Dining across the divide: ‘She didn’t call me an insensitive buffoon – but I was armed and ready’

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Abby, 45, London

Occupation Head of client services, recently made redundant. Army officer for six years, and second in command of a field hospital in Iraq.

Voting record Conservative. Voted leave in the Brexit referendum.

Amuse bouche Abby’s hobby is flamenco dancing.

Laura, 45, London

Occupation Head of play services at a hospital.

Voting record Labour. Voted remain.

Amuse bouche Laura has dabbled in the trapeze.

For starters

Laura I am in a caring and creative profession. I am an empathic individual who is aware of people’s basic needs. I hold socialist views. The disparity of the distribution of resources in society is stark.

Abby I voted Conservative in the last election, but I would not now. Since this pandemic, I think the government is abhorrent, an absolute shambles and liars. There’s no opposition. The Labour party are like, “Oh, we wouldn’t have done it like that” – but there’s no one opposing, nowhere for me to go. Maybe it’s the Reform party.

Laura Abby seemed lovely – really well-presented with amazing posture. I thought we should start with our commonalities, so we relaxed and ordered some expensive wine.

Abby I worried I would meet someone who would say, “No, you are wrong because bla-di-blah per cent” or, “Look at these examples”, but straight away we were comfortable in each other’s company. We established we were the same age, talked about our parents and living with our partners in lockdown.

The big beef

Laura I was wearing a mask when we walked in. I took it off at the table, and put it on to go to the loo. I work in a hospital – I am far removed from somebody who doesn’t think masks are effective.

Abby How can wearing what is basically pants on your face do anything? Where do people think their breath goes? It’s a control measure, to make people feel as if they are going through something together. Laura didn’t say, “Oh, you insensitive buffoon” – but I was ready. If she felt I was vile, it didn’t come across.

Laura I have friends who say masks don’t work, so we just don’t go there. There’s a load of stuff Abby and I just didn’t talk about. I’ve been double-vaccinated, I’ve worked through the pandemic and it’s no joke – the anxiety and fear. It was one of the most stressful times of my life.

Abby I was annoyed that the Queen said we should all get vaccinated. I like the Queen; I used to be in the army – I could have been blown to smithereens in her name. It’s up to the individual whether they get vaccinated, and nobody else’s business.

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Laura I voted remain, because it’s valuable to have cultural cross-pollination – for young people to have the chance to live and work in other places. I hate the idea of being cut off.

Abby For me, it was about the economy. Immigration was irrelevant. At the time I voted leave, I had a Polish boyfriend. Now I have an Italian one. I’m not against immigration.

Laura I listed all these things – shortage of nurses, resources and other stuff. Actually, Abby was like: oh, I think you’ve got a point.

Sharing plate

Abby We are both big fans of critical thinking and love to discuss the issues of society. It never came down to left-right, Labour-Conservative – that didn’t seem relevant.

Laura Being able to converse with people who have different views is important. We can get pushed into echo chambers because it’s uncomfortable to hear things we don’t agree with. I don’t think discomfort is a bad thing.


Laura It has reinforced my belief that people are generally nice. We had different life experiences, but were able to find some resonance with each other. I don’t think it’s hard to find common ground and have a nice time with a person supposed to be completely different.

Abby Don’t be afraid to talk about divisive issues. Don’t accept labels in the easy binary divisions that are presented to us. It was a lovely evening.

Additional reporting: Rachel Obordo

Abby and Laura ate at The Culpeper, London E1

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