The London Years
Irvine Welsh grew up in Leith, Scotland. The son of working class parents, he spent his childhood in government housing, a milieu he gave voice to in his hugely popular novel and subsequent film, Trainspotting. The book was an international success and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 1993. Welsh moved to London in his twenties and played in local punk bands but returned to Edinburgh in the late-80s. Drawing inspiration from the the rave culture there, he began writing seriously and submitting to literary journals. After Trainspotting, he published Ecstasy, Glue, Porno, The Acid House and The Bedroom Secrets of Master Chefs. His books’ themes range from the Scottish identity, sectarianism, classism, immigration, unemployment, AIDS and drug use. Recent works are The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006), a play, Babylon Heights (2006), written with Dean Cavanagh, and If You Liked School You'll Love Work (2007). His latest novel, Crime, was published in 2008. He has taught undergraduate creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago and currently divides his time between Miami, Chicago, Dublin and London.
Irvine Welsh: Yeah. I was totally right in that social milieu. I was talking [about] these punks who came here that was basically made and whose life was changed by working in a sort of room full of book and TV. He’s fixing them up and sort of to send them back out. I say TVs, I don’t mean transvestites, I mean televisions. And then off to… Then go down in a pub and buy [IB], you “God Save the Queen” playing, and just blasting your eardrums with it. And then off to London next week, basically, chucking everything in. So that was really… It was just… So, for me and so many other people, the cause and effect there is just so stark. You never you never find anything as stark as that again in your life.
The good thing about back then is, well, because you had the remnants of the Welfare, say, if you’ve been working for a while, you’ve got something called the tax rebate, which has [stopped], which meant that you got the tax back in what you’ve… what you paid there in tax that year, you got it back. So people would basically stop work to get their tax rebates. And you also had the housing benefits and you had a decent unemployment benefit program, so you can go to college for a pound back then.
So you could get by. There’s lots of part-time, temporary jobs you could do. You could do dishwashing. You could do portering. There’s just so much, so much around you. There weren’t great jobs, but you could find a job. You could stop work for 6 months [level] of tax rebates and then find a job again and do stuff.
And most people who did that, they didn’t just waste around. They were forming bands and were getting into getting to all sorts of things or were going to college. So, I think it was a great time. There’s a great idea that you had some kind of paid time out back then. It wasn’t the same pressure to to kind of achieve and to sort of… and basically to be kind of middle aged by the time you were 20.
Recorded on: September 8, 2008
Irvine Welsh remembers social welfare perks that made being young easy.
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