Scotland Takes Drugs In Psychic Defense. Tommy has the choice between buying his girlfriend, Lizzy, a birthday present or buying Iggy Pop concert tickets, and he chooses the concert tickets. Lizzy is mad, so Tommy doesn’t mention the concert to her again. But when Lizzy asks him to go to the movies one night, he has to mention that he already has tickets to see Iggy Pop with Davie Mitchell that night.
Iggy Pop is another musician who publicly went through a major period of addiction. The success and survival he achieved despite his addiction makes it clear why he would be a hero to characters like Tommy and Davie Mitchell.
The night before the Iggy Pop concert, Tommy invites Rent Boy over to watch Chuck Norris videos. The next day, he goes to visit his Ma to get money for the concert. She lectures him about the dangers of drug use, but he gets his money. That night, Tommy and some friends go to a pub before the concert to drink cider and do speed.
Tommy makes plans to go to the concert instead of going to the movies with Lizzy, suggesting how he priorities his friendships over his romantic relationship.
As Tommy gets high, he loses track of what’s going on. Davie Mitchell says something about money, and Tommy thinks he sounds angry. The next thing Tommy knows, he’s fighting with Davie Mitchell, but he can’t feel anything. Someone eventually kicks them out of the bar, so they make their way into the Iggy Pop concert and push their way to the front. Tommy dances like crazy. Iggy Pop changes a line in a song from “America takes drugs in psychic defense” to “Scotland takes drugs in psychic defense,” and this makes Tommy stop dancing for a moment.
Although Tommy enjoys himself at the concert, it’s also such a blur that he barely knows what’s going on. The line about “tak[ing] drugs in psychic defense,” which gives this section its title, suggests that characters like Tommy don’t necessarily take drugs just for the thrill of it but as a way to cope with things happening around them that they don’t have any other defense against—or at least that’s how Tommy justifies it to himself.
The Glass. Rent Boy’s friend Begbie has a lot of problems. He’s moody and easy to make angry. The two of them get invited to a party with a plus-one invite, so Begbie brings June and Rent Boy brings Hazel, and they all meet at a pub beforehand. Rent Boy has been seeing Hazel on and off for four years. They rarely have sex because Rent Boy is often high, and Hazel doesn’t enjoy most sex after being sexually abused by her father as a girl. But the two of them have an understanding.
Begbie provides an extreme example of the chauvinism that many other characters demonstrate. While Rent Boy tries to make sense of his complicated relationships with women but sometimes acts selfishly, Begbie feels no shame at all about always putting himself first in a relationship.
When Rent Boy and Hazel arrive at the pub, Begbie greets them enthusiastically. June and Hazel don’t know each other well but start their own conversation. As Rent Boy talks and drinks with Begbie, he feels a little uncomfortable—Begbie keeps poking him hard to get his attention and acting out violent things he saw in a video on Rent Boy. They start talking about a friend who died of AIDS. Rent Boy thinks Begbie is being too crude but doesn’t say it.
Everything about Begbie is rude and overbearing. He dominates the conversation with Rent Boy, using his gestures to assert his control. Begbie establishes his interest in violence, and the crass way he talks about his late friend suggests a broader lack of respect for others.
Another group at the pub is being loud and obnoxious. All of a sudden, Begbie takes his glass and throws it at them, hitting one of them in the head and knocking him over. The rowdy group looks ready to fight, but they didn’t see Begbie throw the glass, so Begbie comes over shouting that nobody gets to leave the pub until they find out who threw that glass. He suggests calling the police to find the culprit, but no one in the other group wants to do that. Rent Boy helps the injured man with his bleeding.
In this section, Begbie proves that he isn’t just talk—at the slightest provocation, his bragging about violence can turn into real violence. Begbie acts outrageously after throwing the glass, as though begging for someone to catch him so that he has an excuse to perform even more violence. Meanwhile, Rent Boy shows his disapproval indirectly by helping the bleeding man.
All of a sudden, Rent Boy sees a punch coming for him and turns just in time to avoid getting most of the impact. One of the rowdy men intervenes to say that Rent Boy has nothing to do with the broken glass. Rent Boy, Hazel, and June slip out of the pub. Begbie already went outside in the confusion, and he and a new acquaintance from the pub are kicking some guy on the ground. When they’re done kicking that guy, Begbie turns to his new acquaintance and punches one of his teeth out. June asks what he’s doing, and Begbie says the guy he just punched and his friends inside are the same people who stabbed his brother.
As with Tommy and Second Prize's earlier attempt to help the woman whose boyfriend was beating her, Rent Boy gets punished for trying to help. Begbie reveals that he seems to enjoy violence in all its forms and doesn’t really care who is the victim. He quickly changes sides, allying himself with one man then turning the next second and punching his tooth out. This foreshadows the dangers of being friends with Begbie.
Rent Boy, however, knows this is a lie: Begbie’s brother got stabbed years ago and wasn’t even that badly hurt. As they walk away, Hazel says Begbie has something seriously wrong with him. Rent Boy awkwardly lies to try to justify Begbie’s behavior. He muses to himself that Begbie is like a heroin addiction because there’s no getting rid of him. Rent Boy doesn’t even really like Begbie, but Begbie is a “mate,” so there’s nothing he can do about it.
Although Rent Boy despises Begbie, Rent Boy’s own loyalty, both to Leith and to masculine gender norms, prevents him from fully disavowing Begbie. As much as Rent Boy wants to see himself as above Begbie, his own contributions to protecting Begbie make him just as responsible in some ways.
A Disappointment. Begbie really doesn’t like this guy who has been showing up in the pub lately when Begbie’s there with his friends. One day this guy and a friend show up at the pub and put some money down for a game of pool. Begbie points out that someone else already has his name on the board and they’re trying to cut the line. He waits to see their reaction, but they back down, disappointing Begbie.
This short story from Begbie’s perspective confirms that there isn’t some hidden depth to his character—he really does just enjoy violence for its own sake and will commit violence at any opportunity he gets. Begbie’s shallowness as a character contrasts with the more nuanced personalities of some of his friends.
Cock Problems. Rent Boy has such a hard time finding a vein for heroin that the previous day, he ended up using a prominent vein on his penis. Now, he hears a doorbell and assumes it’s his landlord. Rent Boy liked his old landlord, who carried a lot of cash on him and was senile and easy to rob. But after he died, his son became stricter about collecting rent.
Although Rent Boy’s nickname comes from his last name (Renton), it also signifies his status (since people who rent are generally lower class than people who own property).
As it turns out, it’s not the landlord but Tommy at the door, shouting through the mail slot. Rent Boy shoots up in his penis for the second time then begins to feel a little nauseous, not realizing how pure the heroin was. He tries to keep it together while going to answer the door. Tommy comes in and tells Rent Boy that he and Lizzy just broke up. Tommy feels conflicted about the breakup.
This story shows the direct consequences of Tommy choosing to go to the Iggy Pop concert earlier instead of seeing a movie with Lizzy. While it’s possible to read Trainspotting as a short story collection, the connections between stories ultimately make it more of a novel.
Rent Boy remembers being back in school and watching with some friends (including Begbie) while Lizzy ran a race. Rent Boy and his friends were all lying in the dirt, and they discovered that Begbie had secretly masturbated against the ground while watching the girls. Rent Boy realizes maybe this is more a Begbie memory than a Lizzy memory.
Begbie comes across as an almost comically unpleasant character, which makes Rent Boy’s tolerance of him all the more surprising and morally suspect. Once again, Rent Boy’s refusal to disavow Begbie makes him more like Begbie than he’d like to admit.
Back in the present, Tommy, who uses other drugs but isn’t a heroin user, asks Rent Boy what it’s like to take heroin. Rent Boy hesitates but feels that he owes Tommy an honest answer. Rent Boy says heroin makes life feel more real and helps him deal with the disappointment. He says it’s an “honest” drug because it makes good feelings better, but it also makes bad feelings worse. Tommy doesn’t quite believe all this, and even Rent Boy admits he’d give a different answer on a different day.
Rent Boy has already established himself as a capable liar. In fact, Rent Boy has lied so much to himself and others that in this passage, he seems to struggle to figure out what the truth even is. His need for heroin has become such a central part of him that he can find different ways to justify it..
Tommy says he wants a hit of heroin. Rent Boy refuses, but Tommy insists. The two of them get high together, and Tommy seems to really enjoy it. Afterward, Rent Boy says he won’t give Tommy any more—that he should try to kick heroin while he still can. Rent Boy says this partly because doesn’t have enough for himself. Tommy leaves, and Rent Boy has an itch on his penis, but he doesn’t want to scratch it, fearing it’ll get infected.
Rent Boy has conflicted feelings about introducing Tommy to heroin. Rent Boy knows how dependent on heroin he himself is, and he hesitates to inflict the same fate on Tommy. Ultimately, however, Rent Boy seems to take the individualist perspective, believing that what Tommy does with his own life isn’t necessarily Rent Boy’s business, for better or for worse.
Traditional Sunday Breakfast. Davie Mitchell wakes up in a strange bed full of his own vomit, urine, and excrement. He realizes he’s at Gail’s mother’s house, and he tries to go back through his memories to figure out how he got there.
Davie Mitchell is a minor character who is only tangentially related to Rent Boy’s circle of friends. The contrast between the gross bed sheets and the nice room shows how people like Davie Mitchell struggle to fit into polite, mainstream society.
Davie figures out it’s Sunday. He remembers that yesterday, he, Tommy, Rent Boy, and some other friends went to a big soccer match. There, they did acid, speed, and dope, and they also drank lots of vodka. That’s where Davie Mitchell’s memory gets foggy, but he figures Gail met up with them at some point. Davie Mitchell and Gail have been together for five weeks but haven’t had sex.
Although it isn’t clear at this point, Davie isn’t actually a heroin user. As this passage shows, however, abstaining from heroin may not make much difference if a person uses alcohol and other drugs.
In the present, Gail knocks on the door to the room where Davie Mitchell’s staying. She says Davie Mitchell seemed really upset. She notices the soiled covers. She invites Davie Mitchell down to breakfast. Davie Mitchell gets dressed and comes down, taking the sheets with him so that he can clean them later. At the table, Gail’s mother also comments that Davie Mitchell was in a state last night but seems less upset now.
Gail’s family doesn’t seem to know the full extent of what Davie Mitchell and his friends got up to the previous night. Their polite background makes them assume that Davie Mitchell comes from a similar background and that he simply has a slight hangover.
Gail’s mother tells Davie Mitchell she’ll just wash the sheets. Davie Mitchell tries to protest, but she insists and grabs them from him. As she does it, the sheets come undone, and all the vomit and excrement comes flying out, some landing on the floor, some landing on the food, and some landing on Gail’s father’s glasses and white shirt. Gail’s mother goes to puke. Davie Mitchell figures now he’ll never have sex with Gail, but he doesn’t care because all he wants is to get away.
The eruption of bodily fluids over Sunday breakfast suggests that much as Davie Mitchell tries to hide his wild lifestyle, eventually everything will come to light. This story shows the contrast between the uninhibited and reckless lifestyle of people like Davie Mitchell and the more repressed lifestyle of his girlfriend Gail’s family.
Junk Dilemmas No. 65. Rent Boy is really cold because the only candle in the room has gone out. He finds Spud and complains about the cold, but Spud says nothing. Rent Boy figures Spud is probably still alive but can’t be sure.
This short interlude shows both how heroin comes with the constant danger of death but also how it makes users strangely numb to the possibility.
Grieving and Mourning in Port Sunshine. Rent Boy’s brother Billy is playing cards with some friends, including Lenny and Jackie. They’re playing for money, but the big pool of “club money” is with Phil Grant (Granty), who hasn’t arrived yet. The club money is real money worth £2,000, but they share it among themselves and treat it like “monopoly money.” Lenny calls Granty’s phone number, but he doesn’t answer. One of them jokes that maybe Granty ran off with the money, but everyone knows this might not be a joke.
This story provides yet another example of how life in Leith differs outside of Rent Boy’s circle of drug-using friends. It also highlights how some aspects of life aren’t so different after all. Although it doesn’t have the same reputation as heroin, gambling is another vice that can control people’s lives, in part because it’s even more socially acceptable.
The friends argue about the legal status of the money and whether Granty would technically be justified in keeping it. Billy says the law is irrelevant, since they’re talking about “mates,” which is more important than legal status. Granty hasn’t missed a Thursday night card game for six years.
The relationship between these friends and Granty recalls the similar code of conduct that causes Rent Boy to stick up for Begbie despite his dislike of Begbie’s actions.
The next morning, Granty still hasn’t shown up. Lenny is late to his fortnightly trip to the unemployment office. It’s still 11:00 a.m., but he doesn’t like being up so early, so he goes to the pub for a pint. While he’s there, he runs into a friend who asks if he’s heard the news: Granty is dead of a heart attack.
Granty’s sudden death of a heart attack resembles Uncle Andy’s and shows how even outside the world of heroin use, there’s no guarantee of health or safety. Random chance plays a major role in the book and doesn’t always operate fairly.
Lenny spends the rest of the day getting drunk in the pub. His friends meet him there, and he tells them the news about Granty. Across the bar, Lenny spots Spud, Tommy, and Second Prize, and he insults them as worthless junkies, unlike Granty, who valued life. Lenny’s friends convince him not to start anything, and soon after, they all go back to one of their apartments.
Lenny’s contempt for Spud, Tommy, and Second Prize shows how the rest of the world views them. It may also be hypocritical, given that Lenny seems to have his own addiction to money and gambling in particular.
The friends all complain about the lost money Granty was holding. They mourn Granty too, but Billy says they need to sort out the money situation because he needs it for an upcoming vacation. He’s worried Granty’s girlfriend Fiona will run off with the money. Lenny accuses Billy of being selfish and not caring about Granty. But the others take Billy’s side and agree to confront Fiona after the funeral.
This passage shows the dangers of money by showing how it leads all of the friends in the poker group to mistrust each other and their intentions.
On the day of Granty’s funeral, no one actually does anything about the money. But the next day, they meet at Fiona’s house. No one answers the door, and a neighbor says that Fiona is in the Canary Islands. Jackie says that settles the matter and there’s not much more they can do. Billy surprises Jackie by punching him in the face and knocking him down the stairs.
Fiona’s trip to the Canary Islands seems to suggest that she ran off with the money, although as other parts of the book have shown, sometimes characters leap to conclusions that don’t turn out to be true. It seems unlikely that Jackie really collaborated with Fiona, although the actual nature of their relationship remains ambiguous.
Lenny tries to restrain Billy, but Billy accuses Jackie of collaborating with Fiona to help steal the money. Billy says he knows Jackie and Fiona have had sex. Jackie admits to it, but says it was a one-time thing. Billy says he doubts that. He says maybe Granty died because he knew Fiona was having sex with his good friend Jackie. The whole group turns against Jackie and starts kicking him on the stairwell.
Billy and the others feel so strongly about the money that they’re willing to resort to violence against a friend to get it back, raising the question of whether they really have any right to feel superior to Rent Boy’s heroin-using friends. The kicking of Jackie in the stairwell is perhaps a darkly humorous transition into the next chapter, which is called “Kicking Again.”