Hesitate No Longer: Alienora Taylor’s Amazon Author Page


https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/hesitate/

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This is NOT the photo on my Amazon Page!

I have spent much of the two years since I first published my quintet of books hesitating! I hesitate to blow my own trumpet, lest I seem big headed; I hesitate when it comes to free downloads and posts about my books because it seems such an egotistical way of carrying on! I hesitate when it comes to getting out there, being heard, seen, read because of this secret conviction that I do not deserve that attention.

Isn’t that daft? I have hesitated to such an extent that my precious books have virtually sunk without trace – whereas other, bolder, writers, who had no hesitation whatsoever and boundless self-confidence, exposed their literary children for the world to see, and, in some cases, sold thousands of copies.

This tendency to hesitate needs to go, frankly! Shrinking violets do not sell books! I am proud of my writing, proud of what I have achieved – as a blogger and a novelist – so this need to hide my light under a hesitant and shy bushel is barking mad!

I hesitate no longer! Click on the link below and have a look at my oeuvre. There’s something for most tastes! Go on! Hesitate not! Get clicking!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alienora-Taylor/e/B00QGUIHFI/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

 

Vegetarian Quiches: A Social Event!


I adored cooking as a child and young adult – and then went through several fallow decades in which I convinced myself that I was no good at it, and pleasure turned to dread very quickly.

That childhood delight is returning, I am happy to say, especially since I am beginning to understand – and thus gain confidence in using – my oven.

On the weekend, my son and his lass came over for twenty-four hours or so – and, on a spontaneous whim, I invited a friend and her daughter to come over and dine with us. The daughter, who is similar in age to my lad and his girlfriend, has connections, by a weird coincidence, with my closest friends in the village I moved from back in December! Such is life!

They are lovely people and I really wanted to try my hand at a dinner party which concentrated mainly upon vegetarian dishes (as my guests were predominantly vegetarian and I tend to prefer eating it these days).

I decided upon two large quiches and two vast bowls of colourful salad, with rustic bread and butter (or butter substitute for those who preferred it) and lashings of wine.

About forty years ago, I was given a luscious vegetarian cookbook (long since lost, sad to relate) and two of its many exquisite concoctions were cheese and broccoli quiche and my all-time favourite, onion, cream and nutmeg quiche. The only problem was lack of recipe. The former, being relatively common, was easy to find; but, try as I might, I was not able to track down the elusive nutmeg and cream variety. So I made it up as I went along – by no means an unusual process!

Admittedly, we had a few teething problems with the oven which first went so slowly that I feared the quiches would never firm up – and then went into Cremator Mode with alarming rapidity and only a nifty bit of hand and over glove work from the Lass saved the day!

It was very much a community project, with the Young Things on salad creation – and, as it turned out, napkin origami – duty, whilst I, red-faced and cursing merrily, concentrated upon the kneading, blind baking, frying and stirring together of the main course’s ingredients.

The table looked gorgeous when all was laid out – so colourful and appetising that I got Boy to take a few photos of the groaning board before we all got down to the serious business of stuffing our faces.

The quiches went down a treat, with everyone – whether vegetarian or not – tucking in like starving intestinal parasites and having about three servings! I was so thrilled and relieved and felt much more confident about hosting friendly meals in the future. There was lots of laughter and merriment and everyone got on really well, with no single ego dominating everyone else.

All in all, it was a grand evening and a true bonding experience. We were still talking and giggling at gone midnight!

I have not been able to access the quiche-related photos Laddie took, so am having to make do with a generic one of cheese and broccoli quiche!

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But here is a shot of the table with salad and Lassie’s beautiful table decorations!

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And finally, me, after a couple of glasses of red wine, in jubilant Greek dancing mode!

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I know, I know: You can’t get the staff, can you?!

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Quickening: On wrinkles and signs of ageing…


https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/quicken/

The ageing process in my body has begun to quicken. This is my response!

Why, oh why, do we spend so much time, money, Polyfilla, unguents and injections trying to persuade those who see us – and our friend/enemy, the mirror – that we are caught in amber and never getting a moment older?

I am writing this in the full knowledge that I am just as guilty, every bit as vain, as the next man – or woman! I continue to bathe my tresses in secret and magic potions in order to continue the illusion that I am a true red-head, rather than the mousy-brown-segueing-into-grey reality; though, being essentially honest (not to say blunt), I then undo the illusion by telling everyone that I dye my hair! Duh!

But my new mirror is not of the flattering, arse-licking variety – and, when I gaze into its mysterious shallows, I am confronted by the truth: A face which is more used road map than smooth virgin territory. I am wrinkled. No two ways about it. My visage has been attacked, as one might say, by the minor earthquakes of age, and is fissured and faulted , trenched and riven, as a result.

Do I care? Sometimes, yes. When I smile broadly and the cracked parchment look stubbornly refuses to go away, I do have moments of lamenting the unlined and fresh skin of youth. But…

Yes, but…

I will be sixty next birthday. How long, being realistic, could I expect my skin and other bits to remain taut and unmarked, eh? With bosoms ever-more reminiscent of knee-warmers, and a bum going south at a rate of knots, gravity was always going to win in the end – and, to be frank, a damn good job too: If the dermal layers on my mien sorted out their lines by sagging down the slope of the rest of it, I’d be wearing my boobs as boots by now and my posterior would need a wheelbarrow to travel anywhere.

But, getting away from bawdy humour for a moment, the signs of ageing are also indicators of survival, and of Mother Nature ensuring that the knackered human machines get cubed ere they limit the room available for the next batch. They give us our sense of mortality and of the precious life we have been given. They remind us that reaching a wrinkled age is a privilege and not a right. They give us the stark news that not all beings born in our month, our year, our decade, will survive to Wrinklehood – and that, aches, wrinkles, sagging parts and dulled hair notwithstanding, we are bloody lucky to have reached our present, in my case moderately advanced, age without having to be put down for failing the MOT.

So, yes, of course it would be lovely to have a pert behind, mammary glands which do not need a bra designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, skin like velvet and a body which does not creak and groan like a rusty gate in a high wind. But, I have had all of that and more – and, in my dim and distant youth, took it all for granted, as we tend to, scorning the sages who told me that all this, too, would fade and age and wither.

For decades, I have looked younger than my years. Now, I do not. That is fine. I am a Crone and there is no embarrassment in looking like one. In any case, our looks have little to do with the raw material and everything to do with the spirit enlivening the inanimate clay – and I still have plenty of spark left!

I shall continue to dye my hair, openly, because I adore being a red-head – but I am not going to get into the heavy make-up habit at this stage: I have never used it on a regular basis and have no intention of filling in the San Andreas Fault Lines on my face with all that gunk! Nor, for the record, do I have any desire for a face lift or a boob job or liposuction. What the hell is the point in trying to look twenty when you are about to qualify for a bus pass? Peachy buttocks in tight jeans are all very well and good, but what do you do with the frontal overhang? Tuck it in? Plait it? Crochet a basket for it to loll around in?

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I am ageing. My body tells that story in several volumes. So be it.

Centre of Attention!


https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/center/

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There are times when I love being the centre of attention; times when I want everyone to look at, listen to and appreciate me! Other times, I want to be the little ghost hovering just out of sight behind the ancient wainscoting – and am content to listen in without imposing my personality too forcibly upon a gathering.

I can be very attention-seeking, demanding, difficult, insecure. I don’t like to feel I am disappearing, invisible, on the outer circle of things, away from the centre. I make no bones about this. These traits may not be especially laudable and are, I am sure, a sign of inner weakness – but I am not going to pretend to be mightier than thou or morally superior in any way. Such a claim would be dishonest, a lie.

I have noticed something very interesting in my six decades of life (so far): Those who claim that they are completely lacking in the Attention-Seeking Gene, who protest loudly that the centre of attention is precisely where they DON’T want to be, are often the worst and greediest when it comes to hogging that central pillar! They elbow their way in, using any and every technique to shove other poor buggers out of the way, while assuring everyone within earshot (which is, most commonly, everyone within a twenty mile radius) that they are the humblest, most centred, least neurotic people you will find! They insist that anyone who wants to be Centre is childish, selfish, immature and stuck in past programming – but will not tolerate any deviation from 100% attention focused upon themselves!

I can be selfish. I am more than capable of arrant self-centredness. I like to get my own way and do not like being told what to do! In many ways, I am the centre of my own universe – still, at the age of fifty-nine! In many ways, I have never grown up! I am not especially centred or calm or even nice!

But my basic core, my character’s centre, is fundamentally honest. I know I like attention. I know I can be a hypocrite, a coward, a bitch and an intolerant, rude moo.

There is a bedrock of self-knowledge at my centre, in other words. It is not morally superior. It does not pretend to Messianic Status. It knows the colours – both dreary and bright – which make up its multi-layered wheel of consciousness, and it accepts their place in the pattern.

Yes, I love being the centre of attention!

Teaching: A shock to the system


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I haven’t written for several days, haven’t wanted to – haven’t had the energy, the spirit, the free-flying imagination. My mood has been subdued, exhausted, borderline tearful as I struggle to adapt to a life back in the classroom after so many years out of it.

I had forgotten how insular schools can be. I had forgotten the extent to which schools paste a politically reassuring smile over chaos. I had forgotten the overt lying, the casual disregard of supply teachers, the competitiveness – and, above all, the desire to appear superior to anyone else when it comes to handling difficult children. I know. I was in the system. I held some of these views, espoused some of these specious causes, myself. I am, in some ways, being hoist on my own arrogant petard.

But, after just six days, I have a message to schools up and down the country. It is a strong message. It is unambiguous. In some ways, it is angry and borderline bitter. It has been honed by real experience, and genuine concern. It consists of several sub-sections. Here it is:

Do not attempt to pull the wool over experienced former teachers’ eyes. This is particularly true of the behaviour of the kids. We have been there. We have seen it all before. We know the signs – and they are clear – of a school which is struggling with discipline, and no amount of soft-soaping, of attempting to offload the blame onto us, is going to cut any ice with those of us who have been in the profession for decades.

Look at your own Staff Room. I can tell already that you do not have to enter a single classroom, or meet a single kid, to be able to suss out the essential vibe of the school. Three of the five schools I have visited so far had virtually empty staffrooms and teachers who were so harried – either with stress or self-importance – that they did not have the time to reassure, or the skills to meet me eye to eye and admit that things were hard. If no teachers, or few teachers, feel they can go into the sanctuary of a staff area at breaks and lunchtimes, it is sending out a very clear signal of something amiss, something not right.

Be aware that your decision to adopt a strict uniform policy – especially one with blazers and ties – does not work unless it is backed-up by an equally strict, and consistent, discipline policy. And, by this, I do not mean individual young teachers who happen to have some influence over difficult kids; I mean a regime of kind strictness which embraces all and is led by clearly-visible senior managers. I mean the kind of discipline which becomes everyone’s responsibility because, if not adopted by all, it then becomes everyone’s problem. It is not a question of whether you can control your own class of scallywags because most teachers do manage that given time. It is more a question of whether you would be able to exert that same level of control on someone else’s bunch of loonies last thing on a Friday afternoon.

Do not view supply staff as incompetent, inferior losers, or assume that they are only doing the job because they have been drummed out of the profession for failing the personality/charisma in the classroom test. Many supply teachers were excellent classroom teachers. Many were teaching well before those who look down on them were even born.

Do not assume that lack of support, or passive-aggressive ploys, will make ‘normal’ teachers look any better when the supply replacement fails or struggles. These techniques simply underline a basic incompetence in those perpetrating them. The best teachers are able to ask themselves, ‘How would I feel if I were in this situation?’ and act accordingly – with firm compassion. The attitude, common amongst a certain sub-strata of teachers, of, ‘I can control this difficult group, so I don’t see the problem!’ is unhelpful, misleading and insensitive.

Do not assume that old hands can be taken in, flattered or soothed by whizzy technology and expensive new educational ‘toys’. If the school’s discipline is weak, it doesn’t matter how good the Power Points, overhead doodads and inter-active whiteboards are! You cannot use Ofsted-approved hardware to paste over the cracks in a troubled institution!

On three occasions, I walked into the Staff Room – and it was abuzz: Full of real teachers being honest about the trials, tribulations and joys of the job; full of noise and colour and genuine concern about the children they taught; full of people willing to help, to listen, to admit that they, too, struggled with some of the little darlings; full, in a word, of a community which met regularly, communicated clearly and watched out for other members.

I do not, personally, care what word Ofsted has used to describe a school. We can all be impressive for a short space of time if given time to put on the glad rags and prepare thoroughly. Similarly, I am not impressed by uniform or the descriptions the schools write about themselves on their web-sites. I am only impressed by on-the-ground reality. I am only impressed by honesty. I am only impressed by a Staff Room which is actually about the staff – and a discipline policy which goes deeper, and further, than something simply designed to impress, and hoodwink, outsiders.

We supply teachers are neither blind nor stupid. We can often see the cracks in an institution more easily than those who habitually work in it. We also talk to one another and form impressions of certain schools which would, perhaps, shock those who work in them on a daily basis.

It is, I know, possible to pull whole skeins of wool over Ofsted Inspectors. Schools do it all the time. It is not, however, nearly so easy to do when it comes to real teachers on the ground.

There are some great schools around – and they are a pleasure to work in. The best ones give me genuine hope that I have made the right decision – and, at the end of a school day, leave me inspired, happy and smiling, even if not every individual child was a joy to teach!

Overcoming a slur: Incoming Sat Nav and me!


https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/slur/

‘You know you’re no good at this sort of thing!’

For years, I believed this kind of slur, and its many siblings; in fact, to me, it was a truth almost Biblical in its resonance and terror-factor.

Now? I am rebutting the slur and proving that I am far more capable than I might once have thought (and been told!).

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My sense of direction is, shall we say, a tad rudimentary. In fact, it is a bloody miracle that I managed, fifty-nine years ago, to navigate my way out of my mother’s womb!

This natural lack was compounded, when I was at grammar school, by my tendency to drift off in lessons I found boring, difficult or both. I don’t mean I fell asleep; I simply went into an alternative universe rich in imagination and singularly lacking in tedious teachers!

As a result of this, although my Geography exercise books were beautifully neat and accurate linguistically, I never learnt to read a map properly and, to this day, have only the vaguest of ideas as to where places in our world are located. If you ask me for directions, I will be worse than useless – and, when asked which direction my garden was pointing, I was stumped until a kindly mattress-deliverer enlightened me.

I am, in short, the kind of hapless party who undoubtedly needs a compass’ help in order to navigate my way to an unfamiliar toilet!

Now, in a new life which involves a new town and regular visits to completely unknown schools, this natural directional vagueness has segued into actual, and highly embarrassing, constant lostness and borderline lateness: I am having to set off ridiculously early in order to avoid being late, and always have to factor around half an hour in to my plans when I get to the town, village, hamlet or rural encampment in order to locate the actual school itself.

In fact, the only time I got to School A without this hassle happened when I did a test drive the day before and made my own weight in exhaustive notes! But with some schools up to an hour’s drive away from Terra Alienora, this reconnoitring of the route is not always practical, and costs a bomb in diesel as well as being decidedly dodgy on the old Carbon Footprint front.

It all came to a head yesterday. Many things did, now I look back. A day of multiple recognition, you might say.

I got to School D, yestermorn, in good-to-completely-anal time; in fact, such was my anxiety about sliding in just ere the bell went, I got there half an hour early!

The same could not, unfortunately, be said about my return journey. I started my merry trip by leaving the school via the wrong road, which meant I was heading in a direction which would eventually have taken me to places, like Yeovil, which, while I have nothing against them in principle, my desire to visit post triple bottom set horrors could be counted in negative numbers.

Having then returned to the school for a second go at leaving it (!), I managed – God alone knows how! – to get myself onto the A37 (which, in itself, was fair enough) and, once again, heading in entirely the wrong direction. Inspirational wrong-headedness, you might say! So, being sensible, I took a good old gander at the map. Despite my shortcomings, I always have one in the car – and have never given up my footling attempts at decoding the bloody thing!

Having done a twenty-nine point turn in a handy layby, I then, finally, found myself heading back to Glastonbury – though still on the wrong road! When I say ‘wrong’, I just mean that this particular stretch of tarmac involved a much longer journey and some most picturesque agricultural twists and turns which, at one point, caused a near miss when I turned a tight corner and was face to arse with a flock of sheep! Jamming the tiny lane, they were, and all bleating away fit to bust and spreading their anxiety all over the place as you might say.

I finally reached home, on a journey of fifteen paltry miles, an hour and a half after I set out! As I said in a later email to a friend, I could have flown to Inverness, and half way back to Bristol Airport, in that time! Humiliating doesn’t begin to describe it!

So, ensconced once more in my cosy home, and with the dog drained and fed, I went online and ordered a Sat Nav. It should be arriving today. Oh, the relief!

Two months ago (roughly the time I have been in Glastonbury), I doubted my every move – and, from IKEA flat packs to teaching, was convinced I had no aptitude for any of it. But, as I have discovered in the past weeks, lack of natural ability does not preclude a high level of stubborn bloody-mindedness and determination not to be beaten – and, if one way doesn’t work, I will flex my mental muscles until I find something that does.

Since I’ve been here, I have put together a bed side drawer and two under the bed numbers; I have installed a phone system and have now arranged for an alternative to maps which should, with luck, get me from A to B without time-wasting backtracking! Today, and having bought some wire mesh and pegs, I am going to sort out Pippa’s escapologist proclivities once and for all by bunny-proofing the garden!

Once Storm Doris has stopped having a hissy fit, that is!

Not bad for an ageing party who has, from the earliest days, been about as far from physically ept as it is possible to be!

Now we will find out whether my notorious inability to follow technical instructions causes the setting up of the Sat Nav to take hours rather than minutes. I rather hope it doesn’t: I am due at School E at half past arsehole tomorrow morning – and am hoping to avoid a midnight flit!

 

From Passionate Educator to Cynic…


…in five days!

God, this supply teaching lark is a baptism of fire. Five separate days I have done thus far – and, in that time, I have achieved a state I never completely reached in thirty years as a full-time teacher: Jaded cynicism.

Oh! I was a rebel, a questioner and a maverick – but I genuinely cared about the children I taught, was passionate about my subject and wanted to watch the unfolding of personality which is such a crucial part of the school experience.

Sad to relate, I can see – after only visiting four different schools – the effect of the Tick-Box-and-A*-C-and-Ofsted-Outstanding mentality and culture upon the actual learning and behaviour of the children.

Behaviour has deteriorated even in the five years since I left – and any teacher who tries to instil discipline, by the raising of the voice, is frowned upon and seen as overly confrontational. Rules, arbitrarily chosen as a substitute, in all too many cases, for true discipline and respect, are adhered to in inverse proportion to the seriousness of the behaviour – or so it seems to me.

There seems to be a punitive and Big Brother-ish regime going on in Staff Rooms, a far cry from the days when these rooms were a sanctuary, a place where all fraught souls could meet after a ghastly lesson with 11z and vent in safety and away from the Young Things.

Today, after a hellish lesson (the first of two with this group), I asked a previously-unknown teacher for help – and, in the process, and because I was very upset, used a swear word to describe two of the worst-behaved children. This was in the Staff Room, I hasten to add, and no children were within ear-shot.

This teacher told me to stop right there, in a most officious tone, and said that they do not use that kind of language in their school. I was shocked, frankly: Had I been blasting bad language at the class, I would have expected, and accepted, a rebuke; but to be taken to task, when clearly distraught, in the teachers’ safe area was appalling. I would never have done anything like this when I was a full-time teacher – and I just feel that this shows a wrongness in prioritising which, to me, sums up a great deal of what has gone awry in education in recent years.

Gone, it would seem, are the days of teachers supporting one another in any true sense – and, in their place, we have this invidious new system of spying and sanctimonious reporting back – in order to gain Brownie Points and slither a bit further up the ladder, one assumes.

The trouble is that educationalists near and far are overly taken in by fancy smart uniforms, having the word ‘Academy’ in the school’s name and the latest vote from the Ofsted team – and, in the fuss and pother which surrounds all of the above, actual standards of behaviour, of decency, of respect and of educating the whole child seem to have fallen largely by the wayside. Posh clothes do not a civilised person make!

The other, to me, tragic part of it all is the increasing conformity, the cloning, of intelligent, well-educated people who train to become teachers. They do not appear to question the hellish initiatives, the outrageous working hours, the badly-behaved children. They are afraid to stick their heads above the parapet for fear of losing them to incoming fire.

There is, to me, something chilling about a teachers’ room which forbids swearing. The delusion that such an act will filter down to the under twenties is too obvious to belabour. But it is more than that. Teaching is incredibly, and increasingly, stressful – and teachers need that safety valve more now than they did even five years ago. Those of us who have taught know that these terms we bandy about in frustration, after a gruelling lesson, are not what we truly think of that individual – and we most certainly would not dream of saying such a thing to a child’s face; they are a way of expressing the angst and ridding the body of some of its stored-up adrenaline. Better to release it in front of other adults, surely, than to blow like a volcano in front of another class.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I tend to get very fond of the adolescents I teach and, for all that they can be infuriating, I always have their best interests at heart – and am very conscious of their fragile self-esteem and the battering even the mildest insult can deliver to it.

I got out of teaching at the right time, I now realise. The mavericks were already being hunted to extinction – and have not, to the best of my knowledge, been replaced.

I fear that the only way to survive is to give in to outright cynicism, do the bare minimum and pay lip service to laws which appear to have been set up to please Ofsted rather than to deal with, and serve, real children and real, often heavily oppressed, adults.

Not sure I care that much any more. Shame and a waste, eh? But probably better for me in the long run – says she selfishly. I’ll do the best I can. But I won’t agonise the way I used to!

If I can disseminate the contents of the lesson coherently, stop the little buggers from killing each other/going on a rampage through the rest of the school and keep the noise level to a dull roar – job done!

Actually, I think the member of staff who told me off did me a favour in an odd way. A system which has such trivia at the forefront of its concerns is not one which deserves the best of my creativity, power and care.