Magazine article The Spectator

The Denture Venturers

Magazine article The Spectator

The Denture Venturers

Article excerpt

In May, a 66-year-old German had his bike stolen in Portsmouth, after cycling 150,000 km through 211 countries over a period of 44 years.

He was shocked. The nation was shocked. I was shocked. What was he doing, pedalling around the world for almost half a century? Didn't he have grandchildren to look after?

He probably did, but the point is he damn well wasn't going to. The mad cyclist is just another example -- albeit an extreme one -- of a truly terrifying new phenomenon: the adult gap year. Mintel's 2005 Gap Year Report suggested that 200,000 adult 'gappers' were slinging on their backpacks each year (or rather their Louis Vuittons: the average spend is £10,000 per couple -- they are usually couples -- and the market is worth £1bn).

That's compared to 220,000 18- to 24-yearolds, averaging £3,000-4,000 each.

'It's huge, ' says Tom Griffiths, the 32year-old founder of www. gapyear. com. 'Just look at the terminology: they're called SKIers ('Spending the Kids' Inheritance'), Saga louts, denture-venturers, bungeejumping grannies. They're the Baby Boomers who had their original gap years in the 1960s and 1970s and are going off for seconds. My mum's not sitting around looking after my toddlers. She sent me an email and off she went.' Am I the only person to find this frightening? I mean, the only reason I had the nerve to do my own gap years, one in America at 18 (when I blubbed the first time I saw a Greyhound bus because it was so dirty) and another in South America in my late twenties (50 times better -- because by then I knew how awful working really is), was that dear old Blighty was waiting, as reliable as a suet pudding, when I got home. And I was certain that, stationed somewhere in the reassuring hinterland behind the White Cliffs, my parents were waiting by the phone, and actually reading my letters. They provided me with a firm foundation on which to base my career as a world explorer.

And now? Now I have a recurring nightmare that my 77-year-old mother is going to ring and say she's bought a Honda Goldwing with an octogenarian from the Farnham U3A and they're going overland to Africa.

He's studying motorcycle maintenance, she's studying Swahili, and they can't get travel insurance but what the hell, they're going anyway, and I am going to spend a year worrying myself sick and transferring funds into her bank account every time she gets her cards nicked. …

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