I seem to be in quite good odour these days at Jubilee House, the day centre for people with learning difficulties where I have spent three mornings a week for two years. I notice these things. I notice it even more when people seem to be avoiding me, as I have a deeply paranoid streak.
But when I get up to leave after lunch there are enough smiles and fond calls of "See you, Brian" - and the other day I think I even detected the odd "take care" - to satisfy my innocent, if faintly pathetic, desire to be liked and accepted by my fellow mortals. Not that I would like such sentiments to be effusive: that would be positively alarming.
I do wonder whether it has any connection with the pile of Jubilee House newsletters on the top of the cupboard as you go out of the lounge. For each one of them contains, hidden in its heart, my regular column called Brian's Corner. I am proud to be able to pass the time of day with my readership, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Not many writers are as lucky; and I am writer in care at Jubilee House no less.
I present myself - published writer, still going strong, and service user to boot - as a guinea pig. Is being creative worth it? I think it is. I thank god for Jubilee House; I'm glad I am creative.
The obvious thing about me is that I've never really fitted into society. And as much as I would dearly love to fit in, there has been much sadness in my life (so far) and as much tragedy as I can deal with, thank you.
The next most obvious thing about me is that this conflict - of not fitting in and desperately wanting to fit in - has kept me writing so assiduously over the years that I have actually learned a few things. The barrier of my alienation has been broken through by this same writing, in the shape of my column in the newsletter. I have had a couple of science fiction novels published in the past, and a hefty volume of literary criticism. My last novel will probably be published by a small publisher, and my current novel is (as always) the best thing I've ever done. However, it is the newsletter that matters most to me.
Believe me, the kicks of writing are proportionate to the depth of the writer's predicament. Everything balances out and I can't really complain. And in living with my readership day to day at the centre, I am exceptionally lucky.
I owe a great deal to an extraordinary fellow called John Taylor, who ran a creative writing course at the centre in 2004. He provided a link with the real world, while I slowly emerged from my alcoholic shell. He listened to me, and even applauded. But that was then: the powers-that-be have deemed creative writing to be non-viable at Jubilee House. Well, there was only one other person and me left to do any creative writing, so that was that. But it is a pity. Mind you, if we were all creative writers...it doesn't bear thinking about.
Brian Griffin has used mental health services