The Blog

Let's Bring Back National Service... Sort Of

So this is my thinking: If we brought back national service for a year after school - and by national service, I mean national send-everyone-to-work-in-a-bar-for-a-year-whilst-they-get-paid-nearly-nothing-and-probably-end-up-hoping-to-die service - we would quickly develop into a nation of polite, kind, respectful, super-employable people

As we all now know, it doesn't matter how hard you worked at university; how clever you are, how much you desperately want to be able to pay your own way. For a considerable amount of time post-education, you will be expected to work for free. And unless your parents are really clever multi-millionaires with serious foresight, and therefore sorted out a trust fund prior to your happy conception, there's no way that you can possibly do that. Because do you know what happens when you work for free? No.

OK then, I'll tell you. You can't afford to pay your rent. Which kind of sorts out the fact that you can't afford to pay your bills, cause, you know, you're already homeless. Every cloud. There is also the small matter of not being able to buy food. But hey, you're in your early twenties! You're supposed to live off cigarettes and fresh air, right? Well... wrong, because you're working for free, and cigarettes aren't free. Unless you pick ends up off the pavement and dry them out on the bench that you now have to call home over a period of several days. But then you potentially run into all kinds of infectious complications, and more importantly, what do you do when it rains? Nursing a nicotine habit as an intern is a logistical nightmare, not to mention a health and hygiene minefield. So, at the end of the day, the main thing about interning is... if you do it minus the trust fund, you will, eventually, somehow, don't know how, but definitely somehow, die.

I recently graduated with a First Class Honours degree and the misguided belief that the world was probably at my feet. As already established, the graduate career? Taking a while. And for that while, far from 'interning' (i.e. spending my days picking up double decaf machiatos for some uberbitch fashion brand MD and my nights attending celebrity-peppered parties whilst my parents coo over how proud they are of me as they pay off my credit card bill), I am working as a waitress. I am, in fact, invisible.

Being invisible is a much-coveted (and extremely rare) super power. Harry Potter, Superman and Wonder Woman can all become invisible at will. At first glance, it seems like a great deal. Yet without any of the other stuff that accompanies superheroism (flight, a magic wand, being able to wear star-print hot pants and a great big gold belt to work without your colleagues thinking you're a total prat) invisibility is sort of, well... shit.

Sweating through night after night in a polyester shirt whilst people who get paid more in a week than you will in a year ignore you is one of the most demoralising things a clever girl can do. Last Thursday, as I quietly cleaned up a glass smashed by a drunken idiot old enough to be my dad, I considered what the worst thing about this invisibility is. Suddenly, it hit me - they can't really see me, but they know I'm there. And it makes them really uncomfortable. I'm like... bacteria.

Not really. People actually pay attention to bacteria. A quick Google Scholar search reveals that in 2010 alone, around 120,000 journal articles written contained the word 'bacteria.' 'Waitress' returned just 11,000 results. In a thousand years, when spacemen read the writings of their forefathers, my existence will be overlooked whilst E.Coli is immortalised, it being, as far as the written word is concerned, over 10 times more important than I am.

So, when does it get better? Do people ever say nice things to the girl who clears up their wine spillages and brings them new pints of Peroni? Rarely. They are bankers after all - both in the literal (I work in the City) and cockney rhyming slang sense of the word. When I am eventually spotted - which is usually only when someone a) realises their glass is empty or b) realises I have breasts - I am 1. leered at, 2. insulted, 3. occasionally told I'm stupid, 4. occasionally told I'm ugly, 5. told I should cheer up, 6. sit down, 7. buy myself a drink, yadayadayada.

And all the while I'm thinking, 1. get away from me, 2. I wish I could insult you back, 3. I'm probably cleverer than you, 4. I'm definitely prettier than you, 5. I refuse to cheer up, 6. I'd rather die, and 7. - hold up, wait a minute, stop the record - BUY MYSELF A DRINK?! Mate, you're drinking in a place where your vodka tonic costs more than your waitress earns in an hour. You don't get it! You just strolled into investment banking like your father before you! You've never washed a glass in your life! You just smash them when you've finished your bottle of vintage Chateau Neuf de blah blah blah and get your butler to buy some new ones! Sorry, do I sound bitter? It's just that you have evidently never worked in the service industry.

Hence the title of this post. And you thought I was getting all Daily Express on your asses, didn't you. No, no. Here's the thing. I don't believe in interning. I'm not rich enough to believe in it. In fact, I'm not rich enough to even be able to think about whether I should believe in it, because I spend every waking moment either at work, on my way to work, or coming the hell home from work, leaving me with very little thinking time.

Which is why it infuriates me that I go to work and am ritually either humiliated or ignored - no in between. Think interning is character- building? Try standing on your feet for thirteen hours straight whilst your boss tells you you could be wearing more makeup and someone's granddad ogles you from table 15. At least I'm getting paid though, hey. Well, I say paid. I'm getting minimum wage and I'm being taxed 20% on an 0T tax code as it's my second job so I clear somewhere in the region of £800 a month. Serious now.

So this is my thinking: If we brought back national service for a year after school - and by national service, I mean national send-everyone-to-work-in-a-bar-for-a-year-whilst-they-get-paid-nearly-nothing-and-probably-end-up-hoping-to-die service - we would quickly develop into a nation of polite, kind, respectful, super-employable people, who treat each other properly, having all been in the same miserable, sinking boat at one stage, and of course, who know the value of a tip - which as everyone at my work knows is the difference between being able to heat up your Tesco Value beans, or eating them cold because you can't afford to top up the meter.

And whilst they were spending that year bored out of their brains, frustrated businessmen and inventors would be itching to set up their companies and create thousands of new jobs. We would be an unstoppable force of a country. A kingdom that felt more like a gigantic staffroom than a series of disparate towns filled with discord and worry. Fair enough, we'd put those people who run teambuilding workshops out of a job, cause I mean, why would Flora need to put all her trust in Dwayne by flopping backwards into his arms on a gym mat when she's already worked with him - or someone exactly like him - for a year?

Flora has already met Dwayne's mum, dad, brother, sister, half brother and step sister. Dwayne has already held Flora's long blonde hair out of her sick on a staff night out. Flora has already calmed Dwayne down when the couple on table 4 were so rude to him he nearly cried. Dwayne already has Flora's birthday saved on the calendar on his phone. Damn it, Dwayne and Flora don't need team building exercises. Dwayne and Flora are already friends.

If we brought back national service, Dwayne and Flora and all the millions of others like them would be rightfully united, not just physically, in some dingy bar in darkest Derby, but in the knowledge that after that year, that year that felt like a neverending barrage of undeserved pain, they would never, ever be rude to their waitress again.