THE X bio for this week’s Icon reads: “Typist. Woke c***. Failed macrodoser.” You say: “I know what a typist is. And I get that the subject is a woke clot. But macrodoser? That sounds like something to do with drugs, ken? Is this aboot Irvine Welsh?” How dare you make such an assumption. And in such couthy language tae.

But, yes, you are right. Which is a shame in a way, as Welsh’s novels are about more than just drugs.

They’re about hope, despair, poverty, friendship, relationships, luck, love, community (even among the ostensibly anti-social), place, ambition, politics, music and, most importantly, Hibs. 

All of which you could say, right enough, are drugs, the last named being particularly addictive and damaging to the psyche.

You could add that the author of Trainspotting (“and much, much more”, to use the language of consumerism derided therein) put the drugs into Leith and, in doing so, put Leith on the map. But that would be using poetic licence. More accurate to say the drugs were already there.

And Leith was already on the map, though Irvine picked it out in emerald green for those trying to find it. He may spend time in Miami and London but can still largely be found stoatin’ aboot the north Edinburgh port. 

You cannae take Leith oot the laddie nor the laddie ootae Leith. Loves the place. Even wrote his prose in lingua Leithie.

He was born there in 1958, though the family moved to Muirhouse, three or four miles west, up the Firth of Forth, when he was four. 

Muirhouse is typical of many Scottish “schemes”, starting off all hope and inside toilets, then falling into disrepair and despair, a sterile grey ghetto lacking the vibrancy occasioned organically by shops and pubs attached to the streets, as they are on on Leith Walk and Easter Road.

Today, such schemes are doubtless better than in their 1980s nadir, augmented by peripheral toytown private housing at cheaper prices because of the area. 
But you’ll still search in vain for signs of the aristocracy.

The Herald:

Spark of genius
Searching for signs of life, Irvine left Ainslie Park High School at 16 and received his first big shock, an electrical one that hospitalised him, while working as an apprentice TV repairman. 

His second big shock, shared with the rest of the nation, came with the arrival of punk, its snot-covered finger beckoning him to yonder London, where he laid down his addled head in squats and bedsits, and played in a band called Pubic Lice.

Having scratched that itch, he returned to Edinburgh and a job in the housing department, which steadied the ship a little, though the pirate flag still lay cunningly hidden. 

In 1989, it started making its way back up the mast when he began working on Trainspotting, which follows a group of pleasant fellows as they get off their faces.

Irvine hooked up with alternative publisher Kevin Williamson, beginning with readings to a background of rave music. Then along came Robin Robertson, who was seeking a Scottish novel for Secker & Warburg at the time. Behold: Irvine! 

The rest is his story.

On the right track
TRAINSPOTTING was published in 1993, with Danny Boyle’s brilliant film adaptation following three years later. Tom Hodgkinson in the Idler magazine described Trainspotting variously as “Dickensian” and “Joycean”, with echoes of Kerouac. 

Despite touching on many themes earlier adduced, drugs hold it together, taking us not so much through the looking glass as down the U-bend, at least in one memorably feculent scene.

Welsh was speaking from experience, not of swimming through ordure, but of brain-bathing in hard drugs. True, after heroin in the early 1980s, he went straight and became “anti-drugs”. Then ecstasy and clubbing came along, so he said goodbye to his head for another four or five years.

Last year, three decades on from Trainspotting, Welsh said the novel was meant to be a “cautionary tale” about drugs. 

But he added that, today, it might as well be: “Choose drugs.” How so? “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f*****g big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers,” ranted Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) sarcastically in Trainspotting. He chose heroin. 

For many people now, Welsh told The Guardian, the other choices no longer exist: “People can’t get jobs. People will never buy a house. They can’t buy nice things.” 

Today, Irvine can buy nice things – if he so chooses – thanks not just to Trainspotting, but to a further series of bestsellers, including sequels and prequels, such as Porno, Skagboys, Dead Men’s Trousers. 

His 10th novel, The Blade Artist, published in 2016, centred around an ostensibly rehabilitated Begbie now living in California with a wife and children. 

Sharp dialogue
THE Long Knives – beginning to see a pattern here (though I didn’t see the castration of an MP coming) – was published in 2022, as a sequel to 2008’s Crime. A third in the trilogy, Resolution, will be published in July.

In 2021, a six-part TV adaptation of Crime was launched in the UK, followed by a second season on ITVX last year, with Dougray Scott playing disturbed detective Ray Lennox, a “kind of an avenging angel … on a vengeance quest”.

The Herald:
Obviously, a musical based on Trainspotting is in the pipeline: “Aye, a proper musical, with singing and dancing and s**t.”

The second part of a self-narrated documentary about his childhood and youth is due. The Folio Society released a sumptuous, illustrated edition of Trainspotting – 60 quid to you – and, on top of all the other joy, he married Taggart and Retribution actress Emma Currie, having captioned his engagement on social media: “Pissing wet day in Scotland but she said yes. So f**k everything else. Never been so happy.”

The couple met during lockdown, which otherwise unpleasant circumstance encouraged, as he put it, a more “old-fashioned courtship”. Now, aged 65, he says: “It’s time to be settled and a bit more conservative.” 

Ooh, has he lost his edge then? Naw. Don’t be daft. Look closely under that comfy armchair and you’ll see the black edge of that pirate flag ready to be unfurled at any time.