Friends: first of a series
‘I'm more at ease with people older than myself. I always used to get on with older people, it's been a tendency all my life. I don't know why exactly, maybe because I was the youngest in the family and then I was always very close to Alfred Robertsmy father. There's one great frien d I have in Edinburgh who's nearly 70, and we put ourselves out for her in every way when she comes to London.
The nice thing is that one goes on making friends all one's life. Children are a great source of friends, the parents of one's children's friends. We draw friends from a lot of sources. We have old Chelsea friends and constituency friends and friends we know in Kent. There are friends from the days when I was doing chemistry a t Oxford. I know one or two lawyers, one or two women who are married or widowed—people leading very ordinary lives. Then Denis Thatchermy husband has all his rugger cronies and I have a circle of political friends. We have a life together and a life apart, I think that's very important.
I don't have a best friend, no. I suppose Muriel Cullenmy sister is my best friend, but then she's my sister and maybe that doesn't count, though it doesn't follow that relatives will be friends as well.
My old schoolfriends I don't see much of, they're a long way away. They didn't come to the big city, that's the difference. But there are some people I would still rank as great friends though we're not much in touch, maybe just at Christmas. I don't send that many Christmas cards, about 400, and I'll scrawl messages in perhaps 150. Birthdays f all by the wayside I'm afraid, but if I were to see any of those friends I'd be so thrilled.
One great schoolfriend went and did domestic science after school and I never see her now, but I'm still in touch, especially with her parents and I would regard them as friends. It's really someone who's known a large slice of your life.
A few people I've known a long time and still see. It's really the people who are near to one geographically that one sees most. I knew Edward Boyle at Oxford and he's a friend. I do think friendship goes more by party politics than by sex, though I have friends with quite different p olitical views. I would regard my political pair, Charlie Pannell as a great friend, although he's quite opposite to me politically, because I can talk to him about personal matters. I can go up to him and say, “Look, it's my wedding anniversary. I don't really want to come in today” and he'll understand perfectl y. It's a matter of feeling at ease with people that marks friends from the circle of acquaintance.
One of my greatest friends is a widow I knew from my Dartford days and she takes the children to the pictures. If we have tickets for the theatre we could ring her up very late and ask her without her feeling she'd been asked at the last minute.
I rarely go and stay with friends for a weekend. I don't like staying in other people's homes for very long. When I'm working hard all week I prefer to relax in my own home. If I had friends round I'd like just to talk in a very relaxed atmosphere over a drink. Just talking really, I don't play sports at all.
I don't think you see so much of your friends if you have a family. I really can't imagine how people in politics and so on manage without a family life. I need a settled and contented home life, where you can go home and have unconditional affection and loyalty.
I'm a naturally hard worker which does get in the way of seeing friends. I get a bit worried sometimes thinking of when I retire—which I hope is a long way away—and I think one could be very lonely. I'd have to make a terrific effort, maybe I could spend the first year of my retirement simply seeing friends. I'm not that fond of my own co mpany.’