Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Internships wouldn't be internships without the good, the bad and the ugly of experiences. You know the ones: the good normally involve something free, or a positive comment on your work, the ugly leave you feeling demoralised, angry at the world and sometimes just a little bit dirty.

Okay, maybe not Christian Bale angry, but then, who is?

I have had my share of the good: I have worked in some lovely places, and, working within the industry I do, have been priveleged to attend press screenings, press nights, see fantastic shows, read some amazing scripts, and even get the occassional free DVD.

But there have also been times that I haven't enjoyed so much.
Top of my list comes the "Mango Medley Drama," experienced when I was in the mere salad days of unpaid emplyment, with work experience in a film production company.

The call came through to the runners' office at about lunch-time: "Un-named Executive Producer's" son is in hospital, and Un-named E.P. would like someone to go out and retrieve mango related products as a get-well present for him.

Yes that's right, I said "mango related products."

Why, exactly, it had to be mango I never learned, but the next thing I knew I was shipped off down Oxford Street with a wad of cash in my pocket, and a list of such natural candy as "mango juice," "dried mango," "diced mango," and of course that old favourite: whole mango.

There was one frightening moment when I returned with the wrong kind of mango juice: who knew there even WAS more than one kind of mango juice? Suffice it to say, I had to turn right around and get the right type of mango juice. It was Rubicon, if you're wondering.

Actually, screw the mango mania, at the top of my list has got to come the entire month I spent interning on an online fashion magazine/online directory/bitch fest. Now I am trying my best to be subtle here, so let's say it goes by the name of ""

I'm sure you can picture the place: run out of an office in the glamorous world of fulham, right next door to a swanky club. The actual office was until recently Moon Pig Headquarters. Yes that's right, the pig in the space mask. Hilarious. 

The office was a lesson in Sloaney hierachy. At the top, there was the editor-in-chief, a perpetually bronzed and blonde rake with a double-barrelled surname and an actual dog that she would bring into the office. Now I love dogs, I even have two of my own, but I personally think it was just cruel to make it sit there all day whilst she lounged at her desk, contemplating the last time she ate carbs. Plus the bloody thing yapped like a trooper every time a leaf fell outside.

Vacuous Editor once wrote a blog about having her house decorated, on which was featured a picture of her new bed, complete with three initialed pillows: one for her, one for her husband...and one for her dog.
Excuse me while I throw up.

Oh, and talking of her husband! Mr Vacuous Husband was so sidelined his marriage that his wife refused to take his name over own magnanimous double-barralled one. Can you imagine the conversation? "Darling, will you marry me?" "Why of course, but mind I shan't be taking your surname - why settle for one surname when you could have two? Plus mine has a hyphen."

To add insult to injury, Vacuous Husband was then forced to brandish his inferiority by being referred to forevermore by just his surname, cutesied up by the addition of a "y". "Oh look at you with your silly single barrelled name, aren't you a lamb?"

And this was just the editor. Next in line there was Underwench, a woman I am sure was perenially on her period, and wore a pained expression which could only be described as constipated. My theory is that Underwench was perpetually aware of her "second in command" status, the pain of which she alleviated by become a mini-dictator to anyone she was actually superior to. The best was when she went into an absolute skitz about trying to get the "christmas gift guide" finished faster, using the phrase "Last year I managed to do the whole thing all by my self " more times than was necessary. Well, it probably wasn't very good, was it? She also performed the Classic Sloaney Eyeroll everyone time she was asked a question by one of her slaves  interns. Or maybe she was just gassy.

Surrounding them was "Older Pregnant Brunette" who talked about such exciting things as the Farrow&Ball catalogue (the expression "watching pain dry" fits aptly) and who must have realised that she was the only staff member who wasn't young and blonde. Her own personal underling was Ultimate Skinny Ditz, a girl who was so blonde and vacuous I feared that if she went near something sharp her empty head would pop. The poor girl was suffering her own personal crisis whilst I was there: which type of Abercrombie jeans should she buy? I hear she's still deciding...

One of my two saving graces were Writer Girl, giving this eponymous nickname because she was the only member of staff who actually knew how to form a sentence, and consequently seemed to be the only one who actual did any of the writing. Wait a minute, wasn't this an online magazine, you ask? Yup, that's what I thought too. Saving Grace 2 was Other Intern, who started middway through my placement, and thankfully made me realise that the world hadn't been taken over by an arm of aliens masquerading as Sloaney Fembots.

Or maybe it has, and they found out that Other Intern was one of the few surviving humans left (they were obviously going to anal probe me at the end of the placement) I say this because at the end of her second week, they rang her after she left to say that they "needed to hire temps to finish the xmas work," so could she not come back, thank you please. Hmm, really, or are you worried that she'll leak your fembot mind tricks to the world?

Bearing in mind that they treated both Other Intern and I like crap, I don't think she was too non-plussed about leaving, especially when most of what we were doing was writing the html codes for silver engraved hip-flasks cum bookends, coffee makers slash hair dryers and a host of other things every Sloane needs.

For once, I'm thankful it was just an internship. 

The Ancient Art of Tea Making

Not to be confused with the Japanese Art of Tea Ceremony, the Ancient Art of Tea Making is a highly ritualistic and political act, practised by interns and their bosses the world over.

Fact: It's never really about the tea.

Because, come on, practically anybody can make tea: it only has a maximum of 4 ingredients, one of which is hot water. No no my friend, when an intern is asked to make tea, they are engaging themselves in the far more subtle scenario that I like to refer to as "Power vs. Pleb"

Picture the scene: you've just come in from running an errand; in one hand you're holding the sack of bananas the boss has requested, and in the other an errant budgeriegard you've been requested to catch by an exec. It's been raining and so you're slightly damp, sporting "yanked through a hedge" chic. You finally sit down and beginning peeling the bananas and cutting them into bite-sized chunks as per request, when your supervisor turns to you and asks in a sickeningly sweet voice "Would you mind putting the kettle on, love?"

Why? Because they can.

Asking you to make tea reasserts the fact that, in the office chain of command, you are under their control. It reassures them that the work they are doing is so vital that only a cup of tea can save them, despite the fact that they are far too busy to make one for themselves. I mean, how necessary is a cup of tea that you can't find the time to switch the kettle on yourself?

Note that it is invariably the lower orders who make this request: usually the execs either have their own, specially hired "tea-making assistant," who's other duties including creating a human table on which to sign documents and checking their facebook, or are far enough removed from the power struggle not to waste their time quashing you.

Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to be asked to make tea for visitors, or meetings. These people are outsiders, you must create a good impression, and wouldn't it be awful to discover that they are one of the few people who actually don't know how to make tea?
Besides, how would they know where the kitchen is?
Likewise, if you're making tea for yourself, it looks pretty selfish not to at least offer to make a cup for those nearby and may even score you points within the office (I hear if you get 10 you actually get paid...or maybe just a gold star). Especially if you like the people you work with, offering a cup of tea is as much a sign of camaraderie as it is an acknowledgement that "jolly ho, we're British and always fancy a cuppa." Indeed, I worked with such wonderful people at the last development internship I did that I was always happy to make the mug, if not just to demonstrate how much I appreciated my position.
Being told to make tea is of course a very different kettle of fish from offering to do so, but either way the necessity to do so will probably come up at some point on a work placement, so I'm afraid the best thing to do is just grin and bear it, looking foward to the time when you will make it to the coveted position of "tea requestor."
Until that time, here are my three top tips for tea-making success:

1. Offer around to make tea as often as possible.
Firstly, as previously mentioned, you get far more kudos for offering to make tea: you appear kind, generous, and understanding of the fact that people in the work place need tea more than you previously thought possible. Even if you're actually a cold-hearted bitch, you can at least fool them with this simple trick.

2. When making large quantities of tea, go against the Debrett's School of Etiquette and go for Milk In First (otherwise known as being a MIF in polite tea-drinking circles)
This is for the simple, practical reason that it saves time. By putting milk in last, you have to wait for the kettle to boil, twiddling your thumbs and possibly engaging in awkward "ah yes, this kitchen is a bit small" banter with other coworkers. BUT if you put the milk in while the kettle is boiling, you are active whilst the kettle is boiling, plus saving the time you would have to spend adding the milk afterwards.
N.B. of course, if your work is really dull, you may want to waste time, in which case ingore my advice. Indeed, for maximum time-wasting, I recommending ignoring tip 2 and fulfilling tip 1 to the maximum: that way you may also get to use up supplies, thus gaining the added bonus of having to run to the shop to stock up.

3. Don't spit.
Ok do, a little. NO WAIT DON'T. I agree, when frustration reaches boiling point, just a tiny little spittle in the mug of that assistant you can't stand, or the manager who's just a little chippy can momentarily provide a wave of satisfaction. But take a look at yourself: what have you become? By turning into a spit-monster, you are merely reducing yourself to the level the you are always suspected to be by those in actual employment. Rise above it, my friend, and become the best damned tea-maker the world has ever known!
Happy drinking...!


Monday, 7 December 2009

What do you do with a BA in English?

Avenue Q got it so right. An English degree: simultaneously met with approval from parents, and complete frustration by a graduate. Law students, Medics, Archeology and Anthropology - even History of Art - all these degrees seem to have some end to them, leaving the English students behind as the ones scratching their heads in befuddlement and anxiously poring over the university careers website in the hope that they will discover The Perfect Career.

Some of us, like my best friend Livvy, have sensibily defected: she now resides at City Law School, and despite having minor heart attacks at the thought of actually having to go to lectures now, she is safe in the knowledge that she has an actual career at the end of it.

Others of us, like my dear boyfriend, have remained cosetted within the institutional walls doing an MA, but is still no closer to really knowing what he wants to do, apart from announcing hare-brained schemes on a regular basis, like "I think I'm going to go to Hong Kong for a year." He's gone from lawyer to academic to adveritising to lawyer to management consultancy. At the moment he's back to law. Next week, it could be fireman.

My other best friend, Daisy, has a job. Daisy is a lucky bitch.

And then there's me. Having decided (after work experience, aged 16, sorting out reality tv contestant's dirty underwear on Fame Academy) that I wanted to work in TV, Film,and theatre, I have set about whoring myself out to the business, and despite a brief stint interning at an online fashion magazine (the horrors of which still give me nightmares - more on that to come), this has (largely) been my result:

1. Reality TV work experience
2. Theatre work experience
3. Film Distribution work experience (this actually lasted about 2 days - explanations later)
4. Film Production work experience
5. Film Production Internship
6. Film Development Internship (in New York - cash back)
7. Publishing work experience (this was even worse - I lasted 1 day)
8. Online Fashion Magazine (oh god, the Sloaney horrors)
9. Film Development Internship (take 2)
10. Arts Administration Internship (In a theatre)

That's 10 different companies. 10 places that I have franked, couriered, done the mail, answered the phone, photocopied and made tea. The list almost looks like a perverted version of "A Partridge in a Pear Tree"...possibly titled "A Fuck Lot to Fill a CV."

But do I have a job? Do I heck.

Always an Itern...

...Never a boss.

Well, I have officially been a graduate for nearly six months. I was be-gowned, photographed, handed a piece of paper verifying that, yes, I did manage to spend 3 more years in education, and wished on my merry way by supervisors, directors of study and professors whose lectures I rarely turned up to.

Now what.

After a decadent Summer sunning myself on the Tuscan coast and holding my boyfriend's hand through food poisoning in Palma, I came back to earth with a bump when I realised I should probably get my act together. Being comfortably ensconced in my familial home was certainly a relief from the years of washing up my teacups in the sink at Uni, but it gets old. And besides, I was starting to get bed sores from spending all day watching tv.

6 months on, and I am still no closer to finding proper employment, but, reader, fear not - for in come The Internships. Having begun the faithful process of work experience and internships at the tender age of 16, I felt certain that I could master the skill of making tea and running errands, and would therefore like to share my musings and advice with the world. Or whoever wants to read my blog (Hi Mum).

Join me on my weary search for employment as I coast from unpaid menial labour to unpaid menial labour, and welcome the slow realisation that maybe I will forever be "always an intern."
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