The Intern by Dillon Khan

The Impossible Dream

‘Single to Notting Hill,’ I said hurriedly, no time to buy a weekly or monthly pass. I looked at my watch, compared it to my phone, then the clock above the turnstiles and, out of the corner of my eye, quadruple-checked the watch of the cute girl waiting behind me in line. My desperation was a sorry-ass attempt to reclaim some wasted minutes that I had lost somewhere between getting ready early and walking out of the door late. This particular morning I was blaming The Big Breakfast and a mesmerizing feature about a skateboarding dog.

My journey became a DVD ‘forward skip’ moment, where I hopped on to the Tube, got squashed inside the carriage under someone’s armpit, saw the cute girl reading her heat magazine and bored myself silly re-reading the onboard adverts for the umpteenth time as the train slowly meandered from east to west London.

Apart from the renowned carnival and the film starring Julia Roberts, Notting Hill was famous for being a melting pot. Some of the capital’s elite rich inhabited the Victorian townhouses, while a stone’s throw away were the poor working classes living in squalid social housing. From the posh yummy mummies and the whispering drug dealers, to the antique-shop owners and backpack tourists, everyone mixed like a canteen in the UN building. It was cool, creative and ‘edgy’: read – prone to the odd drug-related stabbing.

It was 9.55 a.m. as I surfaced from the underground on to the busy street. Opposite the station people jockeyed for position to get on the approaching bus like marathon runners before the sound of the starter’s gun. I ignored the man screaming ‘Big Issue!’ and ducked past the group of nursery-school kids out on a day trip, getting into a sprint of my own. Ten minutes later, I arrived in a sweat at my destination not far from the trendy Portobello Road.

The building in front of me was so ugly the Broadwater Farm council estate in the 1980s looked more welcoming. Even after the riots. Its front stretched down the street, the two-storey walls covered in pigeon shit, unattractive graffiti, puke and urine. You wouldn’t think it, but it housed American media giant Gibaidem Corporation’s best-known business, The Beat. It was an unrivalled youth channel spanning the globe that played music videos and irreverent TV shows and it was synonymous with all things cutting edge and ‘cool’. They’d only moved in a few weeks earlier because the previous office had become too small. From here the iconic channel broadcast all across Europe, with its corporate headquarters still based in the best spot on the Monopoly board: Mayfair.

As I stepped on to the huge forecourt beyond the security barriers, I passed the only colourful thing in sight. I tell a lie: two colourful things. They were identical except one was ruby red and the other arctic blue, but the latest BMWs certainly added some bling to an otherwise dull place. To the side of the main entrance was the only clue that gave away what was inside this monstrosity of a building. A small fifteen-centimetre by fifteen-centimetre silver plaque with black writing that read ‘THE BEAT’ in Helvetica typeface.

I pressed the stop button on my Sony Walkman and took my headphones off, resting them round my neck. I headed through the revolving glass door, coming out the other side to a cacophony of ringing phones, shouting voices and lots of different music. And this was just Reception. In a small room to my right was Security, with a host of CCTV screens manned by three uniformed men who were staring intently at them like they were showing porn. Further on, the small passage opened into a larger area where a receptionist sat behind a long desk as the huge plasma screen behind her showed the Red Hot Chili Peppers painted in metallic silver. As I walked towards her, the post room on the left blasted out its own music, setting a tempo for the packages and letters that were being flung into pigeonholes. This morning’s track was Adam F’s ‘Circles’. The walls were covered in posters saluting Arsenal FC and some voluptuous FHM beauties alongside fire-escape plans and various DHL courier forms.

As I stood in front of the receptionist, who was on the phone, nerves and a sense of anticipation tingled through my body, visible only in the goofy smile plastered on my face. I looked around at the visitors waiting on the big red beanbags next to the water cooler. A middle-aged man in an expensive-looking suit clearly felt out of place. He sat uncomfortably low down and would definitely need a hand getting up. Even more amusing to me was his early-twenties female colleague sitting on the beanbag next to him. Obviously all dressed up, trying to be cool and trendy for the occasion, she looked even more awkward than the man as her skirt rode dangerously high up her legs. As hard as she tried to hide them, her knickers were blatantly pink.

‘Hi, I’m here to see Maximilian Miller, producer of Total BEATS,’ I said to the receptionist once she got off the phone. I stood in front of her in my dweebie clothes and within a split-second she had given me a full up-and-down glance from my waist to my hair. If the desk wasn’t in her way it would have been a complete scan, quicker than you could say the word ‘pervert’.

‘You mean Max. Who may I say is calling for him?’ she said in a posh accent.

‘Jay Merchant. I’m his new intern,’ I replied proudly.

She picked up the phone and after a brief chat that seemed more about the must-see TV shows that weekend than about me she put the phone down. Exhaling through her nose, she gave me the same look I got when I failed my first driving test.

‘Max said you weren’t starting today but next week. I think there’s been a mix-up,’ she said quietly, almost whispering.

I smiled. ‘April Fools’ is a few days away yet,’ I joked. The muscles on her face didn’t flinch. My smile dropped and the excitement became short-lived.

‘Oh . . . OK,’ I said in shock, not knowing what I should do next. I instinctively reached for the letter in my pocket, opened it up and there in bold was my start date: 27 March 2000. I hadn’t got it wrong. But I couldn’t wait another week – I wasn’t just broke, I was in the red thanks to my student loans. I’d already cancelled the shifts at Foot Locker and told them to stick their job because I had a new one. I can’t eat humble pie and go back, I thought. It would taste of double choc shit.

‘Max said to say hello before you go,’ she added.

‘Oh, OK,’ I mumbled, still feeling sorry for myself.

‘He said to meet him in the Greenhouse,’ she said, pointing into the main part of the building.

I followed her directions and stood at the entrance to the huge break-out space, marvelling at its mish-mash design from left to right. It was filled with huge green plants, funky and futuristic-looking furniture, an arcade area, laptop stations, a pool table, weird sculptures and paintings in a gallery space with white lino on the floor, perfect if you fancied a bit of breaking on it. It looked tempting. One wall was covered in graffiti art like an iconic 1980s New York subway train while another had autographs from famous visitors. There was a stage with a permanent backline including DJ decks. Above it was a banner proclaiming The Beat’s mantra: Doin’ it for the Kids! Was this an office or a weird youth centre?

I answered my question by looking up at the next floor where the actual offices were. That had a traffic flow all of its own, as people passed each other hurriedly, notebooks in one hand and spilling coffee with the other.

All of a sudden a gaggle of people brushed past me into the Greenhouse, like a rugby scrum with a woman in a hat and shades in the middle. Was that Mariah Carey? I wasn’t sure as in no time she was rushed through a door and the quiet returned. As I stood soaking it all in, my nerves were momentarily replaced by a rush of excitement: I was at the heartbeat of music.

(Available now at Amazon)