in which Sam interviews for a graduate position at Data Connection

After only being able to get to sleep at 2am, Wednesday began badly. After breakfast I was feeling intensely ill. Not quite throwing up, but not feeling right by a very long way. Was feeling too bad to do much more than pack. Had intended to take the bus to the station but my Mum took me instead. I could hardly step out of the car.

I began to feel better after a few hours of alternately milling about in stations and slouching boredly on trains. Like the fool I was I'd neglected to specify "avoiding London" in my route so I ended up in St. Pancras. By this time I was feeling better, and now my attention was focused more on figuring out the London Underground. Apparently you put your gate pass in the bottom of the machine. The place was very busy - however, there were enough maps for me to find my way to the train I needed. Tube trains are fast, dark and bumpy - and London is bigger than I imagined, so I got worried I'd hopped on a train direct to the end of the line at one point. Still, it worked out. On the fourth and final leg to Enfield I was sat in front of a seat which had a bag of empty hamburger boxes on it. It occurred to me that a hamburger box would be an excellent disguise for a bomb, but it didn't seem to be ticking and there were chips on the floor so I decided against hurling it out of the window.

I'd been told to turn up before 5pm on the day, which I assumed was because they were going to give me directions to the hotel and start everything the following day. No such luck. I waited in the canteen, then we had a test about lifts, then we were driven to a four-star hotel for further stuff. When I say "we", I mean the four graduates they were interviewing, and when I say "hotel", I mean it was a nice place - our rooms were being charged to the company at £99 per night. More free stuff than you can imagine: flannel, soap, shampoo, biscuits. I didn't nick the towels but I did take the complimentary teddy bear (!) and the rubber duck. I have never in fact owned a rubber duck. Trouser press and fold-out ironing board in the room. Wireless internet which I couldn't take advantage of, but still pretty cool. Very swish indeed. "Further stuff" was putting our stuff in our various rooms, then coming down for dinner with four Data Connection employees.

I had been eating strangely and feeling ill (ish) the entire day by this point. I was ravenous but at the same time I could barely eat anything. I had duck, which was delicious, and banana ice cream, also lovely, although I couldn't completely finish a single course and hardly touched the extraordinarily well-crafted but unusual-looking vegetables for fear of destroying my own stomach. We chatted. We got to know each other. There was wine. It was cool. We were warned cheerfully that one of us was going to have the £400 dinner bill on his tab when he signed it the following morning. The DC folks went back to their various homes. We graduates stuck around in the lounge for a chat and a pint. I nicked a box of matches on the way back to my room. I finished the large, hardback book which I'd unwisely brought with me, and couldn't get to sleep until 2am, for the second night running.

Since a cab was collecting us at 8:15am I got barely five hours of sleep. For breakfast I ate grapes, a banana and some apple juice. "Continental" is probably how it was listed on the bill. Complimentary newspaper. Swiped a complimentary bottle of water on the way out. By the time I was in the cab with the others, being driven back to DC, I was beginning to feel properly ill again - the same pattern as yesterday. I took painkillers but they didn't help much - I wasn't in pain, I was tired and stressed and nauseous. There was a group exercise where we pretended to be a student representative committee - I don't think I performed very well at all, on account of feeling sick and being unable to concentrate on the briefing we'd been given. After that was the interview follow-up to the group exercise - which I'd done badly in - and the lift problem, which I'd had lots of time to think about and as far as I know, I absolutely aced, by which I mean, I explained my solution to the guy and he asked me absolutely no follow-up questions, so infer from that what you will. There was a technical test whose subject matter they asked me not to discuss, so I won't, but that went badly too since I was still feeling horrible. I nibbled at lunch. I started to feel better.

I met their CEO - he was a nice guy, but about half our meeting got lost to a phone call and then he asked me tricky questions like "tell me about social fabric" which I - if such a thing is possible - failed, by badly understating my social life. Although, to be fair, I just left uni - my social life is now spread over many countries and almost entirely conducted via email, so can you blame me? He also made me late for my presentation, which I think went okay but we got no follow-up on, so all I have to go on is the fact that the interviewers for it didn't ask nearly as many questions as I'm told they asked some of the other graduates. Sigh. Then there were more interviews, a graduate chat (which I'd had already during the interview for the internship) and lastly a final interview where I think I basically killed myself. The guy asked me if I'd ever been abroad - I admitted to never having stepped outside the United Kingdom for the past decade, and only being vaguely interested in visiting Australia/America, not worried about exotic locales at all. The guy asked me if there was anything I hadn't told them - like I'd been keeping secrets. Which I had. All this guilt crashed down on me and I admitted I'd gained a low 2:1 and told him why. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Didn't realise it at the time. I realise it now.

Ate my lunch - which my sister had prepared for me the previous day - while waiting for the train home. Complete lack of litter bins in British train stations these days, so I just had to drop litter. London was busier but the Tube seemed amazingly intuitive now - there were huge numbers of police around the place, and I saw one guy with a big black machine gun which I think is the first time I have ever seen an automatic weapon for real. I mean, in America every cop has a gun: in the UK, you can go your whole life without seeing a real one. Pretty scary. Got home. Mum picked me up from the station. Unpacked. Told all.

My home network - in perfect working order the day I left - seemed to have broken. It was later that night that I managed to check my email. I hadn't got the job. They said they weren't totally convinced it'd work out. They thought I wouldn't "flourish" enough.

Which kind of turned what could have been a lousy experience with some significant redeeming factors - i.e. a trip to a nice hotel and a job - into basically the worst two days of my life. Illness. Wasted time. Wasted effort. All smiles and handshakes and friendly hospitality and nothing to show for it afterwards except another closed door. That night - last night - I felt very ill. I had very little idea what to do next and a dwindling quantity of money to do it with. I watched Mulan and went to bed at 2am for the third night in a row.

I thought that as a Cambridge graduate I could do anything; that the world was my oyster. Well, I can't, and it isn't. You need a social life and an interest in sport and a desire to travel to get somewhere worthwhile in the world, or that at least is my understanding from this experience. Pure brain won't get you anywhere. The other thing I've realised is that since I was born my life has basically been guided on rails from the right place to the right place, all the way up to and over the edge of graduation. And I'd become complacent. Not everything always works out, and it was too much to expect that I could come out of university and drop straight into the dream job.

The doctor says I have a virus of some sort and if I rest and drink water it'll go away. I ate a full meal today for the first time in three days - surprised I can still walk, to be honest, after eating so little recently. Fixed the network. Changed my library books. I'm not a student anymore: just plain unemployed. Now what?