This is what happened to me on 17th July 2015. While the tone of this post is jocular, I can promise you that I wasn’t laughing when all this was happening.
Aren’t they a marvellous invention, shopping trolleys? Mine, of sleek design and funky appearance, is rarely parted from me, and I wheel it around exuberantly. So it was to my stripy Rolser that I entrusted some books and other reading matter that day. The stuff was heavy, and I can’t be doing with attaché cases and the like. But one thing a loaded trolley doesn’t like is being dragged up the stairs, so there was only one thing for it – the lift, an invention nearly as marvellous as the trolley itself.
Even though I rarely take lifts, I summoned this one unhesitatingly, stepped in gingerly and pressed the up-button – somewhat nonchalantly. The machine creaked, shook and commenced its upward crawl. As we inched upwards, I marvelled at this ancient piece of engineering and wondered whether it would qualify for a listed status – grade C, maybe? As I was pondering if a lift could actually be listed as an object of special architectural or historic interest, the thing came to a gentle stop. I grabbed my trolley and moved towards the door – only to find that there was no door.
I stood there, startled: where the hell has it gone? I looked around, but all I could see were walls – on all four sides. Good grief! I looked up, and there it was, a sliver of light at the very bottom of the door. But it was way above my head; even on tiptoe, I couldn’t reach it. How? Why? What the …? I looked around my trap: the only thing I could do – apart from screaming, obviously – was to press the buttons. One was the down-button, one was the up-button, one was the panic button and one was the stop button. Well, I certainly didn’t need that one! I pressed the up-button with all the force I could muster – nothing. I frantically pressed the down-button – not a thing.
The next logical thing was to scream at the top of my lungs, at which point it occurred to me that the panic button could also come in handy. Granted, pressing it didn’t offer any practical solution, but both actions produced the desired effect: after a spell of my hollering from the depths of the lift shaft, reinforced with the alarm bell, a female chin appeared high up in the small window positioned at the top of the lift door. The owner of the chin, a female council clerk, for I was in the offices of our borough council, looked down into the lift shaft.
“Have you pressed the button?”
Have I pressed the button!?! Never in the history of button-pressing has there been a more concerted effort expended on pressing the damn thing.
“I have, I have, look!” I yelled and repeated the manoeuvre in a most demonstrative way I was capable of. The clerk nodded and disappeared from view. I could hear footsteps echoing in the free world and then some sort of commotion. Another chin materialised high up. I waved, rather pathetically. The possessor of the chin cheerily waved back and made a helpful enquiry.
“Have you pressed the button?”
Have I … ? “Yes, yes, look!” Reassured that I had, indeed, pressed the button in question, my interlocutor nodded and said, “We’ll get you somebody”.
“Maybe the fire brigade?”
The chin disappeared, and I could hear more noises; one female voice was pondering the practicalities of using a crowbar in similar situations, with others making contributions I couldn’t quite catch, although somebody did mention a ladder. Now was the time to appraise my predicament more coolly, if coolly could be applied to what was in effect an increasingly stuffy cage. I examined my trap again. How far was it to the bottom of the door – five/ six feet, perhaps? So, after they have smashed the door, they would have to lower a ladder to get me out. How many rungs would that be? Now, I have a confession to make: although I have scaled innumerable mountains, I’m no good with ladders and turn to jelly after the first few steps. But, somehow, I didn’t think I would be a reluctant ladder-climber on this particular occasion and began to feel slightly better.
“Are they coming?” I yelled.
A voice from above said, “Some council bloke is.”
“What council bloke?”
“From Workington? But it’s miles away – with the parking and that, it may take an hour!”
“No, no, they said 12 minutes.”
“But you can’t get from Workington to Keswick in 12 minutes!”
“No, no, they definitely said 12 minutes. Have you pressed the button?”
My exasperation with this line of questioning notwithstanding, I felt that, if they’d definitely said 12 minutes, further arguments would be futile. Besides, I wasn’t exactly in a strong bargaining position, although – with hindsight – I could have feigned a faint or something. But people of my moral rectitude don’t pull stunts like that. The only thing at this juncture was to relieve tension by cracking manic jokes, and I believe I started demanding that my rescuers be handsome and making other similarly inappropriate comments. Gallows humour, they call it – I can certainly see what they mean.
After more than half an hour, however, even this strategy began to show cracks.
“May I have the fire brigade, please!”
“He’s coming, he’s coming!”
“The fire brigade?”
“No, they are not allowed to call the fire brigade.”
“Who is not allowed?”
The reply, if there was one, was drowned out by all the noises on the floor above, and my anxiety began to get the better of me.
“Please, please, get me the fire brigade!”
“Not long now, not long now. But we’ve found the manual!”
Now, lady pensioners, of whom I am one, are incontrovertibly a pillar of the community, but the image of them holding the manual with one hand and fiddling with lift electrics – or was it electronics – with the other somehow failed to offer me the reassurance I so desperately needed at that point. Were any of them (apart from the clerk, they were all lady pensioners) into electrics at all? I knew for a fact that one was into bird-watching and another into table-tennis, but I wondered about the others. Wait, wait, one said she was in the Women’s Institute! Didn’t somebody tell me once that the WI is supposed to have made great strides since the days of jam-making and was now into all sorts? But could they have possibly progressed so far? I mean, providing women with educational opportunities is one thing, but actually branching out into engineering …?
“Fire brigade!” I wailed in a voice I barely recognised.
“Won’t be long, won’t be long. But you know what?”
“Apparently, they serviced the lift last week.”
Heavens above, was our local government in such dire financial straits that they couldn’t stretch to half-decent lift maintenance? If so, we were surely all doomed, this refrain from a well-known British film racing through my mind. But the thought of my own impending doom was far more pressing.
“GET ME THE FIRE BRIGADE!”
“He’ll be here in a minute!!”
An hour into my imprisonment, I heard some loud banging and, for the first time, a male voice. A male voice! Now, I defy anybody who denies men their uses.
“It may be the fuse,” said the male voice.
“This fuse?” My lady pensioners were clearly on the ball.
I heard some more noises, and then, out of the blue, the light in the lift went out. What the …?
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I should have warned you,” said the male voice.
So he should have, but at least he was apologetic.
“I’ll let you know before I turn it off again.”
“Please do,” I squeaked. He did, but no amount of fiddling with the electrics – or was it electronics – could bring the lift back to life. There was further banging and shaking, there were further footsteps and confabulations, but I still wasn’t going anywhere.
It was now an hour and a half into my ordeal, and, to make matters even worse, I could no longer hear the male voice.
“CALL THE FIRE BRIGADE, PLEASE!!!”
“We are calling the fire brigade.”
Did I hear this right? It looked as if the lady pensioners had taken matters into their own hands – at long last! The fire brigade arrived within a few minutes. When it appeared high up in the little window, the first male chin, with a helmet above it, was a vision to relish. The boys set to work immediately. Amid much noise, the lift began shaking violently and then, millimetre by millimetre, making its slow descent to the floor below. Suddenly, a portion of a little widow appeared at the very bottom of the lift. I crouched and, instead of chins, I could now see foreheads, then eyes, then noses, then lips, then entire faces, for, in anticipation of my imminent release, the congregation had relocated to the lower floor. And then, I was free. Needless to say, the firefighters were the handsomest men I had ever set my eyes on!
I have since written to the Chief Executive of our borough council, who has replied, assuring me that he ordered ‘a thorough investigation’ into the incident. To me, the key thing is to ensure that nobody is ever again left trapped for that length of time – over an hour and a half – because of some, totally inexplicable, rule preventing council staff from calling the fire brigade. On my release, I simply couldn’t believe my ears when the council clerk told me that her line manager had FORBIDDEN her from calling emergency services. She did phone the firm responsible for servicing the lift, but, despite the 12-minute reassurance, the lift engineer arrived only AFTER I was freed by the fire brigade. And, when he did turn up, he appeared completely unperturbed, dismissing my question as to the exact time of his arrival with a shrug and failing to show any concern at all. ‘Excellent customer experience’, which our borough council apparently prides itself on providing, it wasn’t – although it certainly was an experience! (By the way, show me ONE ‘customer-facing’ – urgh – organisation which doesn’t pride itself on ‘providing an excellent customer experience’, and I will show you a three-legged Kakapo.)
PPS (added on July 22nd)
The said lift engineer, who breezed in blithely after the rescue operation had been concluded and seemed to exude I-don’t-give-a-fig indifference, had Express Elevators emblazoned on his sweatshirt. Express – you couldn’t make it up!
But council officials have been contrite and promised an investigation and a review of the relevant procedures; they have also sent me a nice bouquet of flowers. Given that I’m fine, we might just remain friends – as long as nobody else is put in a similar position.