I’ve been working as an “intern”, (or if you prefer, substitute the usual ‘unpaid, unappreciated, exploited office helot without whom the entire company would implode’) in a business organisation for the past 3 months. Technically, I should be getting some specific experience and in fairness I have been, for a given value of ‘some’. The trouble is all the other stuff I’ve been asked to do. Like organise and book my boss’s holiday, book restaurants for his friends, find tickets for shows, go to the supermarket, squeeze fruit into juice for 5 hours for a cocktail party etc etc. My boss once made me go to the cash machine, and honestly I have never been so tempted to commit a crime in my life.
The most recent outrage He Who Must Not Be Named has perpetrated was to ask me to track down a certain kind of foodstuff as a gift for some friends: and this item, believe you me, is rare as hen’s teeth. Probably rarer. So I call up Harrods, Harvey Nicks, Selfridges, all the major supermarkets and some of the minor ones too. No go. Then I trawl through the internet. No luck, except a cash and carry who demand you buy 100 of them. For a moment I’m tempted to do so, just to see his face as 100 of the dratted things are unloaded into my his hallway. Most people by this stage would give up, but my boss is made of sterner stuff; that sort of attitude did not win us the Empire. No lily-livered surrender for them. He Who Must Not Be Named resembles an angry deity, propitiated only by the sacrificial sweat of their workforce. Boss decides that the thing to do is to ring up the factory where it’s made –in China. He reasons that everybody speaks English these days so they must have someone who can help. With some scepticism I call them, and sure enough the person on the other end of the line has no idea what I’m saying and eventually I thank them for their time (in English, since my school didn’t stretch to Mandarin) and hang up. I’m told to send an email, which I duly do. This saga has started to haunt my waking and sleeping: I’m so irrationally stressed about it that I’m almost weeping in frustration. This is compounded by being sent texts about it at 9pm on a Sunday evening, for example.
I have a Master’s degree from Durham and this is what I’m reduced to. Like an idiot, or a masochist, I take it, partly because I’ve been brought up to be helpful and partly because I’m so desperate for a job now that I’d probably Morris dance naked on the House of Commons roof if it meant someone would offer me one. I’m terrified that any refusal will lead to a terrible reference, so my boss can dangle the prospect of a permanent position at the end of this stint (which, incidentally, has no official end date, so I could be working for free forever or until I find another job), ensuring that I never refuse to do anything, no matter how absurd or mundane. In the meantime I am effectively paying, since I have to pay for my own travel expenses, to have my dignity and self-respect peeled away, layer by layer, as though flayed alive. Even prostitutes get paid for their services; interns have to pay their punters. And meanwhile employers still want their pound of graduate flesh, and we still give it to them.