Edinburgh, Trainspotting and “Lust for Life”

Last week, despite having just a few too many responsibilities at the moment (regular visitors will know what I mean), Mr WIAA and I managed to spend a few days in our capital city, Edinburgh. Now this is a city steeped in history and awash with culture, but having visited many times before, this time it was nice just to “be” there – Wandering round the Old Town, admiring the New Town (built between 1767 and 1850, so the old town as you can imagine is really old), visiting galleries and stopping for regular refreshments in the city’s many coffee shops and hostelries.

edinburgh

But you can only do that for so long, so what does a middle-aged lady and her husband decide to do on day 2 of the trip? – Why recreate scenes from the film Trainspotting of course! Danny Boyle’s black comedy was released in 1996 and although set in a very different Edinburgh from the one visited by tourists, it made a massive impact, and on some lists is now ranked one of the 10 best British films ever made.

Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the film was about a group of heroin addicts living in an economically depressed area of the city, and their passage through life. It sounds bleak, which it most definitely was in places, but there were also moments of great humour, and of course for anyone who knows the film well, the soundtrack was a triumph and has gone on to become a pop culture phenomenon. It contained music from the ’70s by artists such as Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, musicians closely associated with drug use, but also music from the Britpop era and ’90s techno-dance music by bands such as Underworld.

Born Slippy .NUXX by Underworld:

The main character in the film, Renton, was played by Ewan McGregor and no-one who has seen it will forget that opening scene where he and his friends are being chased through the streets of central Edinburgh: “Choose life,” began his monologue. “Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f**king big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home ………… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”.  All played out of course to the sound of Iggy Pop’s 1977 song, Lust for Life.

Lust for Life by Iggy Pop:

The little film above was made over the course of two days as we did a recce on day one just to find the locations. On day two we got the scenes we were looking for, but maybe not wise to have worn a pair of boots with heels – Oh well, next time I decide to recreate scenes from a movie about drug addicts, I will remember that.

Whilst on the trip, I got to thinking about some of the other great scenes from the film, and one that has stuck with me is when Renton meets “wise beyond her years” love-interest Diane for the first time. Turned out the “flatmates” he met the next morning were in fact her parents – One of the funniest moments in the entire film (but perhaps not quite as funny in the 21st century in light of recent news stories):

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Renton: Excuse me, excuse me. I don’t mean to harass you, but I was very impressed with the capable and stylish manner in which you dealt with that situation. And I was thinking to myself, now this girl’s special.
Diane: Thanks.
Renton: What’s your name?
Diane: Diane.
Renton: And where are you going, Diane?
Diane: I’m going home.
Renton: Well, where’s that?
Diane: It’s where I live.
Renton: Great.
Diane: What?
Renton: Well, I’ll come back with you if you like, but like, I’m not promising anything, you know.
Diane: Do you find that this approach usually works? Or let me guess, you’ve never tried it before. In fact, you don’t normally approach girls – am I right? The truth is that you’re a quiet sensitive type but if I’m prepared to take a chance, I might just get to know the inner you: witty, adventurous, passionate, loving, loyal. Taxi! A little bit crazy, a little bit bad. But hey – don’t us girls just love that?
Renton: Eh?
Diane: Well, what’s wrong boy – cat got your tongue?

And of course when Diane doesn’t get Iggy’s name quite right:

Diane: You’re not getting any younger Mark. The world’s changing. Music’s changing. Even drugs are changing. You can’t stay in here all day dreaming about heroin and Ziggy Pop.
Renton: It’s Iggy Pop.
Diane: Whatever. I mean, the guy’s dead anyway.
Renton: Iggy Pop’s not dead. He toured last year! Tommy went to see him.
Diane: The point is, you’ve got to find something new.

I think most of us who were fans of the first film will by now have seen the sequel, made just over 20 years later and called T2 Trainspotting. Back in 1996 “the prevailing anxieties were over the spiritual bankruptcy of western consumerist society”. In the sequel, Renton updates the iconic speech from the original film – The must-have consumer goods of 1996 have gone, replaced by an assault on the dismal features of millennial life, especially social media. “Choose Facebook,” says middle-aged Renton, “Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares … Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen …”

thA7E9MTUR

Back in 1996 I did choose life, and I don’t mean that I bought into acquiring the consumer goods listed in the monologue, but by giving up work to look after baby DD. Being married to someone in the Arts this was perhaps a rash plan, but it seemed to work out for us and made for a much less stressful life. We’ve never been big on “stuff”, always preferring “time”, but I realise this is not an option for everyone. 20 years on and being liked on social media seems to have replaced the need for consumer goods for millennials, but who can blame them. My generation bought up all the houses and have now bought up the starter flats on a buy-to-let basis, so life is tough for them. As for me, since taking up blogging I have all but abandoned social media but then again, what is blogging if not a different form of social media? We convince ourselves it is to hone our writing skills, but I can’t deny there is a great sense of pleasure when the feedback is favourable and I do love the discussion that can sometimes develop. Let’s see what this one brings.

As for the soundtrack album that went with the first film, I of course bought it back in 1996, ironically with a voucher received as a leaving gift from one the departments I had worked with before giving it all up…… and Choosing Life. Sadly the purchases I made with that voucher were all on cassette tape which was the worst medium for music consumption, but fortunately easy to replace nowadays, which I have now done.

But the last word should probably come from Renton. Trainspotting was a film about drug addicts, primarily watched by people like myself who weren’t drug addicts (don’t do it kids). The film did however make us understand it all a bit more: “People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shit which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not f**king stupid. At least, we’re not that f**king stupid.”

Until next time….

Lust for Life Lyrics
(Song by Iggy Pop/David Bowie)

Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s gonna do another strip tease

Hey man, where’d you get that lotion?
I’ve been hurting since I bought the gimmick
About something called love
Yeah, something called love
Well, that’s like hypnotising chickens

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in the ear before
‘Cause of a lust for life
‘Cause of a lust for life

I’m worth a million in prizes
With my torture film
Drive a G.T.O.
Wear a uniform
All on government loan

I’m worth a million in prizes
Yeah, I’m through with sleeping on the sidewalk
No more beating my brains
No more beating my brains
With the liquor and drugs
With the liquor and drugs

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in my ear before
‘Cause, of a lust for life (lust for life)
‘Cause of a lust for life (lust for life, oooo)
I’ve got a lust for life (oooh)
Got a lust for life (oooh)
Oh, a lust for life (oooh)
Oh, a lust for life (oooh)
A lust for life (oooh)
I got a lust for life (oooh)
Got a lust for life

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in my ear before
‘Cause I’ve a lust for life
‘Cause I’ve a lust for life.

Well, here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
I know he’s gonna do another strip tease

Hey man, where’d ya get that lotion?
Your skin starts itching once you buy the gimmick
About something called love
Oh Love, love, love
Well, that’s like hypnotising chickens.

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in the ear before
And I’ve a lust for life (lust for life)
‘Cause I’ve a lust for life (lust for life)
Got a lust for life
Yeah, a lust for life
I got a lust for life
Oh, a lust for life
Got a lust for life
Yeah a lust for life
I got a lust for life

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

28 thoughts on “Edinburgh, Trainspotting and “Lust for Life””

  1. I must be one of the few souls who, after less than 20 minutes into the film, bailed. Sorry Alyson. Sorry Iggy.

    My Edinburgh memories are getting v drunk in the Grass Market and going to see Hibs the next day on the coldest day on the planet, ever. I really must go back as the bits of the Royal Mile I discovered, and side streets off, made me think ‘I could live here.’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gosh, one of the few people not to have seen that film – Rather than bailing I watched it twice, back to back!

      Our little apartment was right on the Grassmarket so very central for the Old Town – We had a drink in The White Hart pub which is the oldest in Edinburgh (photos will follow in my next post) and met a group of ladies from Cork who were on a 50th birthday tour. Very entertaining as you can imagine.

      Yes, we once rented an apartment right on The Royal Mile near St Giles Cathedral when DD was younger – I loved it and also thought “I could live here”. Didn’t need a car at all as right in the thick of it, but steep spiral staircases so not for everyone!

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  2. The Volcano where Renton met Diane was actually in the West End of Glasgow on a small traffic island at the bottom of Byres Road near the excellent Three Judges pub.
    It has since been demolished

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  3. Another wonderful post, Alyson. As you know, I’ve loved “all things Scottish” (the name of a shop owned by Mike Myers in a recurring sketch on SNL) for many years, and my first trip to Scotland in 1995 felt like I was in my ancestral homeland…even though I was born & raised in New York. Seeing Edinburgh for the first time was awe-inspiring, and I’ve been back twice since then (along with many other parts of your lovely country). Having recently watched T2 Trainspotting I was reminded how much I enjoyed the first film. Saw it in the theater and at least once on home video but that was years ago. I enjoyed the sequel and if I can find the free time I would like to revisit the first film. If I remember correctly, it was released about a year after Shallow Grave, which was my first exposure to Boyle and McGregor. The sights, sounds & energy of Trainspotting made for a special experience, and it’s nice to read about how much fun you had trying to recreate it all…in heels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks – Yes Mike Myers is another who loves “all things Scottish” as is obvious from his films (they had to re-record the whole of Shrek apparently after he insisted it should be done with a Scottish accent). Hopefully you’ll be able to have another visit to Edinburgh at some point – The older I get the more I appreciate the history of it all whereas I kind of took it for-granted when I was younger.

      Not sure if this is a chicken and egg situation but I can’t remember now if I decided to seek out the locations after you said you’d just watched the film last week, or if we had already decided to do that and then you mentioned the film. Anyway it was fun to do and yes Shallow Grave also a great movie although Mr McGregor looks a lot healthier in that one (until the final scene of course). Like you I went to see T2 when it came out recently but haven’t watched the original for some time now – Will have to revisit it too.

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      1. Until I stepped foot in Scotland my only references (beyond the music I loved like Big Country, Del Amitri, Danny Wilson, The Proclaimers, Texas, Fish, etc) were Mike Myers…especially So I Married An Axe Murderer…and Groundskeeper Willie. When I would try to do a Scottish accent I would inevitably be doing an imitation of them. I’m not much better now but at least I know how to correctly pronounce Edinburgh (sounds like “Edinbuddah”).

        Whether or not my comment was the inspiration for your Trainspotting escapades, I’m happy we made that connection. I’m also glad you didn’t seek out the “worst toilet in Scotland” as part of your trek.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mike Myers seems to have fallen from grace but yes, So I Married An Axe Murderer was a great film – The dad character singing Rod Stewart etc. not so much.

          As for the worst toilet in Scotland, definitely didn’t want to seek that one out although I’m sure there are a few that could still pick up that title.

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          1. I’ve heard some stories about Myers being tough to work with, but since I don’t have to I can just enjoy his output, which was good throughout his time on SNL as well as Axe Murderer, and the first Wayne’s World & Austin Powers movies. He should stay away from sequels. I think I’ve memorized nearly every scene in Axe Murderer.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Again not watched it for a while but will have to seek it out – It seems beat poetry and smoking go hand in hand as it’s the only time he seems to partake.

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  4. I haven’t seen the movie.
    But I’ve seen Edinburgh. This was back in 1977. I also went around a bit of the Highlands during that time.
    A great visit. I’d love to visit Edinburgh and the Highlands again some day. Very beautiful places.

    Bye for now —

    Neil

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to hear you’ve visited Edinburgh and The Highlands where I am – You definitely should visit again as things have changed a lot since 1977. The scenery and history the same but the food and drink has improved greatly! Being the “culture vultures” that you are, if you could come during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival you would love it, I’m sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah Alyson – I love your film (and the outtakes!) Fantastic stuff and so brilliant that you had the idea to do it in the first place. Oh and that you kept running and don’t appear to be out of puff – you’re very light on your feet, even with heels 🙂
    I’ve only seen the film once but it had such impact and I would happily watch it again any time. Yet to see the sequel too but I feel sure I’d like it just as much for all the same reasons. The update to the ‘Choose Life’ speech makes me feel quite depressed (quite rightly I think). It should have got better, shouldn’t it, but look at how crap our so-called choices really are!. Weirdly too to think that so many things mentioned in it didn’t exist when the original was made…. I suspect the same will be said in another twenty years….
    Anyway, lovely post and it sounds (and looks) like you had a great time – so pleased you managed to get away for a break.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just read that back and the ‘film’ I was referring to but forgot to specify in my second para was of course ‘Trainspotting’ – but to be honest it could also apply what I said to yours anyway!

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    2. Ha ha – Glad you enjoyed it. Always a bit more fun if you have a bit of a mission when visiting a place and this time it was finding the locations for that great opening scene. Not too difficult to find actually. As for not being out of puff, there were lots of short bursts of running so not too onerous. As for my running style, my family think it’s hilarious – I’m more of a walker let us say.

      Depressing isn’t it how things seem to have got worse for lots of people rather than better in 20 years. Suddenly wanting lots of consumer goods and getting a fixed interest mortgage doesn’t seem quite so bad compared with sitting in a family restaurant/walking down the street, where all you see is people glued to their phones/tablets. Makes me seem like a hypocrite however as here I am glued to a screen saying this. ‘Tis the world we live in.

      Had a great time when we were away and appreciate it all the more when It doesn’t happen very often.

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    1. There might be one more about the Edinburgh trip first, as still all fresh in my mind, but the “trilogy” will end with the Rollers post – Feel as if I’ve built it up too much now though so will be a disappointment. Thanks for the link although to be honest my love affair with “all things Rollers” was short-lived but intense, so will concentrate on the golden years ‘73 – ‘75.

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  6. You’ve outdone even your own regular high standards here, Alyson – and the pair of you are becoming quite the directors to boot. I’m glad (for your own well-being) that you chose to stop there and not recreate some of the film’s other scenes (particularly the one in the public lavatory). I especially liked the woman who turned and stared at you as you ran past as if you were quite mad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t know about that – I doubt if Danny Boyle will see me as competition quite yet. Funnily enough I hadn’t spotted the woman who stopped and looked at me – I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people who do the same thing as if you search YouTube for that opening scene, most are remakes. No, not many other scenes you would really want to recreate from that movie as many are pretty gross and others highly illegal and dangerous – A window on another world but Mr Welsh/Mr Boyle between them made something quite remarkable and oh so funny in places.

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  7. Wow, Alyson! What a post! If I ever put together something that fabulous I would find myself asking, now what? Sounds like you have more Edinburgh up your sleeve. Can’t wait. When I visited in 2012, my first stop was Avalanche Records in the Grassmarket. Sadly, I think that location is gone now. My first stops in a new city are always record shops. It’s a sickness. I don’t know why the Mrs. puts up with it. Haven’t checked in for a while. Hope life is treating your well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brian – Good to have you check in. Interesting to hear you have visited Edinburgh – I had kind of forgotten how great it was to be based right there in the heart of the Old Town (our apartment was on the Grassmarket) as takes you back in time. I think you are right, that record shop sadly is no more but seems to be the way of things nowadays. Here’s a thing though – I recently checked out a newish record shop here in town (as didn’t want to recommend it to our little community without knowing a bit more about it) and discovered that it belongs to the cousin of a good friend of mine. Wonder if they need any part-time assistants, as I’m tempted!

      Think I have another couple of Edinburgh posts up my sleeve as took lots of pictures when I was away – Suddenly it’s become a bit of a luxury to have a little break (and I think you know why) but just makes you appreciate it all the more, which is nice.

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