It took me about a week to settle back in to life in the U.K.
I arrived home just before Christmas, and as a result spent the next few days shopping for presents in Dundee and Edinburgh, my jet-lag on hold until the festivities were finished. By Boxing Day I was desperately in need of a rest, eight weeks of restless nights and long hours finally taking their toll.
I permitted myself a fortnight of freedom before I renewed my apparently never-ending search for permanent, full-time employment – preferably in Scotland this time, and used it to catch up on sleep and with friends. I bought a new camera in the January sales and used the break to get to grips with my newest gadget.
After a quiet Hogmanay spent drinking cider in Broughty Ferry’s Ship Inn, I began the new year with a walk to the harbour in the hope of catching the dookers on the morning of January 1st. It’s about a forty minute walk from my parents’ house, and on a nice day it can make for a very pleasant stroll along the beach.
Dooking is the process of running into the sea, usually in celebration of something or other. Abroad, people don’t dook; other nations would go for a swim or a paddle. But mid-winter in Scotland affords no such sea-side luxury. In Scotland it’s an event – a test of endurance. And one that people seem to flock to.
Arriving over an hour early, I left my parents to secure a patch of pier with a decent enough view of the slipway below while I wandered onto the high street to search for coffee. Costa was open, so I ordered a couple of lattes and the largest Honeycomb Hot Chocolate on offer in a bid to compensate for the piddly portions served in Syktyvkar.
I was surprised by just how cold it was outside; after two months of sub-zero temperatures in Russia I had expected Scotland to feel positively equatorial. I zipped up my jacket against the wind and felt immediately warmer. With my purchases secured in a cardboard carrier, I returned to the harbour.
It was an incredibly clear day, the view of the two bridges feeding Dundee unobstructed by fog or cloud. Most impressive of all was Broughty Ferry castle, which was perched prettily just opposite the pier, across the harbour from where by parents had taken up position. We sipped our drinks as a crowd formed in the structure’s shadow.
A loud-speaker somewhere behind us announced the afternoon’s itinerary: there would be a fancy dress competition at quarter to two followed by the dook itself forty-five minutes later. A quick look around revealed a couple of superheroes, a few cross-dressers and the obligatory smurf. Only in Scotland.
Following a quick photo opportunity at the top of the ramp that the participants would later run down, the costumed competitors disappeared back into the crowds to cover up until the main event itself. We waited for what felt like another hour while paramedics took to the water and the event’s organisers beach-combed for anything potentially sharp or dangerous.
Finally, in a flurry of activity, the dookers assembled once more — Batman and Where’s Wally standing out amongst a scrum of pale-bodied Scots shivering for warmth. One whistle later and they were off — pushing past one another in a race to get it over and done with, as soon as humanly possible.
It was quite the spectacle, as five hundred thrill-seekers — both more brave and more bonkers than I — hit the water. Some shrieked before the water had even passed their ankles, and hot-footed it back up the slipway, while others took to the water like deranged ducks, swimming well beyond the ladders so that they had to be herded back by strategically placed men in boats.
The whole thing was over in about five minutes, as the last of the participants shivered their way back up the ladder and into the arms and towels of various beaming loved ones. The screams of enjoyment gave way to stutters of strife as they were led away from the water. I tried to pick out the smurf but it proved impossible — almost everyone had by this point turned blue.
Not for the first time that day my thoughts turned to Russia, to the time I was told about Baptism Day. Every January 19th, in just about every Russian village, a hole is drilled into the ice covering rivers, lakes and tributaries so that individuals can Christen themselves for the following year. Three times each.
I have never understood such recklessness, even when it’s in the name of charity or – as in the case of Russians – Christ. And that’s not even taking into account the individuals doing it unbidden for their own enjoyment or sense of accomplishment. But each to their own. I’m sure there are those who would consider two months in Syktyvkar just as foolhardy.
Anyway, how did you celebrate your new year?