Elevators beyond Faith
By Nury Vittachi
Imagine an elevator that never actually stops moving. It zooms up the east side of the building, disappears into the attic and then reappears, zooming down the west side. It goes round and round, endlessly, night and day. It has no doors. The only way to use it is to throw yourself in as it passes your floor, and leap out when it reaches the floor you want to get to.
Sounds like a nightmare? It was for reader Faith Ratnayake.
A lift exactly like that, called a paternoster, was the only elevator at a skyscraper in the UK’s Sheffield University at which she worked in 1962.
“Too scared to embark, I walked up and down umpteen floors every day,” she said. “After 46 years of sleepless nights, I appeal to your investigative brain to relieve my addled one: what happens when they reach the top and bottom? Do they turn tail and return upside down? Or cross over to the other side, like politicians?”
Faith, of Sri Lanka, had another reason not to use them—she wore skirts rather than trousers, so going accidentally over the top and descending upside down would have been indecent.
Well, Faith, your wish is our command. I’ve long had a death wish, so I was happy to visit that building, disobey the warning signs, and stay in the nonstop elevator as it disappeared up into the attic. (I took a lady friend for company, in case we got stuck).
It got very dark and noisy, but it didn’t turn upside down. After a while, it zoomed sideways. Then it started to head downwards. We promptly stood on our hands to mislead observers into thinking it had turned over at the top.
Later, locals told us of rumours that people with nowhere else to go sometimes had sex in the brief period in which it disappears into the mechanical bit at the top before reemerging.
Well, I can confirm that this is impossible. There is simply not enough time for serious naughtiness to be committed by any normal person, with the possible exception of experts such as Bill Clinton.
SURREALITY DEPARTMENT: I’ve always had a problem with the word “surreal” which means “unreal in a strange, dreamlike way”. I’m not sure if it is just me, but life seems to me to be almost entirely surreal. Which makes reality unreal. Perhaps it’s Asia. Or maybe I just need to get out less. Anyway, from the “reality is surreal” department, I received an announcement telling me that “The Hong Kong China Food Oil Ticket Research Club” has just been disbanded. What a shame. Now the millions of people interested in researching Hong Kong China food oil tickets, and may even know what that phrase actually means, no longer have a place to do whatever they do.
SILLY SIGNS DEPARTMENT: Vast numbers of readers have been sending me signs, instructions and observations, so here are the three best:
Seen on a street in Kyushi, Japan: “Stop. Drive sideways.” Sounds like Faith’s elevator.
Seen on the front of a jewellery shop in India: “We shoot earholes.”
Seen in an ad for a hotel in Spain, sent in by reader Yammie Ting: “The provision of a large French widow in every room adds to the visitor’s comfort.”
Now there’s an offer you don’t get in every hotel.