We have all heard them — “Yah mate, I literally vommed all over the dance floor of The Lizard last night…I just chundered every-whah!”. And we most certainly have heard them say, “One time, when I was on my gap yah…”
Matt Lacey has heard one too many ‘gap yah’ stories himself. So many, in fact, that he could merge them all together and use them to create the character of Orlando, a clueless rich kid on a “cultural-spiritual-political exchange”, or simply, and literally, on his gap yah. Yet, when I asked him whether Orlando was a caricature of himself or not, Matt couldn’t help but admit: “He is a composite of myself and things I’ve overheard. There are some definite elements of self-parody in the sketches”. Being an Oxford graduate, it was just bound to happen. The real Orlando, however, is so posh that when he tried to say his name to Matt, it seemed he was saying “Miranda” rather than “Orlando”; and the real Tarquin “chunders” in people’s front gardens in Oxford. These are the people who inspired Orlando to write The Gap Yah Plannah.
“I am reluctant to criticise gap years because there is certainly some value in them”, Matt tells me, “It is the way they are talked about afterwards that bothers me. Those stories, repeated ad nauseam in such a pompous manner, they are just so right for parody”. People who go on gap years often do so with the right intentions, if not always with the right frame of mind, as depicted by Orlando’s desire to provide a “Western presence” in Haiti. In fact, Matt comments, “It is all a bit charming, really. I have Orlando talk about ‘awahness’ [awareness] because he is so completely unaware of himself. It is absurd, being so self-regarding about things you can do: it just lends itself for ridicule”.
Yet, as was very well pointed out, taking a gap year does teach you some useful lessons. So it was for Matt Lacey himself, who also talks from experience when he is in Orlando’s shoes. During his own gap year he travelled to Ireland, where he worked in a Chinese restaurant for five months. He then spent four months in “Tanzanah” [Tanzania], as did Orlando. He tells me that, for him, the significance drawn from travelling during that year was spending prolonged periods of time in each country, rather than “hopping off from one place to another”.
His serious advice for students about to embark on gap years is, “To think carefully about what you’re going to do, and plan it well. Think about what you want to do, what you want to get from it, and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons”.
Nevertheless, his best advice is to read his new book, The Gap Yah Plannah. which features Orlando as “the fictional traveller, used as a vehicle for expressing satirical points”. Parallel to the absurd travel anecdotes, Orlando also embodies the youthful aspirations that push many young people to have these experiences; “When we are young, we all want to travel. We also have the benefit of having a less cynical world-view, which often makes us think we are doing more than we actually are”. In fact, it is upon people’s return from these adventures that charity fashion shows and balls start getting organised. “A bit of a thorny way of raising ‘awahness’”, Matt says. “The inspiration for the second ‘gap yah’ sketch came from an actual charity fashion event at Oxford”, he explains. “It was called ‘Hands Up for Darfur’, and the poster for it was a naked girl with a bloody handprint. I just thought it was so gloriously inappropriate that if one had attempted to come up with this satirically it would have never happened!” Presumably some St Andreans have felt the same at the sight of their peers’ own advertising campaigns: bongos and ball gowns and ladies in leather being only a couple of the recent brainwaves.
Amongst the chapters of his ludicrous steps around the world, Orlando pays £3000 to go on a mission (in a luxury hotel) in Kenya, he gets “temple fatigue” in Cambodia, and breaks up with his girlfriend, Venetia, before going to Peru, because, let’s face it, who wants to have a girlfriend whilst on their “gap yahs”? You might find his “important Spanish phrases” useful too; they will get you “a million beers” and teach you a thing or two about confusing “ñ” with “n”. This mistake caused Matt some embarrassment with a Spanish friend; “I had a Spanish phrase book, and one day I was reading out of it to my friend. One of the sentences was ‘cada ano…I go camping’. My friend looked at me and said, ‘You know you just said you go camping on every anus?’ After that, I would advise everyone to be careful about where they strike their tent!”
Matt Lacey and The Unexpected Items have been to St Andrews, so I can say, with a certain amount of pride, that there was inspiration to be drawn from our fellow Barbour coat- and Hunter welly-wearing peers. “I learned a lot from St Andrews. I don’t know if you’ve read far enough in the book to learn where Orlando gets a place at uni?”, Matt asks me. “Not yet”, I reply. “Well, it won’t take much of a guess…!”
It is true that it sometimes feels odd not to reciprocate to these “gap yah” stories without having done one myself. There is certainly some superiority in the voices of those who have.
Thankfully, in The Gap Yah Plannah, Orlando tells his readers to “Take [a gap yah] straight after school, then another just after university, then another when you feel like it because work is lame”. It is never too late.