Tuesday 19 November 2013

Lifts, Home Lifts and Elevators

  Click here to find new and reconditioned home lifts throughout the UK

Lifts For The Home

"If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the Up button."
Sam Levenson 

Bottle kiln life
Image:Flickr-Lee J Haywood
Landscapes, both natural and man created, are in a constant state of evolution. The natural world is influenced by many factors. Physical agents of erosion and deposition; wind, water, ice and climatic factors, destroy and rebuild our coastlines, rivers, mountains and moorlands and soil erosion destroys millions of acres of potential agricultural land around the world. One definition of a National Park, such as the Peak District National Park located on the doorstep of Stoke-on-Trent or 'The Potteries' in North Staffordshire, is 'an area of outstanding natural beauty'. Beautiful certainly, but not totally natural. There is nothing natural about fields, marked off by hedges, grass kept trimmed by grazing animals, forests designed by and maintained by the Forestry Commission and reservoirs built by the water authorities cannot be said to be natural. A much better term is 'a man managed landscape'. Urban landscapes are in a constant state of change. Socio-economic factors, architects and planners all put their stamp on our villages, towns and cities. The proposed high speed rail route is causing much concern regarding the threat to the environment . The demise or creation of industry is a major factor. The skyline of Stoke-on-Trent was once dominated by bottle-shaped ovens, kilns to fire the products of 'The Potteries' and by the tall steel towers with their huge wheels operating the winding gear to take lifts, open cage structures, carrying miners to and from the coalface, deep below ground. Most of these traditional industries have gone, and, like the night sky which used to be lit up by the Shelton Bar iron and steel works these iconic, evocative structures have largely vanished from the local landscape.

 Lifts in Coal Mining 

Winding Towers
The Cage @ Easington Colliery
Image:Flickr-Dave Dawson
There is an interesting link between the two traditional industries in Stoke-on-Trent, namely pottery manufacturing and coal mining. Wolstanton colliery, opened in 1920 to exploit both seams of iron stone and coal which lay beneath them. The colliery was founded by a group of pottery manufacturers. Originally it had two shafts, the number 1 shaft being deepened in 1927 to a new depth of 635 yards. By the 1950s Wolstanton, along with Sneyd and Deep Pit was reaching the end of individual economical reserves and an ambitious scheme was undertaken to join them together. Wolstanton had the advantage of access to the main line rail routes between Stoke and Stafford and Crewe and Manchester. A new third shaft was sunk and number 2 was deepened to 1140 yards making Wolstanton the deepest pit in Europe. Mines presented a major engineering challenge. Apart from any other issues, miners had to be transported down to the coal face and the coal had to be brought to the surface. This demanded a safe lift system. The shafts were served by lifts. Towering over the shafts were towers, made from lattice steel work or concrete. Steam driven engines linked to cables lowered and raised the cage structures. Some lift cages were double decked and carried men and tubs. Most cages were not lit and the fast, windy descent into the darkness must have been an uncomfortable and unnerving experience, and, like everything in mining, hazardous. Disaster and death were no strangers to mining communities. The new towers at Wolstanton were concrete. Each one had powerful 3000hp steam driven engines built by Koepe, widely used in Germany and Holland. The same company installed lifts at Hem Heath and Florence pits in Stoke-on-Trent. The above picture was taken at the closure of Wolstanton Colliery in 1986. It had a proud record. In 1963, the pit was the first in the West Midlands to mine 1 million tons of coal in a calendar year. The local mines did not survive the miners' strike and other than the museum at Chatterly Whitfield, are long gone. As for Wolstanton Colliery today, the site hides its secrets below Wolstanton Retail Park, the location of Asda and Matalan amongst other retail outlets. Don't jump up and down or you may lose more than your shopping! Lifts are widely used in our daily routines, be it in multi storey shopping malls such as The Potteries Shopping Centre, or in tall commercial buildings, airports, hotels, hospitals, apartment blocks and so on. We have to use them, or be fit enough to use the stairs, even if some of us do find them a tad scary.

Lifts in Films

Lifts, or elevators, have gripping and sometimes amusing scenes in films. The fact that directors stage certain events in lifts is interesting and suggests to me that the lift has a perhaps dark place in our psyche. It is perhaps akin to flying, something we do, but feel that really, we ought not to do. To be enclosed in a metal box, suspended on a cable in a shaft is not a good idea. It is true to say that very few people speak in a lift and the almost eerie silence is only broken when a stop is reached and the doors open to free the tense passengers into a more comfortable environment. Lifts can be claustrophobic and like an aircraft most people are relieved to be out of them. It may be this that makes their use in films so potent. 'How Green is My Valley' by John Ford 1941 was set in South Wales and centres on groups of anxious relatives and friends waiting outside the colliery winding house for the lifts to bring up the survivors and the bodies of husbands and sons from a disaster far below ground.
Some other notable lift scenes.
'Terminator 2: Judgement Day' 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger
'Silence of The Lambs' 1991 Anthony Hopkins
'Guns of Navarone' 1961 Gregory Peck
'Where Eagles Dare' (Cable Car fight) 1968 Richard Burton

 'The Lift' (Dutch) 1983 The chilling film featured a lift which killed people at random; all down to an experimental computer chip which malfunctioned and took on a malignant personality of its own.
'Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory' 1971 Gene Wilder
This lift was no ordinary lift! The glass 'Wonkavator' not only went up and down. Willy points out that his lift 'can go sideways, slantways, backways and frontways.' Young Charlie and Grandpa Joe enter the lift and push the big red button. The Wonkavator rises, going faster and faster until it smashes through the factory roof and soars high in the sky above the town. Don't think about it if you travel on the high speed lifts in the Shard - more about those later!

Who invented the lift? 
The answer to this question is debateable. One certain fact is that the concept of a lift goes back a very long way. A type of platform lift was certainly known in the ancient world and it is thought that Archimedes (Gk 287BCE-212BCE) may have influenced the idea of lifts. Everybody heard of Archimedes at school, but what a talented guy he was! Most of us are challenged by one major academic discipline. Archimedes was a mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and, just for good measure, an astronomer. He designed the Archimedes Screw. This was a screw-shaped shaft enclosed in a tightly fitting cylinder used for lifting water from one level to a higher level, when irrigating farm land. He established what is known as the Archimedes Principle. This is a well known story but it has important practical implications. A king had ordered that a crown be made and had supplied the pure gold for the purpose. It was suspected that the goldsmith had substituted some of the gold for silver and evidence was demanded of such dishonesty. Archimedes was tasked with finding the truth. He pondered long on how to assess the volume of an irregular shape. Now comes the well-known part of the story. Whilst taking a bath he realised that the water was running over, having been displaced by the volume of his own body weight. This was the answer to the volume of the metals in the crown. Such was his excitement that he leapt out of the bath and ran down the roads of Athens naked, shouting out the familiar cry of "Eureka" - "I have found it". No schoolboy humour please! It is the Archimedes Principle that defines the tonnage of a ship - the volume is that of the water displaced.

Elevators in Ancient Rome
The Romans, whilst barbaric, were great inventors. They built long straight roads to allow the army to march across most of the Empire. Public baths and saunas, drainage systems, and central heating also were a part of Roman city life. They also used lifts or elevators. The Colosseum in Rome was the venue for 'sport'. Here gladiators fought to the death, Ben Hur style chariot racing and even elephants thrilled the crowds and just to add to the fun, early Christians were burned at the stake or ripped apart by lions. Romans flocked to the Colosseum like 'Stokies' descend on Britannia Stadium!

The colisseum
Lions, elephants, bears, gladiators and chariots and horses were kept in dungeon like areas beneath the floor level of the stadium. They had to be brought up efficiently and safely somehow. The Colosseum had lifts. They were mostly a flat platform structure, hauled up and down by slaves pulling on a system of ropes and pulleys. They could use a cage for the big cats, similar to those used for coal miners!

A lift fit for a King - Louis XV 'The Well-beloved' (1710-1774)
It is not only today that lifts are used to facilitate discrete clandestine amorous liaisons . Versailles, the seat of the French Monarchy, was equipped with a very special lift system and it was nothing to do with a Romanesque Mr Carson bringing the monarch's food from below stairs in Downton Abbey! In 1743, King Louis XV installed what was called 'The Flying Chair' in the Palace of Versailles. The flying chair was a small cabinet through which a rope hung - the occupant could pull the rope to either lower or raise the chair. The system depended on a number of counterweights and pulleys but it proved effective. Louis XV ordered the chair to be made by one of his favourite machinists Blaise-Henri Arnoult. The King could enter the chair from his balcony. The purpose of the lift, amazingly running outside of the building, was to afford privacy as well as climbing stairs in full view or courtiers when the King wished to visit the apartment of his mistress, the most famous being Madame de Pompadour. I assume that the weather would not deter the King's passion! Louis had married Marie Leszczynska, daughter of the deposed King of Poland. After her death, Louis showed little interest in the affairs of State. As in the case of Queen Victoria on the death of her beloved Albert, the people began to lose faith in the monarch and his neglect of his Royal duties played a significant part in the Revolution of 1789.

Otis v Tufts 
There is debate between who really developed the modern lift - Elisha Graves Otis or Otis Tufts? There was concern in the minds of many people over lift safety. In 1852, the American company of Otis and Son invented a safety device. It was a crude but effective idea. In the event of a cable break, a wooden frame, located at the top of the lift, snapped into place against the shaft wall and acted as a brake, avoiding a disastrous plunge to the bottom. The idea was treated with some scepticism. Otis took a dramatic solution to prove that the device worked. In 1824 at the New York World's Fair he rode on a platform hauled high in the air and instructed that the rope be cut. The platform moved just a few feet and the 'brake' mechanism worked and he returned to the ground unscathed. Otis went on to found Otis Brothers lift manufacturers. In 1874 they installed the first commercial lift in a department store in New York. By later designs, this was nothing too dramatic but the buildings five floors was just the start of later 'sky-scraper' construction in the USA. Electric lifts or elevators first appeared in the 1880s. It has to be noted that the company was not an immediate success and people still had reservations about lift safety. In 1859, Otis Tufts patented a new concept in lifts design. It was to revolutionise the industry. It used the first box style enclosed elevator car equipped with bench seats - no standing up then, even before the today's obsession with Health and Safety. Most importantly, his design incorporated a new safety feature, which, he hoped would reassure the public. He abandoned the rope and pulley in favour of a 'nut and thread' rail running the whole length of the lift shaft. The car was the 'nut' which ran along the giant metal screw. This was certainly going to be safer, but, it was not a practical solution. It proved to be highly expensive and therefore not suited to high buildings which were becoming the norm. The demand for elevators was here to stay and Otis Brothers finally became the leader in elevator building. Otis Brothers now called 'The Otis Elevator Company' are the largest company in the world building elevators, lifts and moving walkways. They operate in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Otis installations currently stand at 2.5million and the service contracts around the world are currently 1.8 million. It is not surprising that the company employ some 61,000 people with 53,000 outside of the USA. As for the game Otis v Tufts it is clear who won!

 Some iconic structures - a challenge for the lift engineers
The Eiffel Tower
Image:Flickr-Elliot Brown
The Eiffel Tower, standing on the Camps de Mars in Paris, is one of the best known of all landmarks. During 2010 it attracted a staggering 250 million visitors. The vast interlaced metal structure was engineered by Gustave Eiffel who also designed and built the internal structure for the Statue of Liberty in New York. The tower was built to form the entrance arch to the World' Fair of 1889. It stands 324 meters (1,063 feet) high including the communication mast perched on the top. The lifts presented unique problems. There was no one with the appropriate experience to fit lifts into the slanting tracks and angles of the tower. The lift design involved two companies. The east and west towers were placed in the hands of the Roux Combaluzier Lepape company who favoured hydraulic powered chains and rollers. It fell to Otis to design a system for the north and south towers using a car design with an improved hydraulic system. In 1897-1899 the west and east towers system by Five-Lille was replaced by a system employing cables and pulleys powered by huge water pistons. The original lift system was scrapped after 97 years service. By 1986, a new computer controlled system was installed. The trip to the top takes eight minutes and fifty seconds.

The Tower during the German occupation

With the occupation of France by Hitler's troops, the Eiffel Tower came into his sights as a prestigious, symbolic image of victory. The French were not going to give in easily. The lift cables were cut; if Hitler wanted to get to the top he would have to climb. Soldiers were to ascend the tower and fly a swastika from the top, ready for Hitler's arrival. It was too big and high gusts of wind blew it away. They had to climb again and put up a smaller flag. When Hitler made his grand entry into Paris and arrived at the Tower, he kept his feet firmly on the ground. Even the Fuhrer couldn't face the 1665 steps to the top! By 1944, the Allies were approaching Paris. In a fit of defiance, Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, the Military Commander in Paris, to destroy the city and blow up the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully, the General disobeyed the order. Hitler had conquered France but he did not conquer the Eiffel Tower!

 'Oh I do like to be beside the seaside'
The early 19th century saw huge social and economic change. The Industrial Revolution brought mills and mines into the towns of the north and 'pot banks' into Stoke-on-Trent. The drudgery was relieved by the annual holiday or 'Wakes'. This meant a holiday, or more likely a day, by the sea, more often than not in the new resorts like Blackpool. I remember as a child my father making me and my two sisters stand in line on the promenade, after a donkey ride of course, facing into the bracing air for which Blackpool was renowned and being told "Take a deep breath, you are going home soon." "Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton, Longton through the smoke." (From 'Burslem Wakes' by Brian Berrington) A Mayor of Blackpool had seen the Eiffel Tower and was determined to see a similar structure in his town. This perhaps rather pretentious, not to say ambitious desire to make Blackpool emulate Paris, came to unlikely fruition in 1891 with the erection of Blackpool Tower. Local businessmen set about raising what was then a huge amount of money and over a building period of three years and at a cost of £300,000, Blackpool had its tower, if not the Palace of Versailles, on a site perhaps not as splendid as the Camps de Mars. The area at the base of the tower gave the north the famous Tower Ballroom with its Wurlitzer organ. The radio ran a regular programme featuring the organ played by Reginald Dixon. The Tower was an immediate attraction. After the opening, 3,000 customers took the trip to the top. Tourists paid six pence entry charge and a further six pence to ride the lift. In 1956, the hydraulic lifts were removed and the winding gear replaced with an electric system. This system was again modernised in 1992. Following a major refurbishment in 1998, 'The Walk of Faith' was installed. This is a two inch thick glass floor at the top of the tower. Being one who hates heights and feels airsick on a deep pile carpet this is certainly not for me! Take a trip and see for yourself.

The Shard - London 
It seems that the desire to build higher and higher structures is with us for good. Architects and civil engineers have perfected techniques and materials to an unbelievable level, the like of which engineers like Gustave Eiffel could never have imagined possible. The 87 storey tower, built between 2009-2012 is currently the highest structure in the European Union and the second highest in the UK. The highest is the Emley Moor transmitting station. This concrete tower, near to Holm Moss, may be taller, but it is a very different proposition to an occupied building of such proportions. The Shard is 306m (1,004 feet) high. Of the 87 stories, 72 are habitable and include a hotel, office suites, exclusive apartments and a privately owned observation platform which opened to the public on 1st February 2013. The ride to the top will set you back £25. The tower is accessed by 36 elevators, 10 escalators and 13 double-decked escalators. The ultra high speed, Kone elevators travel at a mind blowing rate. Watch the floor numbers as you ascend to get a feel of just how fast the lifts are.

Safety of high buildings
Tall buildings are vulnerable. In areas affected by earthquakes, tornados and tsunamis, the ensuing destruction is all too common. Technical problems can also cause disruption.

From The INDEPENDENT High anxiety: More than 200 visitors stranded 800ft up The Shard after lift stops working The unlucky visitors were left stuck on the 68th floor for more than an hour after a fire alarm was "accidentally activated” A spokeswoman for The View From The Shard told the Evening Standard: “A fire alarm was accidentally activated, resulting in the lifts being temporarily grounded. The safety of all our visitors is our greatest priority, so the activation was investigated immediately and the lifts were operational again within an hour, however this did cause some delays. Guests who were unable to wait were offered the chance to return again on another date free of charge. We apologise for any inconvenience.” Not all disasters are natural. The horror of the 9/11 attack on the Wold Trade Centre may bring into question the building of structures such as The Shard. Lessons have been learned from the attack with regard to safety in construction. The structure can maintain stability under extreme conditions and has a sway tolerance of 400 millimetres or 16 inches.

Lifts on a smaller scale - in the home

The elderly and those suffering from lack of mobility may well experience difficulties. There are a wide range of living aids or mobility products available. Riser chairs, electric adjustable beds, mobility scooters and of course a stair lift can greatly improve mobility and therefore quality of life. A friend who is a stroke victim, living in Newcastle-under-Lyme, had to be confined to the ground floor with a make-shift bedroom until he consulted a local lift company. The advice was excellent and he soon had a lift installed, with guaranteed local after sale service. His life has changed. As he put it "I have got my house back".

I have taken a look at mines, high towers and skyscrapers and the huge complicated lift systems that developed to serve the need to transport people and goods from one level to another. As always, technology leads to new developments and applications of basic systems to other situations. The domestic lift made available in one's own home is just one further exciting development. There is no requirement for major structural alterations and cables and pulleys. Home lifts are self-supporting, quiet, and, importantly in your home, stylish. Whether it is transporting you from the sitting room to bed at night, or carrying appliances such as the vacuum cleaner or baskets of washing to the airing cupboard, a home lift will make life very much easier and safer. When mobility issues or heart and breathing problems come along, a home lift is a possible solution.

Some questions and answers about lifts

I have a fear of being trapped in a lift, can that happen? No. In the event of a power failure, the battery takes over and transports the lift back to the ground floor. Most manufacturers guarantee a thirty minute fire integrity.

Is the lift enclosed in a shaft or tube? No. The lift is not enclosed in any type of shaft and are self-supporting.

Could I fall off? No. The lift has clear doors and it cannot operate unless the door is closed and will not open when the lift is in motion.

How is the lift controlled? The lift is called and operated by a wall mounted wireless link.

How many people can use the lift at any one time? The lift will usually carry two people up to a safe working weight of 250kgs

Is installation a major disruption? No. Once the best location and feasibility study has been carried out, installation will usually take just two working days and the lift is ready for use.

I use a wheel chair. Would that present a problem? No. Most residential lifts can accommodate a wheel chair.  Examples of such are found here.

Are they expensive? They are not cheap, but check with your local supplier for attractive deals.

At the end of the day, lifts great and small, bear testimony to the old adage: 'What goes up must come down. ' You can thank Isaac Newton for that!

Monday 1 July 2013

Ambushcall telephone lifeline



When a long time ago  Alexander Graham Bell first invented the 'dog and bone' he didn't have such terms in his vocabulary as 'withheld numbers,' the 'TPS ' (telephone preference service) 'digital' 'analogue' 'choose to refuse' etc -  and nor did he expect he would be the start of one the biggest nuisances to our society.
These days we all  suffer from the backlash by depending on a vital gadget, nor is that gadget a a stair lift that many older folk  couldn't manage without.  It is because of our TELEPHONES. 
call center

Coming up  here is what many class as a swearword ....  the  'COLD CALLER'  -    alias the  'Telephone Canvasser' or 'Marker Researcher'   breed who have a unique skill of attempting to connect to our lives, and to impose upon your privacy, just as the meat is being carved, or the intro of a favorite TV program is being played. Whether at home or at work, whether an individual, or a small or large business - it happens to everyone, and it seems there is no escaping from an ever increasing tide of intrusion.

To begin, I'll just outline what those techie terms referred to previously mean. The TPS is a body formed by the government which is in fact a register that we can all join and declare our wish NOT to be cold called by anyone. The register is supplied to businesses that engage themselves in cold calling and no doubt the state receives a tidy sum in return from such companies for copies of it wishing to comply with the law. But whether you are simply a private person wishing to remain as such, or a corporate from a one man band to a large conglomerate - you will know that
cold callers persist at all hours of the day (and night) and simply ignore any legislation that exists.

Our client base - the older generation -  time after time report to us about the worry caused by cold callers who nearly always ring from withheld (or masked numbers) and can be rude persistent and down-right offensive. Often the caller doesn't speak (this is known as a silent call) and is probably because it is a computer dialing lots of homes/businesses at once, and its' operators cannot speak to everyone at once.

At Castle Comfort we are and have been for years the victim of hoards of cold callers who attack our time on a daily basis. They think we will just drop what we are doing by trying to create some interest in a huge variety of services and products.  If I attempted to create a list of examples, readers here may be delayed in their day for hours. But, briefly - probably advertising mediums are the worst offenders  (primarily Yellow Pages and Thompson Directories, with a Stoke on Trent radio station a close runner-up)   Then we have website promotion and design people from all over the world,  and of course the inevitable claim and PPI set ups, most of which employ robot-style voice recordings. 
Zeppelin / Blimp

One Sunday morning recently, with a little time to spare,  for a laugh -  I told one young Asian sounding lady, who politely enquired if I had an accident in recent years, that yes I had. For some inexplicable reason I told her I was piloting a Zeppelin balloon over the Retiro Park in Spain - and David Beckham crashed into me with his Real Madrid hot air balloon. The next day the lady's colleague called me back asking if I had any registration numbers and photographic evidence!

We understand what it it like to earn a living and nobody within our organisation wishes to be rude. But those making the cold sales approaches are initially asked to put in an email what they offer and then they will receive a reply. But such a civilized response gives a green light to call again.... and again .. and again. 

Some measures can be taken.   Years ago we discovered the benefits of a British Telecom system called Choose to Refuse.   It costs a modest quarterly fee, but enables a code to be fed into the receiving handset after an unwanted call, which effectively bars that number from being connected again. It even works with masked (withheld) numbers and international ones. We have, over the years at Castle Comfort Centre recommended this service to clients - and many appreciate it and continue to subscribe.  On more than one occasion we have emailed the TPS reporting  persistent offenders, but can only recall one belated reply. But that was to contact another department of the bureaucracy and and for them to deal with it. It all seemed a complicated affair, so we didn't bother. We are of the opinion that the TPS is a bit of an ineffective 'quango' and in times of saving money our government should really re-think its existence.

But now back to good old enterprise. In recent times we came across the service of a  company called AmbushCall, who originate, we think, from Israel but are now based in the United States. For a modest few pounds a month they have offered a service which effectively unmasks a blocked number.   It works like this... when a withheld or unavailable number arrived on your mobile phone (apparently it was about to soon be offered to landlines) all the subscriber had to do was to reject the call, effectively diverting it to a secret number (their server) and then a few seconds later,  Ambush call would send a text and then email with the caller's number.  It works.  We have used it for several months.

The UK press, more than once, have reported people discovering who was illegally stalking them, and because the police weren't the slightest bit interested, they took matters in their own hands and with an Ambush Call service package caught the offender red handed.  Read  THIS  -  or  this -    you will be well impressed, that is if you agree that others who cause misery with offensive, illegal and malicious activity on a phone (hiding their ID) should not get away with it.  This guy didn't - his ex-girlfriend made sure of it!

Now, readers, I know many of you  are now all looking up to how to subscribe to Ambush Call. Sadly, another British irritation, for the moment anyway,  has put the damper on all this. We come to inevitable  'red tape'. But when red tape is the law of this land, it has to be respected and adhered to.  Ofcom, the government regulatory body in communications,  this week, we are informed,  took action again the providers of Ambush Call's equipment, we believe to be sited in London and effectively closed it down. It is, apparently, against the law for anyone to unmask the telephone number (or for someone to assist in that, by supplying systems that do such a thing) of someone choosing to keep it private.  As we write, calling directly to Ambush Call's number (their server) - a recorded message is played.  It announces that there is a possible 'fraud investigation' currently going on.  Ambush Call have emailed all their UK subscribers, including ourselves, informing them that this is considered to be slander and will be challenged.

But in essence, Ambush Call's service has been closed down in the UK.  So a system that for a couple of pounds - enabled anyone to trace an anonymous caller,  be it heavy breather,  canvasser,  bank robber or rapist (or just a bloody nuisance!) - has been stopped.  Why?  Because of an Ofcom regulation,  but seemingly supported by law.  We wish Ambush Call well with their battle - however,  nothing short of a change in whatever legislation it is, will give them a chance.

What do you think? Is this innovative business who have discovered a harmless and inexpensive method of unmasking the identity of those callers deliberately hiding their numbers when they call, really acting in a criminal way?

A point to consider - there is no such thing as a withheld number. What happens, is that the operators of the telephone service can simply NOT DELIVER that number to the receiver ie present the 'CID', the caller identification. Of course, some organizations are exempt of this law. The police and emergency services when receiving emergency numbers can see the number of the caller even if withheld. Nobody would complain about that 
But there are rather more cases, and some would say dubious examples, whereby it seems others are allowed to see privately witheld numbers for their own benefits, rather than in the interest of security and decency. We suspect many local authorities may be privilege to this facility.  I know certainly the TV licensing people are, with their national 0300 numbers. A friend of mine called them once complaining that he was being harassed by endless threatening letters about him not  having TV a license. He has never had a TV in his life - just a radio. In fact he is in blind. But since calling that 0300 number from his private phone, with the number kept out of  the  perfect sight of others  - he has had calls back, to 'double check' the facts. 


No So Smart
On many occasion I have called for a taxi from my own personal mobile (the number being kept private ie not shown for different reasons) ... and the taxi base operator actually knew my number! I don't have a problem with that but surely what is good for the goose...

Having a hunch that others may be able to do this I today performed a fascinating experiment. I called the BT operator on 100 and asked him if he could tell me my number as I had  'more or less forgotten it and wasn't sure what it was.'  He said at first he could not tell me directly, but he could confirm what it was,  if I took a guess at it. I gave him the first three digits and he gave me the rest.  He confirmed he could see my withheld number, but he didn't want to comment on my thoughts that  it it wasn't very democratic!  So yes, BT don't appear to have to comply with the law. But most of the rest of the 60 million of us in the UK, do.

We welcome comments! This is indeed going to be a busy blog - for stairlifts users and shoppers and many others.

If you suffer from unwanted approaches on a regular basis, tell us your story.

UPDATED 11/12/14

Here's Keith the Managing Director appearing on BBC Radio with his methods on raising money for charity by asking for donations from annoying telephone canvassers.

If you are looking for the Castle Comfort Stairlifts legendary website to avoid the hard sell phone canvassers call us on 0800 007 6959

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Sell your Stairlift

Sell Your Lift

Some items in order to recoup some money back after use, hold other complications, where there is an emotional factor in addition to safety issues. I had never had cause to think about this until the death of a friend, but clearly an unwanted stair lift is a product which can present problems.

By definition, aids designed  to transport a person up and down stairs are sadly often required short term. Generally, a stair lift will be purchased for a person experiencing mobility problems in their latter years. When the day comes that the lift is no longer required this can be a real headache.

If a house is to be sold, a younger buyer will almost certainly want the lift taken out. If relatives are staying in the house, it is very understandable that they do not want to look at a still and empty stair lift as a painful reminder of the loss of a loved one.

The brief points below are taken from an excellent article on the subject of stair lift removal and selling second-hand – well worth taking a look.

1)A stair lift is a costly item to buy, but, when wanting to sell, as with most items, one has to be realistic about the second hand value.
2)There is help on hand and a trip to the local council tip is not the first option. 
3)A straight and modern stair lift, manufactured in the past three or four years, can often be removed, checked over, serviced, and having had new batteries, be fitted on a different stair-well.
4)It is essential that the ‘hand’ is the same – that means right or left side of the stairs and that the track length is the same.
Source: http://www.stairliftsdoctor.co.uk/stairlifts-removal/

Curved stair lifts usually present problems as they are a bespoke installation for a particular property. It may be that the only value is in the carriage which may be suitable for use in a new installation using tracks of the same make.

Whist researching the subject, I came across this very tragic story.
One very important word of warningfitting a stair lift is a job for an expert:  NEVER see such a task as a DIY project. Such action caused the tragic death of a six year old boy who was killed whilst playing on a lift whilst visiting his great-grandmother.  The boy’s uncle had removed the lift from another house and fitted it for the grandmother. In his ignorance of the product, the all important ‘hand’ was, not taken into account.  In the old location, the lift was on the left of the stairs but it had been reinstalled on the right. This resulted in the non-functioning of the obstruction cut-out strips. The boy had fallen and caught his head in the mechanism. The safety device would have stopped the lift had they been installed correctly. At the inquest, a forensic engineer said “If the correct procedure had been followed we would not be here today. (“The Shropshire Star” July 2007)


We live in an age of materialism. Our homes are full of white goods, electrical goods, technology, computers, tablets, smart phones with  ‘apps’  and of course, clothing and food. All are ‘must have’ part of daily life. For some, shopping or ‘consumer therapy’, is a pleasure and even an addiction. I am always staggered to see the number of people camping out overnight outside the large department stores waiting to take part in the buying frenzy of the post Christmas sales in something akin to a stampede or rugby scrum!  For others, shopping is an unwelcomed necessity which they at best tolerate and even choose to avoid wherever possible.

For a long time, consumer law has been based on Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. This is really a property law principle that controls the sale of real property after the date of closing. The buyer could not recover damages from the seller for defects on the property that rendered the property unfit for ordinary purposes. The only exception was ‘if the seller actively concealed defects or made material misrepresentations amounting to fraud. ‘ This principle is very relevant to selling on Ebay where ‘distance buying’ requires the seller to declare the true condition of an item, such as ‘cracked’ or ‘chipped’ or otherwise not in mint condition.

Before statutory law, the buyer had no express warranty ensuring the quality of goods. In common law, goods must be “fit for purpose” and of “merchantable quality”. An oven cleaner must result in a clean oven or a tin opener must open a tin!

A friend once said that Tesco had merged with MFI. She had bought a chicken but the legs fell off!

Consumer Law has moved away from the ‘buyer beware’ principle with the introduction of enhanced consumer protection.  Let it be said that this implied warranty can be difficult to enforce and certainly time consuming to pursue to the bitter end. In spite of improved consumer rights, entrenched in the Sale of Goods Act 1979, buyers are still advised to be cautious – Caveat emptor!

In the UK, what rights do consumers have? There are several areas to consider; faulty goods, wrong size and simply unwanted. Consumers have the right to a full refund for damaged or faulty goods. In my experience, goods falling into this category are becoming more common and seem to indicate that there is little or no quality control in many areas of production, especially in China and East Europe. We have all taken home a flat pack, struggled with the often unintelligible instructions only to discover that screw ‘A4’ has been left out the pack – resulting in a Victor Meldrew expletive and a tiresome return to the store.

I bought a new electric cooker and extractor hood from Comet (now closed down) – simple enough operation surely. How wrong can one be? The first issue was to discover that “Free Delivery” only applied to a two to three weeks delivery period. Next day delivery incurred a charge.
Albeit not too pleased, I agreed to take that path. The first cooker failed to function properly after just one period of attempting to cook with it: the principles of “fit for purpose” and “merchantable quality” clearly implied that the cooker would be replaced. So, another trip to the store, using my time and my petrol, was on the agenda. In fairness, the assistant did not quibble and without saying it in so many words, implied that she was not surprised! A replacement cooker was ordered, but it would be a week or more to come off the stock line. At this point, I remonstrated; pointing out that my old cooker had been taken away for recycling by the crew who delivered the new one. How was I to eat? Could I eat out and send the bills to Comet?  The response to my question was a laugh and the use of an expression commonly used in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle under Lyme; “Oh Shug, what are yer like?” I did not join in the atmosphere of helpless mirth! After a search around other stores on the computer, one identical cooker was located but delivery would still be a few days away. After an enforced period of dieting, cooker number two was delivered and installed. Guess what? After two days the same fault appeared and I was once again left without the means to cook. My second return trip to the store followed. On this occasion I insisted on a different make and at the same price, A tad reluctantly, the manager agreed. Touch wood or something, cooker number three is still working after 18 months, but don’t hold your breath.
There then followed the extractor hood saga. With the usual problems of plaster falling out and ill-fitting screw plugs, not to mention the problem of holding the appliance in place whilst trying to fix the screws, the final task was to install the charcoal filters. What charcoal filters? A search of the box, the work tops, the floor, and the cats’ baskets only led to the conclusion that there were no such items in sight. The user handbook seemed to supply the answer but not without a degree of incredulous information:
“For correct and efficient extraction, the hood must be fitted with charcoal filters – not supplied. These may be ordered on line from our parts department quoting the correct part number.”
Once again, I had a Victor Meldrew moment. What, I wondered, did people do who did not have internet access? As it happened I was able to visit the website, only to be told that the part number was not recognised – back to the store where my first question was “Do you do bed and breakfast?”
The response to my enquiry asking if they stocked the filters was that they were available as ‘optional extras’ on line – quite contrary to the book statement that they were a must for correct functioning of the appliance. Once again I insisted on a product by another manufacturer and returned home, hoping that the required screw holes would be in the same place before my kitchen wall resembled a well worn darts board.
In the UK, consumers do have the right to a full refund on faulty goods. Most companies will allow customers to return goods, even if not faulty, within a specified period of time for a full refund or exchange. 
This sometimes excludes products sold cheaper in clearance sales. The principle of Caveat emptor may at first seem to be very one-sided. However, it is balanced more fairly by another principle, Caveat venditor or “Let the seller beware.” This forces the seller to take responsibility for the quality of the product, so don’t be fobbed off if quality is the issue.

Another area of dispute is the requirement to return goods in the original box or even more unreasonable, unopened. Just how a product can be tried without taking it out of the wrapping, often nigh on impossible to open neatly, is a mystery to me. Have you noticed how the task of replacing a product in the original box and polystyrene packing is a challenge worthy of the Crypton Factor? It just will not go back in the manner in which you unpacked it. As for keeping the box in case you need to return the product, just where in a modern house are these boxes to be stored and for how long, before consigning the cardboard to the recycling bin? I find it interesting that older houses, built long before the increase in consumer goods, had the facility of a ‘box room’. All houses being designed today should include such an aptly named and much needed area.

Then, of course, there is the condition requiring one to produce a receipt when returning a product. Rather like the mystery of the missing sock, resulting in a number of single items missing their partners in the sock drawer, whatever happens to those annoying strips of paper, which after a lengthy search usually manage to evade the hunter. Don’t bother. You are not required to produce a receipt if you can show proof of purchase such as an entry on a credit card statement or evidence of a payment by cheque. It is worth pointing out at this point that it needs to show the same amount as the price of the item. An accumulative figure for a number of items may well be more difficult.

Do shops have to give me my money back?
The answer here is no, they do not. Making a purchase is in effect entering into a legally binding contract therefore they do not have to give a refund because you have changed your mind. Only if your statutory rights have been breached (i.e. that the item is damaged, of poor quality or not fit for purpose) do they have to refund your money. I may say however, that it is perhaps bad business practise to refuse. A lady I know spent £120 on two mirrors in a local outlet only to realise that they were too big for the intended room. She returned the mirrors in good state but the shop owner refused a cash refund. All that was offered was a credit note, tying the customer in, resulting in having to buy a number of items which were not wanted or wave good bye to the cash. The action may well have been within the vendors ‘rights’ but it was certainly short-sighted. This particular lady had spent money with the shop before and would no doubt have done so in the future. Such was her dissatisfaction that she has not shopped there again.

Most companies now offer a 30 days ‘guarantee period’. As part of their returns policy, both Amazon and Argos apply this rule.
Most things are covered by our 30-day money-back guarantee, so just return them to us, unused, in their original undamaged packaging, in saleable condition, with your receipt and we’ll give you a refund.
If you don’t have the receipt, as long as you have proof of purchase, we will exchange the item or give you a refund in vouchers.

Human nature often reveals some less attractive attributes. I recall a BBC Watchdog programme that featured the rather bizarre issue of unwanted Christmas presents. However churlish, it seems that people actually do return their presents. 

Below is a quote from the programme:
“Not get the Christmas present expected from Aunt Maud? In the flurry of new goods that we’ve all received over Christmas there are bound to be some that don’t work, don’t fit or simply don’t appeal.”
Retailers are not legally obliged to help you. However, after the festive period, some stores operate a ‘goodwill’ returns policy.”

The programme featured a list of stores which generally offered a no receipt return policy, pointing out that the exchange or gift card will be the value of the last known selling price on the system.

Marks & Spencer – 35 days
Debenhams – usual 28 day policy extended for the festive period to 31 January
John Lewis – 28 days
Tesco – 28 days
B&Q – 45 days
Argos – 30 days
Boots – unlimited but receipt required.
Poor old Aunt Maud. So much for appreciation and Festive Spirit!

An unwanted gift, or a shirt of the wrong size are both relatively easy to deal with. Other purchases come into a very different category. I have a nephew who experienced problems with a brand new top of the range Mercedes. It developed a dangerous fault causing the car engine to cut out, sometimes at speed on a motorway. After a number of repairs failed to rectify the fault the car was finally replaced as it was ‘not fit for purpose’.

Finally, on a lighter note, take a lesson from the scam by a customer at the returns counter in the  Stoke-on-Trent branch of Marks & Spencer. I can verify the story direct from the lady who was working on the counter at the time.
A large and vocal Potteries woman, accompanied by a diminutive and timid looking man, approached the returns counter clutching an M and S carrier bag. The woman wanted to return a pair of men’s trousers, explaining that they were not the right size. She produced a receipt dated a couple of weeks earlier.
The assistant, in line with the returns policy, laid the trousers out on the counter for examination.
“I am sorry madam but I cannot take the item back as it has been worn.”
The customer contradicted her.
“No duck, he only tried ‘em on but they dunner fit ‘im.”
The assistant politely pointed out that the knees were bulging and that the back of the knees clearly showed crease marks indicative of the fact that the trousers had been worn for more time than just trying them on. The woman became more insistent.
“I’m tellin yer, he’s never had ‘em on ‘is back Duck and I want me money back.”
After quite some time of repetitive conversation along the same lines, with husband looking uncomfortable and remaining silent, and with the queue getting longer with impatient customers, the assistant called for the support of her supervisor. Having listened calmly to the woman’s request and assurances that the trousers had not been worn, she placed the cuffs of the trouser legs together and held them at head height to clearly show the bulges and creases running across the knee area. The customer’s rant was suddenly silenced as a pair of her husband’s underpants fell onto the counter.
The trousers were hurriedly scooped into the carrier bag with one hand, whilst her husband received a slap to the head with the other ample palm.
“Just wait ‘till I get you ‘ome!


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