Lifts (reprise)

Is it me, or do you too feel patronised by lifts? You step into the strangely carpeted, enclosed space, something like a Foundation Art student’s re-creation of a living room, and you press a button. You may be on 0 (aka G) and press 2, for instance. After a small but significant interval, the room begins to move.

A voice says ‘Lift going up’ – ah, it’s a lift! – or even ‘The lift is now going up’.

It is in fact quite easy to distinguish the sensation of going up from coming down, obviously not so easy as if you’re falling from the top of an eight-storey tower-block or perhaps even ascending in rather yogic way in the opposite direction. It’s not rocket science. (Actually, it is rocket science if you’re in a space capsule, but let’s not confuse the issue too much.) But all the same, a carefully modulated and pre-recorded voice tells you what is happening. There is a display on the wall which tracks your trajectory, too: but a voice-over has been decreed, and so you must be in a receptive mode. You must accept the information.

What would happen if the lift detached somehow from its moorings (you will gather that I am not too good on the history of lifts, but I am pretty sure that it isn’t the counterweight system any more)? Would the mystery voice come on the tiny tannoy to tell you ‘You are now plunging to your death. There is no point in jumping just before you hit the bottom: it doesn’t work.’ Would it offer a prayer of your choice? Or would it just throw in a laconic ‘Going down’? I fear there is only one way to find out.

It is rather odd to think that, at least in department stores and hotels, and I am struggling to think where else you might find a lift, there used to be a person, generally in some form of livery, who stood in the lift with you, and kept up a running commentary. I can think of very few more soul-destroying jobs. I do not think there ever have been more soul destroying-jobs. I have vague memory, too, that these individuals were sometimes tipped for their labours. For their own sakes, I am glad that there are (unless in very swanky hotels) no more lift operators.

Anonymous voices are in any case, a real pest. They ring you up, and affect a cosy, almost matey tone, while pretend not to attempt to fleece you. They answer the phone, and often work on voice recognition. ‘I didn’t quite catch that,’ is their didn’t-quite catchphrase. This is because I mumble. They greet you on public transport, and they offer you advice in some supermarkets (‘Did you know that… ?’), and, worst of all, the control queues in shops and post offices. I have stopped going to major post offices now, because I cannot bear the faint triumphalism in that voice that says, for instance, ‘Cashier Number Seven’.

(I obviously have a thing about lifts, because I see I’ve covered some of this in January …)


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