Friday, 17 November 2017

MY FRIEND, DAVID SIGGERS

Authors look for stories to tell. They seek pegs on which to hang the meanings they weave from their observations and reflections.

I have a peg for this blog. He is a real flesh-and-blood hook. He lives in the London Borough of Brent in what used to be called a council-house and he spends his life in a bed attached to various pieces of equipment that support him during the day and night. Occasionally, in an emergency, an ambulance will arrive and speed him across London to St Thomas' hospital across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster - and then some days later return him to his Willesden home. Let me introduce you to David Siggers who was born on July 9, 1960 when I was nearing the end of my first year at Dartford Grammar school in Kent.

David aged around seven - with Christine, his mum - Wembley stadium in the background - David notes that at the time the Siggers family were the only family living there - the whole area had been brought up by Brent council so they could knock all the houses down and build one big housing estate - hence the rather dilapidated background - the whole area was a playground of empty houses and gardens! David comments that he is standing, in his plimsolls (it's all trainers now!) on tiptoe. A classic sign of a child with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy.  


I first met David in the early 1980s when I was teaching at Aylestone Community School in Brent. The school that I had joined as Head of History in 1977 was now offering its Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) teaching to adults from the local community as well as its internal students who were aged 16 and over. David was in my GCSE History 'O' level class for one year - and passed with a Grade A. The following year, he entered my GCE History 'A' level class and took the exam after a




year I think and passed with a Grade C. By 1984, I had completed seven years of service at my social-priority, multi-racial London comprehensive during which time the school roll had fallen from around 1400 to 700 - and I made my exit. These were years of extraordinary demographic change in the great wen of London. Take a look at this link to read my reflective account of what I experienced between 1977 and 1984 in one educational institution.


David and his sister, Teresa - early 1960s
 

David has a condition known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His mum, Christine Siggers, died a few weeks ago and she is a peg for this blog too. She and her husband, Will, had three children - Teresa, Jeffrey and David. All had Duchenne's. Jeff died aged 21. Teresa was 31 when she died. David was in his early twenties when he arrived in his wheel-chair in the sixth form bloc of the school - a charming and clever and handsome young man (no, David, I don't need that brown paper envelope; I can say it for free). He had lost most of his mobility but his fingers could still hold a pen and the writing skill remained for a few more years. David later started an OU degree course with success but could not complete it due to Duchenne's.  


David with his brother Jeffrey


After I left the school in 1984, I remained in contact with David by post and once a year or so I would return, first from Oxford and then from Suffolk, to see him in his home that was a stone's throw from Aylestone School (later renamed as Queen's Park Community School). I met Will and Christine and members of his family and their friends, girl-friends of David - one of whom I had taught, and members of his care-team who were all lovely and came from many different parts of the world. It was such a cosmopolitan place, David's home. Will died in 2001 and Louise and I went to the funeral and the wake later, in David's home.

When Christine died, aged 85, in the summer of this year, we were in Greece and could not attend the funeral. David has produced a family tribute in which he wrote:

"Bringing up three disabled children through the fifties and sixties was very tough for her (and my father) as there was no extra financial help and no help in the form of carers ... It was also a time when the majority of people were still scared of disability and people felt free to comment and be rude about people with disabilities, and Mum and Dad had plenty of abuse, harassment and arguments in public about her 'daring' to venture out in public with Teresa, Jeffrey and myself."


Christine and Will Siggers - their wedding day - 1951

Then, in 2002, David married Belinda and in 2006 baby Christine was born. This summer, Belinda and David had another daughter, Aba. Belinda was pregnant with Aba when Louise and I visited in late April, the day after my London Marathon run. Belinda is an extraordinary lady, born in Ghana, multi-talented, and lovely. But this is David's blog so I must keep focus. I guess I just want to say what a privilege it is to know David and to have been gifted the opportunity to enter his cosmopolitan world where he resides at the centre in his bed. We talk for a few hours when we meet, twice a year now, and all the world is covered in our words. We email each other with some regularity. Louise, my wife, also has her own email correspondence with David. He has a sharp wit and a wry sense of humour and much wisdom. He has actually met some of my footballing heroes who have played in the once glorious strip of Manchester United. David is my best friend.