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Scott Begbie: How Begbie from Trainspotting ruined my life

Begbies were ordinary folk until Trainspotting unleashed Robert Carlyle as the iconic hardman.
Begbies were ordinary folk until Trainspotting unleashed Robert Carlyle as the iconic hardman.

This is a milestone year… the 25th anniversary of the arrival of a film that changed my life forever and not in a good way.

Prior to 1996, I was just an ordinary bloke going about my life. Then, suddenly, I was forever linked to the dark underbelly of Edinburgh’s drug scene and the terrifying psychopath who moved in its murky waters like a shark.

This was the year when Trainspotting was unleased – and Begbie entered the cultural psyche.

Up until that point, the biggest issue I had with my surname was convincing people it didn’t end in a Y and no, it wasn’t pronounced Bej-bee.

The Begbies were very local to Edinburgh. We didn’t travel far over the generations, there weren’t many famous folk among us. There was an Isaac Begbie who played for Hearts and Scotland in Victorian times – I’m vaguely related to him.

The Trainspotting poster adorned bedroom walls across the country.

There was a Matthew Baillie Begbie who was a chief justice in Canada’s British Columbia. He became known as the Hanging Judge and had a mountain named after him. That’s as much as I know.

Mentioned for sheep rustling

There was a family tradition that the first mention of Begbie was in medieval court records for sheep rustling. Other than that, we were a nondescript bunch other than having an uncommon surname.

Now we were glass-chucking, sweary mentalists to be given a wide berth, apparently.

Put it this way, being called Begbie made trying to book a table in a restaurant in Edinburgh in the late 90s a nightmare.

Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Mckidd, Ewen Bremner in Trainspotting.

Reactions ranged from:  “Aye, right… seriously, what name is it under” to “oh, you’re not going to stab me, are you?”

Actually, I just might.

Others would simply look at you then launch into Begbie’s Trainspotting line: “That wee lassie got glassed an’ no (person) leaves here until I find out what (person) did it”. But not saying person. Oh, my aching sides.

For those making the joke – I always assumed it was a joke – it was so funny. It never occurred to them that while it might be the first time they had made the cutting-edge quip, it was the several hundredth for me.

 

It even took on transatlantic proportions. A few years after Trainspotting came out I was visiting friends in Canada and one of them asked if I would pop into a music course he was teaching to talk about Robert Burns preserving Scottish folk songs. (It was a Canadian thing that if I was Scottish, I must know about Burns, right? I made it up).

Anyway after waxing lyrical about how the Bard was the world’s first music sampler (I think I got away with it) I opened up for questions.

Recognised the Rentons and the Sick Boys

Bloke stuck his hand straight up and said: “Is your name really Begbie, are you related? Man, I loved that movie, it was awesome… can you tell me one thing though? What’s a Corstorphine?”

Sigh.

The irritating thing about all of this is that I loved Trainspotting long before the movie was a twinkle in Danny Boyle’s magnificent directorial eye.

Trainspotting book cover.

I read Irvine Welsh’s book when it was first in paperback, with that scary cover image of folk in spooky masks.

It was the first time I had read anything written in the language that was all around me when I was growing up… the rich tongue of Embra’s schemes.

It was how I spoke, too, out of earshot of my mum who was always a stickler for proper diction. As I got older the rougher edges came off as a working journalist mixing with folk from all walks of life. A few years in Canada smoothed it away almost completely. But I can still turn it on when I need to. Funnily enough, I tend to tell jokes I remember from my childhood in an accent broader than the Meedies (that’ll be the Meadows, then).

Renton heading for Olympic gold in his Edinburgh dash.

And I recognised the characters, too, the Rentons, the Sick Boys, Spud. And dear lord, did I recognise Begbie. Every area had one… the feral nutter that you either sooked up to or totally body-swerved, never knowing what was going to trigger him going pure radge. They usually ended up in Saughton.

Reading the books it was a quirk that the bad boy of the piece carried my name. At that point, I didn’t mind this literary oddity.

I was even one of the first to watch the film, riveted from the get-go at its stark realism of the seedy side of my Jekyll and Hyde city that I knew only too well from being a newspaper reporter.

I’d seen pub toilets like that.

Seriously, such toilets do exist in parts of Edinburgh.

Visceral grip has loosened

I even forgave Renton’s impossible shoplifting dash from Menzies on Princes Street to Calton Road in a time that would have won him Olympic gold.

Leaving the cinema, I thought it was a brilliant film – I nearly stood up to applaud the “being Scottish” scene –  and had visuals that would stay with you for years and a brilliant cast from Ewan McGregor to James Cosmo. Then the Begbie backlash began and my torment.

Eventually, I just let it wash over me. It even became useful for spelling my name: “Yes, just like Trainspotting.”

And as Robert Carlyle has moved on to become a national acting treasure and Ewan McGregor has morphed into Star War’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, so too the visceral grip of Trainspotting on my family name has loosened.

Acclaimed author Irvine Welsh.

These days it’s barely raised. And in Canada it’s more readily linked with the Mount Begbie Brewery in BC – but they’re in my bad books because they won’t ship T-shirts to Scotland.

A few years back I was able to ask Irvine Welsh on Twitter why he chose the name Begbie for the monster he unleashed on the world.

He replied saying: “I took the Trainspotting names randomly out the phone book”.

Which begs the question, could he not have flicked over the page and gone with Brown and left me with a less eventful 25 years?

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