Scottish writer Irvine Welsh has been a longtime supporter of the street paper network, giving interviews, providing original writing, and representing the network as an INSP ambassador. Throughout last year, INSP celebrated its 25th anniversary, rounded off by a series of letters written by a wide array of diverse street paper vendors, young and old, from across the world to their 25-year-old selves. As the icing on the cake, Welsh – most famous for his novel Trainspotting, adapted into two acclaimed hit movies – has produced another original piece of writing for the street paper network: a letter to his 25-year-old self, written in his always idiosyncratic and inimitable style.
I’m writing to you ask you a question pal. To give me some advice, if you like. I do this because I know that, as a twenty-five-year old, you weren’t great at taking advice from anybody and would regard me, your present self, as a slavering old bam. And you’d be correct. I have no advice for younger people; I’m the parasite who goes to them to try to understand the world as it is now. Twenty-five, though, is such a weird age. It’s probably when you start to feel quite old, and you think: I’d better make something of myself. This feeling of being ancient and past it at two and a quarter score, is not as ridiculous as it seems. There are very few things sadder than an old person with just a quarter century on the clock. You were heading into that terrain. You thought you knew everything then, that you had come out of a heroin phase and cleaned up and were doing well; a good job, a lovely home, and a beautiful girlfriend. You’d been restless and a bit of a radge and you attracted people, and were attracted to people, who were pretty much the same. There was no psycho you wouldn’t befriend, no crazy girl beset with a myriad of problems whom you wouldn’t fall head over heels in love with. But by your silver year you seemed to have sorted all that shit out.
“Life is an experiential thing and you have to live it from the inside out and on terms that make sense to you. All those beautiful and horrible mistakes along the way, so essential to encourage you to make more beautiful and horrible mistakes. But hopefully different ones.”
To the outside, you were on a comfortable trajectory, and this was a massive relief to your family and close friends. However, it was an artless one, and it was killing you inside. Not to do music. Not to write or paint. To rationalise and dismiss the burning drive that you had to do these things as immature flights of fancy and nothing to do with the real world, nothing to do with growing up. So, you struck out again with a like-minded crew, into the new and exciting world of acid house. You fucked off your work and wrote that book you were promising yourself. And another. To a few people it all seemed like spoiled self-indulgence and it probably was. But life is an experiential thing and you have to live it from the inside out and on terms that make sense to you, always forwards in real time. Hindsight? Mindshite. All those beautiful and horrible mistakes along the way, so essential to encourage you to make more beautiful and horrible mistakes. But hopefully different ones. Well, you did all of that. And less.
But back in the day, growing up, you had it relatively easy even though you thought you didn’t. All those great things were yours; punk, soul, disco, football daftness, real culture made by real working people on the building sites and factories and offices you worked at. All those occupations, you never could stick one for more than a couple of years before you started to go a wee bit crazy. But they were there, those jobs, and the cheap and free education with the grants and fees from local authorities and day release from the training budgets of benign employers. You had it much easier than kids from your background, and perhaps even wealthier backgrounds, have it now. Cheap fruit, food on the table, everyone round the telly watching the same stuff but bonding because of that shared experience. Not obesity-building shite and 200 channels of pish over a dozen screens across each household gaped at in isolation. All that work, all those prospects, all that lovely stuff ahead. And the confidence of being born into a vibrant working class – before the establishment won and Thatcher razed it to the ground – where you had the confidence to use it as a launchpad to the stars. The sense of entitlement that ‘fuck you, this is ours’ stayed with you. “If we can’t make it, we take it,” as my buddy Tam is prone to saying.
So, given that it is now difficult for young people to monetise anything in music, art, publishing etc., and that so many are stuck in the gig economy on subsistence wages, what I want to ask you is: what would you do now?
INSP members can download Irvine Welsh’s letter from the INSP News Service here.