Magazine article The Spectator

A Grown-Up Gap Year

Magazine article The Spectator

A Grown-Up Gap Year

Article excerpt

Standing in front of a Tiepolo depicting the stealing of John the Baptist's body, the woman next to me told me to tuck my shirt in. I did, and tried to smooth my unbrushed hair down. I was at the Brera gallery in Milan with an art history tutor and with eight mothers -- none of them mine. We were on a different kind of gap year -- a gap year for mums. My first gap year was not spent in Africa or skirting ravines on perilous South American buses. I didn't do a cooking, secretarial, or Microsoft Excel course. I wasted it, not realising that I wouldn't have time to waste in a few years' time. Nowadays a two-week holiday feels decadent and six weeks learning about art in Italy an impossible dream.

Art History Abroad is a British company that has traditionally organised courses for school leavers. Courses on which minds younger and fresher than mine can absorb the Renaissance, and their first taste of independent living. Art History Abroad has launched a new programme, 'Gap Years for Mums', which -- depressingly -- is more my speed. Those of us with lives that make it hard to take long periods of time off can divide the experience of a gap year into grown-up and digestible week-long bites.

The course appeals to parents who have seen their teenaged children enjoy opportunities that they themselves would love to have. Why should the romance of studying in Italy be available only to those whose idea of romance involves a panini and too many vodka Red Bulls?

When I joined them in Milan the group had already been to Venice. Meeting them, I was nervous -- just like a real gap-yearer.

Arriving with a vague Oedipal anxiety I wondered if they would mother me. I hoped so.

Did my untucked shirt have a subconscious Freudian motive or was it just carelessness?

On the flight over I'd imagined attractive Goldie Hawn and Michelle Pfeiffer types who would pay for my spaghetti and make sure I finished it. I thought it might make a good movie in the holiday farce genre.

Milan was cold, and we huddled outside the entrance of the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie waiting for a group of Japanese tourists to file in. I made a joke about Grazia magazine. My chosen role as class clown -- albeit an untalented one -- went down like a teenage pregnancy at a girls' boarding school. Nick Ross was our tutor and we followed him into the church to see Leonardo da Vinci's 'Last Supper' -- a painting I knew only as a postcard. …

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