Where new writing finds its voice
The Pen Pusher

The Lift

Felicity Cloake

The Disgruntled Ruminations of an Office Worker Meant for Better Things

The humble lift. A great invention, you might think, as you ease the shoes from your sweaty summer feet and sink lazily into this column. But reconsider. Quite apart from the fact that, as Richard and Judy never tire of telling us, this country is in the grip of an obesity ‘epidemic’ and you should be glad to trundle your fat arse up a flight of stairs in the name of giving whoever had the temerity to invent micro-sausages one in the eye, the lift is a dangerous place. In the already disagreeable environment of Work, it manages to stand out as a particular beacon of unpleasantness. In fact, if I were to give one piece of advice to aspiring Pen Pushers perusing this fine publication in between sips of their lunchtime Special Brew, it would be to take the stairs at all costs when someone finally agrees to employ you. 

You see, the lift is a sort of office no-man’s-land, with all the unpredictability and fatal consequences that term suggests. I’m serious. There are no departmental boundaries in the great glassy-eyed elevator. You can stand and wait for it without a soul in sight, yet as soon as you dart in, ten colleagues crush into your lumpen hunch before you can jab the ‘Close’ button. A few will then carry on a stilted, self-conscious conversation, whispering as if this might prevent the rest of the lift eavesdropping on the details of their decorating-filled weekends. Sometimes, if they are younger and better looking than you, they might snigger in a way that makes you surreptitiously check your flies.

Slowly, torturously, your new companions peel off. Then, inevitably, three of you will be left in the metal box, shooting skywards. You’ll be eyeing the others nervously, praying they will depart together. And then one, just one, makes a break for the fresh air of freedom, leaving you trapped in a space only slightly bigger than your shower cubicle with a stranger. 

That would be fine in the normal course of life. It happens all the time in department stores, airports and other public places. But even though you have never knowingly set eyes on this person in your life, and they routinely handle huge sums of company money whilst you periodically tidy the stationery cupboard, there is still a tenuous connection between you. 

In another country you might overcome this by ‘breaking the ice’ and introducing yourself. In Britain, the tension of this involuntary relationship hangs heavy in the air as you watch the numbers creep agonisingly upwards in deepening silence. It’s absurd really: two adults standing so close they can smell each other’s toothpaste, mutually consenting to utterly ignore each other.

And it can get worse. In my old workplace, an enthusiastic colleague made the amateurish decision to leap into the lift with the MD, over on a rare visit from his tax exile in Mauritius. After graciously accepting the usual reverences from the lift’s obsequious third occupant, the ‘boss’ made what seemed to be a joke. Our young friend instinctively joined in with the slightly hysterical laughter, and after leering at her speculatively, the owner jabbed a tubby digit in her direction and barked, ‘Who the hell is she?’ So let that be a lesson to you – take the stairs, unless you’re looking to take a career break, imminently.