Who’s quoting who?

Tory Chancellor George Osborne told his party conference a week ago to ‘Choose jobs; choose enterprise; choose security; choose prosperity; choose investment; choose fairness; choose freedom; choose David Cameron; choose the Conservatives; choose the future.’ Good stuff, eh? It was widely supposed to be a parody of Renton’s rant in Trainspotting, where, in a mood of punkish defiance, he rejects conventional society’s demands in favour of self-determination and, implicitly, heroin. In my view, that’s crediting Osborne’s speech writers and the Tory audience with too much cultural awareness. Nevertheless, Welsh tweeted: ‘Would rather have [murderers] Fred and Rosemary West quote my characters on child care than that cunt Osbourne (sic) quote them on choice.’ Well at least he can spell the murderers’ names and the foulest word in the English language OK.

Some say that Welsh was no more than parodying and expanding WHAM! and their CHOOSE LIFE blast from ten years before Trainspotting. The very suggestion! You mean Welsh may not have been entirely original? And to add that the whole bloody lot of them were beaten to the ‘choose life’ idea by Moses, let’s say two and a half millennia ago, well that just proves you’re a geek.

History and fiction – a potent mix

A few days before the referendum I took an Austrian journo who was in town looking for a fresh angle. He asked me how the Trainspotting characters would vote. Here’s his piece, translated. He didn’t get everything right, but that’s journos for you.

SICK BOY VOTES YES
There was a lot of talk about this quarter. Drug addicts and the homeless inhabited an abandoned railway station, and there was soon talk of the ‘Aids Capital of Europe’ in a tabloid newspaper.

The suburbs of the Scottish capital Edinburgh in the 1980s were dotted with dismal social housing schemes. Later on, Irvine Welsh immortalised the area of Leith in his acclaimed junkie novel Trainspotting.

On the eve of the Scottish independence referendum this infamous area has calmed down. The social situation has improved. The junkies have disappeared from the streets, says Tim Bell. The former social worker offers Trainspotting tours around Leith and tells stories from the novel and the city. With his novel, Welsh achieved an incredibly detailed and accurate account of Edinburgh in the 1980s, says Bell. The rough-sounding Scottish dialect, which Welsh uses in his books hits precisely the tone of Leith.

The old railway station has long since been demolished. In its place are a supermarket and a big car park. ‘One of many missed opportunities here’, says Bell.

Nearby is the Central Bar, in which some important scenes from the film Trainspotting starring Ewan McGregor were filmed. Even today local men from the area gather in the morning to drink their first pint of the day ‘In the old days there were brutal fights here’, explains the tour guide.

‘Violence was part of Scottish culture – especially in the Orange Order Marches.’ Only twenty years ago, the radical Protestants were regularly marching through Scottish towns, as a symbol of the union with England and against the Catholic minority.

Today that’s all over. ‘The debate about independence is being conducted completely peacefully. It’s a festival of democracy’ opines Bell. In Leith lots of houses are decorated with YES posters and Scottish flags, and here and there one can also see Better Together posters – the slogan of the NO campaign.

‘My own family is divided’, says Bell. He is against the separation, but his wife and son are voting for independence. Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has also made his support for independence clear in public.

How would the characters from Trainspotting have voted? ‘Sick Boy would vote YES. He would see the possibilities of cross-border smuggling,’ thinks Bell. The protagonist Mark Renton, who at the end of the film escapes the drugs scene with a suitcase full of money, would become clean and vote against independence – on the grounds on stability.

And the brutal thug Begbie would get involved in it while he’s in prison. ‘He would plan acts of violence against those with opposite opinions on the voting day. He would not yet have made his mind up about which side he supported and would therefore have chosen his victim randomly on the day,’ speculates Bell.

In Leith, many places from the Trainspotting period have disappeared, but one can still get the feeling of days gone by in the rough dialect of the inhabitants and a few dark corners. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the world of Trainspotting lives on in today’s Scotland and its literature.

I also speculated that Spud, with his Irish ancestry, hates London with visceral contempt. On the other hand, he hates partitions. Besides, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone with a contrary opinion. Catching the mood of the moment, he has registered to vote, for the first time in his life, and he has to go through with it. So he decides he will hope for inspiration in the polling booth, and to help him he will save up for some good quality mind-altering drugs to take shortly before going. Of course, it could have the effect that he will never make it to the polling station. Problem solved, either way!