Alison McQueen


Buckingham Palace

Posted: September 6th, 2014

The Public Accounts Committee has criticized the Royal Family for mismanaging its finances. Tut tut. British taxpayers contribute around £31m into the Queen’s coffers to pay for her official duties, but the books are looking distinctly untidy.

The Committee has suggested that Buckingham Palace be opened whenever the Queen is away rather than for the current 78 days a year to rake in more funds.

I went for a wander around Buckingham Palace last summer and you know the first thing that struck me? I thought to myself, if this were my place, I’d rip this lot out and start again. Granted, some of the state rooms are very impressive in a BBC costume drama sort of way, but the rest of it? Hideous.

It feels like a place that is clinging on to the past simply for the sake of it. Sure, some the wallpaper’s been there since heaven knows when, but Queenie, it’s horrible. Get the decorators in. And some of those sculptures really ought to go to the Oxfam shop, or shove them in the back of a museum somewhere if you must.

A palace is supposed to fill one with a sense of awe, to impress upon its visitors the value and status of the occupying monarch. This is Great Britain, land of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, stamping ground of Kelly Hoppen and David Hicks. Come on, your Maj, we can do better than this.

Teach your kids to read

Posted: September 6th, 2014

A news headline caught my eye this week. The UK government is insisting that all schools in England use the phonics system to teach kids to read. Synthetic phonics is described as “a method to decode simple words, as well as some made up words”. It supposedly encourages children to sounds words out, rather than recognizing them as a whole and reading for meaning.

They want to use this system because so many children arrive at school unable to read, and many of them still haven’t cracked it by the time they finish primary education. If I were dead I’d be turning in my grave. I have no doubt that it will turn thousands upon thousands of children into anti-readers.

We have some serious problems here with our education system, and indeed with the swathes of parents who point blank refuse to engage in their children’s basic literacy and numeracy.

If you haven’t given your kids a general heads-up about words and numbers by the time they reach school age, then that is a very poor show indeed. It’s not rocket science. It’s fun. Maths is done with Smarties and macaroni. It’s a piece of cake. (In fact pieces of cake will also do just fine.)

Words are everywhere, like little keys that unlock everything. Kids love puzzles and games and they are very, very clever. It’s not schools that teach kids to read, it’s parents. This is the way it has always been. You don’t have to do it all yourself. You can pull in the assistance of Big Bird, Cookie Monster and the rest of the Sesame Street gang. Your 3 year old will be singing the alphabet in no time.