Drugs/ ‘Trainspotting’ term paper 42514

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The above statement is clearly meant to be a pun of the name given to the group of countries called England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales; the United Kingdom. But is it true? Have we become this shamble of nations begrudgingly bearing a collective name? It is true that ‘Trainspotting’ does not focus upon what we would call the upper class, but this of course should not instantly imply that the working class are disorganised and useless rabble. On the contrary, the working class societies are some of the most close-knit and supportive communities in the whole of the United Kingdom. However ‘Trainspotting’ does not even focus upon the working class, but instead on the unemployed, the men and women in the UK who learn to beat the system just to avoid getting a job. Moving beyond the simple name of the country we live in, what actually makes us British? In my opinion we are a part of the society that calls itself Britain, and so to be a disunited kingdom, we must first be a disunited society, an opinion also demonstrated by Irvin Welsh in ‘Trainspotting’.

So what makes Welsh’s cut of Glasgow tick? The short answer is this; fast hits. However, where these highs are found varies from person to person, but none are positive contributions to society. The main contributing factor to this dysfunctional society is a myriad of drugs, mostly heroine but others are used and abused by many of the characters in the novel. Again though this is not to say that every unemployed person in the country is a drug addict, on the contrary there are those like

Begbie, who get off making everyone else suffer. Tommy starts out as the shining beacon of hope in the novel, but even he eventually succumbs to the temptation of heroine after everything goes downhill between him and his girlfriend. However, it would not appear that Welsh is in fact just criticising the life of the junkie, nor does he condemn outright them at any point. While the novel can be read as a reason not to do drugs, and in this way it is true that it contains very strong messages against drug abuse, it can also however be read as a look at social breakdown, “[Thatcher’s] desire to protect the ethnic identity of ‘Britishness’, which I would argue most often implies ‘Englishness’.” The novel supports this quote completely, providing London as Renton’s saving city. Renton in fact says very early on in the novel that some people only turn to drugs just to find some silence. So drugs are a way to escape from life, understandable when you look at just how Renton and his friends are living. ‘Trainspotting’ is set just after the mining and steel decline, a time when finding work has become harder and harder even for those who actually want a job. So people have turned to the most readily available source of money; dealing drugs. Rather than confronting the problems around them they turn to drugs, quitting when life appears to be getting better but later when it goes bad again out comes the needle. Soon each problem is solved by ‘cooking up’, “Tommy gied us some speed” being the solution to Spud’s lack of composure before his job interview. However it goes from being a one off problem solver to total addiction, a state of being where a person can ignore everything but the need for more drugs. Isolated and alone in a selfish desire for drugs and highs, a member of this desperate society drifts apart, breaking bonds of friendship and any cooperation that happens between them is done cautiously, each waiting for the other to ‘screw’ him or her. In this light it can be easy to very quickly blame drugs as the cause of the dissolution of the community spirit that makes up a thriving and happy community. But as mentioned before, drugs are not the only problem faced by the society depicted in ‘Trainspotting’ and therefore cannot be the only culprit.

Welsh identifies and includes several of the adverse behaviours that are often seen in the news and are clearly marked out by society to be wrong. Taking his views to be true, what does society do to try to help these people that are addicted to a substance slowly killing them? The brutally honest answer is not much, Renton attempts to seek help at a government facility and only ends up being put on different drugs, “been prescribed methadone and temazepan” to replace the heroine. As already mentioned, the drugs industry only has existence in ‘Trainspotting’ because there is nothing else for the characters to do. It is their lives in its entirety. The industry also exists as a crutch for societies that are less well off since many industries began to collapse and so let them all go. When Renton and his friends are ‘forced’ to steal to get money for more gear him and Spud get caught leading to them ending up in front of a judge. Here again society turns against those it decides it no longer wants, giving the ‘proper’ speaking Renton a second chance but instantly jailing the stammering Spud. Coding is society’s way of keeping down what it does not desire to enter into it. The court case is only one example of subjecting through coding in the novel “With god’s help, I’ll beat this disease.” The use of coding in the court is one of the only times Welsh writes speech or monologue in the novel without the accent, showing exactly how Renton is playing within the rules of the game. Renton makes a interesting statement in the novel about how he doesn’t hate the English, they’re just wankers, but Scotland was colonised by wankers. It is very true that at the time the novel was written, all major decisions concerning the United Kingdom were made in London, a very obvious imbalance of power within the nations involved. The idea that Renton and his companions do not have a choice in their lifestyles but are only making the best of a bad situation is again very plausible given the list of circumstances and events of the novel. Moving on from the official answer to deal with drugs with different drugs, the lack of care for any of those not considered to be worthy of society is again shown by the abusive nature of those around Renton. When Tommy catches AIDS he is segregated from society, living in a bed sit very much like the one Renton was living in at the start of the novel “PLAGUER was painted on the heavy plywood-enforced door” . An unfortunate and hideously ill man is treated like dirt because of a lack of knowledge. In his hour of need there is no one for him to turn to, society throws him out and dumps him alone along with anyone else with AIDS, this practice is taken to such an extreme that only the smell of a rotting corpse actually tells anyone he is dead.

The poetry of Peter Reading paints a dark reality of the 1990’s United Kingdom, and he states in one such poem from the collection ‘Ukulele Music’ “Too black and over the top, though is what the Actual often happens to be. He don’t invent it,” earlier on in the poem, he clearly states that ‘he’ is himself, and that he is just writing from the third person. Assuming that he is in fact telling the truth, and is not just an incredibly cynical man, it does not look good for a United Kingdom as he watches himself and his peers fail in the tasks given to them in their youth. He looks at the people around him, sees the clothes they wear and the acts of nations as a whole. Continuing from the same poem he lists the brutal acts of man against man, with people finding mutilated corpses in lakes, the elderly, the middle aged and the young, all abused by members of society. He states simply that we have lost all respect for our species, “Clearly we no longer hold H.Sapiens in great reverence.” Though most of the heinous acts he references happened outside of the United Kingdom, the point still remains very valid for out our lack of unity. Unemployment does get a mention in a few poems along with homelessness. However, unlike Welsh who does not truly present a solid opinion one way or the other, Reading refers to the homeless as “no-fixed-abode parasites” , harsh perhaps but arguably fair. This said Reading goes on to present a frightening fact of why many are on the street “River-View Flatlets £600,000 each.” , a shocking price today, let alone ten or more years ago. It is another example of society controlling who it has within it; high house prices mean only the rich can live there, and with the rich comes the stereotype of a certain type of person. Reading merely goes on to reinforce the initial point that we no longer respect the race as a whole, breaking ourselves up into small groups, each picking carefully who they wish to allow to associate within their number. We see comparisons between Welsh’s work and Reading’s in the poem from ‘C’, a descriptive number about how the body vomits combined with the solemn truth about mortality, and how its not as great as its cracked up to be, “Do not be deluded: mortality’s worse than you think.” Clearly this is very similar to the general life depicted by Renton at the beginning of ‘Trainspotting’, in a world full of shite, vomit and poor hygiene. However is humanity really that bad? Reading seems to lack a positive word for anything bar the occasional individual and it could very well be that only here does any hope lie, rather than in once united civilisations. In fact Reading seems to feel so strongly about the individual he is willing to put up with aspects of society and those in it “So I’m still here because I love her.” A very powerful sentiment indeed but unfortunately for society it still continues down the trail of thought of only trusting the individual, never the masses. Ironically in this poem Reading’s own words show the disunity within society, and his two faced nature towards his significant other’s friends as they ask pleasant questions only to be mentally insulted in return.

Simon Armitage is another poet with a grim view of humanity, once again seeming to believe that society is at an end. In his poem ‘Parable of the Dead Donkey’ he deals with the constant struggle to find work. Potently the poem is a metaphor of the ‘rat race’ we all live in as the two men dig one hole, only to fill it with another in a never ending cycle of labour. The concept of false economy in this poem is similar to that of the drug industry in ‘Trainspotting’, providing those with no other option a way to provide for themselves. However in the long run it is detrimental to those around them, in the case of the poem there is always going to be a hole left unfilled, and always someone paying for it to be done “Which left a taste of something that wouldn’t finish:” Armitage finishes by concluding that nothing positive has been gained from this experience. However, it ends the same as it began, only the spirits of those involved have been ground down a little more, “We wondered home in the dark, without supper or profit.” ‘Zoom’ is another interesting poem focused on the parasite like nature of mankind. Not quite the disunited kingdom of Welsh and Reading but still looking at the behaviour of the masses. Starting with a very individual building, Armitage rushes outwards into the oblivion of the universe and the planets eventual obliteration, leaving a featureless ball to start over. Despite the possibility for a fresh start in this journey, there is still no truly positive point on society, no co-operation between the people of these cities, just the desire to spread across the planet, to get as far away from each other as they can, while hurtling towards their doom.

“Where does the hand become the wrist?” , a simple question with profound thought behind it. Once more the unity of our society takes a beating from the words of Armitage, the homeless man taking advantage of the kindness of a family, to the point where he irritates them so much that they kill him. Why do this? Because the current human nature is to look after number one, the stranger found a good thing and ‘leeched’ it for all he could until his luck just ran out. Unity attempts to make a stand with the family – looking out for your fellow man in a time of need, but ends up becoming silent loathing leading to murder. Rather than attempting to resolve the problems at hand the family resorts to a physical end, completely forgetting the kindness they had once shown.

In the end we are a disunited kingdom because we are too busy looking after ourselves, and those who we deem important to us. Welsh shows us how easy it is to ‘screw over’ those who we once called friends and how willing the characters of ‘Trainspotting’ are to do this, while the poets Reading and Armitage delve into the hate of the masses, tearing at each other for simple personal gain. Each of the classes dislikes the other and so segregates itself leaving many with few options, desperate and greedy so that when they do find someone willing to show compassion they quickly burn them out leaving in their wake another bitter individual. We are a disunited kingdom because people no longer like people.


• ‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh, Vintage, published 1994

• ‘the New Poetry’ edited by Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley, Bloodaxe Books, published 1993

• ‘Twentieth-century writing and the British working class’ by John Kirk, University of Wales press, published 2003

• ‘The Abolition of Britain’ by Peter Hitchens, Quartet Books, published 1999

• ‘Chosen People’ by Clifford Longley, Hodder and Stoughton, published 2002


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