“The Black Mist Descended” ~ a guest post by the legendary Jake Barton

 My guest blogger today is the amazing Jake Barton, enigmatic author of Kindle bestselling thrillers Burn, Baby Burn, its sequel Blood and a number of others (one of which is FREE currently). Do go and look him up on Amazon or at his blog:  Ramblings of a Deluded Soul 

The following bio is written by Jake at my request:

Jake Barton lives a determinedly unpredictable life. By design. He makes minimal use of planning, acts on impulse and yet, somehow, manages to make it all work. Most of the time.

He used to be someone completely different – this present incarnation is a massive step down. Jake was known by another name for many years. He was younger then, clever, hirsute, handsome, good company, sensible and superbly fit. Sadly, none of the above apply now.

He writes crime fiction with a hard edge, making use of a life which frequently brought him into contact with major drug dealers, gang leaders, heroin addicts and many other denizens of society’s underbelly. Many of them were fascinating company and regarded him as a friend, albeit a one-sided friendship doomed to be short-lived.

During the course of an unconventional life, touched by wanderlust, involving much movement around the globe, he has been a labourer in a steel-works, taught English and History, been a work-study engineer, a restaurateur, civil servant, Nightclub bouncer, antique dealer, owned a small French vineyard and also had another job that he’s not supposed to talk about where most of the background for his crime novels was learned the hard way over the course of twenty hard years.

To define Jake Barton in one word would be difficult. “Wastrel” comes pretty close.

He writes, sporadically, but doesn’t think of himself as a writer, even though he’s somehow managed to sell in excess of 60,000 books, so far, in 2011. He’s about to set off again, wandering the world, sans map, compass or any idea where he’ll end up. As plans go, it’s rubbish! Sounds about right, then.

The Black Mist.

I used to have a very stressful job. A very specific job for which very few are suited and even fewer stay the course. It involved undercover work, befriending criminals and drug dealers to gain access to gang bosses and major importers. Myself and my colleagues worked in different areas to avoid become known and I met my fellow workers perhaps only once a year. There were eight of us at the ‘sharp end’ and about fifty behind the scenes. Of the eight who did the job at the same time as myself, over a period of twenty years, only three are still alive. Including me, well, obviously!

The constant danger, the retribution meted out if the carefully planned cover failed, the difficulty of adapting to life after the job ended all contributed to this high level of attrition.

I wrote in my own blog recently about meeting a former colleague in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the spinal injuries unit. He’d been beaten so severely he’d been presumed dead and thrown from a speeding car by his assailants. Despite being paralysed from the neck down his positive attitude was massively uplifting.

I’d kill myself, if I could’, he said to me, but then laughed out loud. ‘Nah, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t stand the idea of my wife finding me and thinking, you selfish bastard, what’d you do that for?’

Selfish. The word he chose resonates with me even now. My friend died, in his sleep, three years after I last saw him. His wife gave me his watch, ‘to remember him by.’ I can’t imagine ever forgetting the bravest man I ever met.

Depression has been in the news lately, prompted by the tragic death of a fine man, Gary Speed. I’ve known a few people who’ve taken their own life. In only one case can I honestly say I ever saw suicide as a possibility. That exception was a young man I’d met when I was still playing rugby. Jason was nineteen and a prodigiously gifted athlete, but in desperate need of direction. He’d never played rugby, but I persuaded a friend to offer him a job and begged him to come to training, learn the rudiments of the game. Within two months I was picking him in the first team, on the wing where his inexperience would be less obvious. His pace and enviable fitness stood him in good stead, but it was the friendship of his team-mates, the social aspects of the sport, that made the biggest difference. He was a changed person; no longer drifting through life, but happy and contented with a new job, a girlfriend and a group of mates who thought the world of him.

On Boxing Day, on a pitch that was beginning to freeze, he turned, slipped and tore his cruciate ligament. I’ve had the same injury. It’s painful and restricts your movement for a long time. Unable to play, he came to the clubhouse less and less often. I was worried about his fragile nature, but had, myself, received a serious injury, and was out of touch with my team for a few weeks. When I was fit enough to get out I went to see Jason at home and found his mother in tears. She’d found his body less than an hour ago and the doctor had just arrived and pronounced him dead. I stayed with her, trying to find words suitable for occasions like this.

There aren’t any.

He’d been so good,’ she said, ‘then the black mist came down again.’

The black mist. Depression. We don’t understand it; can’t rationalise it, yet it can disrupt a person’s life to such an extent they can’t bear it any more.

Two former work colleagues took their own lives. Apparently, without anyone close to them having the faintest idea of how bad the situation had become. I knew them both and was shocked to the core when I heard the news. Yes, the job played a part. I’m sure of it. Twenty years on, some memories will never leave me. I’ve recently started to write, in very general terms, about my work experience. It’s hard. The recollections are buried deep. That’s my safety valve. I’m a positive person. I don’t ‘do’ depression, but I understand it. As for suicide; I can’t imagine the level of despair that brings about this decision.

Is it ‘selfish’ as my friend in Stoke Mandeville said? In a way, yes. Of course it is. The people left behind. Those closest to you who love you, care for you. Their despair, that feeling they could have done more, prevented this. I know they feel that as I’ve felt like that on three separate occasions. The problem is: the decision to end one’s life is made under conditions where all rational thought has fled. The ‘black mist’ is control.

I’ll never forget my friend’s cheeriness as I fed him a meal. His nature wouldn’t permit regrets or sorrow at his condition. He shamed me. I’ve never felt so inadequate as I did that afternoon. He was bearing up under conditions that would surely have battered me. We laughed, a lot. He told me everything I needed to know before I took his place within the group of men who’d almost killed him. He also told me about a prominent disk jockey who worked part-time at the hospital and also died recently. My friend said, ‘never met such an arsehole in my life.’ Ah well, there you go!

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7 thoughts on ““The Black Mist Descended” ~ a guest post by the legendary Jake Barton

  1. beauiful, Barton. I wonder if the job might have something to do with it in a different way. Like addicts, as you’ve hinted what suicidal people are very best at is concealment – and that’s what people in that kind of work are both naturally good at and trained to do.

    The one friend of mine who killed himself did so by throwing himself in front of a train. Strangely, given what I’ve just said, it wasn’t a surprise. It felt like there was almost an inevitability about it, and had been for years. I think what you say about the selfishness of suicide captures the balance perfectly. The anger people feel is inevitable and for their own sanity almost certainly essential, but the question that’s always asked “What right do you have to decide whether or not my life would be better without you?” gives the complexity of the situation. The right of those left behind is only the couterweight of someone’s right to leave them without recrimination, and that lack of a zero sum game is one of suicide’s wider tragedies. And life’s, come to that.

    As you know, my best friend has attempted suicide on more than one occasion. One day she will succeed. I know that, and I know there’s nothing I or anyone else can do about it. Most days at some point I wonder whether the e-mail will come. It’s a strange thing to live with, and we’ve had conversations about it that must seem really strange to the outside world. We often talk about it openly when we meet, and during those conversations I never try to “talk her round”. There would be no point – whilst she’s receptive to being talked round there’s nothing to be talked out of. All it would achieve is to alienate her, to give her one less person she felt she could call on when she really does need it. As it is, I just let her be her and the inevitability that she won’t make it to draw her pension is a given that means the time we do have can be a lot more honest and contain a lot more life than if we were always hedging around and looking for ways to cope. Maybe that’s thoroughly reprehensible and mutually parasitic or maybe it’s the healthiest relationship imaginable. I genuinely don’t know. I tell myself it’s the only way we could really be, but then I would, wouldn’t I? And I know that however deep that honesty goes, when the end comes, she will keep it from me. When you commit to friendship with someone who’s suicidal, as you would with an addict, acknowledging that degree of withholding is part of the deal, but I think it makes the “meanwhile” better if you admit that to yourself, even though I have a feeling it will make the guilt felt afterwards worse, but that’s also the deal with friendship.

    What’s so particularly cruel is that we will only keep ourselves up at night with the people we couldn’t “save.” Life doesn’t keep a record of the people who’s paths have been steered off that course. “Was it inevitable?”, “What could I have done?” are questions that can only ever torture you – they simply don’t have an answer. All you can do is love your friends as best you can and as much as you can and recognise that your resources for doing so are finite and that doing so will both never be enough and always be enough. And live with what comes of it day by day.

  2. Dan, thank you for your considered and eloquent response to my own poor offering. As you may have guessed, our mutual friend and her fragile nature was well to the fore in writing this piece. She’s without doubt one of the most talented people I’ve ever met and yet remains prone to those devastating attacks of self doubt. I’m absolutely in agreement with your conclusions regarding any attempt to ‘talk her round.’ Words mean so little when offered at a time of complete rationality. When the mist descends, rational thought dissipates.
    I’d also like to offer my sincere gratitude to Exmoorjane for her comments. If you only knew how long I’d striven to earn your acclaim!
    It’s been a humbling experience, being asked to contribute to a blog of this nature. I’ve read previous posts with awe and am hugely honoured to be in such company. Thank you for the opportunity.

  3. Mr Barton your writing is as good as ever. When is the next novel coming out? Suicide is something people do not really want to talk about so well done for approaching the subject. It is the people who are left behind who suffer the most. Wondering why and never getting an answer. Sometimes the “loved ones” never get over the shock. Enjoy your trip then come back and write!

  4. How wonderful to see an old friend of my books track me down on here. Thank you, Cable – one of my staunchest fans from the very early days. I have a head full of possibilities but no idea which one of three works in progress will be the next book.
    Suicide and depression are taboo subjects, rarely broached in conversation and yet they have a massive impact on the lives of so many people. Perhaps we should make an effort to talk more, involve ourselves in the problems of others, while retaining that necessary distance from outright interference in such a personal issue.

  5. Beautifully written and heart-rending. I’ve heard of the black mist and seen it in family members, friends and colleagues. I live in abject fear of it ever catching up to me. Those poor people you describe and many others like them are courageous and more deserving of people’s understanding than they are usually ever given credit for after the fact.

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