Originally published 11th Feb 2020
I was moved by Vicky Allan’s piece in Saturday’s Herald on what many call ‘The People’s Republic of Leith’, especially the emphasis on the importance of people being front and centre in decision-making with regard to the place we call home.
As I read it, I remembered a conversation I had the week before with a man I grew up with on a Leith estate in the 80s. I always spot him in the distance before he sees me – he stands out in the crowd as he is very tall and can barely walk after decades of drug abuse. His body is bloated, undoubtedly due to the cocktail of anti-psychotic drugs he swallows each day just to get out of bed. I always stop to say hello.
Everybody is deid!
His first words were, ‘Everybody is deid, Evie’. I nodded in agreement, and we discussed yet another death that had just occurred. It had been a topic of conversation with several people in the preceding few days, and it was that man’s funeral the following day.
Only a few weeks before this, I had had another memorable encounter: another lad I grew up with on the estate pinned me against the wall and shouted abuse; not at me, fortunately, but at something dreadful that was happening to him. I couldn’t understand it all. He was so close to me, all I could see was his rotten teeth – certainly related to his drug abuse, like his emaciation. He was so angry! I tried to soothe him whilst also cautiously slipping out of harm’s way in case his rage ended up being taken out on my face.
The middle of 'Trainspotting'
It was frightening, but somehow rather normal for a 9 a.m. encounter on Junction Street. You see, many of the children that grew up on that estate are now on drugs or dead, and many have been in and out of jail all their lives for petty theft: a community devastated and left behind. I grew up in the middle of ‘Trainspotting’: when we were only 10 older boys would try to sell us ‘DFs’ (dihydrocodeine) or ‘jellies’ (benzodiazepines) in the street, and we all knew where the glue-sniffers hung out, or where the latest murder had taken place (just down the road).
It is not rocket science to understand why I ended up spending the f