17 October 2008

Lovin’ an elevator

I had a proper London experience last night. I was on the way to Felix’s farewell drinks after work in a pub (the Phoenix, on Moscow Rd in Bayswater), and arrived at Queensway tube station. It’s one of those stations built on a small floor-plan like Covent Garden, so it has lifts to reach ground level, rather than the escalators in most stations. So the lift filled up to the brim with people, the doors shut, and it rose a whole 18 inches ... and stopped. It tried once more to ascend, and then moved no more. Oh bother.

There was about twenty people in with me, so there was no room to move and certainly not enough space to remove my jacket as the temperature rose. Luckily the air conditioning was working, although it did fall silent a few times, leading to an anxious few moments before it kicked back into life again. Someone pressed the emergency button to call the station staff to rescue us, but it took five minutes for someone to show up. He peered anxiously in through the lift door windows, tried a key in a service panel to no avail, and then muttered something in his walkie-talkie, defeated. His most decisive action was to erect an ‘out of order’ barrier in front of our lift, which sent a ripple of wry chuckling through the lift. Other passengers outside queued for the other operating lift and gave us pitying (or were they mocking?) glances as they shuffled past. As the minutes ticked by everyone remained generally good-spirited despite the lack of any communication from the station staff, other than the firm finger-wagging from the blue-suited chap when one of the Turkish fellows near the door tried to wrench the doors open with his fingers. I was glad to have my iPod playing to pass the time, as there was no room to rummage for a copy of the Metro in my bag and certainly no room to read it.

The end of our imprisonment came suddenly after twenty minutes: the doors made a small clicking noise and the Turkish guys heaved them open, allowing ‘fresh’ air in and permitting us to stumble back out into the waiting area. None of us bothered with the other functioning lift – we all took the 132 stairs to ground level, where an apologetic Underground staff member handed out free bottles of water to make sure we didn’t expire, or more likely, to lessen the likelihood of us using rude words. All in all, despite the maintenance cock-up it was a good example of English order and good humour: no-one panicked or griped during our involuntary imprisonment. Although if we had been in there much longer I think there would definitely have been frayed tempers. We might’ve needed a little more than a free bottle of water to keep us happy...
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