One of the main themes explored in T2 Trainspotting is summed up in the question ‘Sick Boy’ Simon asks Mark Renton when he walks in the door of Simon’s pub. ‘Hello Mark, so what you been up to… for 20 years?’ He almost says it with a catch in his voice, taken aback by the sudden return of the best friend who, back in 1996, ran off with the money that they should have shared. They catch up with each other’s lives in just a few seconds, suspicious and cautious about the sudden reunion. Back in the 90s, in the first Trainspotting film, these two were good mates, part of a gang of four, along with Spud and Tommy. Oh… and also the unstable Francis Begbie, the foul-mouthed monster who has since spent years in prison and will kill Renton the moment he sets eyes on him again. A good part of this story is spent with Renton doing his level best to stay out of Begbie’s way. There is a particularly nerve jangling moment when they realise they are sitting side by side in adjacent cubicles in the toilets of an Edinburgh nightclub. The expected chase ensues.
This story is loaded with flashbacks as the lads reunite, there are many moments which echo the original film, and the original doomed friendships. The gang of four were all heroin addicts, and Tommy didn’t make it, so at one point the other three take a train ride out to the country, to place flowers on a stone cairn, in memory of their lost friend. However, ‘Sick Boy’ Simon claims he feels nothing as they do it, and tells Renton, ‘Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here, you’re just being a tourist in your own youth.’ And perhaps that is what T2 does with all of us who watch it. It tricks us a little, takes us back to the original story and invites us to hanker for a better, glorious time. Even though the boys were all untrustworthy losers and the experience destroyed Tommy. I found myself feeling oddly wistful, not just about the younger versions of this gang of four, but for the person I was when I first saw them.
‘The past is another country…’ so wrote LP Hartley in The Go-Between (I always want to say JR Hartley, but he wrote Flyfishing, which featured in a TV Yellow Pages advert and did not begin with that memorable line.) If the past is another country, then life is a slow moving train, relentlessly taking us to new places, even if we would like to stand still. Time moves on, and that old country is several stops behind us now. And though I am the world champ in nostalgia, I have to remind myself that ‘now’ matters. I love to wander back into the past and take in the view. However, the old may look enticing, the past glorious, and it may inform the present, but it’s no good trying to derail the train and stop it moving. When Moses was stopped in his tracks by a burning bush, and he asked God about his name, God replied, ‘I am.’ I am. The one who is present in the present. One day at a time. But very much ‘now’. It seems to me that God is most interested in this country, not the one in the past, and in helping us to keep moving through it. The gang of four had issues of course, and history to sort out, not least with Mr Begbie; but God can help with that too, offering hope and help and forgiveness for each new day. I am frequently tempted to be a tourist in my own past, to cherry pick the bright moments and glory in them, but I sense the divine nudge to keep that in perspective. And to keep moving on life’s train. Today. Now. With the God who is ‘I Am.’
P.S. for any who would like to be reminded of that Flyfishing classic…