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The Return From Oz

Well I thought I would give you a bit of time to soak up my four part Australian adventure. I had a brilliant time there but obviously since I have returned to England things have become a little bit strange. I have certainly never experienced anything like this in my life before. The shear global scale and impact on the United Kingdom of the new Coronavirus pandemic is quite hard to comprehend.

I think personally that we have to listen to the experts and all of the people on the front line battling this thing and do as they say. There are so many mixed messages and incorrect pieces of information on the social media networks. I actually find that scarier than the actual virus. If we do what is asked of us we can all get through this thing together in the shortest possible time.

The plan at the moment is basically to try to control the number of cases in the country. In the hope that we can give the NHS a chance to give the required treatment to anybody who needs it. I appreciate staying in when you feel fine seems ridiculous but no one is exactly sure how long before symptoms show that you can transmit it. We know it spreads very quickly and is a nasty thing as it attacks the respiratory system. That as an Asthmatic is obviously something I am quite concerned about.

We just need to be sensible, follow instructions, social distance and look after each other. The aim of the game is to ease the pressure on the health service so if you or anybody you know requires their help. They will be in a position to be able to treat you in Hospital how you would expect if taken there in an emergency. If this thing continues to spread at the rate it has been they may struggle a little to achieve that, so let’s stick together and help each other out.

Stay at home if you can. If you are a key worker keep doing the brilliant job you are doing. We all really appreciate it. We can win this with a bit of common sense and some big self discipline. Stay safe and more importantly keep joking and having a laugh to.

Neil Quigley Presenter
Neil Quigley Presenter

Right that is the serious bit over but I felt I could not really ignore it and pretend that it was not happening. I would like to also point out that the things I am writing about and the things I have been to were actually a minimum of three weeks ago now before everything was cancelled. I have been closely following the government advice since it was made. Even though I find it slightly difficult to take someone who used to host Have I Got News For You and who got stuck on a Zip Wire seriously but sometimes needs must.

Neil Quigley

I went out for dinner in Berkhamsted about a month ago now. I was invited to a Turkish Restaurant there by a friend. We both wanted to have a few drinks. Initially I was going to get a taxi from where I live to Tring get the train to Berkhamsted and then do the same journey in reverse at the end of the night. However as it turned out the taxi would cost the about same amount as staying at Pendley Manor Hotel, which is within walking distance of Tring Railway Station. It seemed like a complete no-brainer to me, so a night away it was.

I had been to a few works parties and conferences at Pendley Manor but I think this was the first time that I had stayed there. It is a very regal looking building set in beautiful grounds. I cannot think of to many places where Peacocks wander around freely. I am not sure why I see that as a big selling point but for some reason I do. Once I was checked in I did the first thing I always do when I walk in to a hotel room I checked the bathroom to see if it was a shower or bath. I rarely have baths at home now so see this as a hotel room treat. It had a bath which I did take advantage of during my stay.

I walked from the hotel down to the station, which I will confess was slightly further than I thought and caught the train to Berkhamsted. It is only about an eight minute journey. I arrived at the restaurant a bit early but went in and got our table which was booked for six. My friend then arrived we ordered some wine and got the menu. It was the first time I had been to a Turkish restaurant. It is a bit like Tapas in that you order a selection of dishes to share. I must confess as a general rule like Joey from Friends I do not share food but I do make exceptions for these occasions.

Neil Quigley

The food was amazing. The variety of the dishes was fantastic. We had delicious Chicken, Lamb, Halloumi and Butternut Squash dishes. All washed down with a little more wine. I am not saying the portions were generous but it is very rare that I am too full to have dessert. It was a place called Tabure and I would certainly recommend it. When they gave us the bill my friend and I both double checked it as we thought that they had undercharged us. It was not cheap as such but I would say very reasonable for the standard and the amount of food plus the drink prices were fair to.

We left the restaurant about eight o’clock and went down the road to the Kings Arms. We were just chatting and having a few more glasses of wine when suddenly it was one in the morning and they were closing the bar. That is the sign of a good night by the way, if you can suddenly lose five hours in the same pub with no gaps in the conversation.

We said goodbye I got the train back to Tring and then strolled back to Pendley Manor for a good night’s sleep. It is a grand hotel but might be getting a little bit old now. It was a wet night and they had lots of buckets around catching water from the leaks in the roof. However it is still a nice place to stay, it has a cool look and feel to it.

Neil Quigley
Neil Quigley

Again several weeks ago now I went and saw my mate Mike Sterling do a show at the Kenton Theatre in Henley on Thames. I always like to catch his performances when I can. It was a bit of a mad dash to make this one as I was watching Tottenham play Wolves at the Spurs Stadium that afternoon. (Yes it was that long ago Premier League football was still being payed). I made it to the theatre about fifteen minutes before curtain up. That gave me time to order a beer before it started and the same again ready for the interval.

It was a new show he was performing for the first time. He was celebrating the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein and more. He was joined on stage by his long time friend and musical director Toby Cruse, who accompanied him on the piano. It also featured Joanne Pullen who was his “Christine” when he starred in The Phantom of The Opera. They performed versions of these great songs produced by the legendary composers and lyricists as well as explaining a bit about the history of the songs and the relationships of the people behind them.

Mike Sterling

There was also a cameo appearance at the end of the first half from the superstar that is Vince Hill. He did a few songs including the big hit song he had his version of Edelweiss, which was stunning. He is eighty-five years old but his voice, stage presence and mic control is still first class. What an amazingly talented and very lovely man. The whole show was excellent. It is a while since I have been to a concert featuring just a piano and the singers. It does produce a very raw and real feel to proceedings.

I managed as ever to catch up with Mike for a quick chat and a drink after the show at a little bash at one of the wine bars in Henley. I had a busy day the following day, so could not stay to long but it was nice to see him. I also got to have a brief conversation with Toby who had been working the hardest by far as he was playing the piano all night. He is another extremely talented and nice fella. I now look forward to seeing them both perform later in the year, when it is safe and acceptable to put such things on once again.

Mike Sterling and Neil Quigley

I had been to the Globe Theatre during their summer season in the past and always had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I also had a tour around there once I got to see everything apart from one small part as there was something going on in there.

That missing piece of the jigsaw was The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe. It is a smaller inside version of the main theatre in the same style and modelled on a venue of the same era. It is very compact, made of wood and candlelit. The room itself looks stunning!

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

I went and saw William Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew. I never studied the “Bard” at school so I am slowly getting around to seeing some of his plays in later life. The Wanamaker Playhouse is a great setting to watch these productions in to get a feel of what it might have been like seeing them the first time that they were performed. The Staff there are lovely and you can bring drinks in with you, which is handy as the first half of the play was an hour and fifty minutes long.

It is bench seating inside no individual seats so you will have to be a bit close and cosy with your fellow audience members, also there is nowhere really to stick your coats. I ended up sitting on mine. It is worth it though as it is such a lovely setting. The play was brilliant, the cast were amazing. I think it is a good sign that when the near two hour long first half ended I was like is that the interval already? The time flew by. It is a comedy so there were plenty of laughs to.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

The second half was equally as good. I can also confirm for the wine connoisseurs amongst you that they serve a very nice large glass of Rioja in there. It was a wonderful evening, the show, the location and the company I was with. I would happily go back and see something else there in the future.

The night out was rightly rounded off with another drink around Baker Street before we headed home. I fear this looks like the last show I will be seeing for a while, so it was nice to go out on a high.

Neil Quigley

Have fun and we will catch up again soon. Stay safe! Cheers Neil

Australia Part Four Sydney Reprise

Just as I arrived at Melbourne Airport and stepped in through the double doors I got a text from Qantas telling me my flight had been cancelled. That is not ideal news to receive at five o’clock in the morning. I went and spoke to someone at the desk and discovered they had now put me on a flight an hour later than the one that I was scheduled to be on. I now had a bonus extra sixty minutes to enjoy the departures lounge, so I ordered a nice big breakfast to pass a bit of the time.

It was only another short flight back to Sydney. When I arrived and had collected my luggage I took the train to meet up again with Phil on the outskirts of the city. For the first time since I had arrived the Sun was out in Sydney. And there was a certain thing I wanted to do where the nice weather would make it more fun. Therefore I threw my suitcase in to the boot of his car and we headed straight there. The place where we were going was not far from where he lives.

You cannot make the journey all the way to Australia without seeing some of the native animals of the country. It was with that goal very much in mind that we arrived at the Koala Park. I must confess I was again possibly way more excited than I should have been for a man of my age about the joys of this attraction. We paid our entrance fee and went in.

The Koala Park

Phil had been quite a few times over the years so knew his way around the place. We started off looking at the Lizards and Turtles, before we progressed on to the Snakes. It was at this point that he reassured me that in all the years he had lived there he had not seen as many deadly snakes in his garden as you might think. He did say he had seen a few Lizards but as they are harmless I was totally fine with that.

Lizzard

I then encountered my first Wombat, although I did not get a really good look at him as predictably he was asleep in a confined space. I had my picture taken with a lovely red breasted bird called a Flaming Goliath. Yes that is kind of where Alf from Home and Away’s famous catchphrase comes from. Next we found the Dingo enclosure. That is basically a wild dog as far as I can see. David Attenborough’s job is perfectly safe from me, I think.

Neil Quigley

We also saw a Kookaburra, which is a stunning looking bird by the way. There were some Cockatoo’s on display but they are actually pretty common and I had already seen some of them in Phil’s garden and at the roadside. Next came one of the creatures you have to see if you are in Australia the Kangaroos. On the way in to the park Phil purchased some Kangaroo food.

There is a special enclosure where you can join them and feed them. They are lovely animals and in case you are wondering, yes I did get a few of them to take some food from me. That was pretty cool.

Neil Quigley

We continued the animals you would expect to see in the place tour with the Emu’s. Phil decided to feed one of them. I am not sure if you are meant to do that to be honest, but what can I say the man is a bit of a maverick. I saw an Australian Eagle to. That is quite an imposing bird but I would say friendlier looking that its American counterpart. They also had a few goats in there. Who also got some food from Phil. They were more tongue and less beak than the Emu’s. I felt it was less likely he would need any medical treatment if things went wrong here.

Emu

There was just one more animal left to see, which you really should have worked out if you can still remember the name of the place that we visited. I mean it is illegal to go to Australia and not have your picture taken with a Koala Bear, surely. This is not as easy as you may think though, as the cute little things sleep for an average of twenty hours a day. Therefore getting a photo with their eyes open can be a bit of a challenge. But I have got a picture of me and a Koala, which is something I really wanted from this trip. Result!

Neil Quigley

After I had spent a lovely morning taking pictures of lots of amazing animals at the Koala Park we went back to Phil’s place. In his garden I then ended up feeding a stunning Rainbow Lorikeet. They visit on a daily basis and he always feeds them. As they do with the two Bush Turkeys who also regularly appear. We then had a quick bite to eat. In the afternoon I went exploring the local area. I got dropped off at the local Metro station. I just went one stop down the line to visit a new shopping and entertainment centre. I had a look around some of the shops.

Neil Quigley

Then I spotted a Bavarian style bar that was doing a happy hour where beers were only five dollars each. It was a lovely and sunny afternoon, so I found myself a seat outside the bar to catch a few rays on while enjoying in the end two happy hour schooners. It was a very relaxing way to finish the afternoon. It did seem that German themed bars were pretty popular around the Sydney area for some odd reason. I then managed to find my way back to Phil’s place all by myself on the Metro and the bus, which I was pretty pleased about.

Neil Quigley

That evening we had my favourite Saturday night dish of Sausages, potatoes and beans for dinner. We then watched a bit of A-League Soccer. Enjoyed a couple of beers and then video messaged my dad. We both had a short chat to him. Technology is quite good nowadays we were on opposite sides of the world and talking to him from the future. It was Saturday night in Australia but still Saturday morning back in England. Notice I did not video call any of the family at home until the rain had stopped and I had enjoyed a few days of sun. First I needed a bit of a tan to show off.

On the Sunday which was my final full day there. Phil’s son David and his wife Helen had very kindly agreed to have dinner with me. They booked us a table at a great rooftop bar overlooking the sights of Sydney. The Meal was booked for midday. Phil and I let the train take the strain to get into the city. We got there nice and early so we walked to the pub grabbing a hot drink on route. The pub they chose was perfect and clearly a popular place as it was packed. We had a lovely lunch there with some food and a couple of beers. We were lucky with the weather as it was a hot and sunny day.

Neil Quigley

It was great to spend some time with David, Helen and their two kids and so nice of them to suggest and organise it. I really did appreciate it and had a lovely time. Phil then had to go off to see his wife Jenny, who unfortunately could not join us for dinner. After he took me for a walk along the famous Harbour Bridge first, he then let me loose on my own to spend the rest of the day just exploring Sydney. While picking up a few souvenirs to take home.

Neil Quigley

Well as soon as I was left to my own devices the first thing I decided to do was to have another beer. David suggested a place almost next door to where we were called The Australian Hotel, so I had a quick schooner there outside in the sunshine. I will be honest I possibly could have stayed there for the rest of the day, but thought I should see more of the place while I was out there.

After a little bit of sightseeing around the streets I was drawn to a pub where I could hear some live music. It was called the Fortune of War and it is Sydney’s oldest pub, therefore it would have been rude not to go in there for a beer, so I did. The place was rammed and the duo performing were great. They were doing a mixture of pop and country classics. They had the whole bar singing along. It was ace. Luckily they stopped playing about the same time that I finished my drink. That made it a lot easier to leave and continue with my tour.

Oldest Pub

Then I decided to do quite a bit of walking. Firstly I visited Darling Harbour. I had a good look all around there. It has a lot of different attractions and a seemingly endless amount of restaurants and bars. After that I continued around the coast line going back to re-visit Barangaroo, this time in the sunshine. I then found myself back in an area of the city called The Rocks known for its bars. I found one that had some live music on. I stopped there for some light refreshment or to put it another way a beer.

Neil Quigley

Once I had finished that I decided to take my final look at Circular Quay. They have quite a bit of street entertainment in that area. I stopped to watch some traditional Aboriginal music, singing and dancing for a bit. As well as housing the ferry port this area is in the middle of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. There is a bar on the waterfront between the two. As the sun was about to set I had my final Australian beer between those two famous landmarks. Having already picked my presents for home on my travels earlier I then made my way back to Phil’s place for the final time.

Street Entertainment

We had a lovely evening relaxing, chatting and spending a bit of quality time together before I had to head home the next day. My flight was around four in the afternoon, so I had to be at the airport for around one. That meant I did not have that much time really on the day of travel. I said farewell to his lovely wife Jenny and then Phil dropped me off at the airport ready for my long journey home. It was brilliant spending time with all the family out there.

Phil and Jenny looked after me so well and made the whole trip a lovely and memorable experience for me. It was also wonderful to see David and Helen and Stephanie and Michael and their children. Everybody made me feel so welcome. I would like to thank them all very much for that. I hope I was a good house guest.

Quigley Family

Once again I was not particularly looking forward to the long flight but England is my home and I do quite like the place. It was the same journey but in reverse, so first I flew to Singapore. On this leg of the journey I decided to have a bit of a Bruce Springsteen fest. I watched Blinded by the Light. It is a true story about a young man from Luton who was inspired by the Boss’s music. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The main character was around my age, so it reminded me of my younger days a bit. Plus it does feature what I would say is a surprise cameo from Rob Brydon.

I also watched Western Star, which is a film Bruce made about his most recent album. It is basically him performing it with a complete Orchestra in a barn on his farm. There are clips of him explaining the songs as well as some old home videos. It is fantastic, he is such a great song writer and live performer. It was a bit strange hearing him play just acoustically. But he did that for over a year on his one man Broadway show that sadly I never got to see. Needless to say both of these films passed some of the time of my journey away nicely.

When arriving back into Heathrow I had made back up the eleven hours I had lost when I originally arrived in Sydney. I left Australia Monday afternoon travelled the best part of twenty four hours and still arrived in London early on Tuesday morning. That did feel a bit odd. I collected my luggage, found my taxi and went home, bringing to a close my great Australian adventure. I had a really brilliant time. Who knows if I will ever make it back there again in the future, I would like to. I did feel pretty at home when I was out there.

Neil Quigley

Have fun and I will speak to you soon. Cheers Neil

Australia Part Three Melbourne

This time at the airport I decided to just have a light breakfast not wanting to make the same mistake as my previous flight. However for this trip my ticket did not include any food, so I had to splash out and buy my own cup of tea. The journey was also delayed slightly we were due to land at one thirty but did not arrive until after two. I had only a short amount of time in Melbourne as it was, so losing an hour was a bit annoying.

I have no idea why this is but my bag always seems to be pretty much the last one off the plane. Therefore by the time I had got my airport transfer I did not arrive at my hotel until just after four. There were a few people I actually knew in the City. The first of these was a bloke I used to work with at Wembley Stadium called Michael Cornell. He is now the owner of his own tour company in Melbourne. He met me at my hotel as soon as I had arrived and took me on a two hour walking tour around the place.

Neil Quigley and Michael Cornell

The sun was out and it was a lovely afternoon. Melbourne is a pretty vibrant and multicultural city. It has lots of high rise buildings and a fairly compact central area. We managed to do pretty much a circuit of the entire place.

Like London they have an area alongside the river known as the South Bank with lots of shops, restaurants and bars. It has a really fun feel to it. He also took me past the famous Flinders Street Station, along one of the mural filled side streets and pointed out all of the key buildings to me.

Melbourne

He then had to go and do a few bits and pieces and as it happened I was meeting someone else I knew from London for dinner. They met me outside my hotel which was the lovely The Savoy Hotel. We then walked down to the South Bank and found a nice restaurant there. In the evenings they pump music along the river which creates a great atmosphere as you stroll around. I had an excellent meal. The place we went to only used local produce so it was a pretty traditional dish that I enjoyed there.

After dinner we went for a little walk so I could take a few pictures of the City lit up for an evening. We then found this great floating bar on the river where I sampled some more of the local Australian beers. My dinner friend had to leave but Michael met us in the pub and me and him stayed on board for another beer. He then took me on a bit of a mini pub crawl through some of the bars he knew. Like all big cities there were plenty of options and I could only sample a very small cross section of them sadly.

Neil Quigley

I must confess I was happy to keep most of my Australian adventure nice and loose and generally just go with the flow. But there was one tour that I booked before I left England. When I was a child the show that used to mark the end of kids television and the start of the more grown up programmes was a Soap Opera called Neighbours.

I used to watch it every week night. At that time it featured Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Craig McLachlan, Anne Charleston and Stefan Dennis amongst many others of course. I once interviewed one of those stars when I was at Ivel fm in Yeovil. Sadly for me it was not Kylie Minogue but the lovely Anne Charleston who was great.

Ramsay Street

Now I have not really watched Neighbours since I was about fifteen, which I think it is fair to say was a long time ago. However I do have fond memories of Ramsay Street as I was growing up, so I thought it would be rude not to visit it. They run an official Neighbours Tour, so I secured my place on it before I had even packed for my holiday. It just felt like something that I had to do. It is always good fun looking around television studios and sets, I think. On my way to the tour I found an amazing cafe for breakfast. The menu was excellent and I had the Eggs Benedict on Sour Dough, which set me up very nicely for the day.

I met the branded Neighbours Tour Bus and our guide Kellie in the centre of Melbourne. There were about twenty of us on it in total. We then headed out on the forty minute drive to the studios. On the way Kellie was telling us a few fun facts about the show. She also dropped the bombshell that sometimes there is a meet and greet with a cast member depending on the filming schedules. As we were nearing our first destination we were treated to a selection of songs from former stars of the programme. Who had gone on to have music careers, to be fair there have been quite a lot of them over the years.

We then arrived at the complex, cleared security and got our very first taste of being around one of the world’s longest running series. We leapt out of the bus and had our picture taken with the welcome to Erinsborough sign. Next up the Tour has its own special area at the studio where there are various exhibits and photo opportunities, not to mention tea and biscuits. It was while we were here that we found out that we were getting a meet and greet. As one of the cast was very kindly giving up part of their lunch break to see us, which I thought was an extremely nice thing for them to do.

Neil Quigley

We were just tucking in to our tea and biscuits when the assistant production manager arrived with Olivia Junkeer who plays Yashvi Rebecchi in the show. She was fantastic, really smiley and fun and happy to pose for a picture with everybody. We also got the chance to ask her some questions about her career and what it was like as an actor in Neighbours. I did of course get a few questions in myself but I was a bit worried about it turning in to an interview, so I did in the end back off a little bit and give some other people a go.

She then had to dash off to finish her dinner and return to set. They do work them quite hard and are pretty strict on filming schedules. It was really lovely to meet her and you never know she could be the next Margot Robbie.

Neil Quigley and Olivia Junkeer

Sadly because they were doing a lot of interior filming we were not able to have a look around the sets. We did however get to see all the outside locations that they have at the studio complex including Lassiters, Harold’s Cafe, The Waterhole and Back Packers, as well as Paul Robinson’s and Dr Karl Kennedy’s back yard’s.

I also got to have a picture taken in Sonya’s Nursery. This section brought to a close the studio side of the tour. We all climbed back in to the bus and headed off to a road called Pinoak Court or to give it the TV name it is better known as Ramsay Street.

Neil Quigley

We turned into a fairly nondescript Australian suburbian estate until a recognisable little Cul-de-sac suddenly appeared on our left. As we parked up I could see all the fronts of the houses that I had seen the stars of Neighbours go in and out of as I was a young child watching at home in England. It was quite weird just walking around Ramsay Street.

It does attract a lot of visitors so they have a full time security guard stationed there. People do actually live in the houses so you are told to stay out of their way and of course not to trespass on their property. I did get to have my picture taken with the Ramsay Street sign outside one of those famous buildings. That was possibly the highlight of the whole tour for me.

Neil Quigley

As we were driven back to where we started in Melbourne we were given old call sheets to look at, to see the filming schedules and some of the directions for the actors. Then we were shown a DVD made to mark the show’s 30th Anniversary, although this year it is thirty-five years since Neighbours first appeared on our television screens.

It was a fun thing to do and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I am glad I did it. I was met off the bus my Michael as he had arranged for me to do another tour that I also wanted to do if possible while I was there.

Melbourne

We hopped on the Tram to take us a little closer to where we needed to be. As we had to be at the place for a set time and my Neighbours experience had overran slightly. We then got off the public transport and walked the rest of the way. As a big sports fan while I was in Melbourne I had to look around the MCG. We arrived there in time to go on the last guided tour of the day.

It is a wonderful stadium. It holds one hundred thousand people. That makes it bigger than any venues we have in the United Kingdom. It is mainly used for Australian Rules Football. Those are the matches that attract the biggest crowds. Cricket is also played there fairly often. The Australian soccer team have also played some of their World Cup Qualifiers there in the past.

Neil Quigley

The tour was great. We got to see all the different stands, including the corporate areas and their Long Room. We also saw the changing rooms and the press conference room. It has a lot of sporting history attached to it and was the main stadium when Melbourne hosted the Olympics.

The tour finishes in the Cricket museum that they have there. I would have liked to watch a game of something there, but maybe I will get chance to do that in the future.

Neil Quigley

Next to the MCG is the home of the Australian Open Tennis Finals The Rod Laver Arena. Well that is the main court there are also quite a few other courts that are used. Thanks to Michael I managed to get on one of the outside courts that is used as a practice court before the tournament starts. It would have been rude not to get a cheeky picture there, so I did. I actually fancied a game at that point but rain again stopped play.

All the sports stadiums are nearby each other. I also saw the outside of the Melbourne City FC Stadium. Then at the airport the next day I actually saw a few of the Melbourne Victory players.

Neil Quigley

I said goodbye to Michael and thanked him for showing me around. He is actually moving back to England shortly so I will be able to see him again pretty soon. I made my way back to the hotel to change my clothes before heading out for dinner. I had completely forgotten it was Valentine’s Day so when I arrived at the South Bank for food it was a lot harder finding a table at one of the restaurants than I had thought it would be. However eventually I did actually find one that had a table for one.

First I ordered another local beer which was great. All through this trip I had been trying to eat different things and have native dishes for a lot of my meals. On the menu I saw what was described as a whole Barramundi, which was curried, cooked in banana leafs and served with rice. I figured it must be a fish dish, so I thought I would give it a try. When it appears it literally is the whole fish including the eyes staring at me. The waitress puts the plate down and then says to me I will just get you a dish for the bones, I just smiled like I was expecting this without trying to look too confused.

I had never had a fish served complete in this way before. I carefully picked my way through it trying not to choke on any bones. When I got half way through I managed to lift out the head and most of its skeleton, which I was strangely proud about. Anyway I managed to eat it without dying which I suspect you have already worked out. It tasted really good, although it was hard work. I think I might I have used more calories eating it than I gained from consuming it.

Neil Quigley

After dinner I found another bar similar to the previous night that was on the waterfront. I got a beer and found a table facing the river. I had a table of four all to myself so this group of three ladies and a guy came over and asked if they could join me. I of course said yes.

They were all mates who were single on an anti-valentines night out. I had a good laugh with them and they very kindly bought me a drink, which was really nice of them. I had a really early alarm call for my flight back to Sydney the next morning, so I said goodbye to my new friends and walked back to the hotel.

Neil Quigley

I had a quick drink in the hotel bar and then headed off to bed. I was being picked up at four o’clock in the morning so I had a relatively sensible early night.

This did mean that I could not party as much as I would have liked to in Melbourne, which is a shame as it seemed like a fun place to hang out at night. I was up in plenty of time to grab a shower and check out before the car arrived to take me back to the airport for the next leg of my journey.

Neil Quigley

Part Four coming soon…………

Australia Part Two Gold Coast

I had an early flight booked from Sydney Airport to the Gold Coast. As previously mentioned I was staying at a hotel next door but even still the 5am alarm was a bit of a shock to the system, despite the power cut enforced super early night, the night before. While I was waiting to board I got myself quite a decent sized breakfast from a cafe in the departure lounge. Mainly because I wanted to try the breakfast pie they did there.

All my flights and connections had been booked for me by the travel person I use. I was flying with Jet 2 and unbeknown to me my ticket on this flight included a cup of tea and three large sandwiches. That I ate out of politeness even though I was already full up from the food that I had purchased earlier. I have got a real thing about wasting any food at all.

It was only a short journey with a flight time of around one hour and twenty minutes. Although as they actually use a different time zone up there currently it is one hour behind Sydney, so local time wise I landed twenty five minutes after we had taken off. The reason that I wanted to visit the Gold Coast is because I was desperate to stay at a specific hotel.

Palazzo Versace

I am a massive fan of the ITV 1 television programme I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. I have watched every single series from start to finish. Over the years I have been lucky enough to meet a large number of former contestants and winners from it. All of whom have spoken very highly about the whole experience.

When their time in the jungle comes to an end they are then sent to a very nice hotel where they stay until the show has finished. And the King or Queen has been crowned. When I decided to make the long trip to Australia I also decided that I to had too stay at this particular hotel.

It does feature quite heavily in the show as people get voted out. You always see them arriving in the driveway and then being welcomed in to the reception area. They do also normally show you inside their room and do some other filming in and around the facility.

Therefore I have seen this hotel in all its glory on television many times over the years and always thought that it looked amazing! It is called the “Palazzo Versace”. It is a Five Star hotel and is quite simply stunning. I was staying there for the entire three nights of my Gold Coast experience. I must confess I was possibly way more excited than I should have been about that situation.

Palazzo Versace

When my taxi arrived the entrance looked so familiar having seen it on screen hundreds of times previously. It does look pretty stylish from the front. The circular driveway where the celebrities’ people carriers arrive and drop them off actually looks smaller in real life than it does on TV.

I did have to take a moment to admire the outside of the building before I walked in through those famous glass doors. I then found myself standing right in the middle of that spectacular reception where the friends and family greet the newly arriving ex camp mates.

Neil Quigley

The area is beautifully decorated. One of the main features is a huge Chrystal Chandelier which along with the mosaic on the floor takes centre stage. While I was waiting to be booked in to my room I had a look around the pool area, while working out where I had seen a few bits filmed over the years on “I’m A Celebrity”.

Once I was checked in I made my way to my room on the second floor tracing the steps of a whole host of former contestants. In case you are wondering yes I did open the door and throw myself straight on to the bed.

Palazzo Versace

The rooms in general and the bathrooms in particular do follow the Italian and Roman theme of the hotel. While I was on this trip I read Elton John’s book, he was friends with Gianni Versace. He mentions him, giving the impression he was a very elaborate and flamboyant man.

I do feel this trait really comes across within the hotel and the individual rooms. It does feel like a special place to stay. It also has a classy and yet relaxing feel to it.

Palazzo Versace

The hotel is situated at the top of the Gold Coast, so it is a fair way from the main towns of the area. Right next door however there is a small shopping centre which does have a McDonald’s. A little further down the road there is a Marina with a few restaurants and bars.

I initially found a cafe overlooking the water that I ended up using for my breakfast every day. They had a decent variety of food options. In fact one morning I had a healthy spinach based shake alongside a waffle, syrup, bacon and banana dish, which was lovely. And I think you will find the two combined made for a very balanced start to the day. Life is all about moderation!

Neil Quigley

During my first afternoon on the Gold Coast for the first time since I had arrived in Australia the sun had come out. I took full advantage of this by firstly having a nice long walk down the beach including a bit of a paddle in the sea. Then I returned to the hotel for some sun bathing by the pool.

They have a beach area built there with sand on the side and as you go into the water. All of the sun beds are padded. It was peaceful and relaxing, finally the chance to top up my tan a bit. I stayed there almost until the sun set spending the final part of it at the outside bar having yet another wonderful locally made beer.

Neil Quigley

For my evening meal on my first night I went to the local pub at the nearby Marina. It was in the same area as the local radio station that I found. It was called Juice and I must admit I did consider popping into their studios to see if they had any jobs. As the sun had now appeared it was becoming an appealing place to live.

I had a nice meal in the pub and discovered another Aussie beer that I liked. They have the bar area and then a separate counter to order food. You then get given a buzzer which flashes and vibrates when your food is ready to collect from the service counter. This seems pretty common practice in a lot of the pubs out there as far as I could see.

Neil Quigley

Day two on the Gold Coast and the sun was out again, so after I had breakfast I was straight back to sun bathing by the pool again. Apart from staying at the hotel this part of the trip was always meant to be the chill out and relaxing bit.

As I do like feeling the sand under my feet and hearing the sound of the waves I went for another long walk along Main Beach. I felt I had to take this opportunity as this is not a thing you can really do in England in February. The “Palazzo Versace” has its own Spa on site, so I thought while I was there I would treat myself to a treatment.

Neil Quigley

I booked a session in the Sauna and Steam Room as well as a sixty minute full body massage. I arrived in good time, filled out all the relevant paper work, then did the Sauna and Steam first. As well as that facility they also had three pools you could use, a cold one to jump in and cool down in after the heat treatments. Then two more in which the temperatures were progressively warmer. I tried all three as I am someone who is always keen to get my moneys’ worth. I did all of this before the massage.

When it was time to get ready for it I went back into the changing rooms to put on the paper underwear I had been given. It was the first time I had ever used them. I must say as far as I could tell they do not do a lot to preserve your modestly, but rules are rules. I was shown in to the room, which always have the relaxing music and the scented candles. The massage was great I could really feel the knots in my back and shoulders being released. An hour of basically being beaten up by a fairly petite woman does actually go quite slowly. But I did feel nice and relaxed at the end of it though.

Palazzo Versace

After it had finished they gave me some fruit to eat and some sort of ginger shot to drink. All the Staff were lovely and friendly in the Spa, so as the weather for my final day was not meant to be too good I booked in for another Sauna session.

That evening I ate at a chain style restaurant called Hogs Steakhouse. I took the name very literal and I did have a big steak there. While I was eating my meal on the screens in there a picture of their mascot appeared, which I will be honest made me laugh. It was a big bright pink Hog, which I would argue looked a tiny bit camp strangely.

Hogster

Before I had headed out for dinner there was something in the room that I had to try out. If you are a fan of “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” you may well remember from the show that the rooms at the hotel have Spa Baths in them as they often feature in the footage as they arrive back from the Jungle. My room had one of these and in the mini bar I had clocked an half a bottle of Australian Red Wine.

I filled the bath, which did not take as long as you might think. Then I put in some bath salts, poured myself a large glass of the wine and then got in. I spent the next ninety-minutes turning the bubbles on and off as I sipped the wine. It was heavenly, such a cool and relaxing experience. I now want one at home!

Palazzo Versace

Every night I would have a drink or two in the hotel bar which kind of over looked the reception area. It was a nice way to round off the day there. I woke up for my last day to find it was tipping it down with rain. The forecast was for heavy rain and thunderstorms all day. That obviously put pay to any sun worshipping plans I had.

I spoke to one of the Concierge team for suggestions on what to do on a wet day in the area. While we are mentioning them, weirdly one of the staff does look like Dec. In fact it was him who very kindly took the picture of me standing in the middle of reception. The guy I chatted to that morning suggested I visit a massive shopping centre about a twenty minute taxi ride away.

I did go there first but I did not really want to buy anything and apart from the stores there was not much in the way of entertainment. On the way back to the hotel I decided to take the tram to somewhere that I had found earlier when I was searching on line for things to do. It was basically in my humble opinion the worst wax museum on the planet.

Neil Quigley

I knew it was bad when I decided to go there but it was still raining heavily, I had nothing to do and most importantly I thought it would be funny. I found the place and went in, fair play to the gentleman on the front desk. He really gave it the hard sell detailing the amazing historical figures I was going to see and how I could take as many photos as I wanted, stating that this would be a very memorable experience.

To be fair to him he was not wrong, from the moment I walked into the small display area I could tell it would be memorable but not in the way that he had suggested. All of the models in this place were totally horrendous. None of them were a good likeness of who they were meant to be. Often the only thing that gave away who people were supposed to be was their clothing. I had to read the cards on most of the exhibits to know who they were.

Wax museum

It is hard to explain how bad it really was. I can only presume the model maker had never set eyes on anyone that he was making. None of them were at all flattering to the celebrities that they were representing.

The worse one was the model of the American Singer and Actress Whitney Houston not only did it not look anything like her, but it did not even have the right skin colour.

Whitney Houston????

I had been given half an hour to look around but I had finished it all in about ten minutes. I really cannot explain just how bad it was I am not sure how it has the balls to claim it contains the top celebrities that it does. There is another part to this experience. As part of your entrance ticket, (yes they actually charge to witness it) you get a guided tour around their chamber of horrors section.

This features random bad models showing torture techniques through the ages in no obvious or particular date or time order. You learn very little and the whole thing just appears to go on way too long. The plus side of the visit is that I did get a few funny pictures and I managed to stay out of the heavy rain for an hour. If there is a more useless wax museum anywhere I would like to see it. The Staff are all very friendly and lovely by the way. It is worth going just to try and guess who everyone is or at least who they are meant to be.

Wax Musuem

I figured that if I was staying at such an exclusive hotel I had to eat there at least once. On the final night I booked into their flag ship restaurant Vanitas. I had a lovely table for one looking out over the pool area. It is a classically decorated room.

I decided to go for the four course meal with accompanying wine. It was very quiet and peaceful in there, before the meal had actually started the waitress delivered the most amazing Italian bread and truffle butter to the table. That was already a great start to proceedings.

Neil Quigley

I am not normally someone who takes pictures of their food but each of the dishes looked so good, I did on this occasion. The main was a sensational lamb dish, which was delicious. The wine that came with each course matched perfectly with the food. It was a very nicely paced service, so you could eat and digest everything in your own time.

The dessert was magnificent, a chocolate tart with a couple of different flavours of Italian ice-cream. It was a really good meal and the perfect way to round off my stay there. Well I say round off but before bed on my final night I may have had another quick go in the Spa Bath.

Dessert

I am glad I visited the Gold Coast and stayed at the hotel. It means I will be even more excited every year when I watch “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” as it will bring back memories of my time there every time I see it.

I had a morning flight to my next destination, so I had to say goodbye to the “Palazzo Versace” at half past seven in the morning as I was picked up right outside it and then driven off to the airport to catch a plane to Melbourne.

Palazzo Versace

Part Three coming soon……….

Australia Part One Sydney

In nineteen-ninety a film called “Quigley Down Under” was released starring Tom Selleck. I received a little bit of ribbing about it, mainly due to the fact I think that was the first time my name had been used in anything relating to the arts. I must state now however that I have never watched the film. This possibly highlights my lack of ability to watch them, as I could not even motivate myself to see one that had my surname in its title. But as remakes are now very fashionable out in Hollywood I decided this year I would create my own version.

Neil Quigley is ready for Australia
Neil Quigley is ready for Australia

I have some family who live in Sydney and have done so now for a long time. I have seen them at various times over the years, when they had been visiting England. For their last couple of visits I had been saying to them that I would like to go and experience Australia for myself, making the trip to see them for a change. The plans just kind of fell in to place for me to be able to achieve this aim recently. It worked out that I had a couple of free weeks available during the football winter break, so I booked the trip last November.

I will be honest I found the thought of being on a plane for just under twenty-four hours pretty daunting. My previous longest flight had been a mere twelve hours and this journey would be nearly double that. But if you want to go and explore the other side of the world it is what you have to do. I arrived at Heathrow Terminal Five nice and early for my British Airways flight. I checked in, cleared security, had dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant there and then got a pint in. I do not normally drink before flying but I hoped that one might help me get some sleep on the plane.

Having got myself psyched up to spend a whole day in the sky I took my seat on the air craft. Just as we had made are way to the runway and were about to take off, sadly someone was taken ill and we had to return to the gate. Thankfully they were fine and were met by the medical staff. However it did mean the flight was delayed by around two hours, which did mean I had an extra one hundred and twenty minutes on the plane on top of what was already quite a long stint. There was a stop-over in Singapore to refuel the plane. Then it was back on board for the remaining seven and an half hours to Sydney.

I did manage to get some sleep during the journey. I also watched a couple episodes of Fawlty Towers, Friends, Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory. As I was literally a captive audience I did unusually for me actually see a film. I watched the new Judy Garland biopic called simply “Judy”. The movie itself was pretty average it did not really have much of a story line or tell me anything I did not already know. But Renee Zellweger was sensational in the title role, portraying the icon perfectly. I can totally see why she won the Best Actress Oscar for this role, she was fantastic!

I landed in Sydney, Australia at seven o’clock in the morning, only an hour later than planned in the end. My dad’s cousin Phil very kindly met me at the airport. It was great to see a familiar and friendly face after travelling all that way. We hopped straight on the train and in to the heart of the city. Within an hour of arriving I found myself in a coffee shop between the famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
They both look so distinctive. It is an almost magical view. What an entrance to a place from the water. The first thing you see when you sail in on one of the many huge Cruise Liners that seem to dock at the port daily.

Sydney

I had a bit of a look inside the legendary music venue. We then had a walk around the Quay area before we went back to Phil’s place, so I could get rid of my luggage and settle into his home, where he and his wife Jenny were very kindly letting me stay while I was in town. They live in a suburb about forty five minutes outside of Sydney. It is in a lovely area.

He took me out for lunch at a local members club, he belonged to. There I had my first taste of some real Australian beer and food. Both of which were excellent. I must at this point concede that the weather was not what I was hoping for. I had been looking for some winter sun and normally this would be a safe bet. But I had arrived during four days of forecast heavy rain.

Sydney

On the way back from lunch he took me for a drive around a totally breath taking gorge. The sights were amazing. Mother Nature is quite simply astonishing sometimes. One of things it took me time to get my head around is that some of the Australian trees not only shred their leaves but shed their bark, which of course is something I have now discovered was also fuelling the bush fires.

When we got back “home” another surprise was waiting for me. The wild birds are amazing there, the colours are spectacular. My favourites were the Rainbow Lorikeets but I also saw Cockatoo’s roaming free. Also a Bush Turkey was a regular visitor in the garden.

Sydney

After a great night’s sleep in the guest suite it was time for my first full day of exploring. Sadly the weather was wetter than it had been the day before. But undeterred Phil had a fantastic day for me lined up. We got the bus into Sydney in the morning. Firstly he took me to see some of the many Quays, then for a walk around a coastal area called Barangaroo. This led us past one of the oldest existing houses in the city to the Ferry Wharf. He was taking me across the water to see a place called Manly Beach. Sadly it was not a day for sunbathing but the promise of a nice pub lunch overlooking the harbour there sounded very appealing to me still.

I am not saying it was a bit of a rough crossing but I am sure the boat was almost sideways at some points. You do get to sail out and then back in between the Harbour Bridge and The Opera House though, which is quite something. It is a very pleasant forty-minute journey. On arrival we made our way to said pub. I sampled yet another local beer which was again lovely. As I was keen to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible I had an Australian Burger for dinner. As far as I can tell that is basically a normal burger with some beetroot thrown in.

Sydney

After lunch we did have a walk to Manly Beach, which looked great. But owing to the fact it was still hammering it down with rain I did decide not to go in for a paddle in the sea. We got the ferry back to Sydney Harbour before getting the train back “home”. We had a nice relaxing evening chatting over dinner with a few glasses of wine and a couple of glasses of a very nice port just to round things off.

We also watched a bit of A-League football on the television. Phil is a season ticket holder with Sydney FC. He had managed to get me a ticket to the Sydney derby that weekend, although due to the rain the game was under threat.

Manly Beach

As it turned out while I was over Phil’s son David and his wife Helen were throwing a first birthday party for their son. I had seen David a few times over the years. When we were kids we played football one afternoon in England. That turned in to a match between Quigley’s and the rest of the world. I am pretty sure we won. The last time I had seen him was when he visited the UK after the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

He and his wife very generously let me gate crash the do. They have a lovely house on the outskirts of Sydney. It was a morning affair. As a result of which I ended up drinking a few glasses of Prosecco from ten-thirty on a Saturday morning, which I think is a great way to kick start the weekend. I blame David and Helen’s friend Debs who was I must say very good at keeping people’s glasses topped up. All their friends chipped in to help out with everything. That was great to see and shows what a wonderful group of people they all are.

It was nice to catch up with the whole Australian family in one go. I managed to see Phil’s daughter Stephanie and her husband Michael both of whom I had met before. Like David and Helen they also have two children of similar ages, it was lovely to see all the generations of cousins getting along so well. I was also able to meet some of Jenny’s family to, which was really nice. In fact everybody there was so friendly and easy to chat to. It was a lovely party with some very nice birthday cake, which tasted great despite the birthday boy literally putting his foot in it.

Sydney Familiy

It was while we were at the party that we found out that the Sydney Derby had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. It had not stopped raining since I set foot in Australia. It was a real shame as I was looking forward to sampling my first taste of A-League action. It would have been great to go to the football with Phil. To make up for it he took me on a bit of a sports stadium adventure.

We went to the Olympic Stadium the ANZ Stadium. While I was there I got to see the flame from the 2000 Sydney Games. We also looked at the list of the volunteers who helped out with the games which did include a familiar name on there. On the way back to his place we stopped off to have a look at the new stadium for the other Sydney team Western Sydney. That night we went out to a local pub for a great meal, I had the world’s largest pizza and sampled a few more of the local ales. That once again did not disappoint, they tasted great.

Sydney

As I woke up on my fourth day in Sydney the city was expecting its worse storms since nineteen ninety-eight. Therefore we decided it was the perfect day to visit the legendary Bondi Beach. Before we even left the house a large part of a tree had blown down and fallen in to the garden. The rain was also the heaviest it had been all week.

I had really wanted to go to Bondi and in my head before I made the trip I imagined a bit of sun bathing on the beach then some mocked up pictures of me surfing. However what I got was some pictures of me in the car park overlooking the beach, while the rain continued to fall.

Bondi Beach

Sensibly we then decided the best plan of action for a day like this was to find a pub in which to have a few drinks and some food. Just across the road from the beach was the Bondi Beach Bar. We spent a couple hours in there having a beer or two and a nice meal. I was off to the Gold Coast the next day.

My flight was early in the morning so I had booked a cheap hotel at the airport for the night. On the way to my accommodation Jenny gave me a bit of a tour around the coastal areas and showed me some buildings that featured in her past. Even in the rain some of the views were stunning.

Bondi Beach Bar

They dropped me at the hotel the rain still lashing down and the wind blowing. I checked in and went up to my room. I was watching a bit of television and wondering what to do for the evening when all the power went off. It had just got dark and there was not much to do with no electricity, so I just went to bed.

The power came back on at about eleven thirty. I know this, as I had left the TV and the lights on so they all sprang back in to life. I was up early to catch a flight to the Gold Coast for the next stage of my Australian adventure.

Part Two coming soon……….