It’s a brisk Scottish spring day. The anomaly that is the sun is fully visible in a cloudless afternoon sky. Having done some light shopping, it’s time for a quick late lunch. Perhaps we’ll sit outside. With deadlines behind me it is nice, for a change, to relax and reflect. Often times one must leave the Bubble to do so. That is why, on this particular April day, I find myself in a beautiful, lively town not a forty-five minutes’ drive outside of St Andrews. It’s not Crail. It’s not Anstruther. It’s not Elie, Pittenweem, or St Monans. I’m actually talking about Dundee.
In St Andrews, Dundee, for many people, has a particularly brutal stigma attached to it. The mere mention of Scotland’s fourth largest city invokes an ugly image of a deprived post-apocalyptic wasteland, sitting somewhere on a spectrum of degeneracy between Chernobyl and the City of Dis (described by Dante as occupying the sixth through ninth circles of Hell). It has become the butt of many jokes and is now all but synonymous with depravity and villainy. It’s even garnered a few nicknames: “Scumdee”, “Dumbdee”, and “Dumpdee” are amongst the less clever, though far more polite, ones I’ve heard.
Having learned all this upon my arrival at St Andrews, I was convinced fairly quickly that Dundee was no town I’d ever fancy a proper visit to. Now, since then, I’ve been to Dundee number of times on numerous occasions for various reasons, but it wasn’t until a leisurely weekend visit recently that I got to actually experience the city, and explore its numerous winding avenues and quiet back streets. It was then that I fully realised that the infamy and indigence was all a myth. On the contrary, I reckoned, observing the sun reflect off the Tay and the verdant hills of Angus envelope the quaint coastal city, that this town is quite beautiful.
Of course, I can’t attest to the validity of Dundee as a night life hub, but no city should be defined from this factor alone. Walking along Nethergate, Dundee’s primary thoroughfare, one is struck by both the modern vibrancy and antiquated charm of the small city. Among the airy Victorian buildings that line either side of the cobblestone avenues are cafes, teashops, and other family-owned parlours peddling their curios. My friend even remarked how this part of the city bears a striking resemblance to her own hometown in the south of England.
And the Overgate Shopping Centre (sitting opposite the stunning Caird Hall) is a suitable destination to pick up almost anything you could need – no doubt several of us stopped here during Freshers’ Week to pick up whatever we had forgotten to get at IKEA. This, paired with a quick, cheap lunch at the restaurant Rama is worth the trip alone.
But perhaps I’m being naïve, and ignorant to the true nature of “Scumdee.” Perhaps there is a darker side that I haven’t seen, which gives legitimacy to the terrible image several have of the city. Even if that were so, what gives anyone the right to mock a whole city of 150,000 people because of its poverty and misfortune? Perhaps it’s the need for our town to have a natural competitor. Or, more likely, perhaps it’s all part of the St Andrean Narcissist Complex. It’s no Paris or London, but it has its own unique charm and quaint beauty; all one needs to do is ditch the assumptive attitude to see it.
And at the very least, by bus it’s only a £3 opportunity to leave the Bubble every now and then.