. Even though it would be quicker by lift, even though I am impatience incarnate, and hate wasting time. So, if I see a lift, there is tension – do I go the quick way, or the way that doesn’t tilt my inner axis?
Nothing has ever happened to me in a lift. I have been neither traduced not seduced in a lift. I have never met anyone famous, I have never been trapped or tripped in a lift. Like everyone, I have fantasised about what would happen if the lift fell, and I jumped up at the very last nano-second. But all the science books, which are very unforgiving on this issue, tell the same story. I would break every bone in my feet, and the rest of my skeleton would follow, shortly afterwards. Given how much Hollywood has made out of lifts, and their failures, you would think that a little light excitement might have spilt over into real life: but no, the things just go up and down – okay, sometimes down when you want them to go up, but that’s about all.
Lifts have been homogenised, of course. That ‘litt;e carpeted room’ I referred to above is a creature of fantasy, which has replaced the ones you used to see years ago, which showed you the loops of metal rope going down as the lift went up, when you could see the gubbins in action, and when, in department stores, there were lift operators. I cannot imagine many more soulless jobs have ever been created. Being a commissionaire at least gets you out and about, and allows a certain creativity in the processes of being obsequious, but lift operators used to have to announce what was on each floor, and quite possibly where you were stopping, and about the biggest kick they got was to press the buttons. There must have been lift operators who went quite mad.
Nor, I think, were they permitted small talk. Some lifts (say, in tube stations) allow a certain buzz of conversation, between consenting adults and fractious children, but only when they are already known to one another. In most lifts, conversation and eye contact are avoided, or restricted to ‘Are you here long?’ (hotel) or ‘Is this your floor?’ (shop). These are conversations which, unable to go further than an opening gambit, peter out within a quarter of a floor’s ascent or descent.
Except in the North-East. Try keeping your thoughts to yourself up there, and people assume you’re mad. Home sweet home.