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10/29/2013

The Queen and Camilla make new friends in south London

HerMaj
"One is pleased to meet you."                                                                              (Photo: Getty Images)

The Queen and other members of the royal family do hundreds of engagements - that's what their personal appearances are known as - every year. They visit hospitals and schools and open new community centres and do all kinds of worthy (boring?) things.

They don't always make the news, even in the U.K., or even register in my consciousness - and I am a pretty vigilant royal watcher. But I was quite touched by a visit the Queen and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, made Tuesday.

They went to Brixton in south London. In the minds of many, this neighbourhood is inexorably linked to the 1981 riots that occurred when tensions between residents and the police came to the boil and divisions of race and class spilled over.

And Brixton is still a pretty tough place. But in the middle of the concrete and apartment buildings is the Ebony Horse Club, which helps underpriviledged kids learn life skills, encourages them to stay in school and gives them experiences they might otherwise miss out on.

They learn to ride and look after horses, and find mentors and maybe a different path in life.

Camilla is the patron of the club and a very keen rider. But her mother-in-law is no slouch in the saddle and she, too, knows her way around a stableyard.

Perhaps that is part of the reason they both looked genuinely pleased to be there, with the kids and their mounts. Camilla had a massive bag of polo mints in her purse - the preferred snack of British horses; they're kind of like Life Savers - and doled them out as the riders grinned madly.

The Queen paused every so often to say hello and have a chat, and the kids stood very proudly, showing off their work. The horses were groomed to within an inch of their hooves, and the stable was neat as a pin.

There's a joke that the Queen thinks the entire world smells of fresh paint because everyone spruces up their digs before she arrives. But how nice to see people so proud, and so excited, to show off their hard work.

Consider this exchange, chronicled by the Daily Mail, between the Queen and 8-year-old Oulwakarede Asunloye.

"She asked me whether my picture was up on the wall (with the other success stories) and I told her that I had only had four lessons. She said: 'I think it will be one day.'"

Nice, huh? So there it is. Proof that even a cynical old hack like me can get sentimental.

(As an aside, I was super-amused to see the Daily Express describe the Queen's coat as "geranium." The palace press office is always willing to specify the colour of Her Majesty's outfits. I once called to check on a suit-hat combo and was told no, it was not actually pink - it was raspberry.)

Normal service now resumes. Perhaps I'll find a weather story to complain about.

 Jennifer Quinn is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter at the Star. As a journalist with the Associated Press, based in London, she wrote extensively about British politics (and royal fashion). Follow her on Twitter @JQStar.

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