HE remains to this day one of Irvine Welsh’s closest friends, a companion of more than 30 years who has shared the highs and lows of the author’s life, from the days when they would drink like they had a death wish to the moment Trainspotting changed everything.
But while Leith-raised Welsh has gone on to become one of the world’s most recognised writers, living a jet-setting life in Chicago while watching the money pile up in his bank account, strangers pass his old pal Sandy Macnair in the street.
And the latter is more than content with that.
“I’m quite happy being in the shadows,” he smiles, his long grey hair tied back neatly in a ponytail and his tattoos poking through the end of the sleeves of his faded khaki jacket.
He’s at The Shore promoting his debut book, Carspotting: The Real Adventures of Irvine Welsh, and it’s obvious he’s not entirely comfortable with all the attention, revealing he’s just about got his head around his first book signing, which will take place at the weekend.
When Carspotting launches tomorrow cynics will, quite fairly, assume he is a man of a certain age attempting to make a quick buck out of his friend’s success. Some may even question whether Welsh knew about the book before it was published, or whether he had agreed to the telling of his “former” life as a hardened drinker causing chaos in Edinburgh.
“I was a bit worried about that,” Macnair, 53, from Balgreen, sighs. “I didn’t want it to look like I was jumping on his back, or for him to think I was using him for a rung up the ladder. He never thought that, though, and the thing is, there was no real planning to this. I never really decided I was going to write a book about Irvine Welsh.”
It was when he was made redundant two years ago as a courier for a local reprographic company that Macnair thought seriously about putting together a series of short stories he had written – some more than 20 years ago – about his life in Edinburgh. A lot of them involved adventures he and Welsh shared from the moment they formed a friendship as young 20-somethings working as civil servants in the city’s census department in Ladywell House, Corstorphine.
Macnair needed a source of income and Leith-based publisher Black and White Publishing liked his work, encouraging him to turn the stories into a chronological account of his friendship with Welsh, accompanied by an entertaining collection of photographs he had taken over the years.
“I thought I’d leave it as long as possible before I actually told Irvine, though,” he says, sipping an orange juice, a stark contrast with the alcoholic drinks of choice he and Welsh were saturated by throughout the journey his book describes.
“I’m not one for technology, partly due to fear, partly due to a lack of interest, so I posted him the manuscript to Chicago. It got lost on the way but eventually made it to him, thankfully. He requested about half a dozen changes, due to possible legal problems, but that was it.”
It was something of a “thank you” from Welsh. After all, for the sum of £20, Macnair had proof read his Trainspotting manuscript in the early 1990s, as well as being paid a slightly more generous amount to do the same for its follow-up, Ecstasy, a couple of years later.
“I made sure I asked for that £20 in cash,” says Macnair, a former Hibs fanzine contributor who would write under the names of Grumpy Gibby, Hibby Hippy and Roseburn Reptile. “I wasn’t trusting him with a cheque.”
The book’s cover is a clever take on the original – now iconic – Trainspotting image used for the film version of the book, with Ewan McGregor as the lead character of Renton.
“Choose adventure. Choose chaos. Choose life with Irvine Welsh”, it says as Welsh himself beams out from the cover. And there is no shortage of adventure or chaos as the reader enters a world of drinking, dodging the police, ugly confrontations with Hearts fans as well as encounters with “smacked-out hookers and gin-soaked lesbians”.
There is even a tale of how Welsh – a faithful Hibs supporter, just like Macnair – once wrote a letter of application for the Hearts manager’s job, inventing an impressive list of previous appointments in a bid to sell himself to the Tynecastle boardroom as part of his dream to bring down the club. He was thanked for his efforts, yet politely turned down, by way of an official letter that took pride of place for years to come on the wall of his Leith flat.
“We met up last week when he was over for the book festival and we got talking about that incident,” Macnair says. “He went on a rant about how he never got the job and how Tony Ford got it instead.
“It’s not in the book, but we remembered that it was Wallace Mercer who had signed the letter that Irvine then got framed for his wall.
“When he told me he had applied, I know he’d have taken his time over the application. If he was going to cause mischief he would do it properly.”
The pair have calmed down a lot since the days when they would be barred from countless watering holes across the city, Welsh even explaining to Macnair that instead of meeting for a pint last week, he’d prefer a trip to Starbucks,
“He told me he had a lot on work-wise and wouldn’t be drinking,” Macnair explains. “He said he had developed a love of green tea in America and that we should go for one of those instead.
“Even after all these years I can still be tricked. We ended up in Deacon Brodie’s before heading to the Cask and Barrel on Broughton Street.
“He’s always kept in touch with us all. I’m not a keen flyer so I don’t go to see him in Chicago, but when he comes back – he still has a house here – he always gives me a ring. We’d love to take a trip down all the haunts, all the old pubs we used to go to, but so many of them aren’t here any more.”
With two other books already penned and under consideration by his publisher, Macnair is taking each day as it comes – and his old friend Irvine Welsh is right behind him on his journey.
n Carspotting: The Real Adventures of Irvine Welsh, is published by Black and White Publishing, priced £11.99. Sandy Macnair will appear at 2pm on Saturday at Waterstone’s, Ocean Terminal, to sign copies of the book.