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Camels, ants . . .

November 14, 1983



For all the sobering events taking place around the globe, it's still a peculiar world out there: runaway West Coast camels, money-eating ants, and Americans swearing allegiance to the British Crown after a 208-year hiatus.

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The runaway camel was - where else? - in California. Before dawn's early light in Porterville some intrepid soul decided it was the perfect time to practice for the Veterans Day parade and mounted California's favorite mode of transportation, the camel. But camels have their own views of things: It was on one side and off the other, and the adventuresome dromedary set sail for the bright lights of downtown Porterville. There being few licensed camel drivers in California, it fell to the state highway patrol to ride, like the French Foreign Legion, to the rescue.

Rounding up the money-eating ants would have been equally challenging. They were in Kenya, and what they ate kept an unfortunate farmer in his bachelorhood a little longer: It was the dowry for his intended. He'd buried it in his garden; it must have taken a sizable colony of them to eat it all up, the way Goldilocks devoured Baby Bear's porridge. The immediate result: a postponed wedding.

Besides mattresses and cookie jars, we now know another place not to hide the fortune: in the garden.

The Americans who temporarily ''returned'' to royal rule were, ironically, 27 US soldiers on Grenada. MPs, they were there to help out with policing duties; they were in a group that, in order to have what they considered proper authority, signed a statement swearing among other things ''true allegiance'' to Queen Elizabeth II.

Their country - that is, the United States - will forgive; but their friends may never let them forget.

All of this would be enough to make someone wonder, without further evidence, just what this world is coming to. Then along comes further evidence anyway. It seems the British, evidently aggrieved at having watched their empire decline, are fulminating about a similar decline in their language - despite the best efforts of Americans to preserve it. They're protesting that the apostrophe seems to be disappearing from the language: ''Lloyds Bank,'' ''Barclays Bank,'' and so on.

The British should know they'll have no more success with this battle than at Yorktown: every language inexorably changes, even theirs. And as it does, splendidly mellifluous new phrases roll off the tongue, the new combinations giving a rich and modern texture to a venerable language.

But where that's at is, like, another story.