Mind the gap year
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