I’m drafting out an Author’s Note for the next re-print, or second edition of my book. Amid the C-19 crisis we are forgetting a whole community of people in our streets and right across the world who look set to become reservoirs of the C-19 as well as HIV. When are we going to take this seriously?

Shortly before publication in 2018 my publisher and I approached two agencies – one concerned with HIV care and support and the other with drug harm reduction and rehabilitation – to invite them to take a page each in this book. They had the same problem: they couldn’t be associated with a book that freely includes terms like ‘junkie’, ‘smack’, and ‘shooting galleries’.

When I was writing the book, broadly I was using Welsh’s parlance. This was to enter the spirit of Trainspotting. If I thought about it further, which I didn’t, much, I had in mind Williiam Burrough’s Naked Lunch or Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book, among others, which use similar vocabulary.

Even if it were possible, I wouldn’t re-write it to refer exclusively to ‘people with addiction problems’, ‘illegal substances’ and ‘intra-venous drug injecting sessions’. But I completely accept and fully support the reasons of the two agencies for not taking a page.

This book is about the cultural phenomenon known as Trainspotting, its context and background. A rounded awareness of all this includes the realisation that the ‘War on Drugs’ is better understood as a multimillion-dollar industry that gives and gives to its main protagonists: the businessmen running the supply side and privatised prisons, where the market-place clashes with the state functions of public health and the detention and rehabilitation of citizens. Well-rewarded politicians around the world act as middlemen.

With Portugal a stand-out exception, local and national initiatives will never be enough to resolve the basic issues in play. Nothing less than a global, co-ordinated, sustained, and courageous cultural shift is required, but it rarely gets to the top of the agenda of politicians who might be in a position to do something meaningful.

However, it is a war in the sense that prohibitive legislatures around the world keep ‘drugs’ illegal. If the war was fought genuinely to be won by either side, one of them would use different strategies from the ones that have failed for so long, and there would be a winner. It is not fought to be won. Governments widely use the illegal status in order to conveniently associate drugs with minorities: immigrants, non-mainstream faith groups, people of another colour or ethnicity, unemployed, poor people, opposition parties, anyone they wish to isolate, harass, condemn, and call ‘other’. 

People in Leith and Muirhouse in the 1980s fell into one or more of these categories. Trainspotting is a fictionalised depiction of addiction, strongly attached to the lived experience of its author, to vividly remembered history, and to real location. That’s what makes it both a local and a universal story.

Comments please. Keep safe, keep sane.