By Joss Smith Weston
Key Themes: manic depression, bi-polar disorder, poetry, divisive South African culture, Apartheid, autobiography
“The writing is a fascinating blend of wry, contemporary social narrative (a la Nick Hornby), yet conveying a message about the divisive South African culture reminiscent of JM Coetzee. Some of the brutally honest accounts of Joss’ early sexual encounters would probably shock if taken out of context but he somehow manages to make them seem wholly acceptable as he struggles to come to terms with his many desires in an Apartheid-governed world.” – Rupert Reid
This eccentric book is an attempt to make manic depression more widely understood given the stigmatism that it is usually associated with. The illness creates a jaundiced perception of people and reality and it is probably for this reason that the characters’ names are changed; otherwise it is a real story. However, there is no distinction between reality and dreams. It is not a story about success, victory or triumph, although equally given the circumstances it is also not one of failure either. It is a journey that starts in normality and ends in the opposite corner, beginning with a disturbed and violent dream. The book charts the experiences of Joss through Africa and Australia, marriage and running a business. On a few occasions the narrative fails and the author expresses his nightmares, secret thoughts, imagery and disbeliefs in poetry. The sudden loss of control, or sanity and his arrival in a mental asylum and the view from inside is both very distressing and strangely humorous. It ends on a note of poignancy, recalling Joss’ supposed recovery and his attempted assimilation back into society. A fascinating and thoroughly engaging read, a must for anybody who wishes to further understand the thoughts and actions of a manic depressive.
About the Author
Joss has been a Company Director and is now a student at the Open University. Joss is a republican who does not use products that have been tested on animals; prefers to buy second hand clothes from Oxfam; reads the Telegraph and listens to Radio Four. His experiences include; seeing a UFO; scratching a white rhino and a tarantula’s stomach; riding an ostrich and he has been in a high-speed police car chase. Joss has run the Comrades Marathon (89 kilometres) in 7 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds. For nine years Joss was a vegetarian, did not eat chocolate, or drink alcohol. He is a one-time member of Greenpeace, votes Labour, is a pacifist, asthmatic, left hander, bow-legged, has one kidney and suffers from manic depression.
…one of my many adolescent, repeating, disturbed dreams…
“They’re lifting the last few bales, are you ready lads?” Pitchforks and spades raised above shoulders. The question hardly needed answering as the few remaining parts of our previously safe home were toppled over. Exposed, and surrounding us, were our enemy and their dogs. They were huge, barbaric, merciless killers. For milliseconds we stared at each other before… “Get ‘em!” The barbarians shrieked. About twenty yards to make it to the long grass, and then another ten to the barley, Ben and I were running, breathlessly desperately together. He was young and powerfully built, and if anyone could make it, he would. The men-of-war were stamping and beating the ground with sticks and blades and screaming when they killed one of us. The dogs were yapping, howling and baying incessantly. Those bastard, evil terriers – tearing flesh, maiming and killing us.
Ben was slightly ahead of me, nearly there, almost safe, when a pitchfork, seemed to hang in the air before plunging into his side. He immediately whirled round, screaming, and breaking his teeth on the cruel steel bar that had brutally pinned him to the ground. At the grass verge I stopped. A very ugly violent man stood over Ben grinning, then his steel-heel crashed heavily down. Ben had been screaming in agony, the bar tearing through his kidneys, his liver and his gut, now lay still, his race over. Others lay dead and bleeding as the now insane dogs tore at our bodies. Mad-men ran after those of us who were wounded, some with legs broken, and some even with broken backs and were mercilessly killed.
I knew I was not yet safe. The sea of pasture only gave little cover so long as I remained still. Caesar was an old bull terrier. I knew him well and had managed to stay one step ahead of him in the last four years. He had seen me get to the grass and had come to within five yards of me before I smelt him. I sprinted for my life for the taller, deeper barley field. Caesar did not yap as he came up behind me. He may have been old, but not slow. I hurled myself to one side as his hot, rancid, poisonous breath passed over the terrified hairs of my back. I made it to the high barley just before having to side step again to avoid him. Now Caesar slowed down as he crashed loudly into the field. Fifteen yards in I stopped. The bad-men who had been watching our race had lost interest. Their dogs did not usually catch us in there. Caesar was not breathing and he was down-wind now and in a different row. And suddenly he was there again, crashing down on me. Three. Two yards to go! I leapt frantically to the right and ran for my life once more! Suddenly to my horror, I was out of the barley and on the concrete loading bay again. I knew that the old hole in the far wall was my only hope. Only too late as I sprinted towards it I realized it was boarded over. Breathless and terrified, I turned to face Caesar. His tongue flashed in and out of his horrible-pointed, evil head, his glazed eyes staring in triumph. He had time as he had me cornered. He had to be careful though; cornered and terrified, I could still give a nasty bite. He lunged and I sank my teeth deep into his lip as he crushed my back right leg in his jaws. He howled as he hurled me in the air. He was going to snap me in half!
A loud near explosion and my battered body was racked with an even worse agony. One of the killer enemy men had seen me come out of the field and dart for my hole. It had been boarded it up. As the fearful dog threw me in the air, he lifted his rifle and fired. The bullet tore through my skin, throwing me into the fertiliser stack.
That autumn when the men took down the last bags of the fertiliser stack, they were ready again with their sticks, flailing and dogs yapping. Most of us rats were killed although one with only three legs, and some of my sons somehow made it through…