Stuff

Lots of poetry going on.  Good things.  A few anthologies coming out this year, plus there is a plan to release another book of my own stuff too.

Oh, and, a small thing, I’m about to become a US citizen (assuming I don’t flunk the Civics Test) 😉

But then, a week is a long time in poetry.

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Skype adds ads

So today Skype have announced that they will start putting adverts out to all customers, even those who pay.  I can see the point, after all it’s all about the money honey.  Isn’t it?

Wait – I have a *paid* account.  In fact – I pay quite  a lot for my Skype account.  Not just a few cents here or there – over a $100 a year plus extra if I call UK-based cell phones or ridiculous ‘easy-to-remember’ numbers for people like the bank or the tax office.

I pay.  I pay a lot.

I do like Skype – really, it’s an awesome service and without it I can pretty much say that it would have been difficult, if not impossible for my wife and I to have met and formed a decent relationship.  We used to use over 2500 minutes a month talking to each other on Skype.  Hours and hours talking to each other made it so we knew each other like we’d gone to school together – despite at that point never having met in person and a physical separation of two continents and 4000 miles.  Skype helped us fall in love.  Skype helped us stay together through tricky traumatic reams of government paperwork and visas.  It played a big part in the arrangements of our first nervous meetings.  It allowed us to cry together, laugh together and grow one year older together.  Skype was there, drenched in tears of happiness the day I called a sleepy future wife to tell her my interview at the US Embassy had gone well and we had the necessary permission for me to fly over permanently and for us to be allowed to marry.

That day was one of the most heart-burstingly happy moments I have ever had.  I know Lisa felt the same way.

Nowadays Skype helps me work.  In fact, without Skype my work would be a quiet message-filled experience snowed under a pile of time-shifted emails.   It means I can hear my mother’s voice, even though she has no computer and it plays a critical part in letting me wave at my sister, my nephew, my Dad and his future wife and pull silly faces at them in a range of strange hats.  Soon Skype might be there as I perform poetry to a foggy rain-damp UK audience whilst I stand, sun-brushed on the balcony of my apartment in the USA.

Skype…you are a good friend.  Please don’t become a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who drops adverts in my lap and screams sound-bytes in my ears.  I *pay* for you to sit in the audience with me – if you invite along adverts who yell out at the wrong time and ruin the moment I’ll buy a new friend, one who values our friendship and the color of my money…

Calling Vonage and Google Voice – are you listening?

Veteran’s Day / Remembrance Day / Armistice Day

I learnt quite a while ago that the best way to start an argument is to talk about religion or politics. So this is about neither.

If you’ve read my poetry or books you’ll understand my views on war and peace. If you haven’t I suggest you read “Dawn” or “Where the children played“.

Over here, in the USA, Armistice Day was renamed to Veteran’s Day since it was felt that the day should remember all veterans of military service and not just one particular day in one particular war. It’s still held on the 11th day of the 11th month and a silence is observed at 11am.

In the UK people (mostly older folk) wear poppies and some, not all, offices even have a minute or two silence to remember the fallen. On the whole our soldiers are, to most non military Brits, an invisible clichéd rabble of hard drinkers or characters in a video game. Or the focus of a documentary; a shot-peppered young face attached to the stumps of legs. Our eyes well up as they hug their children. Then we go back to the daily grind.

British ex-soldiers do not discuss their service – not even on the 11th day. On Remembrance Sunday we see increasingly wrinkled old men wheeled up to place wreathes at the Cenotaph. The bands play, the bearskins bob as the Grenadiers stamp boots in unison and present arms.

British ex-soldiers wake up on the 11th day and go to work in factories and offices. Friends say the normal “hi”. They work, pack up, go home.

In the US ex-soldiers get free lunches on the 11th day. US ex-soldiers get asked to stand up at yesterday’s school concert and **everyone** gives them a standing ovation and the school head thanks them “for their service”….and means it. US ex-soldiers get people who do not know them walk up and shake them vigorously by the hand. Their warfare is not a dirty secret. They don’t need to have fewer limbs or eyes to be recognized.

So, today I would like to at least directly thank one ‘veteran’ for his service: Andrew O’Brien.

Thank you.

I’ve taken holy orders and become a monk

Ok, well maybe not.   It’s a bit like that though if you take in the altruistic character disorder I seem to suffer/benefit from and my current cloister-like surroundings.

I have now successfully given away virtually everything I own, save for the clothes I am taking with me to the USA and some random bits and bobs like my poetry books, a laptop or two and, essentially, my snow boots.  I will need my snow boots – my Christmas visit to Omaha made that absolutely crystal clear.  The car goes back to its owner on Saturday (newly returned from rescuing the free world from Enemies Of The State) after which I think I may get a bit fitter – it’s so *easy* to jump in the car for even the shortest journies.  Still, good training for being a non-walking American.  😉

I’ve moved out from my sister’s house where I’ve languished for the last few months (I’m missing Bouncer, her dog, already) and I’m now firmly entrenched in a B & B hotel 2 minute’s walk from my office.

Visa progress: I’ve now sent off “packet 3” which is the penultimate part of the K1 US immigration visa process.  I’ve scheduled my US visa medical appointment for within the next week and the US Embassy in London has all the information they could ever want from me about my life.

A weird amount of information they need too, including details of *every* address I have lived at since the age of 16 – and the month I moved!  I don’t know about you but given that I am in my mid-forties and led a bit of an itinerant lifestyle that’s a hell of a time period to cover.  So much so I had to sit down and write out a chronological biographical timeline stretching from when I was born to the present day.  Still I got it done.

So what happens next?

This Saturday: give back the car.  The following week: full tackle-out don’t blush we’ve-seen-it-all-before medical.  A couple of weeks after that (or, please God, sooner) I go for my embassy interview where the final decision is made and my visa is issued..or not.  The chances of it being “not” are extremely slim but you just never know.  😦

Lisa and I get asked all the time “so, when are you getting married?”  This is an impossible question to answer: it’s really in the hands of the US State Department and when the embassy get around to assigning me an interview date.  The current theory is I will be “in America by the middle of November at the latest”.  In practice it’s likely my interview date will be “some time towards the end of October” but it could be middle of November or who knows when.  Sigh.

I’m ready to go now..really really really really ready to go now.  Please.  Pretty please?

Oh, in other news I have some more poems coming out in a few magazines.  Popshotzine are featuring “Not my baby” in issue 2 (with artwork and everything – woo!) and Monkey Kettle are publishing “Winemouse”.  I seem to think  someone else asked for permission on a couple of others as well but I can’t remember who at the moment – the curse of visa stress – if it’s you then please let me know so I can show off about it to anyone who stands still long enough.

I’m shy really.  Honest.

😀

April and the change cometh…

So, Facebook and Twitter have destroyed my enthusiasm in connection with blogging and distracted my attention away to the world of 140 characters or less.  The lazy man’s blogging ensnares the lazy man; how predictable!

We’ve had all sorts of things triggering my Google alerts about Milton Keynes in the last month due to Google Street View descending on us.  When it came down my road I happened to be at home and I spotted it with just enough time to spare so I could pin myself to the window of my apartment like one of those stick-on Garfields you see suckered to the back of people’s cars (or a generally redundant “baby on board” sign – you get the picture).  I have no idea if I will appear on their pictures but I thought it might be funny and gave it my best shot.  🙂

When the Street View car went down one of the local suburbs and the locals spotted it if the newspapers are to be believed they all rushed out and blocked its way.  There was no actual mention of pitchforks or wickermen. Amusingly most news agencies referred to the area – Broughton – as a village “just outside Milton Keynes”.  Most locals scoff at this description because Broughton stopped being a village outside Milton Keynes about 20 years ago and is now mostly a sprawling new housing development well within the environs of good old MK.  As the increasingly interesting Rory Cellan-Jones said via his Twitter account and various online blogs it was slightly ironic that the “villagers” stand against Google’s street photography resulted in half a ton of news crews arriving on their doorstep and broadcasting pictures of their closely-guarded private front doors to all and sundry possibly making them for a brief time one of the most world-famous streets with the possible exception of the home The Rover’s Return.  In the final analysis their whole argument did seem fairly daft; that it would provide a tool for burglers to case the properties at a safe distance.  Who knows?

Anyway, I’m off being a poet again tomorrow (Easter Saturday), first stop the centre:mk (a.k.a. Central Milton Keynes shopping centre) for poetry busking and then in the evening I’m up performing , judging and generally mingling and being useful at The Poetry Kapow.  May, in particular, seems to be a whole month of lots and lots of performances and gigs.  There does seem to be some kind of poetic renaissance going on around these parts.  Woop woop!

Work is going well – sorry if you’ve been hit by the recession – we seem to be hitting an upward curve and have been given bottles of champagne (a sign of a HUGE order being signed) twice in the last 30 days plus champers and cakes on another occasion too.  There are still customers out there for people like us so it seems.

Oh, and I wrote a daft poem for the BBC the other day – perhaps we should spare a thought for the feelings of telephone boxes and give them our love.  Read it here.

Poetry and plugging

Because I iz so busy n stuff innit: I’ve not got around to blogging about some recent fun (and I’m at work so I better not do it right now either).  Briefly:

  • Champagne, in the morning, at work, twice in two weeks.  Huge new recession-proof deals  I think I made the right decision to work here.
  • Pownce is closing, Revision3 laying people off and cancelling shows (despite Digg hiring the lead developer on the PHP project).  Not good news for the Web 2.0 world.  I’ve always been a little suspicious of anybody that has a business model which doesn’t extend beyond “we will sell advertising and be rich whilst doing some cool stuff”.
  • Brilliant Birthday due to even more brilliant woman.
  • My shining armour and white steed are safely back in the stable after riding to the rescue of several victims of rubbish ISPs.  (Breaking news: a text message this morning reveals there is more to do due to further ISP stupidity.  *edit* all fixed there too now*).  Warm and fuzzy feeling = on, setting = gas mark 6.
  • I have been off to the wilds to freak people with my poetry whilst simultaneously becoming a founder-member and web-master of a local poetry group.
  • The most recent gig was in Coventry at The Tin Angel.  A lovely venue with a wide selection of poets.  Four of us went up to “reprazent” the Milton Keyne’s ‘sound’  (oh yes, I’m down with the lingo kidz big dog).  This is worthy of a blog post on its own so I’ll do that later…ish.

Which leads me on to the plugging.

Poetry gig: www.poetrykapow.co.uk Poetry Kapow is on this Sunday.  I will be performing but if that doesn’t curl your chest hairs there will be umpteen other VERY good poets with only one bad one allowed for the sake of diversity and because there is probably some European law that says we have to have a stinker in there too – I’m assuming it’s not me (one man’s genius is another man’s personality disorder personified) but you’ll never know if you don’t turn up.  Poetry Kapow is excellent.  Trust me.  Excellent music, poetry  and some other arty stuff.  Lots of different styles ranging from funny stand-up comedian-type poets through lyrical Byronesque master-pieces to profound tear-jerking thought-invaders.

No excuses now – if you’re anywhere near Wolverton, Milton Keynes get your wobbly bits down to see us all.  The bar is CHEAP and the consumption of absinthe and cheroots is no longer compulsory to enjoy the evening.  Honest.

Busy busy

I’ve been beavering away playing with my new web hosting account (as has Lisa).

At last I’ve managed to move my poetry site to the new host and made it all pretty – bloggers will be pleased to hear that it’s driven by WordPress, as in the WordPress application rather than the hosted flavour like this one you’re reading right now – so comments and so on work.  Niiiiice.

I think it looks pretty: www.alexsykie.com

If you’ve been there before try hitting F5 in your browser if it still looks like the old site (it should show an autumn leaves theme rather than the old blue city skyline version).

I am *really* impressed with what it’s possible to do with WordPress and I’ve only just scratched the surface so far.

I need to sleep now.  Must remember to do that.  Yes.

Grand-Mère

I have a strange mix of “skills”.  In fact, I’ve had quite a mixed and varied life and still to this day I don’t think you’d describe as “ordinary” a lot of things I like, do, or say – that’s just the way these things turn out.

Something I did do for a period of time about 16 years ago was to nurse a 96 year-old French grand-mother (unrelated to me) who was suffering from fairly advanced dementia brought on by a series of strokes.  She spoke only French and having moved here after she became ‘confused’ was not aware that she lived in England.  I used to sit with her and we would sing French nursery rhymes and poems from a book she had which her daughter had specially written in effort to help her stay in this reality and not another one – I still remember many of them such as “Le bon roi Dagobert” and one about La Tour Eiffel being “on fire” (which if you’ve ever seen it lit up at night you’d understand).  Her normal speech was a tormented turmoil of afflictions brought on by the dementia.

She was in many ways a very remarkable woman who, when younger, had swum in what was seen as an “indecent” bathing costume to the outrage of the local population – just because she could.  She died peacefully and with dignity, surrounded by her family with me holding her hand.  It was one of the most human and powerful things I have ever been involved with.

This is a poem about her.  I’ve also recorded it in a way that tries to convey the cruelty of a snapped-open mind – if you do download and listen to the audio please try to listen to it the first time in stereo and preferably on headphones because mono will not do it justice.

Until then: à tout à l’heure.

Download the audio by right-clicking on this link and selecting “save as”.  If you have speakers or headphones connected you can left-click and the link will download and play the track straight-away.

Grand-Mère
————————————
So I tap, tap, tap.
White you go
but I’m still waiting.
I’m still waiting.

Who are these boys,
the ugly man that runs the country?
A mere twinkle when I was first an
old woman.  A pretender who
hides his heritage for the love
of power.

Til I roll my eyes again and repeat
the nursery rhymes that I taught you
which spill out between the cracks of my
shattered mind.

White you go –
but I’m still waiting.

I was the suffragette who first
dared The Channel.
I was the crooked smile who
cocked a snook at the stiffened
shirts of the gendarmes.
I was the mother who rocked the baby
you in my arms.

And I was the granny who bit the
nurse on the commode.

I was the face in the photograph,
tiny torso in a wheeled chair.
I was the groaning carapace who,
hollow-cheeked,
pinched the shawl about my
knees and swore like a navvy
at the lady in St. Nicholas Park
and smiled like a treacle mouth so
she didn’t know.

Until I rattled my last.

Until I sighed out my submission
as you held my hand – and fingers
loosened their grip on this moment
and slipped from you without the
chance to sing again about the
tower on fire and the good prince
with the baggy trousers like we used
to in the glimpses of the past.

You brushed my hair again and
washed my face one last time and
crossed my suffragette arms
across my suffragette chest.  One
last time.

You kissed the face of what was
left, red-eyed with a crunchy
smile at the memories.

And the people sang in French. One
last time.