Trains and the Curse of P.F. Butson

“Outside a hectic, unromantic and quite frankly putrid existence as a full-time writer (unemployed), and part-time musician (see above), P.F. Butson lives as a partial recluse, blogging often but answering calls seldom. Butson is the author of several failed novels, one of which you hold in your hands.”. These were the words I found tucked away on a memory stick from God know’s when, with the intention at the time of writing a blog of angry commuting and general paranoia and a book under the Butson alias (at the time I was obsessed with being other people, go figure). The book? “Sun, Sea and Suicide” a debut NaNoWriMo misfire when I tried to make good of the shit I was going through circa 2011, based soley in Plymouth and Brighton (one cool, one not). Plus a bit of Natasha Khan and Nick Cave hero worship thrown in for good measure. It turned out both the blog and the book were extremely counter-productive and both they and I thrived on booze, bitterness and commuter anxiety. Despite my best efforts to make it all at least partly tongue-in-cheek the ideas ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own negativity.

P.F. Butson was in fact the name of whoever once owned and labelled with their name a copy of the 1973 Harry Nilsson vinyl “A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night” which I inherited when a friend gifted it me. To this day I’ve never played it on a record player, though I remain a Nilsson fan.

A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, the P.F. Butson special edition (top right corner).

P.F. Butson was also my stage name in the progressive rocktronic supernova that was Larry and the Lungfish (LatL). Never heard of them? Jeebus, where have you been? We even had a Myspace.

Larry, P.F. Butson, Blind Boy Runt, The Grunter Monkey and Boris (I made those last two up as our other bandmates never actually existed).

It was inspired and we were at our most creative. Examples? There was an 100% genuine toilet flush at the beginning of one of our songs, and a three-minute fart solo to outro another (we never quite finished this as there was a national bean shortage at the time).

There was a song about a toad or something I can’t remember the name of (I think it may have been “Gluttonous Pet”, who sang: “Down in the swamp/had my fair share of hookers…” – Runt’s lyrics, not mine).

The original lyrics, now housed in the LatL museum, Keynsham. Bixby refers to Bixby Snyder played by S.D. Nemeth, fictional TV host of “It’s Not My Problem!”, a programme watched by the people of Detroit in the 1987 movie version of Robocop and it’s sequels.

Trashy Horror Novel was our seminal “hit”, having been the only song we actually completed. It went a little like this:

“I work the graveyard shift at the graveyard
Digging x3
Graves! Ooohhewooo
Infatuated by your
Zombie hands your zombie arms your zombie face your zombie heart that beats out if time for meeeee (not at all)
Quick quick quick quick
Trashy horror novel
Nitpick nitpick
Trashy horror novel
Quit quit quit quit
Trashy horror novel
Hands twitch at the graveyard shift
At the graveyard
Tending x3
Graves!”

Et cetera. As I recall it was a song about politics.

Positivity

I’m not a particularly positive person, at least I haven’t been, but I’m trying. The problem I’ve always had with it is that everything is not OK. Japan is back into commercial whaling, politics seems to be stuck in Permanent Empire Strikes Back mode (but in a shit way) and Mother Earth’s going to hell in a hand basket because none of us want to deal with all the horror we’ve created. Plus historically I’ve felt pretty negative and lacked a bunch of confidence that’s meant I don’t always feel I’ve lived to my full potential.

I’ve never really believed in that old chestnut around thinking positively and then positive things happening as a result and that how you feel affects people’s perceptions of you; but I’m coming around to the idea.

Generally in life I let things get so bad I can barely function by the time I come to do something about them, but for the last year or two I’ve been making a concerted effort to change this and take back control. It is, of course, a work in progress but a lot has changed for the better. This is not an exercise in gloating, it’s simply me ackowledging that positive things can happen if you realise when things aren’t right and that it can be a slog to get what you want. I can’t promise you’ll get a whole lot from reading it though!

In the last 12 months I have:

  • Ditched my old job. it was damn tough finding a nice one and I got messed around a bit in the process (a couple of interviews wasted a lot of time, prep and taxi fares), but it certainly paid off in the end.
  • Decided to move – despite loving our house and making it our own, we made this very difficult decision as the neighbourhood is a backwater, and our neighbours are vile, noisy little-Englanders (I’m not being a snob, they’re a shower of knobs). We feel isolated and it’s certainly not very “us” here.
  • Got a new job which I’m really enjoying, have had lots of praise and since starting I’ve had my first payrise.
  • Become more confident – in the workplace at least. I’ve visited clients, helped organise workshops and delivered a talk (the sort of thing that previously struck great fear into me – it still does, but it’s getting better).
  • Saved some hens with my partner, who pay us back everyday through being awesome!
  • Spent as much time as possible with animals and birds – and not Elephants and Albatrosses, but pigeons and ducks and all of the other wonderful common breeds you get bored of if you don’t actually look and admire, as I didn’t until recently. Look again, they’re rad!
  • Changed my diet considerably to better suit my beliefs – it feels much better to have some willpower and pupose, though I now need to work on getting fitter!
  • Secured some design jobs on the side for practice an extra bit of cash.
  • Got into the routine of not sitting on my laptop each night desperately trying to get stuff done but somehow never seeming to; and instead I’m feeding more creative stuff into my day job and learning to sense when to call it a day.
  • Tried to be more creative – I try to sketch and animate more, but (crucially) more casually. I write blogs just to write and I keep a diary. I find it really difficult to not feel guilty about how I spend my time. When I’m not being creative, I feel like I should be, and when I am, I feel like I need to create a masterpiece (but obviously never do). So I try to do bits here and there to lessen the guilt and to practice, but mainly in order to remember things need to be fun where they can be; otherwise what’s the point?
  • Had surgery on my nose, which I had to appeal to get on the NHS and I managed to get full funding. I was nervous. It’s still a bit bunged up and may never be 100% but I can now breathe through it, I get less dust colds from being unable to clear it and I sleep better which is a marked improvement!
  • Spoken to someone about how I feel. I’ve talked stuff through at length and though a work in progress, my soul feels less heavy.

Not everything is peachy of course, but by making things happen and being much busier, I’ve had several “corrective” experiences meaning if certain things go South the fresh experience is not immediately penciled under a litany of other failures; why? Because now not all of the experiences have been failures and I feel I can move on more quickly.

Writing update

Still alive. Still writing. I’m crawling ever forwards, typing up slightly mad notes on well-spilled on paper daubed on probably over a year ago. I have a really bad habit of writing notes EVERYWHERE, which is why I started blogging about things like Aeon timeline and Scrivener: basically I’m trying to teach myself good habits and share the wealth too. Improved wordcounts to come!

Jack Knife update. Current wordcount: 36,327

Long have I toiled over my ideas and stories. Long have I made mistakes, procrastinated and ultimately, gone back to plan some more. As mentioned, last year was for the most part a writing gap year. I am writing again though, and I’m hoping to have “Jack Knife” in some sort of publishable state this year. Finally getting beyond the infamous one third hump!