It seems that the most memorable moments of your life often happen when you don’t expect them. One of these recent events didn’t take place during Christmas with my family in Finland, not even in beautiful St Moritz while I was making radio shows during the holidays. Instead, the special moment took place in London when I almost spent my New Year’s Eve at an underground station – stuck in a lift.
The evening had already been a good one. I had enjoyed a great dinner at a friend’s place and was ready to continue the evening in central London. It all went very well until the lift I was taking to get to the underground station platform stopped.
There we were. Me and about 30 other people, crammed into a small lift cubicle. It was almost amusing to hear the collective sigh when everyone realised that we would probably now be late for our New Year Eve’s celebrations. But being a Finn, it was also interesting to look around at who we actually were – all these people I spend my life with in the capital.
According to a recent census less than half of the population in London describe themselves as “white British”. My observations in the lift seemed to reflect that. Among the many ethnicities, an Italian couple was wondering if lifts get stuck in London very often. Many locals were surprisingly defensive in trying to prove that they rarely do. There was also a lot of polite joking and some laughs of disbelief. How British.
Minutes passed and it was getting hotter. What if no one had realised outside that we were stuck? Could there be anything worse than spending that special midnight moment in a lift?
There was no longer any ice left to break, soon all 30 of us were in full discussion trying to find a way of getting out. Well, actually not quite all. Some were still busy chatting and cracking jokes. One man lightened the atmosphere by offering a bottle of Jägermeister to his fellow passengers.
It is not nice being stuck in a small box with tens of other people. After 15 minutes or so some were getting claustrophobic. Someone started kicking the lift door and shouting. A young woman standing next to me begged for this man to stop and to be quiet, otherwise she might panic too.
All of a sudden the rescue arrived with someone knocking outside on one side of the lift. A smaller door opened, tube station staff greeted us and there was huge cheer. We all bundled into an adjacent lift that had been brought to the same level as us. Freedom!
Had this happened in my home country, most of us would probably have gone to a nearby bar for a celebration drink, some might have exchanged phone numbers.
But not in London. After cheering a bit we all rushed to the platform and disappeared in different directions. I thought I would never see any of these people I had spent some time with until I heard a voice through a window between the train cars. The Jägermeister guy was there again, offering his bottle once more.
London – as with many big cities – may seem cold and distant but you never know when you’ll come across those kind and warm moments. I guess that’s one of the reasons I live here.
Markus Hippi is a producer for Monocle 24