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From romance to reality, royal baby to rail strike

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Romance and reality have been struggling here in Britain as the universal cooing over a new prince, not to mention the aftermath of Falklands victory, has collided with turmoil over the short-lived rail strike.

Overseas visitors suddenly appreciate the importance to English lives of the royal family. One typical group of 44 foreign tourists on a chartered bus through Devon and Cornwall, for example, felt the bewildering juxtaposition of current and past events:

Disrupted traffic. London walking to work. Two-day shut-down of the rails. Some 3 million unemployed. And, meanwhile, the close-knit family story of the royal birth.

The smallest member of the royal family now has a string of names: William, Arthur, Philip, Louis -- or just plain Prince William of Wales. But the naming process took several days longer than an eager public expected. In the interim, a columnist in the London Times wrote:

''It is absolutely essential to give the royal baby a name quite soon, as otherwise one doesn't know what to call him. He is already the Prince, of course , and later on he will often be known as such, but early on it is a little awkward to keep saying things like, 'Have you changed the Prince's nappies?' or 'Just put the Prince over your shoulder and wind him.' ''

The Times was hit by reality on its own august premises a day later, when the paper was shut by a two-day strike. A rival paper explained, ''Four electricians were dismissed when they refused to carry out certain work and eight others walked out in support of them.'' Thus one of the most prestigious papers in English journalism once again was interrupted by the action of a handful of workers.

The tourists in chartered bus number FN3 formed a kind of community of their own -- isolated from the transit turmoil around them like a space ship, but wondering if their connections were still good at Heathrow airport.

Some of the tourists cancel vacation plans as the guide tells of Stonehenge, the Romans, the English civil war, Sir Francis Drake, the Armada, and of the Pilgrims in 1620 taking their last yearning look back before the Atlantic swell finally lifts the little Mayflower.


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