Liam Rudden: Trainspotting a lost generation

DATES get muddled. Years merge. But somewhere, back in my youth, the Leith of Trainspotting was a very real place.

Friday, 20th January 2017, 1:42 pm
Updated Friday, 20th January 2017, 1:47 pm
Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting

A district neglected by its posh neighbour, the poverty in the Port was evident for all too see.

Tenements that once stood proud were now long past their glory days, reclassified as slum dwellings.

They weren’t. I should know, having grown up in one, but it was the easiest way for the council to issue compulsory purchase notices allowing them to pay owners a pittance, whilst ripping the heart out of their dreams and from the tight knit working class community that had once thrived.

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In this changing world there was little hope for many. No future for unexpectedly redundant dockers, most too old to retrain, and no prospects for the youngsters just out of school.

There were escapes, of course, if you were brainy and lucky, a university place might just be achievable, although the army was a more common option.

And then there was the ultimate escape, drug addiction - the blight of heroin had arrived.

It’s impossible to over- stress how devastating that period was for a generation of the city’s young people.

If Leith was at its most desolate, Edinburgh too was feeling the impact of ‘smack,’ it would even be declared ‘the AIDS capital of Europe’ at one point, because if an overdose didn’t get you, HIV, then a little understood virus, just might.

In the tenement I was brought up in, such tragedies were all around.

Siblings on the landing below overdosed within a couple of years of each other. Both still in their early-20s, the brother went first, followed by his little sister.

The need for their next fix drove others into prostitution, another of my contemporaries from that condemned tenement passed away thanks to a combination of all three.

To feed her habit she sold herself, became infected, developing what at the time, was called ‘Full blown AIDS’ and died.

So it was with very mixed emotions that I first watched Trainspotting. So many lives had been decimated by heroin and here was an entertainment being made about the subject.

It was painful to watch such tragedy being turned into vicarious entertainment for middle-class cinema goers desperate to be exposed to the Capital’s dark side, while safe in the knowledge they’d leave it all behind and settle back into their cosy little lives at the end of the credits.

So it is with more than a little trepidation I revisit Trainspotting tonight for the first time since watching it 21 years ago.

It’s a necessity, however, to remind myself of Danny Boyle’s landmark work before attending the World Premier of its sequel, T2.

The world is a very different place today, or is it?

Will T2 reflect the new vibrant Edinburgh we’re constantly sold, or will Boyle once again slip beneath the veneer and expose a shunned underbelly?

I’ll let you know.