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This story is about a strange and unlikely friendship between two very opposite people. Strange, because no-one could quite understand how it came about, and unlikely, because the two friends were so different to each other. But it was a true and genuine friendship, and, as friends ourselves, and knowing both of them, we accepted it. True, we found it at first, mystifying, then intriguing, but then enjoyed their friendship.

         But first let me explain the situation. We were all at university together, and living in a large hall of residence. We had been there for over two months, and in that time we had got to know each other and formed our own friendships, gradually getting to know each other, and what we were all interested in. It was a good time in our lives. We played sport together: we knew what each other studied, and also some of each others’ backgrounds Many of us, like myself, came from poor backgrounds, but others came from very different patterns of life. But we all liked each other on the whole, and got on well together, going our various ways to different classes during the day, and meeting up in the evening over meals and a few drinks.

         Let me describe Simon first, in this unlikely relationship. Simon was studying to be a dentist, and was also a keen rugby player. His size was the most remarkable thing about him. His friendly, quite good-natured face stood atop an immensely strong and tough body. He was not particularly tall, but he was immensely wide, with legs that resembled nothing as much as tree-trunks. His arms were strong and very muscular, as his fellow players on the rugby field knew very well. He looked every inch the figure of strength, and one who most people would never feel like insulting. He was the universal tough guy.

         Contrast this to Lo Ten Ying. Measuring just under five feet tall, he was small, slender and wiry. Like Simon he had a cheery good-natured face, and was always laughing and giggling. When I first met him, I asked him whether he came from China or Korea. ‘Oh. neither,’ he said. ‘I come from another Asian country. I am fifth in line to the royal throne. My family are very rich and wanted to send me to an English university. They felt that an English degree would be the best and most suitable for me.’ He said all this without sounding pompous or patronising, but rather as a fact of life. I felt an instant liking for him, as I did for Simon, though I little realised at the time that they were to become, as we called it, ‘mates’.

         In their own ways, they were both very English. Simon was bluff, hearty and fond of physical exercise and rude jokes. Lo was much more the aristocratic English gentleman, who, every Sunday morning would arrive at breakfast attired in white jodhpurs, an elegant hunting jacket, and gleaming black hunting boots, carrying a small riding crop. Simon always turned up in a rather muddy rugby shirt, and often shorts, though at least he didn’t wear his rugby boots to breakfast. They went their separate ways afterwards: Simon to join his team and spread terror in the hearts of his opponents: Lo to a nearby riding school to canter elegantly along the country lanes and highways. Neither could have been more different.

         So there it was! One, a small country gentleman from abroad: the other a big, rough English rugby player. I am not certain when their friendship started, but I went down to the hall club one evening, and noticed them talking together and laughing out loud at what each other said. I bought a drink and wandered over to join them. Listening to their conversation, I was struck by how little they had in common. Simon was describing the hard tactics he used on the rugby field: ‘You grab ‘em by the front of their shirt, like, and then push their face in the mud. And then as the ball comes out, you trample all over them! Really good fun!’ ‘Oh, that is so funny! cried Lo. ‘They must feel very silly! Now when I want to go faster, I hit my horse’s bottom,’ and here he giggled, ‘with my riding crop!’ “Could definitely do with one of those!’ roared Simon. ‘Let’s have another drink.’

          Now it was of Lo’s peculiarities that whenever he had too much to drink, he actually turned bright orange. We all laughed at him on such occasions, but he never minded. ‘Oh, no!’ he used to exclaim, giggling again. ‘I have changed colour! Just like one of your belisha beacons!’  Everyone used to laugh, but not too much. Simon had a very frightening scowl that he used to great effect, on those who were over-stepping the mark with his friend. But we always liked to see them walking together into town. A very large burly figure, with a small slender figure, less than half his size, trotting along by his side.

          One evening in the university bar, three rather nasty large youths came in. As with most bullies, they always tended to pick on the smallest. In this case it was Lo. They began sneering at him and at one point, one of them pushed him in the shoulder. But despite his small size, Lo was quite fearless, and told them politely to go away. Some of us put down our drinks and moved towards them, because we would not let any harm come to Lo.

         But we did not need to bother. A gigantic shadow fell across Lo and then over the three youths. They looked up and saw a huge menacing figure before them. It moved closer and closer, and as it came, they, without thinking, moved back to the head of the stairs. It was of course, Simon. As he loomed above, one of them jumped at him. Simon didn’t even move. The youth simply bounced off him, and fell backwards down the stairs. His two friends ran down, not even bothering to pick him up. All three left in a hurry.

         Lo stopped, just behind Simon, slapped his hands together, and said severely ’Let that be a lesson to you.’ Then he and Simon went to have a drink together. Perhaps, to those of you reading this, it is just a simple record of a friendship between two unlikely individuals. But I like to think that two very different people, from very different backgrounds, chose to become such good companions. I still have a picture in my mind, so many years on, of Simon, striking fear in the hearts of his patients in his dental practice, and of Lo, sitting in small but majestic splendour on his royal throne. I hope that they have kept in touch with each other, and wish them both well.

Frank Jackson (03/01/07)