It's August, but you probably already knew that.
I've finished my first week of an internship at a company in Cheltenham, and it's gone fantastically. Finally there's a structure to my day, rather than waking up late in the morning, hungover, looking at a barely functioning clock and moving the hands so it said half past five and pouring myself a drink.
No. I am up at 7am sharp, ironed a shirt (thank god for Wiki-How eh?!), hop in my modest car, commute (it takes about an hour) and arrive proudly into my new place of work at 9am sharp. I look around, and take it all in. Finally I am around people who do not want to spend their time slung over a urinal spluttering a concoction of WKD, pizza and blood while singing "Afternoon Delight". These people are a professional group of individuals, whose brains I can pick for valuable life and career advice, people who enjoy a light-hearted joke around the coffee machine without getting out of hand and all "Jimmy Savile" this and "make me a sandwich" that. People who prefer to ask "Did you hear that piece on Radio 4 this morning? More positive news like that from the Bank of England and we'll have a fantastic final quarter", rather than somebody who bounds into my personal space like a dog with a tennis ball and screams "ROOOOONEY!! WHAT A FUCKING GOAL, did you see it last night?!" It is vital that I make an excellent impression with these people. Relationships I forge here out of the fires of marketing excellence could last a lifetime. It is imperative that I do not insult, be rude to, or even ignore any one of these employees who have graciously made room for me to fit in.
I'm shown around and I meet and greet a few people. I say hello politely, shake a few hands, and am shown to my desk, and say hello to the people who are working in close proximity to me. I've nearly met everyone I need to, except for a man working at the end of the row, who was intently typing away with purpose. He pauses for a moment, looks up. I nod at him. Realising that he's not going to get a jovial "hello, nice to meet you" out of me, he decides I'm a prick (I can tell), and goes back to work. I realise that, eventually, I'll have to join him in doing some work. I've been applying for jobs and talking about doing work for nearly two months. My time as come. Zero hour is closing in. Eventually, I will be sitting at a desk producing work which will make somebody very rich. I say somebody because, let's face it, it's not going to be me.
I start the computer, am given my task, and look up at the screen.
"How about a cup of tea, James?"
It's my boss, standing by my desk, offering me, an intern, a cup of tea. A boss, offering an intern a cup of tea. What kind of sick, topsy-turvy world had I stepped into?
I graciously say yes, and by doing so instantly put myself in tea-debt. The intern simply HAS to make more teas than everyone, otherwise, what's the point in employing one? I'm not a huge tea drinker anyway, I have a coffee in the morning from my cafetiere, and possibly a herbal tea in bed when I'm reading a book, but that's only because I wish I was 65. Why did I accept this ridiculous offer? It's unheard of, it's unethical- it's blood tea. Tea which somebody has needlessly suffered to obtain for my pleasure. The guilt is surging through my body, is this a sackable offence? Have I brought, not just the company, but the whole concept of internships into disrepute? It probably wasn't even an offer, it was a test. A cruel test they make all interns suffer, like an initiation, but without forced diet of an onion, cinnamon powder and bovril.
His phone rings and he's delayed. It must have been an important call, because he sits back down and starts writing and looking at an accompanying email. Sensing the opportunity to claw back some kudos, I leap up out of my chair, expose the white socks I'm wearing with black shoes and black trousers which are becoming a little too short in the leg (shamone!) and head over to the kitchen.
Then I remember a chilling fact from my youth.
I cannot make a good cup of tea.
For about 17 years, wool was pulled over my eyes to hide me from this, frankly, hurtful truth. For my whole youth my family have accepted tea from me, smiled, taken a sip, said 'nice one, James!' and died a little inside. Finally, my parents broke the truth to me by calling me into the dining room to discuss it, which is never a good sign. Suddenly the dining room table, where I've enjoyed many a hearty meal turns into a conference table, like we're in The Apprentice, and I'm the project manager who was in charge of the Shit Tea Task. It was too tearful to repeat to you here. No British man should have to suffer like I did. I may use whatever money I have in my will to open up a foundation to rehabilitate those who have been told they do not make good cups of tea. But how can you learn how to make a good cup of tea? It's like having the courage to run down the high street naked; you either have it or you don't. Right now, I know which one I'd take.
The memory of my 'firing' was all too clear in my mind as I handed my boss the tea I had tried to make him. Embarrassed, I leave it on his desk behind his phone, laptop, several stacks of paper and a booklet, hoping he won't see it, and scuttle off to my desk, avoiding eye contact with everyone.
Sadly, he notices it, and thanks me. I nod, knowing that in about four seconds he'll be wishing he had just worked from home today.
He takes a sip, looks at it for a second, takes in what he has just taken in, and leaves his desk. If he returned within 20 minutes, I either didn't notice, or simply couldn't see him with my head in my hands. Still, at least he'll never ask me to make another one. Ever.
But enough tea drinking- to work!
The my screen is still relatively empty. I look around and see everybody busy at work. I look back at my screen and am completely lost in the white light coming from it-what-the-hell-do-I-write-Jesus-H-Christ-I-know-NOTHING-about-marketing-why-did-I-study-politics-for-three-years-
The man at the end of the row, just two seats away from me, sneezes, and nearly everybody says "bless you". I, however, was so entranced by my screen it took me a couple of seconds for the sneeze to even register, and by then, the moment to say "bless you" has gone. A late "bless you" is worse than no "bless you", because if you don't say it, people just think you're a die-hard atheist who has completely ejected religion from your life. Receiving a late bless you is like receiving a gift card for Ann Summers- it's no bloody use to me at all.
But he clearly hasn't seen it like this. For him, it's better late than never, and I just curled out a solid "never" on his front lawn. He glares at me again, and gets back to work.
Whatever he expelled from his nostrils must have been contagious, because moments later, the man directly next to me sneezes. I am prepared for this, and I don't want it to sound like boasting, but I was first in with the 'bless you'. So enthusiastic was I with my blessings, I ended up being louder than the initial sneeze was. People from other desks were looking at us now, as if they'd just walked into the stationary cupboard and caught us in a moment of intense passion. Worst of all was the glare from the man who, not 2 minutes ago, I had completely sneeze-snubbed. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but it appeared to be a look which said "Okay, you little intern punk. You've just made your first enemy here, good luck fitting in."
But I have to make a stand with the "bless you"s. How far away does the sneezer have to be for it to be acceptable to send a "bless you"? Is there an acceptable distance, like holding the door open for somebody who's a fair distance behind you? If one person sees me dishing out "bless you"s like sweets at a sale, the whole situation will just get out of hand. I'll be harassed by people from different departments for my silence. If I even hear a whisper of a sneeze from the four corners of the office, I'd have to send an e-mail to everyone in the office.
I consider writing a draft and saving it. I could probably send an e-mail quicker than most could react to the sneeze. It's something that nobody expects... Nobody, until now. I am no longer a rude intern- I am a genius of manners and courtes-
Nobody says bless you.
I deserved that.