Friday, March 06, 2009


History records that the first successful passenger lift was installed in New York’s five storey E.V. Haughwout Building by Elisha Graves Otis in 1857. Before then, however, people who worked there had apparently managed quite well without one, so it makes you wonder why Otis bothered (and it also makes you wonder what happened with all those unsuccessful passenger lifts that must have come beforehand). After all, five storeys aren’t that much of a challenge, even for K. McEgan. Besides which, I’m sure that, in the mid 1850s, the very name of the invention could have caused concern to many, encouraging them to stick with the stairs.

How so? Because Otis called it an elevator. We call it a lift. The French say ascenseur. The Spanish, ascensor. To the Israelis it’s מַעֲלִית, and to the Arabs مصعد. And so forth. In all cases, in all languages, the noun conveys the concept of “going up.”

The thing is, though, if Otis had said to me “How would you like to ride in my elevator?”, and I’d never used one before, I'd most likely have been very wary. OK, it’s probably going to perform to spec and get me up there, as implied by "elevator", "lift", ascenseur, or whatever, but what about getting down again? Nowhere in the agnomen is there any suggestion that it’s capable of making that reverse journey.

There is, of course, a long history of people going up and not coming down. One thinks, for example, of Jesus and his mother, Mary. Then again, rather than being worried, those first lift users in the 1850s might have thought of Jesus and Mary, too. They might have said to themselves, “Yes, I shall ascend! I am as God Himself! Abase yourselves before me, therefore, mere mortals, lest you feel my holy wrath!” But then if, say, half a dozen like-minded individuals had tried to use the lift at the same time, each believing himself to be the One True God, there’d have been a sort of Ragnarok once the “Up” button had been pressed and all the would-be deity passengers fought for supremacy. Even if they didn’t, it must have been a letdown arriving, not in Heaven, as they expected, but merely in the office supplies and stationery department.

Maybe that’s actually what happened to Jesus when He ascended. Instead of sitting at the Right Hand of the Father, He’s in fact sitting on an ethereal photocopier, doomed to turn out pictures of His arse for all eternity while simultaneously inhaling the fumes from an infinite number of protoplasmic Tippex bottles. Which would certainly explain the present state of the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Firstly,my knees would be buggered by five stories-hence the x-rays on Tuesday.If I film "Platoon" they will have to use my torso & upper body as me knees are gorn.I am off to spend 48 hrs in the Mourne Mtns in pishing rain.But what of Jacob & the ladder (you'll find this in Genesis,in the front of the book)?Or Nimrod,Babel-thingy?Impress Cate with your knowledge of scripture.Who knows?In the fullness of time you may be allowed to OPEN BUDGIES CAGE and stoke the feathers?Beware Budgie dentata.