PERVERSITY AND OBSTINACY are integral tae the Scottish character. Since ah said 'no' tae these cunts back in Manchester, ah've been obsessed wi heroin. Ah sometimes wish ah'd said 'aye', then ah might be mair inclined tae leave it alaine. Also, it's meant tae be a good painkiler, n this back stil nips, especialy at night. The doaktir thinks ah'm at it, n they paracetamols are fuckin useless.
It's an open secret in oor circle that Matty, whae gets maist ay oor speed, has been skag-happy for donks. Through him ah ken that Johnny Swan, an auld fitba mate ay mine, gets good gear. Ah huvnae realy hung oot wi Johnny in ages, no since we played thegither fir Porty Thistle. He wis a decent player. Ah wis shite but applied masel like fuck tae get oot ay gaun tae the boxing club wi Begbie n Tommy. It's time that friendship was re-established. In the flat in Monty Street, ah tel Sick Boy aboot it and he's in.
-Sounds fuckin excelent. Ah fancy some ay that shit, have for ages.
He starts crooning the seminal Velvet Underground song, about sticking the spike into ma vein ... come to Simone, he says, his jaw juttin oot, as he puts doon the dictionary he's been thumbing through.
-But jist a wee bit tae try, cause mind wir meetin Franco up toon the night.
Sick Boy batters his heid wi the palm ay his hand.
-I am pig-sick tae the back teeth ay that cunt making arrangements on my behalf. I just don't need it.
Having tae listen aw night tae whae's gittin kiled and whae's gittin stabbed ...
-Aye, but a wee bit ay smack ta melow us oot, n then we'l go n see him up in Mathers.
A shrug ay the shoodirs, and he gets up and yanks the cushions oaf the couch, prospectin for coins and shoving the meagre booty deep intae his poakit.
-I should get a bigger alowance from the state, he grumbles. I'm tired ay mooching oaffay chicks tae supplement my income.
We head oot and dive oantae a 16, bound fir Johnny's pad at Tolcross. It's a blindin hot day so we sit doonstairs at the back for a better view ay the passin fanny. Back top deck wi Begbie, tae intimidate wideos, back bottom wi Sick Boy tae leer at lassies. Life has its simple codes.
-This is gaunny be so much fun, Sick Boy says, and rubs his hands thegither.
-Drugs are always fun. Do you believe in cosmic forces, destiny n aw that shite?
-Me neither, but bear one thing in mind: today was a 'T' day.
-What ...? ah ask, then it dawns on us. Yir dictionary thingy.
-Al wil be revealed, he nods, then starts talking about heroin.
Smack's the only thing ah huvnae done, ah've never even smoked or snorted it. And ah must confess that ah'm fuckin shitein it. Ah wis brought up tae believe that one joint ay hash would kil me. And, of course, it wis bulshit. Then one line ay speed. Then one tab ay acid; aw lies, spread by people hel-bent on self-extermination through booze and fags. But heroin. It's crossing a line. But as the boy said, anything once. And Sick Boy doesnae seem concerned, so ah bulshit tae keep ma front up.
-Aye, ah cannae wait tae dae some horse.
-What? Sick Boy looks at me in horror as the bus growls up the hil.
-What the fuck are you talking aboot, Renton? Horse? Dinnae say that in front ay yir dealer mate or he'l laugh in yir face. Cal it skag, for Papa John-Paul's sake, he snaps, then stares oot at a short-skirted lassie meandering wi seductive intent up Lothian Road.
-She's a peach ... far too carefree in bearing and expression tae be a baboon ...
-Right ... ah feebly respond.
We get tae Johnny Swan's place, and even though the stair door's got an entryphone, it hings open like a daftie's mooth. We climb the steps, instinctively knowing that it'l be oan the top flair. It's the only flat wi nae name oan the scabby black door. Johnny greets us wi a smile, though a wee look passes between him n Sick Boy.
Mr Renton! It's been a long time ... come in ...
Aye, a couple ay year at least, ah acknowledge. Ah wis at a perty up here back then. Wi Matty. Eftir we came back fae London. Swanney stil has the fair hair, but it's longer n mair straggly now, and these piercing blue eyes, but his hair, but it's longer n mair straggly now, and these piercing blue eyes, but his choppers are a mass ay green n broon. Wi his permanent look ay surprise and always seemin oan the verge ay outrage, he reminds us ay Ron Moody, who played Fagin in Oliver! A rancid smel like stale sweat hings in the air, emanating fae either tenant or dweling, and intensifying as we folay him inside. Sick Boy, who ah intro, catches the whiff and makes nae attempt tae disguise his distaste. One windae is boarded up, darkening the front room. The others have big, viney plants wi green tomataes oan them, hogging maist ay the remaining light. There's stil fuckin lino oan the flair, though it's topped wi some distempered rug. Oan the waw, above the fireplace, there's a barry poster ay Siouxsie Sioux, naked fae the waist up. We faw doon oantae a leather couch. A sick joke ay a budgie, greasy feathers, shuffles along a spar in a cage, looking like Richard the Third. Eftir quickly catchin up aboot auld times, Johnny gets doon tae business.
-Matty Connel tels us you're stil daein the Northern Soul thing. Ah take it yir lookin fir some speed? Ah glances at Sick Boy, then back tae Johnny, tryin tae be aw cool.
-Actualy, we heard that you've goat some nice skag.
Swanney's eyebrows arch, n he puckers his lips.
They aw want it now, he grins.
Ivir done the skag before? he asks, roling up the sleeve ay his shirt.
Ah kin see rid marks poking up like angry plukes.
Ah mean, banged up?
Aye, ah lie, no lookin at Sick Boy, back up at Ebirdeen.
Swanney reads it as such but doesnae gie a fuck. He puls oot a wooden box fae under a glass coffee table, upon which sits a barry blue-n-gold vase, a Scotland World Cup 82 mug, a candle half melted intae one ay they blue-n-white ringed plates every cunt's goat, and a tin ashtray fil ay cigarette butts.
Ye want a hit?
He opens the box and puts some white powder fae a wee placky bag intae a spoon and sucks water fae the mug intae a hypodermic syringe. He squirts the contents intae the spoon, which he heats up under the candle, stirring it wi the needle as it dissolves. Catching Sick Boy staring, he spits a cheeky grin ower his shoodir, squeezing one ay they wee Jif things fil ay lemon juice intae the water. Stil stirrin wi the needle tip, he then sucks it back intae the barrel ay the syringe. Ah sit back, entranced by his preparations. Ah'm no the only yin: Sick Boy's like a nerdy science student scrutinising his mentor. Johnny looks at me, sitting thaire open-moothed like a spare prick at a hoors' convention. He gits the score.
Ye want me tae dae it fir ye?
Ta, ah nod.
Sound cunt Swanney, sparin ma embarrassment like that. He sharply tugs ma airm towards him, like it's a Christmas cracker, resting it on his thigh. Johnny's jeans are minging and sticky oan ma wrist, like he's spilt honey or treacle oan his leg. He ties a leather strap round my biceps and starts tapping at ma veins. Ma back throbs wi a phantom truncheon strike, as a shiver spreads through me.
Ah know that this is crossin a line. Ma heart pounds. Ah mean, realy pounds.
We're meant tae meet Franco for a peeve n aw, tae watch the Euro 84 fitba, and he hates gittin stood up!
Johnny tap-tap-tappin at my airm and me distracting masel by lookin at the dry flakes ay skin on his scalp jist at the hairline. Begbie. Goat tae meet Begbie at nine!
Ah'm thinking aboot shoutin 'stop' but ah ken that ah could never turn away at this point.
If smack is as addictive as they say, then ah'm already aw the junky ah'm ever gaunny be.
Ah'm thinkin aboot university; ma studies, the philosophy module and free wil versus determinism ...
Thinkin aboot Fiona Conyers in the history classes, sweeping her long black hair aside, her wide pale blue eyes and white teeth as she smiles at me ...
Johnny stil tap-tap-tappin like a patient old prospector looking for gold. He looks at me and shoots us a cracked smile.
-You've goat shite veins.
Not too late! No too late tae make an excuse, he gied ye an out thaire, say no, no, no ...
Aye, ah cannae gie blood. Say something else ... say fuckin naw ...
NAW, NAW, NAW ...
That might be just as wel, he smiles as he stabs the needle intae my airm. Ah look at him petulantly, upset at the sharp pain, the intrusion. He smiles wi those rotten teeth and sucks some ay ma blood back intae the syringe. The word 'dinnae' briefly forms on ma lips but he pushes and empties the contents ay the 'dinnae' briefly forms on ma lips but he pushes and empties the contents ay the barrel intae me. Ah look at the empty hypo. Ah can't believe he's just put that shit inside me. Fear rises up ma spine like mercury touched by heat up a thermometer. Then it's gone.
About the book:
The prequel to the world-renowned Trainspotting, Skagboys charts the journey of Mark and his friends before they became heroin addicts. in the 1980s, Thatcher's government is destroying working-class communities across Britain, and the post-war certainties of full employment, educational opportunity and a welfare state are gone. In despair, they succumb to the defeatism which has taken hold in Edinburgh's grimmer areas. The way out is heroin.
Every bit as outrageous, exhilarating and provocative as Trainspotting, Skagboys is a testament to Welsh's popularity and brilliance as a writer.
Snippet from The Song of Achilles
- Madeline Miller
Snippet from Far From the Madding Crowd
- Thomas Hardy