Trainspotting and Irvine Welsh

Trainspotting was Irvine Welsh’s breakthrough novel, but I’d never given it a go until recently.  It was the book that was cool and popular to read around the time of university, and a film which was great and very popular – it spawned a culture all of its own, those posters from the films adorned many bedroom walls.

1996 seems like it was a rich year for many things: film (Trainspotting and I’m sure others), music (off the top of my head Underworld’s smash hit Born Slippy which featured in the Trainspotting film), football (a trip to Wembley with my Dad to watch Plymouth Argyle beat Darlington 1-0 in a PlayOff final, shortly followed by the European Championships in England where England reached the semi-final and lost to Germany on penalties): all vivid in memory.

Some years or seasons seem to write themselves more keenly, helped by arts, football: momentous seeming stuff that matters, things you care about.

Yet I consciously didn’t read Trainspotting and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps the film had ruined any chance I had to impose my own interpretation.  I read and enjoyed his books which followed closely after.  Porno was especially fun.  His more recent thriller-esque novel Crime was functional and entertaining enough – if a little needy in its brutal violence; while a short story collection Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs was a surprisingly amusing romp.

Now he’s releasing a prequel to Trainspotting, Skagboys, which I will want to read at some point.  So I thought it was time to give Trainspotting a chance.

It’s a different kind of reading, reading Irvine Welsh.  That thick Scottish dialect actually is a different kind of language and possesses a rhythm and flow of its own.  You let your eyes wash over the words and only compute them together at the end of the sentence, when miraculously it does make sense.  You find the dialect injecting itself into your own stream of consciousness.  You find yourself swearing much more.  If not out loud, then at least inside your head at fuckin dozy cunt shop assistants.

After a while it doesn’t even feel like proper reading.  It feels like you could read it just as efficiently and derive just as much pleasure when really quite drunk.  And it is tremendously funny, the dialogue and internal monologues and candid honesty of the characters.

You have to beware of projecting the characters you’ve seen numerous times from what’s become a cult film.  You’re applying the now world-famous Ewan McGregor to Rents (Renton), and Robert Carlyle as Begbie and.. the other slightly less famous lot.

But still.  It’s still very funny, shocking, intimate, a total joy of a ride.


An addendum to this, 18/07/12.  I recently finished Welsh’s Skagboys, the prequel to Trainspotting.  It was every bit as rich and funny and challenging as I expected.  A little under-edited maybe, and a flicker of cocky knowingness which wasn’t there when Welsh was an unknown, perhaps, but that’s forgivable.  Nae cunt’s gonna make a film of our lives, ye ken?  (or some such – quoting from memory).  But still I miss those characters, and may re-read the Trainspotting sort of sequel Porno in a few months.  I even sent a vaguely fawning complimentary tweet to Welsh, who Favorited it. Me and Irvine, eh?  Solid.



abstract expressionism

We push open the heavy gallery doors and step out onto the museum’s first floor landing.  It had been different speaking about art out loud to you, hearing someone else’s interpretations, not being trapped in the confines of my own brain, wondering if these thoughts were ridiculously pretentious.  Surely a point of art is to unlock that part of your brain, to allow it to freewheel and riff.

The door swings back behind us, clumping closed.  Now the marble and stone creates a wave of echoing acoustic that jars against the sealed art space quiet.  Louder voices, chatter from downstairs, squealing children, pandering parents.

You’re saying something about that last painting but I’ve stopped listening.  I’ve stopped listening because out here there’s a sound, a voice which unsettles me, a blurry familiarity I can’t place, I don’t want to place, I’m scared by.

His voice slices in like a real world sound cutting into dream, like a sound which may initially be part of a dream before becoming real.  Worlds collide with his overfamiliar voice, a voice which has sliced into consciousness from radios and televisions. Those can at least be switched off.  Shit, a second glance.  Definitely him.  I need a magic remote control to just..  What’s he doing here?!  What’s he even doing in this city?  Shit.

You’re still speaking and I’m still nodding, pretending to listen, but this nervous hinterland returns me to dreams of a few hours before.  Afterwards I interpreted them as being related to you, to us, to this; but I didn’t tell you that or explore in any depth.

(I told you the one, where you’d decided not to stay and had caught a bus, literally, the rear pole of an old London Routemaster, just as it was taking off, and you had flown away.  I had been left standing there watching it go, disappointed, confused and yet slightly relieved.  I thought this a reflection of feelings about relationships, their general here today gone tomorrow transience – however seemingly long-term solid or briefly flaky.  Anything can happen.   In the next I sat on the top deck of a bus or a van, not that vans usually have decks, as it sped too fast down country roads.  I felt giddy and sick and couldn’t bear to look, although the roads were scenic.  Everything was moving frighteningly fast.)

Now I peer around a pillar and over a stone bannister to a small mezzanine area containing a statue.  The man and boy are about to climb the small flight of steps up to where we’re standing.

“Do you want to meet my brother?” I ask you.

He doesn’t know about you, of course.  None of my family do; not yet.  It hasn’t been that long.   “..saw him with a girl” I can already hear him telling his wife in an incredulous, mocking tone.

Now he’s climbing the steps in this direction.  I’m semi-paralysed, feet cemented.  Run away?

“What? Why?” you reply, looking scared too.
“Um, because he’s here, he’s just down there, with his son.  He’s coming up this way, now.”
I feel my face pallid, lacking blood.
“Do you want me to meet him?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t mind either way.  Do you want to run?”
“Yes.  A bit.”

Although I feel I shouldn’t.

He arrives at the top of the stone steps, a few feet away from us, still talking to his whining 5 year old. I remain frozen. We could still run. He still hasn’t seen us.

He looks up to get his bearings, glances straight through me once, twice, maybe three times.  We’ve been given ample opportunity to run, to turn our backs and walk away.  Still could.  But somehow I can’t.

Now he registers the unusualness of my unmoving shape, a man rigidly and weirdly staring at him.

“Oh hellooo!” his smarmy voice peels up into the domed ceiling and he smiles broadly, walks towards us.  I smile nervously and he steps into my embrace.  I introduce you.