Gerry Farrell: Performance art from Welsh

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There’s nothing “decent” about Irvine Welsh’s latest novel. Twenty years on from Trainspotting, the adventures of Juice Terry, a taxi driver with an unquenchable addiction to women, are marinated in sexual perversion and swear-words, notably the C-bomb which is sprinkled colourfully through the book like hundreds and thousands. Put it this way, I won’t be quoting Welsh word-for-word in this family paper.

There’s nothing “decent” about Irvine Welsh’s latest novel. Twenty years on from Trainspotting, the adventures of Juice Terry, a taxi driver with an unquenchable addiction to women, are marinated in sexual perversion and swear-words, notably the C-bomb which is sprinkled colourfully through the book like hundreds and thousands. Put it this way, I won’t be quoting Welsh word-for-word in this family paper.

I loved Trainspotting. Even after my seven year-old son found my copy open at the scene where Renton is visited by the foul-mouthed ghost of a dead baby that curses graphically in block capitals. Olly came into the kitchen at teatime, reading aloud, very pleased with himself.

It’s late at the Book Festival. It’s a noisy crowd, like a tent full of football fans, and a huge cheer goes up when the novelist appears with a tumshie-heidit grin across his full moon face, sweat glistening on his shaven skull. He’s introduced by Radio Four presenter and stand-up Viv Groskop, who tries and fails to adopt a Trainspotting accent. She tells us that the new book’s had five-star reviews on Amazon but there is a single one-star review that says “Transporting was so much better.” Soon, Irvine Welsh is on his feet, reading from the novel.

He’s not just a writer, he’s a performer. He chooses the scene where Juice Terry gives a disgracefully off-colour eulogy at a friend’s funeral. Here’s a wee bit, in the words I remember (minus expletives). “Alex wiz so steaming he thought he wiz sticking his heid in the gas oven. But he actually stuck it in the fridge. He threw up, passed out and his heid froze intae a solid block ay ice and that’s how I found him.”

There are three characters in the scene and Welsh plays them all brilliantly, drawing loud applause from the audience.

After the reading there are questions. This is where he comes into his own. When asked how he finds his characters, he says he doesn’t. They come and find him then they won’t leave him alone until he puts them down on paper. He tells us that the only way to write a character is to write truthfully. If you showboat, try to shock or put words into their mouth that the character wouldn’t say, it comes out phoney.

He says he loves teenagers. He loves the way they are passionately black or white. They either effing LOVE something. Or they effing HATE it.

His sense of humour is infectious. Somebody asks if his pals from Leith ever come to see him at the Book Festival. “I do invite them to come along,” he says “but they say why would I come here and see you speaking when I can hear you talk shite down the pub for nothing?”

He lives in Chicago but he still goes to the football when he visits. He says watching Scottish football is like “visiting a sick, elderly relative. You don’t really want to be there but you feel a kind of duty”.

He gets asked about Scottish politics, the Referendum, Jeremy Corbyn. He takes a deep breath then delivers a brilliant summary of what’s gone wrong in this Disunited Kingdom of ours. He’s uncannily accurate in his assessment. Sadly, he doesn’t have the answers. “I’m a writer. That’s the only job I know how to do.”

How Poo Squadron earned their Distinguished Flying Crosses

I’m out in my Leithers Don’t Litter T-shirt feeling pretty self-righteous as I pick up half-empty Irn-Bru cans and dirty nappies. Out the corner of one eye I see a guy with a pitbull coming towards me. Green sports top, jeans and yellow trainers. He ducks into a doorway. Is he avoiding me? No, out he comes again and swaggers on past me. I swear under my breath. I know what he’s just done. I reach the doorway he dodged into. Sure enough, his scabby dug has left a reeking, greenish coil right outside somebody’s front door.

I feel my fists clench into balls then I’m pelting after him. He turns into Great Junction Street where I catch him up, breathless.

“You just let your dog crap in the street.”

He gives me a filthy stare and turns away, walking on. I hurry along beside him.

“I said you just let your dog crap in the street.”

“So what?”

“Are you going to clean it up?”

“Not today.”

“Go and clean it up, you dirt bucket.”

“Get out of my effing face.”

“Or what?”

“Think yir a bam jist coz yiv goat an effing litter T-shirt on?”

“Clean it up.”

“Eff off.”

I whistle with two fingers. There’s a squawk from the high flats. A herring gull swoops down from the Banana Flat, banks high in the blue sky then hurtles down. It spreads its wings wide enough to brake as it reaches Dirt Bucket’s head and expels a stream of foul, fishy manure onto his greasy hair.

“Eff off ya manky b******,” he yells, flapping his hands.

More loud squawks and screeches from above as a squadron of gulls are attracted to the commotion. They drop their payloads, splattering Dirt Bucket with evil-smelling grey and white guano.

“Get the dirty effers off me,” he screams. His dog starts barking as a gull lands on its back, attacking it’s flat skull with a vicious yellow beak. There are streaks of seagull poo running down Dirt Bucket’s puss now. He’s crying with fear and shame. I put my fingers into my mouth and whistle again.

The gulls break off their attack, circle upwards and head back for the high flats.

It’s cost me a fortune in fish suppers to train them but the Poo Squadron have done me proud. Distinguished Flying Crosses all round. Never in the field of human conflict etcetera etcetera.

Only some parts of this story are true. See if you can separate the fact from the fiction. I was inspired to write this piece when I went to see Irvine Welsh at the Book Festival. To find out how that went, read on.

Reality trumps this bad book

Irvine Welsh is a better writer than Dan Brown, that’s for sure. I don’t know if you ever ploughed through his best-seller The Da Vinci Code but there was never a worse book written in this world until Fifty Shades Of Grey turned up on the bestseller lists.

The climax of the Da Vinci Code happens in Rosslyn Chapel, just outside Penicuik. On a whim, we decide to visit the place. It’s a Sunday morning and it’s mobbed. We have to queue to pay our £9 admission and I hear Hungarian, Dutch, Italian and French in the queue.

The chapel is stunning. It seems as if no piece of stone carving is repeated. Gargoyles grimace down as you walk in and on the walls, the Deadly Sins are personified. Incense hangs in the air because this is a working chapel. Outside the sun warms the four hundred year-old stone and the surrounding trees are full of summer birdsong.

For a genuinely spiritual experience, don’t read the book, visit the chapel.