Saturday, September 25

The English Patient

After nine days at Royal Free Hampstead hospital Garry's finally been discharged. Half of his surgery staples have been removed and the scar is healing well. He's now back at home camped out on the sofa surrounded by plenty of creature comforts. As a result, my twice daily jaunts up the nearby hill to see Garry have been transformed into an equally active home help service.

I'm trying not to think about how we'd be checking into a hotel in Southern France right about now had life not thrown us a curve-ball. However, Garry's in one piece (minus a small segment) and that's ultimately what counts.

Friday, September 17

We won't be going to Toulouse!

We’re giving the National Health Service (NHS) a solid test drive this week. Garry was taken ill on Tuesday and then admitted to hospital 36-hours later suffering acute appendicitis. Unfortunately, last night, just hours before he was due to go into surgery his inflamed appendix burst. A relatively routine operation quickly turned into a five-hour marathon before he returned to the ward shortly after dawn.

The doctor told Garry he’ll be in the hospital until at least Sunday. Fortunately he’s recovering well, with tubes sprouting everywhere and lots of fancy machines to keep him company. When I saw him this afternoon boredom was setting in which seemed like a rather promising sign of recovery.

His bedside TV isn't the only entertainment on offer in Garry's ward. Directly opposite him is an older gentleman who seemed hell-bent on disparaging every aspect of the NHS currently at his disposal, ensuring all within earshot hear his numerous, petty complaints.

Monday, September 13

Royal living

Buckingham Palace is one of the world’s last remaining royal palaces. More than 450 people can be found at work most days coordinating The Queen’s ceremonial duties, maintaining the building and grounds and running the royal establishment. Many of the official duties staged at the palace take place in one of its 19 state rooms. Every Summer these majestic, gilded rooms are opened to the public for two months while the Queen holidays at Balmoral Castle. These tours are a recent development. They were originally used to pay for a five-year, £37 million restoration of Windsor Castle undertaken after a devastating fire in November 1992.

Beyond the state rooms are another 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. These remain off limits at all times. Today Garry and I spent a wonderfully sunny afternoon touring the Palace’s state rooms and gardens. We’d bought the tickets months ago and they had to be used before the end of September. We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit. The warm weather meant that doors and windows were open throughout the palace, offering glimpses of the grounds and giving the stunning, ornate rooms an airy feeling.

The tour gives visitors surprisingly generous access to its west wing. We were able to view the Grand Hall, climb the genuinely Grand Staircase and stand in the Throne Room; venue for many of royalty’s most famous family portraits. Each room was a picture to behold. Even the Ballroom was a highlight. Here the knighting sword used for investitures was on display. Perhaps the most impressive rooms were the State Dining Room and the White Drawing Room. To my eye the design and decoration felt more coherent and pleasing than any other room.

It’s easy to see why the palace’s construction and fitting had cost a heart-stopping £800,000 by the time the first royal, Queen Victoria, took up residence in 1837. John Nash, the appointed architect, originally estimated his work would cost £252,690. Millions more has been spent since finishing incomplete rooms, updating others and undertaking major restoration. The last major building phase was completed in 1913 when the current Mall façade was clad in durable Portland stone.

Today’s tour exited the palace via its West Front. This grand facade opens onto a generous 73 metre long terrace overlooking the private gardens. The gardens themselves are an impressive sight. They cover 16-hectres and include a lake, open lawns and shaded tree-lined pathways; all offering a tranquil green oasis in heart of central London. It’s here that The Queen hosts up to five garden parties every Summer, attended by eight thousand people. For the rest of year, the expansive lawn acts as her majesty’s private helipad.

We finished our day at the Palace with a tour of the Royal Mews. This complex, also designed by Nash, is where the royal carriages and limousines are stored; and the carriage horses are stabled. Perhaps the most impressive item on display here is the Gold State Stage. This rococo gilt coach is by used by the monarch for coronations, weddings and jubilee celebrations. It was presented to George III in 1760 and weighs a staggering four tones. The gilt vehicle is a remarkable sight with its painted panels, cherubs and grand Triton statues. Rumour has it the ride is incredibly uncomfortable. Sometimes royal life only looks grand.

Friday, September 10

When working hours aren't for work

There’s one difference between Australia and the UK that’s always mystified me. No matter where I am and no matter what the time of day there are always people out and about. The demographic on the streets is also surprisingly varied; you see people of all ages and gender, often of working age. This always begs the question; how do they survive? If they’re not working what’s the source of their income?

The sense that there's always someone around is reinforced by the fact that very few companies, utilities and suppliers are willing to arrange delivery or visit your home out of business hours, or on the weekend. There's a universal expectation that someone's at home between 9.00am and 5.00pm. In Australia, most organizations offer after hour’s delivery as standard practice and most trades people or service providers offer to meet out of business hours.

Today I saw some interesting statistics that go some way to solving this mystery. Someone is at home – including many of working age. In the three months to June, 22.9% of Inner London households had no one working. Nationwide, one fifth of households (19.1%) have no one working; 3.9 million in total. Since last year the current tally has risen by an incredible 148,000 households. At least 841,000 of these households are classified as workless because everyone over 16 is classified as sick, injured or disabled.

The source of their income? It’s the Government. A staggering £192 billion in welfare payments is forked out every year. Even more incredibly, this tally grew by £60 billion over the last decade. That is, it almost doubled. It's no surprise to subsequently learn that the number of households where no one works is now at an all time high.

Saturday, September 4

Chatty Man

A couple of years ago I managed to humiliate myself on national television. My Graham Norton debut earned me a priority seating in the audience of another television production. It’s taken Garry and I two years to finally get our act together and head down to the London Studios at Southbank. On Wednesday evening we sat in on the filming of Chatty Man, a talk show hosted by comedian Alan Carr.

It’s always a bit hit and miss with these shows in terms of the guests you’ll see. We’ve always struck it lucky with an interesting line-up – that is until now. Wednesday’s guests weren’t exactly top of our Christmas Card list. I think we’re just not sufficiently British to appreciate their contribution to society. Fortunately, Alan Carr is a hilarious man - often just because he’s unbelievably camp – and so the evening wasn’t a complete wash.

We saw Russell Brand's fiancée, Katy Perry, perform her latest single Teenage Dream and Davina McCall stopped by to talk about hosting reality television series, Big Brother, for more than a decade. Sadly, we’re not Big Brother fans and so the gossip about the current series meant nothing to us, as did her reflections on past UK contestants.

However, we loved Paul O'Grady, another savagely camp comedian and former drag queen diva. He revealed that Julian Clary, yet another camp comedian (how many are there in Britain?), was his neighbour at his rural home in Kent. The images of these two comedians hanging over the fence in rubber boots made me chuckle.