LONDON.Â WithÂ the recentÂ vote to replace hereditary peers with elected delegates to the House of Lords, the British monarchy is running scared.Â Â TheÂ English and Scots crowns were united in a single monarch--James VI--in 1603, and for four centuries the monarchy has withstood an ABC of threats to its reign; an abdication (King Edward VIII), a bulemic (Princess Diana of Wales), and Charles, Prince of Wales.Â Now, faced with the prospect that it will be replaced by an elected chief executive, the empire is striking back, so to speak, reaching out to constituents whom it has largely ignored in the past.
James VI: "Two crowns repose upon my head, I must admit, they're heavy as lead."Â
"The folks in Brixton are too busy rioting and clubbing for us to care much about them," saidÂ Alexander Patrick Gregers Richard Windsor, who goes by the nickname "Earl of Ulster".Â "As long as they're only shooting at each other, why should we care?"
"I do so love to watch the poor people--they're so,Â you know, rhythmic!"
But all that will change if Prince Charles has his way.Â "It's time for us to become more involvedÂ with the people whoÂ support our gaudy lifestyle," he said at a press conference called to announce a new "Chukkas for Children" program, which will instruct disadvantaged youth in the finer points of polo, a game that has previously been restricted to British upper classes.Â "If the peopleÂ are going to pay for my string of polo ponies, theyÂ jolly well ought to be able to ride them around a bit, don't you think?"
Charles is an accomplished polo player, a source of pride and comfort to his subjects.Â "The more time he spends up on a polo pony, the less time he has to bugger up the government," says Gilly Firth, a housewife who lives in Brixton.Â "It also cuts down on the number of irrelevant subjects he can spout off on, like modern architecture and McDonald's."
Buzkashi Fever--Catch It!
Polo traces its origins to Buzkashi or "goat grabbing", the national sport of Afghanistan.Â The goal of the gameÂ is to grab the carcass of a headless goat,Â streak past other players on horseback and pitch the carcass across a goal line or into a target circle or vat.Â Prizes range fromÂ fine turbans to home yogurt makers and "nice" Ralph Lauren sweaters.Â "It's definitely a sport that can pay off in the long run for a toff who knows how to ride a bit," according to Khuda Gawah, editor of Buzkashi Fever, a magazine devoted to the sport.
Parker-Bowles, in the bloom of youth.
Charles developed an interest in the game in his youth, and found that his experience paid off by providing him with an ice-breaker in chilly social situations.Â "'I play polo,' the Prince would say to young women he was introduced to such as Camilla Parker-Bowles, followed by the seemingly innocent question 'Do you like to ride?'" according to London Daily World society correspondent Edmund Ponsby-Britt.Â "If they answered 'Yes', he'd say 'Oh, so you like the feel of a wild beast between your legs?'.Â The girl would then slap Charles and he'd go home and have a nocturnal emission."
Brixton Market:Â "That's a nice-looking nag you've got there, Guv'nor."
As the Prince and three of his mates makesÂ their way on horseback down the crowded streets of London's Brixton neighborhood, a gritty multi-racial area of South London,Â they areÂ met with staresÂ and some hostility fromÂ residents who've never seen a polo pony before.Â "We're proud folks, we are," says Gilly Firth.Â "People come from miles around to purchase illicit drugs here, and it won't help business if they have to step over horse manure to get them."
"I'd like to have me a polo pony some day, I would!"
Young boys, excited at the power and beauty of the thoroughbred horses the royal party rides, come running up to greet them.Â "Give us some money, would ya governor?" one of them yells at Colin Weston-Smith, who plays the no. 2 position on the Prince's team.Â "Not likely," the horseman replies.Â "We're just here to spread good will and teach you brats the value of fresh air and exercise."
"Go on with ya then," the boy yells as he throws a rock, causingÂ a horse to rear, nearly throwingÂ his rider onto the pavement.
"Let's not argue, boys," Charles says as he intervenes.Â "We've brought plenty of equipment for you to use," and indeed bringing up the rear is an escort leading a string of sleek polo ponies, ready to challenge the Prince's equine arsenal in a pick-up game of polo in Brixton's open-air market area.
"There's no room in me mum's flat as it is--where am I going to keep a bloody horse?"
The boys seem suspicious at first, but after petting the horses for a bit they feel comfortable enough to mount them and take the helmets and mallets that Charles offer them.Â "The point of the game is to drive the ball through the goal," Charles says.Â "Let's say yours is between the newstand and the fish 'n chips shop down there, and ours is between the fishmonger and the green grocerÂ over here."
"If you don't mind, your pony's standing on me foot."
"All right--yer on!" one of the boys shouts as he turns his horse to take his position.Â An umpire bowls the ball into the middle of the street, and play begins.Â Â Pedestrians scatter as the two teams clash in the middle of an intersection, and a blow by one of Charles' teammates causes the ball to carom off a curbstone and strike an elderly woman's shopping bag, breaking a carton of eggs.Â "Don't worry ma'am," shouts Weston-Smith.Â "It's for a good cause."
"Ask your mum to step aside for a moment, I'm going to shoot."
"You'll be fully reimbursed from the Civil List," Charles says to her, referring to the annual appropriation received by The Royal Family in exchange for surrender of Crown Lands.Â "I should hope so," the woman says with difficulty as she struggles to stand up.Â "I was going to bake me husband a cake," she says.Â "There's a lot of cholesterol in eggs," Charles says as he rides off.Â "They're not good for you, y'know."
"We could have swept the streets with you little buggers, but we're building goodwill here."
The boys fall behind two-to-nil in the first chukka, but rally after a tea break to even the score, at which point Charles pronounces the game a tie in the interest of preserving the feelings of good will produced by the afternoon's activity.Â "Everyone's entitled to keepÂ his equipment as a gift of The Royal Family."
"Hooray!" one of the boys exclaims.Â "I've always wanted a pony!"