The things they say in the lift;FE Focus;Comment;Opinion

26th February 1999 at 00:00
WHAT REALLY impresses me about the new Museum of Scotland is the stylishness of the lifts; sparkly, glass-sided machines that power their way between floors with no perceptible sensation of motion.

Lifts figure largely in my life, you see, since I work on the top floor of a tower block. Such isolation has its perks, not least the view of the two Tay bridges and the sweep of the estuary across to Fife. Visitors to our workroom invariably forget what they came for confronted by such a panorama, especially on a blue crisp February morning. They stand, overawed and gasping, in what can only be described as spiritual ecstasy. Or perhaps, if they have used the stairs, they are just trying to get their breath back.

Sometimes the would-be visitor finds the journey all too daunting. Trudy, an over-enthusiastic social care student, had come from Melrose campus to our dizzy eyrie to collect a handout. She never arrived. The only evidence of her expedition was a short, rather haunting, note in my pigeon-hole: waited for the lift, but ran out of time.

Students complain about the lifts a lot - exactly like being inside a microwave, was one intriguing comment. They squeal when it rumbles and shakes and threaten to have hysterics if it breaks down with them inside. They use it as a portable confessional, addressing you as a kind of travelling Oprah Winfrey. You try staring at the ceiling or the floor, pretending you are lost in thought but the noisy limbo of the lift prompts confidences.

If the lifts are not being used as confessionals, they are being used as makeshift teaching spaces. Students grab the opportunity to find out what they missed in class and lecturers become skilled in delivering complex instructions in neat little soundbites. They are wonderful places to meet students you haven't seen for some time and who are well behind in their work. "Hello John - on your way to see me?" John, trapped, submits. "I am now."

Lifts provide a moving platform for all sorts of social interaction vital to the smooth running of the college. Which is why it's disastrous that one has no perceptible sensation of motion - or to be as blunt as the graffito, this lift is broke.

Use the stairs, we suggest merrily to students who arrive 40 minutes late. Or in the case of Jenny, who has just climbed nine flights because she thinks the exercise will do her good, don't you dare climb those stairs again. No, we're not inconsistent. Jenny is due to give birth any minute now. Up until the lift broke down, we had been kidding the newest member of staff that he had better bone up on boiling kettles and fetching clean towels. Nobody's made that joke for a while.

In the working lift early this morning, my only companion was a computer student heading for the eighth floor. It's true what they say, he said. About getting in early. He gazed contentedly around the spacious lift as it sped unhindered towards the skies. I made approving noises and added something about one lift being out of order.

I told him we were waiting for a spare part and conversationally gave him some idea of how much it was all going to cost - give or take a couple of thousand. Maybe he thought I was going to ask for a donation, or maybe he has seen too many Frontline Scotland programmes sounding the death knell of FE. Before the doors closed he turned, jabbed at his chest with a finger and said: "Well I'm not paying for it."

I wonder just how much one of those sparkly, glass-fronted lifts would cost. Going up?

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.

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