I wrote the following Eulogy for Laing, my partner. If anybody passes by and reads this and gets benefit from it then it has all been worthwhile. I threw in a few ad libs, but this is what I managed to say, just, before the emotions took me over and I pressed the button to close the curtain on him. I had to do it. I did everything else for him in the latter stages, so the service was the least I could do in its entirety. As I set up this post, the bells of the campanile in San Marco have just rung out. The sound always excited me when I was with Laing, now they have taken on a poignancy that is impossible for me to describe.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
I met William Laing Donaldson, a scrawny beanpole aged 20 years 2 weeks and 5 days, after he had fled Selkirk in provincial bonny Scotland to seek refuge in the English capital, on Saturday the 14th of February 1976, when he was assigned to the same digs as I by the DHSS.
We enjoyed an instant rapport and friendship. He was good company, witty and sophisticated. He actually enjoyed some of the weird music I liked, and much to my surprise he had at the very least heard of most of it.
From this insignificant acorn grew a close friendship, which swiftly matured into something more.
DHSS held little interest for him, and so he moved to what was to become BT. Here he flourished and advanced. Most of his colleagues were only ever names to me, but through stories they were well known. I lacked faces to put to names. One team he was in took it in turns to take home the fictitious Gerald the Gerbil at weekends.
Taking early retirement from BT, he tried his hand at becoming a life coach, which sadly did not work out as hoped for.
In 2004 he was the victim of an assault and robbery. The offences for which the perpetrator was charged the police believed to be homophobically motivated. Laing was not his only victim.
But Laing being Laing, apart from having me by his side when he gave his police statement, did not talk about the assault or moved on to another subject if I raised it. I was getting treatment for depression at the same time and he shouldered both my troubles and his concurrently.
He was convinced he would never live to be 60. His only wish, he told me often, but many, many times in his last year was to make my life as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. In this he succeeded brilliantly. He looked after all our household affairs. I was also spoiled beyond belief. His last gift to me was the new iPad mini. I think it is capable of reproducing the knowledge of the universe, with "Don't Panic" in large friendly letters on the cover. He just never told me how to get the app for it.
So much for a quick biography. What of Laing and me, an unknown or unrealised quantity to some of you?
We had some overlap in our musical tastes, though he was more interested in jazz than I, hence the reason for ‘Take Five’ at the start, a recording we both enjoyed from our younger days. The last piece of music is to acknowledge his Scottishness, something he usually underplayed, though he could be quite passionate and even sentimental about it. You will have to make do with a recording of ‘Flower of Scotland’ by The Corries, though I would have preferred a recording of the crowd at Murrayfield accompanied by a band of pipers in full cry at the prospect of a Calcutta Cup and Grand Slam victory over ‘the auld enemy’.
We shared the same sense of humour (puns and the surreal especially, coupled with a love of radio comedy such as Round the Horne and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue). We loved Woody Allen, Art House and foreign language films, but I took him downmarket and introduced him to Rocky Horror and the Time Warp! He also was good at deliberately bad Franglais.
He introduced me to wine and its related pleasures, usually a bad memory and a sore head the following morning. To drink wine in Laing’s eyes required a wine bar, and through drinking regularly at one we made friends with a French barman, and two Swiss customers. All three we have been able to call our friends for a very long time.
Laing bought our very first computer, a Sinclair ZX-81. Computers were a pleasing puzzle to be explored. He enjoyed creating webpages. Can anybody solve what he did on mine? His visual talent was, in my unbiased opinion, unmatched with his elegant mix of simplicity and sophistication.
Travel was central to our lives for 30 odd years. He introduced me to France. Regular trips there evolved through flirtations with Germany and Spain into a late flowering lust for Italy. When he wanted to go further afield he suggested Singapore and Hong Kong, places from my infancy, and I was able to show him exactly where I grew up. During this trip, 13 years after we met, I think he understood me better. He didn’t seem to have regretted it. Our favourite destinations included Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong. It’s beginning to look like a list of Hope and Crosby films!
Our last two holidays were truly fabulous and typical. First we went for three weeks to the Far East, business class all the way at Laing's insistence, to Burma, where we had both wanted to go to for years, then Penang, Saigon and Thailand. A few weeks later we were back in Venice for our usual Christmas visit. Something then told me this would be our last trip together, and yet he continued to talk about future trips we would make.
Laing knew how to win friends and influence people no matter how much he liked or not so much liked them. I have a flair for putting my foot in it and digging myself deeper in a pit. Laing, was always there to either rub my nose in it or help me out.
However, on 19 March 2012 cancer officially entered our lives. Our relationship had been a happy twosome for 36 years, but now it was an unwanted threesome. Laing neither asked nor wanted to know how severe it was, nor how much time was left to him. I only found out the truth minutes before he died.
During his cancer and treatment I took on what had been his household duties. In his last weeks, I helped him get changed, which he grudgingly accepted, since he was not always able to do it easily for himself. Also the were times he could not get up out of bed unaided. That’s what the cancer did to him. When I said had the situation been reversed I knew he would have done the same for me he shrugged his shoulders and said nothing or veered away to another topic.
The last twelve hours of his life Laing and I were tossed about in a tsunami. Cancer is cruel tyrant when it has the upper hand. His personality changed. Whether it was a lack of oxygen or a spread of the cancer to his brain or a combination of the two, I don’t know. Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty. I eventually got him to agree to an ambulance. When in A & E, after he received treatment, he was at his most charming and lucid, quite like the lovely man we all know, but death was waiting for him.
Eventually, when Laing passed beyond the point of no return, a calmness and release from the pain that had eluded him for weeks visibly came over him. I held his hand as he died, part wishing this was not so and yet knowing he was leaving the pain and agony that he had endured for far too long.
Being with him on the cancer roller coaster, from my suspicions of its presence (which he would have rejected out of hand as me over reacting as the resident drama queen of the household), through diagnosis, the palliative chemo and radio therapy, through to his death, being by his side through it all, was the very least I could do for my best friend and lover whom I will always have the privilege to call my husband.