Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Posts Tagged ‘David Heffer

If you were to ask me how my weekend was I wouldn’t know where to start. Moving? Funny? Sad? Inspirational? Well yes, all of those things and a lot more.

Let me start at the beginning.

Most people who know me, or have read my blog, my novel or FaceBook page, will know that back in the mid eighties I worked with a very talented and gifted human being called David Heffer. He worked passionately and tirelessly in helping people with learning disabilities move from institutions to a better life.

In the early 90’s he was killed by the IRA when they bombed a pub in Covent Garden. He was only 30.

 David was one of those special individuals who you are fortunate enough to come across once or twice in your life who are so true to themselves that the tune they dance to gets inside your head and stays there.

When I started to write ‘Tasting the Wind,’ which is set against a background of  movement from institution to community, it was obvious that David’s spirit would loom large. I dedicated the book to him, and included him as a character.

A couple of months ago I started to receive messages through every conceivable web-based route: there was a message in my e-mail, on FaceBook, and in my blog comments. It said: I am David Heffer’s mum. Can we meet.


So this weekend we were host to David’s Dad, Brian, his Mum, Lesley, and her husband, Ivor.

We spent the most amazing evening just talking and looking at photographs. There were photographs of David from all corners of the globe. There was a photo of him in a programme from his beloved Arsenal, passionately cheering his team on. In fact everything he did he did with passion.

In addition I discovered what a good writer David was. He kept a fascinating and humorous journal of his travels around South America. It includes accounts of his journeys through scenes of great natural beauty, of being threatened by gun-toting locals, and eating fried guinea-pig.

Although I knew that David had been asthmatic, I found out how he had been so bad that he spent two years of his childhood in a sanatorium (where the diverse curriculum included shoplifting.) He survived the Asthma. He also survived a serious motorbike accident when he was living in Australia. It took a coward with a bomb to end this amazing life.

We laughed a lot at things that David had written- his accounts of his travels would not look out of place in a Sunday Travel Supplement. Our meeting was of course tinged with sorrow, but we were prevented from becoming too serious by the antics of our dog, Barney, who seemed to have developed a lustful obsession for David’s Dad, Brian. Life isn’t like a novel- it doesn’t come in a single genre.

So how do I feel? Happy to have found out more about David Heffer and to have made new friends with his wonderful family. Angry that a series of random events led to him being the only person to die in that bombing. Inspired by his unique energy and ability to pack so much into his life. But sad that last night our main guest, the one who had brought us together, could not be with us.

I’ve had a really interesting week, mainly due to two things which could not have happened had it not been for the miracle of the internet.

The first was when I woke up to find that while I slept my blog had been mentioned on an American internet radio show. If you haven’t already, take a look at the comment on my previous posting. And if you are an author and want to feature on Bobby Ozuna’s show, follow this link:

The second was quite moving, and I will share with you here as a transcript without comment…

I was sent a link to your book “Tasting the Wind” which I will attempt to read.
My query is related to your commemoration to David Heffer. Might this be the same Dave who was killed in Covent Garden by the IRA? I worked with Dave and shared some good times with him. Of course there can always be more than one David Heffer, though this one was pretty unique! I’d be keen to know.
Good Luck with the book.
Kind regards
Rob Lee

Hi Rob,

Great to hear from another person who obviously has such great memories of David. Yes, it is the same person. Where did you work with him?
I only worked with him for a year, but he left such a huge impression, and I was knocked sideways when I heard of his death.
Thank you so much for planning to read ‘Tasting the Wind,’ how did you hear about it?
As well as the dedication, there is a character in the book by the name of ‘Jamie Heffer.’ All of my characters are based upon 3-4 people, then are allowed to go there own way, but Jamie certainly has a large proportion of David about him.

You might also be interested in this blog from November:

Thanks for getting in touch, hope you enjoy the book and that it does justice to your memory of such a great guy,
Best Wishes,

Allan Mayer

The world of learning disability is such a small world! I worked with Dave or “Heff” at Bromham Hospital in Bedford, where I ran the Gateway Club as a full time position ( best NHS job I ever had) Heff had trained there. I was working with Mencap at the time of his death as had Heff but we were in different regions.
Some pictures used in the national press were of Heff on a camping trip we arranged and he volunteered his support. He was that sort of man. I have many fond memories including kidnapping him from hospital shoeless, climbing the shopping centre high street!!! An abiding memory (although I was unable to attend) was him arranging his birthday party at McDonalds complete with Ronald McDonald! They thought he was arranging it for a child!


If you don’t mind I will share this info with Rob Cooper to whom Heff was the closest. We get together occasionally and annually with others where a drink is always toasted to Heff. Being a character in a book will get a new angle on a discussion when we get together in July. I will have to have read it by then.
I noticed the blog though I have never accessed one – I don’t know why so maybe there will be a first time. I’ll get some others put in touch with your website.




Hi Rob,
I have just read your e-mail with a lump in my throat. I’m beginning to wish now that I had put more of the cheeky sense of humour into the character, as much of what I present is the side of him that was the staunchest advocate for people with learning disabilities I have ever met. To redress this I do have to give you a little ‘insider information’ : Another character, Martin, was also influenced by David, and it is there that you will find his more anarchic side. He once told me that when he worked at the hospital- presumably Bromham- he got into trouble for riding around the grounds with a patient on the back of his motor bike. In ‘Tasting the Wind’ Martin shows Eddie how to drive a car, but that whole scene was inspired by my recollection of the motor bike story.
Do tell Rob Cooper about it. Does anyone have any contact with David’s family? I always hoped that they would get to hear about this. And next time you drink a toast to him I will be there in spirit- I still think of him when I use one of his habitual phrases: Cheers Bigears.
Great to hear from you, and to hear your memories,




On Tuesday 11th November we commemorated the 90th anniversary of the end of the first world war and remembered those who had died in the conflicts of the 20th and twenty-first centuries.


At eleven o’clock I took part in the two minutes silence in perhaps the most unusual and most tranquil place I had ever observed it- on a canal barge.


For several years I have been part of a team accompanying several people with profound disabilities on a barge trip. The barge, the ‘Rose of Parbold’ is adapted for easy access and has huge windows so that no matter what the weather you get a beautiful view of the English countryside moving past you at two miles an hour.


I was pleased when the skipper told us of the intention to take part in the act of remembrance, as I believe it to be important on many levels. The older I get, the more I realise just how short a time it was between the end of the second world war in 1945 and my birth in 1961. If people hadn’t given their lives we would have grown up as nazis. If you have trouble imagining what a world would look like had Hitler succeeded, have a look at Robert Harris’ ‘Fatherland.’


I have never known anyone who was killed in a war. My great uncle, Harry Bolton, died in the first world war. The family still have a photograph and the certificate which was sent out with the king’s stamp. Thanks to the War Memorials website I was recently able to find out where he was buried in France. I never knew him, but thought about him this year. And the thoughts were mixed, as were those about more recent conflicts. Somewhere in the mix, stirred in with the exclamations of gratitude and  honour, there  are uncomfortable question marks about  futility and waste and the necessity of involvement.


And this leads me to someone else I always think of on November 11th


Twenty years ago I was working in a team which was resettling people with learning disabilities from a Victorian ‘Mental Handicap’ hospital into a home in the community. ‘Care in the Community’ has come to have some negative connotations, but we must never forget the horrendously dehumanising alternatives of the past.


One our senior staff members was a brilliant and inspirational young man called David Heffer. David had been a Mental Handicap Nurse, so understood his territory. He was one of the staunchest advocates for people with learning disabilities that I have ever met. He made peoples’ lives better, and my book ‘Tasting the Wind’ is dedicated to him.

            The last time I saw David he was selling his belongings to fund a trip to India. He was like that. A free spirit.

            About five years later, October, 1992, I was chatting to my wife when a name jumped out at me from the ten o’clock news. The IRA had bombed a pub in Covent Garden and one man had died: David Heffer.

             The following day I bought so many papers, trying to find out if it was the David I had known. The montage of information formed a clear pattern: It was a David Heffer who had been a nurse and had travelled in India. He had called in at the pub on an errand.

              I won’t dignify the people who planted the bomb by suggesting that they were in any way soldiers fighting a war. But they took the life of someone who was capable of heroic acts for other people, so every November 11th I remember David Heffer.






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