Dining across the divide: ‘He said: don’t go there. So I was like, we’ll definitely go there’

Rights, royalty, relationships: can two strangers find common ground over dinner?

Alex Williams (31) and Robert Jones (69) sit down for dinner at the Smoking Lobster restaurant. Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. 9th September 2021.

Alex, 32, Isle of Wight

Occupation Social worker

Voting record Generally Labour, Green on occasion

Amuse bouche When Alex was a child, she once appeared on CBeebies’ Teletubbies

Alex Williams (31) and Robert Jones (69) sit down for dinner at the Smoking Lobster restaurant. Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. 9th September 2021.

Robert, 70, Isle of Wight

Occupation Artist, freelance journalist

Voting record Labour

Amuse bouche Robert used to keep rats as pets

For starters

Robert Alex arrived later than I did. I was waiting on an extraordinarily high chair, which, with my little legs, was a bit of a challenge.

Alex I was outside with the photographer. I joked that he’d stood us up but he was inside all the time.

Robert We shared a seafood lobster platter. The biggest divide was a generational one. We are both middle-class, relatively well-educated, fairly intelligent people. The chances of us falling on the floor and beating each other over the head with a croissant were not great.

Alex Robert had never had lobster. I couldn’t tell if he was a bit anxious at the beginning, or bored. He didn’t ask me a lot of questions, but in general I think he has a really warm heart.

Robert I’m used to dealing with people who are politically involved. Subjects arose about which she really didn’t have an opinion. I thought I would find an area of controversy on the Palestine question, but she said: “You’d have to educate me about that.” That’s unusual in the circles I move in.

Alex Williams (31) and Robert Jones (69) sit down for dinner at the Smoking Lobster restaurant. Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. 9th September 2021.

The big beef

Alex He said: “Don’t go there with trans,” so I was like, we’ll definitely go there then. I was brought up in a very open household – my mum was in a relationship with a woman for many years. I have a lot of friends who are gay and transgender. He said that when he was a boy, boys were boys and girls were girls.

Robert It is a phenomenon I do not understand. It doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic. I’m just ignorant on the subject of trans issues. I have known three or four people who changed sex; one who was fairly elderly, and his lifetime stammer disappeared.

Alex He didn’t talk about his own sexuality. He did say some things that were a bit “old-mannish” – something about having had lots of sexual encounters. I think he said he’d like to have more. I said, “Right, I don’t think we’re here to discuss that.” He’s not married; he could be gay, but I don’t think it was that straightforward.

Robert I’m as gay as a gang of gibbons.

Alex Williams (31) and Robert Jones (69) sit down for dinner at the Smoking Lobster restaurant. Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. 9th September 2021.

Sharing plate

Alex He really challenged my views on the vaccine. I feel those who want to be vaccinated should be: I am. But I hate the media at the moment for persecuting anyone who is not vaccinated. I understand some people being anxious about it, and don’t feel they should be labelled as conspiracy theorists. Then Robert said: “Do you think all carers working with the most vulnerable people should be vaccinated?” And I thought: “Oh God, I think I do, and I don’t want to.”

For afters

Robert I do take pride in the institution of the royal family. I was expecting her to say they should be elected, but it was the sense of privilege she objected to.

Alex They’re so far removed from anything I’m aware of – there’s nothing relatable. My husband grew up in the Netherlands, where the king was a pilot with the airline KLM, and the Dutch are so proud of that.

Alex Williams (31) and Robert Jones (69) sit down for dinner at the Smoking Lobster restaurant. Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. 9th September 2021.

Takeaways

Alex I definitely won’t go into conversations with 70-year-olds thinking they’ll automatically have different views from me. Based on age, I thought we would be far more different than we were, and I think that was ageist.

Robert Although there was a 40-year age difference, it really didn’t matter. There were things she didn’t know about and I did, and there were certainly things she knew that I didn’t. People often have a fixed view, but our conversation was more interactive than that. Neither of us was standing on a soapbox … even if the chairs we were sitting on felt like it.

Alex Williams (31) and Robert Jones (69) sit down for dinner at the Smoking Lobster restaurant. Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. 9th September 2021.

Additional reporting: Rachel Obordo

Alex and Robert ate at Smoking Lobster, Cowes

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Click here to find out more

Contributor

Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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