We couldn’t decide. Should we go or not? It looked cold outside and the couch was calling. We’d got a stack of films recorded and food galore. On the other hand it wasn’t raining and we could get there direct from the tram stop outside the front door. We shrugged off the Christmas inertia, put on the layers and went for it.
Sloterplas, the lake at the end of tramline 14, was grey and uninviting. We strolled and the wind whipped my scarf into a frenzy. Buoys bobbed in what I was sure would be freezing water. The little beach edging the lake was empty; only a white party tent, sides open to the elements, awaited the crowd. After five minutes, we could stand it no longer and ducked into the café. Hot chocolate seemed to be the order of the day.
I cupped my mug in my hands, relishing it’s warmth and comfort. The thought of disrobing out there sent shudders down my spine. The idea of jumping into the water was practically unthinkable – but that’s what we were here for – the New Year Dip. To watch you understand. Not to dip.
‘Are you doing the swim’, I asked the lady next to us. We’d seen her outside, sauntering in a T-shirt, and were convinced she was adventurous enough. She burst out laughing. We were in complete agreement – you’d have to be crazy to jump into that. The Hotel Buiten was becoming busier by the minute. Young and old, men and women, all shapes and sizes, some wearing flip-flops and bath robes, some carrying Albert Heijn shopping bags with copious supplies of towels and woolly jumpers, all laughing and chatting, and unbelievably looking like they were looking forward to it.
At the back of the room, volunteers sat behind great pans of pea soup and vats of hot chocolate – but that was for later. Red Cross people pow-wowed in a corner. A man with a microphone made an announcement. ‘No undressing in here please, you must do that outside’. We thought that was a bit cruel, but no one seemed to mind.
The party tent was now the scene of a party. Loud music blared. Kids did jumping jacks and ran in circles. A woman sauntered by in a bikini. A man stood patiently next to his wife, awaiting the whistle. ‘Why do you do it?’, I asked him. ‘It’s a great atmosphere and it makes me feel good. I always do it if I can’, he said. Everyone did appear to be having a great time but still I thought wild horses couldn’t drag me into that water…
And then the man with the microphone was counting down. Ten, nine, eight….. and with a great peal of squealing, giggling and shouting the dippers rushed to the water as one. Some went in only up to their knees and ran out again, splashing and laughing. Others dunked bravely. One pair – a man wearing a curly orange wig, and the other a toga, lounged as if it were a warm bath. They ran in and out, and back again….
After all that activity we were completely exhausted. Enough excitement for one day, we decided, and took ourselves back to the couch.
Hotel Buiten, Th J Lammerslaan 3, http://www.hotelbuiten.nl