Mind the gap year

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ERBACHER

Way back when, we had gap teeth, there were geo­graphic lo­ca­tions called the Gap, we sure had gaps in our knowl­edge, but there were no gap years.

Or rather, tak­ing a year off be­tween sec­ondary school and fur­ther study to “find your­self” wasn’t called that. The con­cept crept up on us some­time in the 1980s and 90s, I sus­pect, along with its scal­ly­wag cur­tain-raiser, Schoolies Week.

In ear­lier times the more com­mon prac­tice was to go from school into the work­force or higher ed­u­ca­tion, climb a rung or two up the ca­reer lad­der, save like crazy and then splurge on a year or more over­seas. That usu­ally meant Des­ti­na­tion Lon­don, work­ing for a while, buy­ing a clapped-out Kombi from the mar­ket that ringed Aus­tralia House and head­ing off to ex­plore Bri­tain and Europe.

This over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence is known in the lit­er­a­ture to­day as a “rite of pas­sage”, a term more be­fit­ting the life of a Clive James or Ger­maine Greer than my own. Al­though, on my “rite” in the mid-70s, I did have a va­ri­ety of roles in the theatre in Lon­don’s West End — sell­ing tick­ets, tear­ing them up and seat­ing pa­trons at the Em­pire, Le­ices­ter Square, an old vaude­ville house that be­came MGM’s show­case cin­ema from the late 1920s.

I had one other role — check­ing for bombs. It was not an en­tirely friv­o­lous ex­er­cise in the mid­dle of the Ir­ish Trou­bles. Be­fore I joined, two Em­pire pa­trons had found a brief­case in row O and taken it with them. It ex­ploded in their car with hor­ri­ble con­se­quences. My prob­lem was, in sort­ing through the­atre­go­ers’ bags, I had not a mo­ment’s tu­ition in what a bomb might look like, my knowl­edge rest­ing solely on a Looney Tunes cartoon — an ob­ject round, black and with a fuse.

I felt eas­ier when ros­tered to the box of­fice and could lis­ten to tales of the West End from three stal­warts. Edna, from Put­ney, was well turned out and a Thatcher fan-in­wait­ing. She would fret if I re­ported back that she had sold seats AA26-27 in the cir­cle to un­suit­able types. Th­ese were the seats oc­cu­pied by roy­alty when they popped in for pre­mieres and she couldn’t abide the thought of the vel­vet be­ing soiled by slurpers and slap­pers. Edna’s rec­ol­lec­tions of the war were of hard­ship and hero­ism. Her as­pi­ra­tion was one day to visit Aus­tralia.

Not so Lil, a blunt East En­der, who had no am­bi­tion to ven­ture past the West End. Her mem­o­ries of the Blitz in­volved hand­some men in uni­form and bod­ies shel­ter­ing close to­gether in Un­der­ground sta­tions dur­ing bomb raids. Mak­ing up the trio was Fred, who had been coshed one night car­ry­ing box-of­fice tak­ings to a bank safety de­posit box across the square. “Never had the same head for fig­ures,” he lamented. Fred’s job now was to make count­less cups of tea.

Fond mem­o­ries. But what did I learn from my “gap year”? Noth­ing pro­found, ex­cept it’s a big, wide world out there. Travel in it, revel in it; live and let live. Maybe there’s no bet­ter les­son.

Su­san Kurosawa is on as­sign­ment.

I had a va­ri­ety of roles in the theatre in Lon­don’s West End — sell­ing tick­ets, tear­ing them up and seat­ing pa­trons

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