Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
There are some books that smash you about the head because of their brilliance, but also open up your eyes to a world, or a reality, that you had no idea existed. And Trainspotting was that book for me. I’ve talked about Thomas the Tank Engine and Of Mice & Men as inspirations for education, kind of put in front of me by parents and teachers (not a complaint, as I enjoyed them immensely), but Trainspotting awoke me to a new dawn. I chose it myself. I had chosen other books obviously, but this book was the first book that I properly read.
I remember buying the book long with the soundtrack in HMV in Solihull when there was all the hype about the movie back in 1996. I was/am a big fan of Oasis and Cool Britannia was kicking off and this was the icing on the cake, getting rave reviews in magazines like Loaded and FHM (my education to ladies at the time, which I would
look at read about intensely). I was 16 at the time and bit wet behind the ears. It was the school term that sits between Easter and summer, and my final last weeks before my GCSEs which I should have been studying for. And my gosh, my innocent middle class eyes hadn’t fallen upon such barbaric language. I’d literally never seen so many fucks and c–ts in my life. Of course, at school, movies and football stadiums you hear it, but this was something else, done in such a humorous and bombastic way that it had me chuckling and trembling. The topics it covered, subcultures of sex and drugs from the schemes in Edinburgh, threw me into a new world. Scottish dialect with words like “ken” (to know) and “wee radge” (little man). I had heard a few terms like this through my cousin Sam who grew up in Glasgow, although his use of language, which I bet his parents will be pleased to hear, his a little less profane. I had to consult him on a few things though, although I think even he struggled to understand, never mind a naive teenaged Brummie. I remember talking about translations of books with my mate Nigel Simmons, another big reader and writer, and how they can lose so much of the tone when translated away from the original language, and we both agreed that Irvine Welsh literature is a pure example. It is not translateable (now translate translatable into English). Sorry foreign language speakers. You’ll have to read it in Scottish English, or you’ll miss out.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, the book is about heroin addicts. The protaganist, Mark Renton, is trying to come off it, but continuely struggles being in the company of life’s bad apples with very few scruples. I won’t tell you more. I was hooked on the movie at the time, but I saw it again recently with Pamela and it looks sadly very dated. I’m not sure how taken she was with it and she didn’t get to see the end as the electricity went out. She didn’t reload it on Netflix when the elecricity came back so I guess she wasn’t thrilled by it. It’s a real eye-opener into the decay that heroin has on people’s lives. I remember that Ben Elton said in a comedy sketch that the movie had the opposite effect on British society and more people ended up as addicts. I don’t know if this is true, but it left a benchmark on my generation, and no character in fiction has come across as more psychotic as Begbie. The Joker in Batman seems just an amateur to good ol’ Begs, because, Begbie seemed so real. He was. You can meet people like Begbie. Violent psychos do exist.
It wasn’t just the drugs though. Again, the book looks at this mysterious subculture. It was a dark rainy day when I read the first 65 pages of it. When I put the book down and went downstairs, I was a different man. Not a scowling, foul mouthed Scot, but knowledge that I was a priviledged middle-class English teenager, but also the lack of identity I felt with it as well, just as the drug addicts did in Trainspotting, without actually touching barely a spliff or having a whiff of glue. I didn’t feel a drop out, but just uncomfortable about identities and stereotypes given to us, the misunderstanding of pigeonholing people with independent brains and souls, but how humans always fall into a trap of doing it. Irivine Welsh’s use of language was that powerful, like a hyperdermic needle, which challenged my way of thinking completely.
I could blame Irvine Welsh on flunking my GCSEs, because when I finished reading Trainspotting I rushed out to buy everything else by this man. Business Studies and Science seemed so boring compared to sex and drugs to a 16 year old me. I probably enjoyed his book Glue more, but Trainspotting changed my life forever, so instead of blaming Irvine Welsh, I would like to thank him.
“Betta than any fuckin’ shite skool class in th’ wurld!”