Wednesday 30 April
I’ve bought myself a pair of running shoes. This in itself is a new experience for me, as it has never happened before. A year or so ago I purchased a jump rope. This I left, unused, in a hostel in Croatia; as it was taking up too much room in my bag. But needs must dear readers, and the time has come for me to stop looking like a pear spliced with a potato. I manage two decent runs, before realising I’m meeting old Estonian friends for some kind of student day of debauchery. I hang up the boots, and promise myself to get started seriously after the weekend. Well, maybe after Lithuania. Or Romania. Perhaps Georgia. I hear running in Azerbaijan is all the rage.
So I’m staying with my old friend Helen, who I met many moons ago in Belgium as part of some kind of theatre festival. A group from Scotland was joined by an Estonian bunch, and a mob from Hungary. We all had to devise a piece to be part of this Belgian show. Needless to say it was just utter carnage, and I’m pleased to report that not much has changed in nine years.
We pile into a car to make the short drive to Tartu, which is pretty much the centre of the academic world in Estonia. I fall asleep within minutes, and wake an hour or so later to find my companions have sunk around four bottles of wine between them. The following slurred conversation then ensues:
“Stuey, do you have any tanks in Scotland, y’know, moving about the countryside?”
“Yeah tanks. In Estonia we have tanks, moving about the countryside, all the time, and that is why we’re better than you.”
I resolve to catch up as soon as possible.
Today a number of faculties, or “corporations” are basically given the key to the city as part of a traditional student faculty day. Or something. I don’t know! I just work here! I don’t think anyone really knew what was going on. Anyway it’s a solid excuse for hundreds of students and alumni to don their best glad rags and tear the place apart. The only moderately smart thing I own is my kilt, and we spend a good half an hour running around town to try to borrow a pair of black shoes for me. I don’t have high hopes to be let in as we approach one such establishment, with towering Estonians guarding the entrance with ceremonial swords. There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, as every member wears their own coloured cap and sash to denote which “corporation” you belong to. Most guys look like Harry Potter on acid. With a large percentage of the women being astronomically gorgeous, I feel I’ve wandered into a porn star and train driver convention. There were certainly plenty of Hugh Hefner old boys kicking about too.
A sigh of relief is breathed as I’m allowed through the door and sign my name into this great tome of a book. I don’t think many people outside the society get this opportunity, and I’m feeling particularly privileged as we begin to dance the night away. A folky Estonian band belts out the local numbers, with pretty much everyone but yours truly crooning the tunes. It’s a sight to behold, and again I count my blessings at having the chance to be here. Hopefully I can make it out alive.
When the dawn starts to peak over the buildings, still shaking from some old, crazy, pissed-up/crack-head DJ; we’re heading off to another party. By the time we make it there we’re beyond all hope, and it isn’t long before a taxi is a matter of urgency. It must be about eight or nine in the morning when we stumble home. Little did I know it was to be a benchmark for the days to come. These Estonians are bat-shit crazy.