Some years ago, whilst visiting the author Colin Wilson we were discussing the philosophy of positivism as opposed to the nihilism of Sartre’s existentialist doctrine of despair. Wilson argued that Jean Paul Sartre’s statement in his book ‘Being and Nothingness’ that ‘Life is a useless passion’ totally misses the point of our existence. As human beings we have free will to be what it is possible for us to be within the confines of our given circumstances.
However, what we may construe as difficult circumstances should not deter us from attempting to attain what we perceive to be success in life. As a good example of progression through determined effort consider the achievements of Colin Wilson himself. He was born into a working class family in the industrial midlands where he originally worked at various mundane jobs. It was whilst he was employed as a laboratory assistant that he became so disillusioned with his lot in life that he contemplated suicide. Wilson went so far as to prepare a phial of acid that he was intending to drink, with the glass at his lips he suddenly realised that he must live, he had real work to do. Wilson then escaped the factories and nine to five taking himself to London where he slept rough on Hampstead Heath as he read for and wrote his masterpiece ‘The Outsider’. During our discussion Wilson explained that it was at the moment of his intended suicide that he had a momentary vision of what he could be if he dared to dream.
The philosophical belief that we are spiritual beings incarnated in a physical body existing within the confines of this material world is incorporated in what we term metaphysics. ‘Cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am’ Rene Descartes (1596-1650) explains that we are more than the mortal body that we inhabit. Yet this physical being that is, to all intents and purposes, what we are comes with circumstances that are utterly beyond our control. For example if I were the first born child of say the Queen of Great Britain then, assuming health and mental capacity, my life would be one of service to my country. To do otherwise would require an immense effort of will and determination, as evidenced by the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. That, in philosophical terms, perhaps explains why it is the norm for individuals to accept their birth circumstances and proceed in life accordingly. The saying that ‘the fruit does not fall far from the tree’ offers a widely accepted insight into the way that many, if not all, allow the circumstances of their birth to dictate the way they live their lives.
In my August 2015 feature column I wrote of my paternal ancestor Richard Sutton whose extraordinary life story was used by Emily Bronte as the basis for her character Heathcliff in her novel ‘Wuthering Heights’. Richard Sutton achieved a great deal in his life rising from virtual poverty employed as a boot-black amongst the slaves in his masters mansion house to being the owner of vast estates. Sutton eventually bought his masters mansion ‘West House’ at Dent in Yorkshire along with numerous farms including Rigg End. It was at Rigg End that his sons William and Robert were born to his wife Eleanor. I am the direct descendant of Robert Sutton who became the head of many important estates, including Hornby Castle. Robert was also a gamekeeper and in those Victorian times would have been a man of considerable standing in the local community. His brother William Sutton emigrated to Canada in the year 1851 and resided initially in a small town called Kincardine where he built a saw mill, created a dam to supply water and was generally an energetic organiser. There exist to this day streets and areas named after my Great Great Great Uncle namely: Williamsburg, William Street and Sutton Street.
In the year 1867 William Sutton (1828-1896) was appointed as Sheriff of Bruce County and he moved into a house in Walkerton that had a cell block incorporated into the building. Subsequently a purpose built jail was built and William Sutton was in overall command as the Sheriff. Sutton held that position until the year 1892 when he was charged with abusing his office. It seems, from records held in the Bruce County Museum that Sutton had been absenting himself from his place of duty to spend time setting up a lumber business. I am indebted to my erudite distant cousin Jan Bridget for this: ‘It does leave a huge cloud hanging over William Sutton. Further investigation into affairs in British Columbia (the other side of Canada) reveals that William Sutton had been visiting British Columbia for twenty years and spending some considerable time there setting up a lumber business at Cowichan, Vancouver Island. He had visited enough times for the local newspaper to state, in his obituary, that he had lived in British Columbia for 20 years, yet he did not actually move there until 1893, three years before he died.’ The point I am attempting to make is that William Sutton the son of Richard Sutton (1782-1851) was very like his father, a determined adventurer and a man to be reckoned with. The fact that circumstances surrounding him on arrival in Canada would have been difficult did not halt or hinder him as he quickly became a man of substance.
My father Francis ‘Frank’ Sutton was by trade a blacksmith in the 1940s when they used anvils and heavy hand held hammers to beat the metal into shape. After military service with The Parachute Regiment’ Frank Sutton married his wife and my mother Sheila then soon after I arrived. To improve his circumstances my father joined The Lancashire Constabulary becoming Police Constable 1772. Frank quickly achieved promotion transferring to the Criminal Investigation Department or CID where he became a Detective Inspector. Frank Sutton overcame the tough circumstances of his early life as a blacksmith and gained a position of good standing in the police force. His son, my brother Martin Sutton also joined the police service in 1970 and he served in many departments including as a team leader in The Tactical Aid Group in Greater Manchester and as a CID Detective Inspector. As you can see there is a pattern here, the apple did not fall far from the paternal tree.
In my own case I served for some years as an NCO in the British Army and was the Middlewight Boxing Champion of my Regiment. My father’s brother Alfred Sutton was also a Middleweight boxing champion in the Army. On leaving the Army I went into the Home Office Prison Service where I was employed initially at HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs and subsequently Strangeways Prison Manchester where I became a Hospital Officer. For a time I ran the assessment ward at Strangeways Jail where inmates were sent by the courts for psychicatric assessment. This was a difficult position for me as I was always sensitive and as the psychic insights came to me the visions were at times incredibly intense. One inmate on the ward was charged with arson, he had tried to persuade the local council to change his local authority house as he claimed the neighbours were threatening him. To persuade the social workers that he was telling the truth this man had an idea, he set fire to his own council house by pouring petrol through the front door. Unfortunately the house had only just been painted and the woodwork was emitting fumes that instantly ignited burning the place down along with his three children that were upstairs asleep. I took this man to Booth Hall Children’s Hospital to visit his daughters. They were in an isolation burns unit wrapped up like Egyptian mummies, as I stood by these children with the man at my side handcuffed to me I saw as in a vision the tragic flames surrounding them. For those children there would be no more circumstances.
I think, therefore I am, as a man said and I arrived at the considered conclusion that though I was fully physically capable of being a jailer I had other objectives in life. So whilst I did initially allow my trajectory to be within the close proximity of my historical family tree there was within me something more. Perhaps that something is what drove my ancestor Richard Sutton to be the man he was, as his son Sheriff William Sutton was and Robert Sutton was and my father was. Circumstances, I make the circumstances as Winston Churchill said and each of us can do something special if we try. Life is not a useless passion it is, as Colin Wilson told me, an experience that we can make positive if we would only dare to dream.
I am John G. Sutton you can read about one aspect of my somewhat tough life in my autobiographical account of my time as a Jailer in my book ‘PSYCHIC SCREW’ available at Amazon in paperback or as an E Book on Kindle. See more of my work at my blog visit WWW. Psychicworld.net