The poltergeist hiding in Gordon House

For the last three and a half years, we have been blighted by a lift on the blink. Given we live on the fifth floor, a temperamental lift has become a bit of a problem as we’ve morphed from pre-kids to two kids with the paraphernalia that come with them. The problem with the lift is not that it just decides not to work altogether: it goes up and down as you’d expect from a lift; and when it trundles down it’s quite all right. But when you push the button to go up, from time to time, it – let’s just say – takes on a mind of its own. By this I mean it jerks violently from floor to floor. At the third floor, it jolts to a stop. The sliding door opens, then promptly shuts. It does this several times before it dawns on you that you’re well and truly trapped inside a tight metal box with only your reflection in the mirror to keep you company. After a minute of this sliding door pantomime, the lift lurches upwards only to come to another violent halt at the fourth floor. Again, you can’t get out. Just as you’re about to press the help button, it gears into action and propels you to the fifth floor.

“Phew!” you say as you stumble out of the door.

Now: I’d understand why we would have a dodgy lift if we lived in a flimsy place built by idiots; but we don’t. While our apartment building dates back to the nineteenth century it was renovated a little over four years ago, a huge undertaking that included the installation of a spanking new lift (probably fitted by a few idiots given its performance).

f our lift looked like this, I'd understand why it malfunctioned... But it's a little more high tech...

If our lift looked like this, I’d understand why it behaves the way it does… But it’s a little more high-tech…

The problems began when I was six months pregnant with my first child. My 60-year-old neighbours on the fourth floor had been trapped in the lift on a Friday night. Fortunately they eventually got out unscathed, but when the engineer came around to look at the lift, he found nothing wrong. Indeed, it seemed to be working perfectly well and its smooth operation continued for a little over a month before the problem re-occurred. This time I was heavily pregnant and had no desire to go up and down several flights of stairs for fear of going into labour. The engineer was called out. Surprise, surprise, he couldn’t find a problem with the lift.

“It’s a mystery!” he said.

“It’s a mystery that it’s such a mystery!” said the Maintenance Team working for our landlord (the Howard de Walden Estate).

Thereafter, the lift functioned without any hint of trouble. My older daughter arrived into this world and the lift transported us tenants as effortlessly as a feather floats in the breeze. Summer turned into autumn, autumn turned into winter…. When winter turned into spring, low and behold, the lift returned to its old tricks. Another engineer was called out. Scratching his head, the poor man claimed he couldn’t find anything out of order other than a door being out of kilter. All he needed was the replacement of a small component part and the lift would be up and running.

“Hooray!” I said. “When will it come?”

“Shouldn’t be long,” said the Maintenance Team.

It took longer than just a few weeks for this magical component part to arrive. By the time it did appear, it was autumn 2012 and I was pregnant with my second child. Post the installation of this miraculous piece of machinery, the lift seemed to be okay.

Pregnancy number two sped by, but as I reached my third trimester the lift decided to misbehave. This time it felt like you were being propelled up the lift shaft like a pinball. That would be all right (everything’s relative) if the elevator didn’t judder to a violent halt in-between the third and fourth floors. My Better Half got stuck, then our nanny got stuck. A neighbour got stuck. You get the picture. With a toddler in tow and me being the size of a barge, there was no way I’d schlep up five flights of stairs. All credit to the Maintenance team: as soon as I told them the near daily trudge up the stairs brought on early contractions, they got on the phone to the engineer. He tinkered with something here and there, but part of me thinks he did this just for show because after the birth of my younger daughter, the lift has seemingly switched on its volatile act so many times now that I’ve lost count. If it wasn’t for the fact that on several occasions, my children have suffered a bumpy ride or, more recently, got stuck, I’d be laughing. Although when I phone or email the Maintenance Team, I’m sure they’re having a laugh as it seems I’m the only tenant to kick up a fuss. “Oh God,” they probably say while pulling straws to choose who’ll deal with me, “it’s Mrs. Boheim from Gordon House.”

After one of my more exasperated conversations with them, one of the Maintenance Team came to the apartment building to take a ride in the the alleged crotchety piece of machinery. I say alleged because Sod’s Law must have visited at the same time as the lift glided up to the top floor. Time and time again I tell the Howard de Walden Maintenance Team that surely they don’t want me calling them – on average once a month – to complain about the lift.

“Of course we don’t,” one of them replies. “But don’t worry, there’s no risk of it free falling.” Gee thanks for the reassurance, I think to myself. Try telling that to my 80-year-old father, or my two small children. Or the youthful handyman who aged a few years when he took the lift to my apartment to fix a leaky sink.

I wonder how is it, that with an estimated worth of over £1bn, the Howard de Walden Estate cannot spend the resources to investigate the cause of a pesky lift? Surely they can spare a few thousand for the sake of the safety of tenants who pay eye-watering rent for a bit of space in one of their properties? Then again, maybe the Estate has: currently, the lift’s behaving itself. So perhaps there isn’t anything wrong with it. And if that’s the case, I’ve another theory: perhaps there’s a poltergeist who now and again gets bored and decides to have a bit of fun at the expense of the Boheim family living on the top floor. It would also help explain why some of my children’s electric toys come to life out of the blue, or why, more recently, my daughter’s beaker shot up in the air of its own accord. (Yes. Really).

In The Silent Children (out in November), unexpected happenings plague Max when he stays overnight at his dead mother’s house in Vienna. It’s not so much their frequency, but the way the things he experience toy with his mind, making him think he’s losing it and losing all sense of who he is.

Until next time!


The Silent Children  - Amna K. Boheim