A plan for taking a wander through One's home

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The Independent Online
I ARRIVED to join the queue to get a look at Buckingham Palace two or three days before it opened and much enjoyed the time I spent there. In the queue, I mean. You build up a great cameraderie with your fellow waiters, swapping stories of other events you have queued for (queues for Christmas sales, queues for the lavatory at Chelsea Football Club, queues for attention at the Passport Office) and the only fly in the ointment is the regular arrival of journalists looking for a quote. (I pretended to be some old bloke from New Zealand whenever I was questioned.)

Then came the anti-climax - going round the palace. No, that's unfair. It was quite interesting, if you like going round people's houses when they are on holiday. Normally that is a thing only burglars do, and the urge to nick something was very strong indeed, countered only by not seeing anything one would really want to nick and have in one's own home. Nor did I think the talking-label machine very helpful, even though it had been recorded by Her Majesty herself - I felt a bit of a wally wandering from room to room hearing the Queen's voice in my ear, saying: 'One now proceeds through the next door into the next room - taking great care not to scuff the carpet - where one will notice one's very best Van Dyck over the mantlepiece, an artist one has never been able to get very excited about . . .'

In fact, you can save a lot of money by not buying any of the guides or plans at all, but by cutting out and taking with you this swift outline of the route, which I jotted down as I went round.

ROOM I. Over the years the Queen has acquired an enormous variety of presents from dignitaries around the globe. Most of them are totally useless and often unidentifiable, and here they all are in this room - canoes from Samoa, tortoiseshell salad bowls from Samoa and a model of Buckingham Palace made out of coconut shells from Samoa. There is, oddly, a mug marked a 'A Souvenir of Sidmouth', as well as more than 40 different LPs of The Sound of Music.

ROOM II. The Van Dyck room. Lots of Van Dycks here.

ROOM III. A private chapel. Apparently this is used for rehearsals for royal weddings, coronations, etc and also by the Duke of Edinburgh as a cure for insomnia. 'Put me in a church service,' he is quoted as saying, 'and I'll sleep till the crack of doom.'

ROOM IV. Known as the Sidmouth guest room, this is used as an overnight dormitory for people who overstay their welcome at garden parties and are still there at sundown with nowhere to sleep. 'When you've got 4,000 people to one party,' said a resigned aide to me, 'the odds are that a dozen at least will be left after throwing-out time. Often, for some odd reason, they are from Sidmouth. We put them up for the night here, but we never ask them again.'

ROOM V. Another Van Dyck room. Lots more Van Dycks here. Mostly of men with rakish moustaches. Presumably self-portraits.

ROOM VI. The Danish spare room. Much like the Sidmouth guest room, but reserved for Her Majesty's stray relatives from Denmark, Greece, Germany, etc who are stranded in London overnight or short of a few bob.

ROOM VII. Garden party room. Apparently it sometimes comes on to rain during a garden party and then, instead of chucking everyone out, they put them in this tall, stately chamber, which has the highest ceiling in the house and thus can take umbrellas held aloft without too much trouble. The parquet floor has the gentle green tinge you would expect after 200 years of wet grass cuttings.

ROOM VIII. This contains an impressive model of Windsor Castle as it will be after rebuilding, to show us where our money is going. Unfortunately, the model has proved rather more expensive to construct and exhibit than expected, and the Queen is seriously thinking of opening another house to the public to pay for it.

ROOM IX. The photographic gallery. This contains the Queen's holiday snaps, most of them quite old and dating back to the time when the Royal Family went on holiday together, or indeed did anything together.

ROOM X. A Van Dyck room. This contains many Van Dycks not on show elsewhere. As the Queen says on her talking label: 'It does occur to one that if Van Dyck painted only portraits on commission, how come there are so many self-portraits? One would like to know the answer to that one.'

ROOM XI. Way out