We’ve all heard of the term gap year. I have no idea where the idea came from, but I was one of the first to embrace the concept before the gap year was actually invented.
My gap year was in 1975. I took a year off to assess my life after leaving full time employment because I hated working in an office. I had an idea that I wanted to work for myself, something I had embraced since I was a teenager in school and something my family scoffed at. Their attitude was, “You can’t work for yourself. Your working class. You leave school, go down t’ pit, work your knackers off for 50 years, retire and drop dead a couple of months later.” It was a working class attitude I hated and not one I was willing to subject myself to. I think the film Rebel Without a Cause, with James Dean, had a profound effect on me as a kid.
So for that year I worked at a holiday camp in the early spring, summer on a fruit farm and in the autumn picking flowers in Greece… except it didn’t quite work out that way.
1975 saw Rod Stewart Sailing, Bay City Rollers Bye Bye Baby-ing, Windsor Davies & Don Estelle Whispering (Grass) and the mighty Queen Bohemian Rhapsody-ing. Hot-pants and the halter neck were still in style,
politics were much the same as now in the UK as there was a referendum about the EU, and in September Dougal Haston and Doug Scott become the first British people to climb Mount Everest.
To a young man of twenty it was all heady stuff. I had decided that my long-term career in an office, I was a senior-executive by the time I was twenty, was going nowhere and that I needed to broaden my horizons. Instinct told me there was a revolution coming and that I needed to be at the forefront. I was correct in that respect because Maggie Thatcher would soon take on the trade unions and Sir Clive Sinclair would launch the first home computer in the early 1980s. But I didn’t actually know what was about to happen. Call it a gut instinct, but I felt something was changing and I wanted to be part of that change.
So, I saved a bit of money, quit my job and looked into working as a manual labourer to earn more money than my senior executive job paid. In those days there was no internet so it was a visit to a jobcentre or, you looked up the potential of summer jobs via the local library. And bingo, I found a book that told me exactly what I wanted to know. It was a free pamphlet giving details of summer jobs and telephone numbers and addresses.
I was off like a shot and my office training was out the window.
First stop was the south coast of England and a job in a holiday camp. Hi-de-hi all round and singing and dancing in a blue coat or red coat. Well, no, it was actually cleaning windows, carrying suitcases for old ladies from the coach they had arrived in or generally being a dogs body. It was not only soul destroying, it wasn’t paid well but if you were lucky you could make some money from tips. I was one of the lucky ones… I think. Because though it was grinding work it taught me a lot about interacting with people and how people had expectations beyond the reality of their lives. But that spring was a pretty useful school of learning even if it wasn’t massively lucrative. I decided I needed the open air, but not the grind of washing windows.
So I hitched a ride a little further north-west and ended up in Gloucestershire and at a farm that exclusively grew fruit. I love fruit and I was in heaven. I stayed there for the entire season ending up as a sort of foreman dealing with quality control and weights and measures. From picking strawberries, to apples, to plums & damsons to blackcurrants. I learned so much about fruit I can no turn my hand to growing any fruit here in Cyprus. It was initially back breaking but I found by the end of the season I had muscles on my muscles, a great tan and had never been fitter.
But all good things come to an end.
The season for fruit picking in England ended and I used my trusty book to look further afield. I spied with my little eye flower picking in Greece. In fact the book stated that flower picking in Poros was the best option, one of the Greek islands south of Athens. Greece, here I come.
One of the favourite things to do in those days at the end of the hippy era, and by then I was a real fan of a Bohemian lifestyle and hippy freedom, was to board The Magic Bus and head to pastures new. It was originally born of the sixties when many hippies travelled from the UK to India. My magic bus experience was less hippy-ish. It was essentially a normal coach service leaving London’s Victoria and travelling to Athens, stopping frequently as it travelled across Europe. On my coach it was mainly youngsters my age all wanting a little bit of adventure. I ended up in a group of three boys and three girls.
On arrival in Athens it was time to find some accommodation. Here’s where things get a little blurry. I remember getting a large room in a hotel in Athens, hotel being a generalised description, but can’t remember who slept where… and no, I don’t mean like that, at least I don’t think I mean that. Like I said, it was a bit of a blurry stay. A couple of days in Athens ended up being a week and it was more like a week in a wine shop with free samples. We spent the nights out and about and the days catching up on sleep. We discovered in the bars that beer was expensive but Ouzo was cheap and, clever to spot this, you get a small salad with every Ouzo you buy. Cheap booze, free food, what more could a wannabe hippy want.
It started to get bizarre when I was wandering around the bars in Athens one night with a tall lad from the north of England named Andy. He was approached by a swarthy little man who said, in broken English, “You big boy. Make money, come with me.” Andy was taller than me and I’m 6′ 2″ so his comment wasn’t seen as odd, just intriguing.
“What do you want?”
“You make money,” he said, pointing to Andy.
“Sex,” was the abrupt and odd reply.
“You make sex with girls, I picture.”
It suddenly dawned on us, he wanted Andy to appear in a porn movie… no such thing as video in those days. Andy was outraged, I was laughing and we left the bemused little man to find another stud. It was only a little later that I suddenly realised the little man hadn’t asked me to be in his porn movie. To this day, nearly fifties years later, I still take it as an insult.
As it turned out this was to be our penultimate night in Athens. The next day I insisted we get ready to go to Poros and do some work. The reason I did this was because I had suddenly developed a penchant for getting lost while drunk on Ouzo. Not a good mix. It was later in the night when I lost Andy in a crowd and continued my wanderings on my own. It was October but still warm in Athens and I was enjoying the ambience very much. But it suddenly dawned on me I had no idea where I was. I looked around and nothing seemed familiar and a little bit of panic set in. Then I spied the Taxi.
I approached the taxi with a weaving gait that indicated I had a medical problem or I had consumed too much Ouzo. The taxi driver recognised at once what my problem was as I knocked on his window. He at first refused to acknowledge my existence. But my persistence made him wind his window down.
“You drunk. Go home,” he snapped.
“I know, I need a taxi to my hotel.”
“Go away,” he said, attempting to wind his window up.
As luck, or foresight, would have it, I had managed to write the name of the hotel on a piece of paper and kept it with me at all times. I fumbled in my jeans pocket and produced the paper. “Here,” I mumbled, pointing to the hotel’s name.
The taxi driver gesticulated, I had no idea what it meant, and repeated what I had said. “Here!”
“No! Here,” I said loudly, pointing to the name on the paper.
The taxi driver pointed down between his seated legs with both hands. “Here!”
“No! Here! Here!”
The driver got out of his cab. Opened the back door. Bundled me in. Got back in the cab. Started the engine. Drove across the street.
Stopped. Got out. Opened the back door and pointed to the building we were stood opposite a moment ago. “Here!”
All this time I had been stood across the road from the very hotel I wanted to be in.
I haven’t touched a drop of Ouzo since.
And what happened to the flower picking? It seems they do a lot of that in Poros, but only employ locals. Research is only valid if the information given is accurate, a lesson I learned well that year.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2020
The Brittle Sea Reviews
“An absolutely incredible book by Tom Kane. Having read so many books with Titanic as the theme, The Brittle Sea is a refreshing take on the concept.”
“It’s difficult to find the words to describe how it feels to read a book that sucks you into its story line and holds you captive until the end.”
“This book has everything Romance, Murder, Mystery which automatically hooks you to the story.”
“Tom Kane’s writing style is evocative and authentic. The characters are dexterously written – I found myself rooting for some while absolutely loathing others.The miasma of gloom and despair perfectly sets the tone for the intriguing tale.”