Inter Shitty. Begbie wakes up with a headache, so he goes straight for two bottles of beer. Nearby, June, who is now pregnant, also wakes up. She asks Begbie where he’s going. He says he’s just completed some “business,” so he has to disappear for a couple weeks. If the police come by, she should say she hasn’t seen him recently. June gets made at Begbie for leaving her alone, but he says she probably isn’t even having his kid.
This story confirms that fatherhood hasn’t changed Begbie—he still considers himself his highest priority, even as the birth of his child approaches. He is one of several characters (including Sick Boy) who refuses to accept the new responsibilities that would come with parenthood.
Begbie goes to the pub with some friends to play pool, where he wins against Rent Boy. Begbie is looking forward to spending some time down in London, where Rent Boy is staying in a friend’s apartment for a few weeks. Begbie tells Matty that he plans on dumping June when he gets back from London because he doesn’t want to get involved with a kid. Rent Boy tells Begbie they should get ready to leave, so they but some alcohol to take with them.
Begbie has no problem telling his friends that he plans to abandon June with a child, suggesting that he believes they agree with his way of thinking. Matty and Rent Boy’s failure to contradict Begbie suggests that in a way they do agree with him, even if they wouldn’t personally act in quite the same way.
Begbie and Rent Boy get on a train to London that’s very crowded. Begbie is annoyed at all the people. He and Rent Boy haven’t booked specific seats and sit down near two Canadian women. Begbie tries to start a conversation with the women. They have a hard time understanding his Scottish accent, and when Rent Boy joins the conversation, Begbie is annoyed at the way he changes his speaking tone to sound posher. Begbie asks Rent Boy to get out some cards so they can play on the train, but Rent Boy says he forgot to bring any. Rent Boy starts reading a book, then he starts talking with one of the Canadians about the book, further annoying Begbie.
Begbie resents how Rent Boy’s literary knowledge allows him to connect with people from outside of Leith. Begbie himself is undeniably a product of the place he comes from, and while he can demand respect (or at least fear) from his friends, his ability to influence people doesn’t extend beyond his immediate social circle in Leith.
Just then some strangers come up and say that Begbie and Rent Boy are sitting in their seats. Rent Boy politely acts confused, but the strangers insist on taking the seats. Begbie gets up and threatens the strangers, which causes them to finally move on, going to argue with the ticket inspector.
Begbie likes picking fights, and he sees an opportunity for one with the strangers. He acts as if he’s defending Rent Boy, but everyone knows that in reality, Begbie welcomes any excuse to commit violence.
Rent Boy is very drunk and soon falls asleep, and so do the two Canadians. Begbie wakes Rent Boy up, and the two of them keep drinking. When they finally make it to London, Begbie gets separated from everyone else at the station and realizes he has Rent Boy’s bag instead of his own. When Rent Boy finally finds Begbie, he has Begbie’s bag. Rent Boy says the apartment isn’t far away, so they get onto the subway.
Rent Boy carrying Begbie’s bag and Begbie carrying Rent Boy’s bag shows how the two have developed a codependent relationship despite the fact that neither one of them wants to openly admit it.
Na Na and Other Nazis. Spud complains about the heat and about being low on cash. He’s walking around and happens to run into Begbie and one of Begbie’s friends. Although Spud isn’t excited to see Begbie, after Begbie hears about Spud’s money problems, he slips some money to Spud. Spud decides maybe Begbie isn’t so bad after all. Begbie has just gotten back from staying with Rent Boy in London, and Spud suspects that Begbie was in trouble but wasn’t sure what kind.
Spud is the most naïve of Rent Boy’s friends. This passage with him and Begbie, where Spud immediately raises his opinion of Begbie after Begbie loans him some money, suggests that Spud is gullible and can be easily manipulated in the moment. Nevertheless, even Spud can tell that Begbie is up to something suspicious.
After leaving Begbie, Spud stops by the unemployment office to see Gav, his friend who works as a clerk there, but he ends up talking to another old friend who’s on his way out of the office. After a short conversation, they part ways. Spud has been bored lately because he’s not doing heroin and most of his friends are busy.
Spud promised to quit heroin after the death of Dawn, and it seems that, at least in the short term, he has kept this promise. The fact that so many others have failed at this task suggests hidden strength on Spud’s part.
Eventually, Spud decides to go visit his grandmother, Na Na. Although Spud’s mother and sister do more for Na Na, she prefers Spud because she likes men better. Na Na has had at least eight children with five men. Dode, Spud’s uncle, is her youngest. Spud and Dode head to a pub.
Spud’s Na Na is the rare example of a woman from Leith who seems to disdain the idea that a woman should stay loyal to one man until death, showing how gender norms are never absolute.
Rent Boy’s father and some of Rent Boy’s other male relatives are at the pub, including his brother Billy. Spud and Dode talk briefly about Rent Boy with his father, before going off to their own table. Without realizing it, however, they end up next to a table where one of the members is wearing a T-shirt for the white supremacist band Skrewdriver. Dode is mixed race (his father being West Indian), so the Nazis start taunting him.
Several early punk early bands used Nazi imagery for shock, and this evolved into small punk subcultures that genuinely believed in white supremacist, Nazi ideals. The white supremacist at this pub represents how some of these beliefs continued to linger in Leith long after the collapse of mainstream Nazism in World War II.
Dode uses a glass ashtray to smash the Nazi wearing the Skrewdriver T-shirt in the head. The rest of the Nazis try to corner Dode and Spud, but Spud backs up against a wall and tries to punch and kick them off. Eventually, Rent Boy’s father, Billy, and the other Rentons break things up. Spud sees that Dode is badly injured and needs an ambulance. Dode doesn’t seem too worried, and when they get to the hospital, it turns out that Dode’s injuries aren’t as serious as they first looked.
Dode’s resilience shows that he is more used to receiving this kind of abuse, whereas Spud’s more exaggerated reaction to Dode’s injuries suggests that he is still shocked about witnessing this kind of racial violence in his hometown.
The First Shag in Ages. After a day of getting stoned, Spud and Rent Boy go to a nightclub to get drunk. After the high wears off, they both have high libido and think all the women in the place are sexy—maybe even some of the men. They both realize that neither of them has had sex in a long time. Sick Boy is also there, and he never has problems finding women to have sex with. That night, even Begbie is there and looks like he’s getting along with a woman (all while his ex-girlfriend June is in the hospital to have their child).
Rent Boy’s relationship with his own sexuality is complicated. The book hints that Rent Boy may be bisexual and repressing his attraction to men, although at other times, particularly during the heights of his addiction, he seems almost asexual. Ultimately, this is because Rent Boy puts his heroin addiction above sex or romance, but sex and relationships still play an important secondary role in his life, particularly during his periods of attempting to get clean.
As Rent Boy and Spud feel like some of the last ones in the nightclub who haven’t paired off yet, Rent Boy says he wishes he was back on heroin, just to see Spud’s reaction. He says the thing about heroin is it’s all you have to worry about other drugs (they’re both currently on speed) or really anything else beyond the next score. Spud reacts strongly, saying heroin is a miserable life. Rent Boy takes it back and says maybe it was just the speed talking.
One of the reasons why Rent Boy and Spud are more interested in sex now is because they’re off heroin, and so they’re looking for a new addiction to replace the void in their lives that heroin used to fill. Rent Boy gets nostalgic for the simplicity of heroin, which makes him forget the negative parts of life.
Half an hour before closing time, Rent Boy lowers his standards for women. He sees a woman with long brown hair that he likes and watches another man try and fail to flirt with her. Spud goes over to talk to the woman’s friend, so Rent Boy goes over too. The woman’s name is Dianne. She and Rent Boy argue over the band Simple Minds: she’s a fan, but Rent Boy thinks they’re as pompous as U2.
Simple Minds are a famous Scottish pop band best known for “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from the ending of the movie The Breakfast Club. As a fan of more punk-oriented music like Iggy Pop, Simple Minds would be too clean and mainstream for Rent Boy’s taste, suggesting that he and Dianne value different things.
Dianne and her friend go to the restroom. Dianne thinks Rent Boy is a bit of a jerk but still somewhat interesting, especially compared to the other options. While Dianne is away, Rent Boy has a hard time holding it together (because of the speed), and he ends up talking to a guy who vaguely reminds him of a friend before realizing the guy is nothing like his friend.
The omniscient third-person narrator in this section includes not just Rent Boy’s thoughts but some of Dianne’s as well. Meanwhile, Rent Boy’s inability to focus due to the speed he’s taken shows how fully drugs control his behavior.
Rent Boy goes to leave the club alone and sees Dianne about to step into a taxi alone. He asks where she’s going then lies and says he’s going the same way in order to hop in the taxi. In the taxi, Dianne complains about her friend, who is still hanging out with Spud and some other guy. Rent Boy learned from his past mistakes and tries to agree more with the things Dianne says. They kiss in the backseat, and eventually Dianne invites Rent Boy up for coffee.
As Rent Boy pulls himself together, he begins to rely on his old trick of lying. While Rent Boy can’t transform himself for women as well as Sick Boy can, Rent Boy nevertheless learns that he can influence people like Dianne just as easily as he influences interviewers during job interviews.
Rent Boy isn’t sure if Dianne actually wants to have sex or if she really does just mean coffee. He gets disappointed outside her apartment when she tells him to be quiet so as not to wake anyone up, since he thinks this is a bad sign. They go to the bedroom, and Dianne leaves to make two coffees. When she gets back, she asks if Rent Boy wants to go to bed, and he is eager but worried that the speed and alcohol might affect his erection.
Rent Boy’s lack of sexual experience, at least recently, makes him nervous about the situation he finds himself in. Although he is good at observing details, he doesn’t always know how to interpret them and sometimes gets the wrong impression.
Dianne reminds Rent Boy to stay quiet, then they start having sex. Rent Boy is happy with how his penis is working, although Dianne doesn’t seem overly impressed. Rent Boy keeps himself from ejaculating too early by thinking of Margaret Thatcher. At last, they both climax in a way that is “close enough” for Rent Boy to count as simultaneous when he tells the story later.
Margaret Thatcher was a very conservative British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990—that Rent Boy rather comically thinks of Thatcher to prolong ejaculation reflects his disdain for British rule of Scotland while also reaffirming his pride in his Scottish identity. Rent Boy’s reaction after sex shows that what he’s doing isn’t only for his own personal enjoyment but also for how it will improve his reputation among his friends.
Rent Boy is surprised and disappointed when Dianne tells him he has to go. She says he can stay on the couch if he wants, as long as he doesn’t tell anyone about them having sex. He agrees to those terms and falls asleep on the couch. He wakes the next morning and hears the voice of a woman and a man he doesn’t recognize, so he pretends to still be asleep.
It’s clear that something is unusual about Dianne’s living situation, but Rent Boy’s own ignorance prevents him from figuring out exactly what’s going on. As is often the case, if he doesn’t see any immediate negative consequences for himself, he doesn’t ask questions.
Rent Boy hears the man and woman talking about how Dianne has brought another “friend” back. He gets up and introduces himself, telling a lie about how losing his apartment key and Dianne letting him stay over. Something is strange about the man and woman, but Rent Boy can’t figure out what. They seem to be about his age. All of a sudden Dianne comes in, and Rent Boy can’t believe it’s her: without her makeup on, she looks like a child. In fact, she is a child, and the man and woman are her parents.
The twist that Dianne is actually underage shows not just how speed affects Rent Boy’s judgment but also how sexual desire and perhaps the even greater desire to earn respect among his friends affects his judgement and compromises his morals. Readers should note that because Dianne is underage, her and Rent Boy’s sexual encounter cannot be considered consensual.
Dianne’s parents invite Rent Boy to breakfast and ask him what he does for a living. Rent Boy runs a scheme to defraud the unemployment office, and he’s proud of it, but knows it’s better not to mention it to too many people. He lies and says he’s a museum curator on an exhibit focusing on working-class people. He learns that Dianne is taking her O Grade History exam in a year, meaning she’s about 14 years old. Rent Boy realizes he could go to prison if anyone found out.
Rent Boy’s fake occupation as a museum curator for the working class mirrors author Welsh’s own role, as he presents the lives of lower-class characters in a novel with a literary and somewhat complex structure. O Grades don’t exist in Scotland anymore, but they used to be an important standardized test for high school students.
Rent Boy tries to stay calm in front of Dianne’s parents. Dianne’s father asks what Rent Boy is going to do about being locked out and offers to help. Rent Boy turns him down as politely as he can, mixing truth and lies again. Eventually, Dianne takes Rent Boy alone down to the train station. Rent Boy is worried that people he knows might see him and ask questions.
While Rent Boy is worried about the potential legal consequences of what he’s just done, once again, his most important concern is what it will do to his reputation. Even worse than going to jail would be for people to think less of him.
Rent Boy and Dianne stop in a record store, and Dianne looks around. Johnny Swan’s brother suddenly surprises Rent Boy in the store. They talk for a little while, and he notices Dianne is with Rent Boy. He jokingly warns her to watch out for Rent Boy, then he leaves. Rent Boy says he should get going as well. Dianne asks for his address. Rent Boy can’t think of a good lie, so he gives her his real one. In fact, she mostly wants to buy drugs from him. A couple nights later, she shows up in person, hoping the strange odor she smells is hash.
Although this chapter explores Rent Boy’s own behavior, which at times seems predatory and manipulative, it also suggests that Dianne has her own wants and needs. While Rent Boy was trying to improve his reputation, Dianne was looking for a way to score drugs, cynically highlighting how some relationships are transactional instead of being based on genuine emotion.
Strolling Through The Meadows. Rent Boy points at a stain on Begbie’s pants and asks if he’s wet himself. Begbie gets indignant. Meanwhile, Sick Boy is scanning the bar for women. Begbie gets angrier and angrier with Rent Boy, and Sick Boy tells Begbie to calm down. Recently, Begbie beat an American tourist so bad that the incident made local news. Now, Spud jumps every time he hears an American accent.
Spud’s reaction to hearing an American accent almost resembles symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It suggests that Begbie (and the dark side of Leith that he represents) leaves permanent mental scar on the people who encounter him.
Begbie and Matty leave the pub, looking like they’re ready to pick a fight with some strangers. Sick Boy brings out some low-quality ecstasy, and Spud and the others all take it. While they’re high, they get the idea of trying to find Begbie. The walk around and run into two high school girls they know through selling drugs. Rent Boy and Sick Boy hug them while Spud just stands there.
Even after the others separate from Begbie, they still feel compelled to try to find and follow him, showing how much influence he holds over the group, despite the fact that so many characters supposedly dislike him.
Spud knows about Rent Boy and Dianne but thinks Rent Boy won’t take advantage of these two girls. Meanwhile, Sick Boy reaches into the one girl’s jeans, claiming to be looking for hidden drugs. They part ways with the girls.
Spud is the most naïve of the main characters, and so he has an optimistic opinion of his friends, although even he notices that something is strange about how Sick Boy relates to women.
Rent Boy sees a squirrel and starts freaking out, throwing a rock at it and telling everyone to kill it. Spud doesn’t like how Rent Boy is cruel to animals and thinks that Rent Boy resents the squirrel because unlike him, it’s free. Two posh women start staring at the group of them, so Sick Boy says crude things to try to shock them into leaving. Sick Boy yells to the women that he’d never have sex with them. Rent Boy says that’s a lie, and that Sick Boy would even have sex with the “crack ay dawn.”
Rent Boy is hypocritical—though he’s a vegetarian (which implies a desire not to harm animals), he’s willing to kill a squirrel just for startling him. Although Spud remains naïve, he occasionally hits on profound thoughts like why Rent Boy dislikes the squirrel (because it’s free). Spud’s empathy for animals reflects his greater empathy for humans as well, although sometimes this quality makes him vulnerable.
Rent Boy realizes too late that “dawn” will remind everyone of “Dawn,” Lesley’s child who died. Sick Boy was likely the father. Sick Boy doesn’t acknowledge the awkwardness and just jokingly insults Rent Boy. As they talk, Spud realizes that Dawn, like the squirrel, was also free and innocent. When Spud starts walking away, Rent Boy asks him what’s wrong. Spud says he didn’t like how they were going to kill an innocent squirrel. Rent Boy admits that life has been hard recently and says Spud is a good man, using Spud’s real name, Danny, when he addresses him. In the distance, Sick Boy tells them to either have sex already or to come help them find Begbie and Matty.
Dawn’s death is what inspired many of the characters to give up heroin (although not other drugs), and so Dawn’s absence hangs over much of the rest of the book. On the one hand, Dawn, like the dawn of a new day, the possibility of hope and rebirth. But so far, most of the characters seem to be acting about the same as they did when they were on heroin. Nevertheless, when Rent Boy addresses Spud by his real name, it suggests a moment of growth (and perhaps Rent Boy’s realization that while Spud is mostly a good person, his other friends might not be good people).