A bright idea to expand the gap year

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The Independent Online

The Major had surprised everyone in the pub by buying a round.

The Major had surprised everyone in the pub by buying a round.

"Celebration time," he said. "My daughter has got a place at university!"

We all said that that was great.

"It certainly is," he said. "She'll be away from home for most of the year. It's wonderful."

"So she'll be off to uni in a month or less," said the lady with the green hair.

(Have I told you about the green-haired lady? She always tries to match the colour of her hair to the hue of her current tipple. It was red and Pimm's in the summer. Right now, she is drinking Stone's Ginger Wine with a bit of whisky. She says it is to guard against the chills of autumn. We say the chills of autumn haven't arrived yet. She says maybe, but she will be well protected when they do.)

"No," said the Major. "She's going to take a gap year."

"Does that mean working in The Gap for a year?" said the green lady.

To people of a certain age, the idea of a gap year is hard to grasp. We never had gap years when we went to university. The man with the dog put it very well for all of us.

"We never had gap years when we went to university," he said.

"That's maybe because you never went to university," said the green lady. "Or so you always gave to understand."

"No, but I did do National Service," he said. "So I had two gap years, followed by no university."

"And did you see the world?" she said.

"No," he said. "I saw Cyprus and Aden. Things were badly managed in the 1950s. They always had trouble in places nobody wanted to go to, and they sent National Servicemen to places where nobody liked the British. Why couldn't we have gone to New Zealand or the West Indies?"

"I think a gap year is a good idea," said the resident Welshman. "I went straight to university from school and I was wet behind the ears. I spent the first year learning about life when I should have been learning about Philosophy. So these kids are doing the right thing going round the world for a year and then going to university with a bit of experience."

"What amazes me," said the man with the dog, "is that this government hasn't taken over the gap year the way it's taken over the rest of education. It would be New Labour's finest hour if it instituted Gap Year Tests, with extra marks for getting jobs in Peru and personal assessment by cafe owners in Australia for whom you've done waitressing..."

"The Government regrets to inform you that you will be unable to go to university as planned, as you have failed to get enough pass marks in your gap year ...", said the Welshman. We all laughed, except him.

"I think the gap year is wasted on the young," he said. "The people who would benefit are - well, people like us here."

We looked round the pub. The average age must have been pushing 60.

"And how would you arrange a gap year for mature people, o wise one?" said someone.

The Welshman paused, and then came out with a brilliant idea.

"There should be a gap year between employment and retirement," he said. "When you leave work, you set off round the world for a year. Get part-time jobs here and there. Forget Saga Holidays. Saga Gap Years, that's what we need."

There was a buzz of excitement, as if he'd just made us all a fortune. Only the Major voiced dissent.

"Sounds all very well to you chaps," he said, "but I couldn't set off on a gap year right now."

"Why not?"

"Because I'd run the risk of bumping into my daughter all over the place. Hello, darling, in the Galapagos Islands. Hello again, in Tasmania. Oh, daddy, do you have to keep following me, in Madagascar ..."

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