Times Weekend: Can you be friends with someone half your age?

Age gap friends

August 18 2018

Born decades apart and yet with so much in common. Three writers talk about their unconventional friendships

Lucy Holden, 28, on her friendship with David Lindley, 70

“He waits for new knees in the same way I wait to dye my roots”

“Dear Lucy, I cannot see the point of Gogglebox; and as for the sexting — hell in a handcart or the uplands of freedom? I think I’d rather have read a book and done piano practice for seven hours a day when I was that age than spent it flashing my private parts around the ether!” I smile — my former university tutor obviously having just caught up with my latest stories for The Times — and begin to type a reply.

When my mum drove me up the M5 to the University of Leeds eight years ago, I had no idea that one of the closest relationships I’d make would be with a professor of Renaissance literature who is almost three times my age. But David Lindley and I have been unlikely friends since the second year of my English degree, when he taught me Spencer, Herbert and Webster in a dusty, book-piled office reminiscent of the one in Educating Rita — although there ends any similarity to Michael Caine’s drunken tutor Dr Frank Bryant and Julie Walters’s pink-miniskirted Liverpudlian Rita.

Emails have flown between us since I left Leeds five years ago, and we meet for dinner and drinks whenever he’s in London for a stint of research at the British Library. Lindley is one of the UK’s top Shakespeare scholars and edited The Tempest for the New Cambridge Shakespeare series of books, but it’s thirsty work. “Surrounded by excessively tedious scholars,” he’d email me. “I need a drink, and it’s only 12.30pm.”

Naturally, given our ages, we have a lot of differences, but that’s part of the fun. Lindley plays the organ, whereas I play Radio 6. He loathes Twitter and Facebook — although he once sent me a social-media post by a neighbour who had worked out you could use old carpets to prevent weeds on garden borders. Unlike everyone else I seem to know, he wouldn’t dream of asking me what I think of Love Island because he doesn’t know it exists.

Love, or the lack of it, among my hook-up-preferring contemporaries is another thing he finds curious. Having married at 22 it’s hard for him to keep up with the handful of boyfriends I’ve had since we met. “Is this the same one?” he sometimes asks when I start talking about them.

Since I graduated, I’ve changed jobs, flats and countries; Lindley is retired, had his first grandchild and has begun an “elderly grumble about ailments of one sort and another”. He waits for new knees in the same way that I wait to dye my roots, having spotted my first grey hairs.

Relationships between students and “authority figures” are normally woven of the same dark thread. They’re seen as manipulative, and often are, especially when they involve schoolchildren and their teachers. When we started having lunch together — including the bellini-soaked birthday lunch when I turned 23 — my friends at Leeds suggested it was “weird” and asked me what we talked about? I shrugged: “Everything.”

I revel in the fact that the conversation is so different, and now we each teach the other about the world, past and present. I didn’t know any of my grandparents well, and this is the sort of relationship I imagine that I might have had with them. I certainly wish that I’d known them, and wish that they’d known me, as Lindley and I know each other.

After my friends realised that there wasn’t anything untoward about the friendship, I think that they were a little in awe. Lindley was the professor halfshouting at us for not turning up to seminars and berating our work ethic when two out of twelve of us handed in an essay on time. “In my day, at Oxford, we had to write an essay a week!” he’d upbraid us while we stared at the floor. The idea that someone had broken through that was interesting to them. Now, if we take a selfie and I post it on Facebook, everyone from our old class “likes” it immediately.

I love counting Lindley as a friend, but knowing him was perhaps most valuable when I was at Leeds. Students, fuelled by the seemingly ridiculous disparity between contact hours and fees, often criticise a lack of support at universities. But it’s there if you look for it, just perhaps not always in the most conventional channels. I accidentally found Lindley, and he was more supportive than anyone else I met during my degree.

When I told him I was worried that the hours I was spending in the student-newspaper office would take a toll on my classification, he wasn’t concerned with university league tables, only with me. “You could get a first if you wanted one,” he said. “But it seems that the student paper stuff will help your career much more.”

He was right, of course. But he admits that he doesn’t always get it right. “I taught Holliday Grainger while she was at Leeds,” he muses. “But I made her cry by refusing to sanction an extended absence to pursue her acting career. I got that one wrong.”

Cosmo Landesman and Kate Morgan
Cosmo Landesman and Kate Morgan: SARAH CRESSWELL FOR THE TIMES


Cosmo Landesman, 63, on his friendship with Kate Morgan, 25
“We met when she was 18. I was having an affair with her mum”

Friendship, like love, is wasted on the young. Youth today are impossible. They spend all their time texting; they don’t read proper books, they don’t understand the art of conversation and, worst of all, they’re never interested in me! And that’s how I used to think about young people until I became friends with Kate.

The fact that Kate and I are good friends is surprising for a number of reasons. She is 25; I’m 63. She’s a can-do optimist who unlike so many of her fellow millennials never moans; I’m a grumpy, melancholic old hack who never stops. And there’s one more reason why — in theory — we shouldn’t be friends. When I met Kate she was 18, and I was having a passionate affair with her beautiful mum. That’s the basis of a life-time feud, not a friendship.

Yes, I was the man partly responsible for the break-up of her mum’s second marriage to a stepdad who Kate adored. That caused her a lot of sadness and stress. She should have hated my guts, and for a time she did. Kate’s first response on discovering that her mother and stepdad were getting divorced was simple and to the point: “F*** you Cosmo.” I don’t blame her.

So how did I end up a good friend and not the super-shit who screwed-up her life? Simple. Kate doesn’t blame other people or the world for whatever is wrong in her life. She has an old-fashioned, just-get-on-with-it attitude to life, and I find that admirable. She is too smart for the easy cynicism of her generation and too passionate and curious about life to act too cool for school.

Our friendship was at first founded on films. When I was seeing her mum I was a film critic for The Sunday Times and took Kate to lots of screenings and premieres. I discovered that I often enjoyed her company more than the films.

Later on she wanted to be a film-maker and I helped her on a script that she was writing. Kate was my first writing partner — and my last. We had a great time bouncing ideas off each other, but she didn’t have the confidence to make a career out of it, which I think is a shame because she had so much talent.

When I eventually broke up with her mother, I didn’t want to be just another man who disappeared from Kate’s life. So I made sure that we stayed in touch and did things together, like go for drinks or out to dinner. I don’t see her that often, but it’s always a treat when we meet. What do we talk about? Family, friends, films, love and romance — I know that I’m meant to be the older one offering her wise advice, but usually it’s Kate who is the wise one dispensing good advice to me.

What do I love about Kate? Her raspy voice and the way she looks. It’s funny seeing Kate blossom over the years from chubby Kate to this cool beauty. She has no vanity and is socially really brave. She will come out with things that most people wouldn’t dare say and I like the way she will take the piss out of me and won’t put up with crap from young men.

Kate is ridiculously charming and has that special gift of making you feel that you are the most interesting and funny person in the room, which I find irresistible — even if it isn’t true.

And she has a big heart. When my son died three years ago I got many letters of condolence, but none touched me as deeply as Kate’s. I know that she spent a lot of time and thought on that letter, and it paid off because I can’t think about it without tears coming to my eyes. It was such a simple and eloquent tribute to him.

Yes, I admit that I’m proud to have this hip, cool, Jennifer Lawrence type of girl as my friend. It makes me look good. I know it’s a bit weird for her, explaining me to her friends who look at me and wonder if I’m her dad or — on a bad night — her grandad. I notice that when she introduces me to her friends she is very quick to add, “He’s my mum’s ex-boyfriend,” in case there is any confusion.

I’ve always thought that trying to have young friends is a bit suspect; it looks like you’re trying to stay young by getting down with the kids. But when Kate and I are having drinks and lost in conversation, I forget about our age difference. It’s just two friends. And she is the only young person I can dance with in public and not feel like an old fool.

Being friends with Kate has taught me something very valuable. In the end, the great divide between people is not down to age or race or class. There are the people who you can have fun and laugh with — people who really love and care for you — and then there’s all the rest. I count myself lucky to have Kate for a friend.

Lucy Daley and Jane Slade


Jane Slade, 59, on her friendship with Lucy Daley, 32
“I am flattered that she doesn’t think I’m out of touch”

I have known Lucy Daley since she was 14. She was my niece’s best friend. They attended the same school in Bexhill, in East Sussex. I had spent my teenage years in the town and worked on the local newspaper before moving to London, so I would see Lucy at my sister’s and parents’ homes.

However, our friendship did not blossom until a few years later, when my sister died quite suddenly. She had three children under the age of 18. The youngest, my nephew, was 12. Their father had died two years before, so the family was in freefall.

In the haze of shock and grief and emotional turmoil, I remember Lucy always being there; comforting my nieces and nephew and offering us all friendship and support. Despite being so young, she always had the maturity and calmness that I have come to treasure.

A year later, when I was celebrating a happier event, my marriage, I asked her to be the official photographer. She loved taking pictures and of course knew my family — she had become part of it. I still look back at the album of fabulous photos that she took 11 years ago.

When she moved to London we began to see each other more. The age gap didn’t seem an issue. The baby boomer and the millennial are not so different. We seem to like similar things.

Every few weeks we meet for dinner. We will talk about plays and exhibitions; exchange views on current affairs. We talk about anything and everything — relationships, jobs, family. She has to wipe away my tears and me hers.

We have laughed together too, and I have probably asked her advice more than she has asked for mine. I am flattered that she enjoys my company and doesn’t consider me out of touch or out of date.

We have a very close bond. A year after my sister’s death, my father contracted Parkinson’s disease, and within five years both he and my mother had died. The family was decimated, but Lucy was always there.

We even went on holiday to Barbados together a few years ago. We chose some nice restaurants and watched the sun go down from our roof-top plunge pool.

We may have been born decades apart — my earliest memory is being told to keep quiet while watching Winston Churchill’s funeral on a very grainy black-and-white TV; Lucy comes from the microchip generation — but we seem to have a lot in common. We are both Taureans (our birthdays are a week apart). We are both journalists. We spent our childhoods in the same sleepy seaside town. We have both experienced tragedy, setbacks and divorce.

In some ways, Lucy is the daughter that I never had. I was so delighted a few months ago when she rang to tell me about her new boyfriend and was keen for me to meet him. I hope that she knows I am her friend for life.



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