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The day I ended up stuck in a lift with a screaming actress

You have to hand it to those two elderly nuns in the lift this week. They go into the Guinness Book of Records straightaway as surviving for the longest time in a stuck elevator.

Three days, as opposed to the previous record of 41 hours.

How did they survive? Give you one guess. They prayed a lot. Never mind the urine-drinking, which may also have helped.

At least only the two of them were present, not like when a bunch of male civil servants, together with Ministers James Reilly and Kathleen Lynch, got stuck in a lift at a conference.

The thing suddenly halted and the lights went out.

"Keep your hands to yourself," Minister Lynch said crisply. In keeping her wits about her, she (along with the nuns) is the exception to the stuck lift rule, which holds that even the most sensible people lose their marbles when immured in a stationary elevator.

I have a lot of experience of this, starting with an elevator in the GPO, where RTE used to live in neanderthal times.

I got into the lift there one day alongside Siobhan McKenna (inset), who was then so important an actress that sharing a lift with her was an honour. I nodded respectfully at her, pushed the button, and up went the lift.

Or rather, halfway up went the lift. At that point, progress stopped and McKenna began screaming. Having spent years projecting to the back of the stalls, she had admirable lung power.

I figured she could be heard in Roscrea and that pressing the alarm button on the wall of the old-fashioned lift (it had one of those wrought iron concertina gates) was probably redundant, although I did it anyway. Within 20 minutes we were free.

At the beginning, I tried to comfort my companion by gently putting my hand on her arm and telling her lifts were the safest form of transport.

She flung off my hand with such force I thought she had dislocated my shoulder, and continued to scream so loudly that conversation wasn't possible.

God bless her, she seemed to be able to scream breathing out and breathing in.

Since then, whenever I get into a lift, I half expect it to halt or - worse - drop. I've researched what to do in each case.

Forget jumping up when the lift falls. The chances of you being in the air when it hits are so small as to render the exercise worthless, although it might distract you from the terror.

Standing with your knees bent in a lift, which is supposed to preserve your spine in the event of it hitting the floor 10 storeys below, also has little to recommend it as a realistic method of injury-prevention and if you're wearing high heels it makes you look weird.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a super-modern lift in a super-modern private hospital on the southside when there was a sudden loud noise and it dropped about two feet, surprising the three women passengers and bringing out a bizarre leadership instinct in the male fourth passenger.


"Don't panic, ladies," he said. I might have hit him, were it not for the fact that I was pushing the alarm button with one hand and texting the front desk on my mobile phone with the other.

Unlike the nuns, we were trapped on a business day in a place that couldn't miss the fact that one of its elevators had gone on strike, so our chances of early rescue were good.

Once I'd done all I could to alert the outside world to our plight, I slid down the elevator wall until I was sitting and read emails on my phone.

At which the man decided to reassert himself.

"Is that wise?" he asked.

I told him the air was better the lower you could get in a lift, and he was still working on that when they pulled us up and let us out.

By which time I had worked out that if you're going to be trapped in a lift, you need to pick your company, and I'm clearly not good at that.