Daniel died this week. He was living in my sister Deborah’s house, and she found him last night. I feel bad because she is having to cope alone (although I have called friends), as I am still recovering from flu/bronchitis.
I feel bad also because my relations with Dan (as he preferred to be called in later years) were not easy. I was the hypercritical big sister. I had invited Deb and Dan to come for Christmas and – if he had succeeded in getting a new birth certificate and then passport in time – this was going to be an attempt to build bridges. It’s now too late.
Dan has never been easy. He was an awkward, solitary boy. Very clever, but without friends at school. Perhaps the other boys suspected his latent homosexuality; at any rate they certainly sensed his vulnerability and he suffered from bullying when he moved from the local primary school to KCS Wimbledon. He gradually moved down from the class preparing boys for Oxbridge etc and appeared to consciously opt out of achieving, with increased absenteeism.
At home he was equally isolated, and prone to difficult tantrums. I was nearly five years older and paid him little attention. Deborah was only 18 months older than him and they were close as small children. She has remained his kindest relative. Dad and he were not on good terms (perhaps exacerbated by the latent homophobia of men of his class and generation) and Mum tended to over-protect him.
At UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) he had a miserable first year isolated in digs and culminating in a breakdown, but then seems to have found what was to be his lifelong source of equilibrium : politics.
He joined the Liberal Party and became active in student politics, ending up taking a sabbatical while he was President of the Student Union – and then dropped out of university just before taking finals.
What a sad waste of a clever boy. Amazingly he again found a niche which suited him: he joined Inland Revenue at the school leaver level and remained there most of his working life. He actually enjoyed the detail and complexity of tax and believed in its value.
What later prevented him being promoted to where he should have been in Inland Revenue was his growing political activity, now in the Labour Party. Living in a flat in Shepherds Bush most of his adult life, he was elected to Hammersmith Council and in 1992 became Mayor. He nearly broke Mum’s heart when he said to her: “Dad would have been proud of me now, wouldn’t he?”
He had lived for so long with this sense of failure (it didn’t help having a father and two sisters who went to Oxford) and being dominated by the women of the family. At last he had something to give him a sense of pride and achievement. And by all accounts he was a good and caring councillor and mayor.
Hammersmith swung over to the Tories and Dan lost his seat. That did not stop him caring about the borough and fulminating in particular over the council’s disposal of housing stock. But there is no doubt that this, together with the death of Mum in 1997, helped set him adrift again.
Never a good manager of money (like me!), he seems to have gone on a spending spree on receiving his share of money after Mum died. He and Ken, his close friend (partner?) for nearly 20 years until Ken’s death in 2011, rented a luxury flat while his flat was ostensibly going to be repaired (never done), bought a car and went on foreign holidays. He was not helped by Inland Revenue reneging on its promise to revert to full-time employment once he stopped being mayor.
In brief the last 15 years of Dan’s personal and family life have been a sad downwards spiral and he mysteriously ended up with no money, no home and disappearance of his share of family possessions like the silver. Despite his lifestyle and lower income we still cannot work out how he got through so much money. At the same time his health deteriorated, with ropey arteries, stents which were now failing, gammy knees and his only functioning eye not in good shape. And since Ken’s death he has been pretty miserable.
When things came to a crisis a few years ago and he faced homelessness, Deborah took him in and it was soon clear he was no longer looking elsewhere for a home. It has been hard on both of them, with Dan preferring a comfortable life style (with things like central heating), while Deb’s idiosyncratic life style is definitely more spartan!
Ironically Dan’s arrival in Kensal Rise gave him a new purpose in life: he joined the local Labour Party, was elected as councillor to Brent Council and had recently been appointed Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee – a sort of local Margaret Hodge. His experience and abilities were clearly finding new outlets and recognition. He even appeared on telly this autumn, making a speech at the Labour Annual Conference! So in this other, public, life, Dan has been flourishing. And all power to him, he achieved this in little more than two years
What was intended to be a couple of paragraphs has ended with me reflecting on Daniel’s life, with many regrets and a sense of personal guilt that I was part of the problem and not part of the comfort to him. He was an odd throwback to a previous era in dress and behaviour and could be particularly crass at conversation in family situations. But we should have done more for him, somehow.