14 November 2016

The Reality of Trainspotting

In 1993, Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting was an orchestrated crash of a disturbing, gritty reality and a strangely idealised existence as a drug addict. Naturally, the film’s prompt release followed in 1996. Last year in Scotland, heroin potentially caused 38% of drug-related deaths while its substitute methadone was involved in 41% of death cases. They didn’t choose a career, or good health or even a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. They chose a lifestyle that their bodies simply couldn’t keep up with as the “Trainspotting Generation” of forty-something-year-old men meet their early demise.

Of course, the accusations of glamorising drug abuse were hurled Welsh’s way and to a degree, it was the case. Not intentionally on anyone’s part but kids with nothing better to do in the likes of Nidrie romanticised the concept of being a tortured soul and pledged oath to the ways of the Leith quadruplet in the same way as Ben from Barnsley would indulge in a Smiths record and borrow Morrissey’s haircut. Gordon Munro, a Leith city councillor told the Guardian, “I remember speaking to a community activist in Muirhouse and she was telling me how people had seen Trainspotting as a manual of how to behave.”

Levels of drug deaths in Scotland reached new levels last year and it’s not irresponsible youngsters fatally gulping an adulterated eccie, it’s men in their forties who would’ve been ages with Renton in all his twisted charm when the film rose to prominence and their choices lost their clarity. Historians have noted that opiates crash landed in the Scottish capital in 1693 but it wasn't until 1877 that the middle classes with the funds at their disposal dabbled in the easing powder.  Fast forward a few years to 1884 and there we have it. The birth of heroin. Journalist and historian Michael Fry added, “By the end of the 19th century, Edinburgh produced most of the world's opiate drugs, heroin included.” The increased demand met its shadier supply in the form of cheap heroin from Pakistan that was welcomed on arrival like a soldier returning home after combat. 

By the end of the 70s, unemployment was suffocating the working-class, peripheral housing schemes had reduced to deteriorating ghettos and Margaret Thatcher cosied up at 10 Downing Street. Dubbed the "Scottish-effect", a no-surrender approach of embracing risk in its many forms of destruction and rising to a challenge, no matter how detrimental to your health it may be, is something Irvine Welsh himself investigated. "Englishness is the norm," said the author. “Scottishness is increasingly seen as a second-class thing. There's always been an idea of two types of Scots – those who went to London and made it big, and the second-raters who stayed home. It's a very negative thing.”

The aforementioned risk rings true with a particular penchant for needles among the Scottish community who prefer their risk to come with the added possibility of incurable infection. "It's whisky versus beer," says Welsh.“In Scotland we've always gone for the dangerous hit. In England there's always been a more mellow way – the slow pint of beer in a pub.” It's the bravado, front and audacity of it all that's too attractive a prospect to turn their noses up at, or get their noses into – “even the most desperate junkies and alcoholics often have this swaggering bonhomie about them.”

With a dark underbelly that’s too bloated with quirk and allure to conceal, the permanence and reality of this cult film is clearer now than ever for the kids who grew up in its wake. T2's first full-length trailer was released last week, loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s novel Porno, starring the original cast members. With mentions of revenge porn, slut shaming, zero hour contracts and social media in the trailer, the film could be to a new generation, what the original was to its generation – with the humour and frivolity that one would expect from Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud.