My column on dodgy gap year schemes has provoked an interesting mailbag from readers, of which this is merely a cross-section.
From Professor Roger Quilby
Sir, I have always been deeply suspicious of these gap year schemes, which all sound like scams to me. So when my daughter Martha decided to sign up for a scheme in which she would be doing "research" in a Malaysian "mathematical institute", I smelt a rat immediately and decided I would check it out for myself in case it was a call centre or something even lower.
I flew out there in person, and was not totally surprised to find that the establishment, far from being a "mathematical institute", was actually a high-powered though quite respectable gambling set-up, being one of the oldest bookmakers in the Far East.
As a retired mathematics professor myself, and having heard so much about the prevalence of games of chance in the Orient, I was naturally intrigued to see how this worked, and decided to stay on for a few days working voluntarily in the back room. To cut a long story short, the whole experience was eye-opening and fascinating in many different ways, and 12 months later I am still out here, doing well, and indeed I am now engaged to be married to Madam Lin Kwou Tang, the widow of the recently deceased manager of the firm. (I myself was bereaved three years ago.)
Martha herself decided not to take up her enrolment here, as she preferred not to work in the same place as her parent. I believe she has completed her gap year working in a hairdresser's in Buenos Aires, though she does not keep much in touch with me these days.
From Miss Sonia Blent
Sir, As an 18-year-old with a social conscience, I have always been keenly aware (unlike most of my contemporaries) that I have received my education entirely free from the British government, and I felt I owed them something back. So when the question of my gap year came up, I decided to write to the Government and offer my services free, anywhere they wanted to send me, as a way of paying back all that free education.
Somewhat to my surprise, they up my offer and asked me, as a convincingly idealistic student, to infiltrate the anti-BAA protesters at Heathrow Airport and find out what their thinking was and what they were up to. Distasteful though the idea was, I thought it would be dishonourable to turn it down, so reluctantly I found myself part of a camp of protesters on the perimeter of Heathrow, living in great discomfort to stop the spread of air travel.
There were a dozen of us in our little camp, and the more we talked, the more we were amazed to find that every single one of us was an undercover volunteer sent to discover who was behind the protest movement, all sent by different government departments. It gradually dawned on us that many of these demos are almost certainly manned entirely by government spies, and that there may not be any genuine protesters there at all. It makes you wonder how many people on the "other side", working for BAA, are also placed there by the Government to find out what BAA are up to. I have ended my gap year a sadder, wiser and more arthritic person.
From Mr Jim McCracken
Sir, I left school a year ago and applied for a scheme to raise literacy in the Third World. I was appalled to find it was in fact run by a small publishing firm determined to repeat the success of Simon Hoggart's 2006 Christmas book, Don't Tell Mum..., a best-selling anthology of gap- year emails. What they wanted us to do, without even going abroad, was make up similar emails, completely fictitious, to fill another volume. I thought the whole idea repellent, and had it not been for the money, I would never have had anything to do with it. As it is, I can thoroughly recommend Dad, I've Run Out of Cash – Don't Ask Why, due out this Christmas.
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