I was recently rejected from a summer internship position at Red Bull Media House. The parent brand to the all-powerful corporation that fuels half of the desperately tired student population across the world – as well as Formula One Racing, space adventure, musical events, rally driving, snowboarding and surfing. This is on top of an enormous amount of other sponsorships and partnerships that are now embossed on the inner walls of my pre-frontal cortex in Cambria font.
I am not bitter. No, I do not wish to give Red Bull the satisfaction of my humiliation. In fact, I knew I was going to fail before I even stepped into the interview room and I find solace in this. See, there was a number of extenuating factors that culminated in my rejection. The first of these was my umbrella. The morning of my interview I awoke to a complete weather washout; the kind of sky that could be likened to the colour of pouring cement or four-day old stale turkey. It was raining and I knew that a corporation like Red Bull would not take lightly to a wet quiff and damp suit. I had left my own umbrella at university – a plain black thing with a curled handle that looked professional – leaving me with the only option to borrow one of my mother’s. This substitute was a small device, perfectly designed for the handbag or small clutch purse. It was purple and had a polka dot pattern spread evenly over the canvas. Assured by my worried mother that it was “good quality and even from Marks and Spencer,” I proceeded on my journey. The route was straightforward: Birmingham International to London Euston and then the Northern Line southbound via Bank to London Bridge. Easy. The only slight hiccup arising through a greasy, barefooted man on the train who was certain that it was custom to place his cankerous feet on the empty seat next to me. But I guess that is what you expect when travelling on London Midlands in comparison to the considerably more bourgeois, but forty pounds more expensive, Virgin service.
Now the real problem with the umbrella came to light upon my arrival at London Bridge. Those that say that London is a tolerant place are wrong, maybe on the outskirts – the real London – but in the illusion that they call London City, I must disagree. Opening my umbrella as I left the tube station I began to instantly notice sideward-stares and scornful glances. Mystified by this hostile reaction I began to check myself over for faults – was my suit trouser zip open? Did I have a spot on my tie? Was there a neon green alien on my shoulder? No, I was clean and I was dry and this was the problem. I am sure that the umbrella was the stigma, which is sad because I always thought men suited polka dots. Looking around though, there were no other patterns or polka dots, not even a stripe. Instead there was a corporate sea of umbrellas that operated in a tidal wave of different sponsorships – Barclays, Goldman Sachs, BMW – was it a sin to not be corporately sponsored in this city? Standing there whilst the rods of water impacted my little polka dot umbrella I felt lost, like I didn’t belong or would only be accepted when I had a proper umbrella; an umbrella that represented something larger than just protection from a steely sky. I was conflicted. My mind was racing. All I could focus on was the umbrella and whether this reaction would be replicated in the Red Bull office too? Did they have their own range of umbrellas? If they did, should I have bought one in preparation for the interview? I did not know and I was panicking. I decided to seek refuge in a local coffee shop to re-evaluate my options, and this was where the situation really began to slip out of my carefully moisturised hands.
The coffee shop – I think it was a Costa Coffee – was warm and noisy. There were builders on their break, which I had never seen before, catching up with a project manager over a pot of tea. Even the builders of central London are gentrified, I thought. In the Midlands – where I am from – a builder would be lucky to take a sip from some kind of second hand mug from last year’s Easter egg, let alone share a cup of hot chow in a snuggly suburban coffee shop. Reflecting on them now, I bet they were a new breed of builder who only smoke camel and shake their heads reluctantly if offered a Lambert and Butler or Sterling.
I did not have any qualms with the builders though; I ordered a cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso and took a seat in one of the rare couple tables spread around the place. I had an hour to regain my composure and go over my presentation for the interview. I necked the espresso first, shortly followed by the cappuccino and began my revision. Thirty minutes in I was interrupted by a barista, “Excuse me sir, would you like another drink?”
I replied, “No, thank you.”
“But sir, if you mean to stay you must order another drink.”
“It is the rules sir. We are a busy shop and it allows other customers to find a seat and enjoy a drink.”
Speechless and slightly embarrassed, I ordered another cappuccino. This is where I encountered the next stage of my journey into inevitable rejection.
I like coffee. Most days I drink a full cafetiere of Lavazza blend before I sit down to work, this is usually accompanied by cheaper instant coffee (Carte Noire for the strength) later on in the day, however, the downside to this is that it makes me piss like a racehorse undergoing a water cure. I am no baby, in fact I pride myself on how well I can hold my bladder, but put me into contact with someone that can drink two large cappuccinos and a shot of full body espresso without needing to use the bathroom and I will shake their hand with fierce admiration. In usual circumstances this need to piss would be fine but no, of course – as I would come to find out – in central London this basic human right comes second in line to the utilisation of all space as an area to either make money, or contribute to it in some form. The toilet in Costa Coffee was out of order, meaning I had to go elsewhere to relieve my bloating bladder. Returning to the street I once again opened my polka dot umbrella and hit the pavement. Each bar, restaurant and shop all had the same policy – a purchasing customer only can use the toilet. Trying hard to quell the rage building up inside of me I calmed myself with the thought that the tube station would have a nice, clean and importantly, free public toilet. Thankfully only a five-minute walk away – London Bridge tube station is close to the Red Bull Media House’s office – I strode confident in the belief that I would soon empty my bladder and continue on to my interview.
Entering the station I began to follow the signs for the toilets; after one or two left and right turns I finally recognised the distinct female and male symbols hanging from the ceiling in the distance. I was relieved. Whilst so far I had encountered only minor blips to my journey it seemed like this problem was coming to an end and I would soon be able to piss. London had other plans for me though. There was a barrier, a big hunk of polished metal, the kind of turnstile you expect at a football game or rural border crossing in some unknown country. The smug gentleman guarding this gateway informed me that it would be a fifty pence charge. A charge, I thought? Was this London’s version of an uppercut to my pride, my pocket and more importantly my near-TNT-explosive bladder? I felt like relieving myself right there and then, in front of the mass of commuters rushing to and fro and giving them something to really scorn their stressed faces at. Maybe I would even do it with my polka dot umbrella open and in hand – a worthy rebellion against a system that so far had proceeded to crush the spirit right out of me – I thought. “Do you take change?” I asked.
“Only fifty pence coins,” he smirked.
“Well what do I do if I haven’t got one?”
“Change machine to the right of you.”
So there I was, bladder on the verge of imploding, fiddling around in my suit pockets to try and find something that would give me the exact change for the machine and allow me entry beyond the barrier and the grinning attendant. I shoved a five-pound note into the machine and was rewarded with ten fifty pence pieces. Brilliant, I thought – I would not be coming back to London any time soon – what would I use this mass of coins on?
Feeding the turnstile a coin, I proceeded on through. With expectations of a clean and bright facility I was instead disappointed by a set of stained urinals that were all accompanied by a great puddle of piss and toilet water underneath. Picking the urinal with the smallest puddle I hastily let out a waterfall of caffeine and anxiety into the bowl and washed my hands, making sure I applied some cologne from my bag to try and cover up the smell of faeces and wet leather that lingered over the toilets and now me.
Back outside on the street I was relieved to find that the rain had stopped. At least that meant I would not have to deal with the dilemma regarding the umbrella and my now slowly degrading professional manner. I had fifteen minutes before the interview so I decided to begin heading up Tooley Street towards the offices where my interview was to take place. From the outside the place looked cool, fashioned out of the red brick of an old building, Red Bull Media House had a stylish sense surrounding it, unlike that of the soulless glass and concrete offices one might associate with London. I entered; there was no real reception, in its place was a long bar and behind it a few shelves of vodka, rum, whisky and brandy bottles all lined up neatly next to a vast amount of Red Bull cans.
I felt on edge, all of the day’s troubles had culminated into this moment. A friendly looking guy sat behind the counter, his eyes were transfixed on a computer screen, but they soon motioned to me as I approached. With a smile he went on to take my name, reason of visit and then asked me to sit down on a set of chairs on the other side of the room. Surrounding me was a Ping-Pong table, a set of leather sofas, three or four exercise bikes, and a set of speakers that were blaring out bass-heavy music. It reminded me of one of those photographs you might see on a piece about Google or Apple, accompanied by a few lines analysing the importance of employee well-being and a positive working space. Cassandra – the lady interviewing me – shortly arrived and introduced herself. She was heavily pregnant so we took the lift. Cassandra had a good smile and emitted a sense of warmth that I had not encountered once so far that day. She was Canadian though so that might not count.
As we arrived at the interview room I began to sweat. The interview was with her and another creative partner. I set up my laptop, handed out my brief and began some pleasantries. The room was airy and I noticed that the interior walls were also brick; was this some kind of reoccurring statement? I began my presentation on a potential brand that Red Bull could partner with in the organising of the musical event Culture Clash 2016.
I felt the presentation was good. I had arranged a whole host of personal reasons, followed by a corporate analysis of the company position and the one weakness that supported why Red Bull needed a specific focus on a partner associated with fitness. Namely because fizzy drinks in general get a bad rap for their teeth rotting, heart attack inducing and diabetes causing qualities. Looking into both of their eyes I could see my presentation had failed though. I was flustered and rushed, my bladder still hurt from having to hold it for so long and I am positive they could still see the embarrassment on my face and in my pinkish cheeks. They asked questions and nodded their heads in line with some of my points – but I knew it was all for nothing – I was telling them something they did not want to acknowledge. London had beaten me – Red Bull had beaten me. I left the office feeling deflated and fearing the journey home.
A week later I received the email stating what I had already known. Hidden beneath the false-positive opening about my energetic attitude and my apparent ‘Red Bull persona’ was the ulterior rejection. Someone had overpowered me who possessed more corporate experience and a better presentation. A more efficient person, I thought; one whom London or the odd rules it enforced on toilet use did not faze. They probably had the professional umbrella with the names of the prestigious institutions they had interned at printed boldly upon it. I wish that person well. I hope they experience many glad memories on the Ping-Pong table or dancing in rhythm to the music or the sound of whirring exercise bikes. I realise now that the Red Bull Media House was not the hedonistic employer it is made out to be by the desperate hundreds who sought after it. This is just an illusion, the same illusion that central London also permeates, a false positivity of flash suits, wise faces and huge piles of money. A big expensive bubble that can be pierced by the pin prick of a polka dot umbrella and reduced to a puddle of piss, caffeine and shattered dreams.