Saturday, November 10, 2018

Big times and events; more to follow ...

In my previous post to this blog I talked openly of how it was our intention to absolutely immerse ourselves in everything Sydney had to offer; we hit the ground running and we haven’t stopped. While the pace has slowed considerably over the past couple of weeks, there has been no letup in the number of social outings. We have met with good friends and former colleagues even as have spent time “talking shop” with a number of them. The day job as it were is never out of mind and the mere fact of being in Sydney is giving me a lot of material with which to work in the coming months. Have I mentioned how much I really like Sydney? Have I also mentioned that after just three weeks away from Colorado, we miss our home in Windsor?

It was in my previous post that I observed just how crowded Sydney has become and how there are people everywhere you turn. Or that the city of Sydney is rapidly morphing from a village of single level dwellings to massive high-rise condos (alright, home units and apartments or whatever) are everywhere. It’s definitely not like Singapore and it’s not anywhere close to being comparable to Hong Kong and yet, there are similarities at first glance. A day doesn’t pass when I cannot count more than a dozen cranes dotted along Sydney’s skyline. All of which is to say, Sydney projects many faces to its audience and when the audience is mostly tourists the reciprocal responses of “wow!” and “oh, my gosh!” can be heard time and time again.

If it’s Sydney Harbor you long to see, take all the time you need. Take the slow ferry to Manly or anywhere else on the harbor for that matter. As time permits, take the fast ferry by all means but the slow passage from Circular Quay to Manly, passing the “heads” that lead into the open ocean, is a time-honored way to soak in the variations on display with each headland you pass. Sitting atop one of Sydney’s high rise office buildings, you can quickly see five headlands protruding into the harbor but I am certain there are many more than five. There has been a lot of work done to ensure the waters of the harbor are clean and it’s noticeable too – standing by the wharf in Manly, you can see all the way to the sandy bottom even as sizable fish swim freely between the pylons.

For Margo and me, it is very much about the people. We have come to see the sights but we really have been looking forward to hearing the stories from family and friends we have just not seen for half a decade and you don’t really appreciate the passage of time until you are reminded at every turn that you have been missing from the scene for five long years! OK, so we get the picture now – consider us back. For the time being, at any rate! The niceties and politeness coming from everyone we have had time to meet is appreciated so much so that as you might have guessed as of this past weekend, it feels like we have never left.

A very long time ago the church that the Buckle family attended – Willoughby Gospel Chapel – happened upon a piece of land out in an area well to the north of Sydney and only marginally south of the mighty Pittwater harbor. It’s now a suburb called Ingleside and is adjacent to the up and coming suburb of Terry Hills. From the earliest years of my childhood, Saturdays were spent working on the construction of a dwelling complete with its own giant water cistern built into its foundations that was to be used as a campsite for the youth of the area. My good friend Dave drove Margo and me to the campsite and what a huge difference with many buildings on site and on this occasion, a group of youngsters enjoying themselves on the playing fields now groomed nicely where once there had only been a pile of rocks!

The rock I am standing on was where we all sat to have lunch every Saturday we were on site, working. My father threw his energies into the construction of the dwelling after having finished building our own home in the Sydney suburb of Lindfield a couple of years earlier. He joined the likes of Liv Clark, Keith Long, and many others whose names I have now unfortunately forgotten, but this was always the highlight of the week for me, particularly during the summer months as there was always time to walk through the bush as the tracks meandered down to creeks that then flowed into places like Church Point. Sometimes we made it to Coal and Candle Creek that opened up into a sizable estuary feeding Pittwater.

Lost in time however were the wartime stories of how troops were loaded onto the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in places like Pittwater, as the harbor is many times the size of Sydney Harbor but off limits to commercial vessels of all sizes. My father was shooting 16mm video when his activities came to the attention of the shore patrol and he was arrested as few people of those times possessed such video cameras. The records say these ships always spent time in Sydney but it wasn’t always in Circular Quay from what I could determine. There were even sightings of troops boarding the Queens as far north as Port Stevens and I sure would like to know about this as according to my dad, they really didn’t want the enemy of the day figuring out where exactly there leviathans of the sea were moored.

After two weeks with my brother Gregory and his family in the northern suburb of Beecroft where we became good friends with Tony over many cappuccinos in his Beecroft cafĂ©, along with pizza and pasta, we headed to the coast. But before venturing any further into this escapade other than to give you a little hint as to what our new temporary abode was going to be, I can’t leave the topic of Beecroft without talking a little more about Tony.

He was a fun guy to get to know and archetypal of the small shop owner that dotted the Sydney landscape for many years. Even though he tried his hand running a bigger restaurant his heart was definitely in the small shop intimacy that comes with being able to serve coffee, wine and a little grappa. Next month we will be returning to Beecroft for just a little longer and I sure hope he remembers us as his coffee early in the morning was the best we tasted in all of Sydney.

Our trip to the coast took us to the home of David and Suzanne. David had been a good friend of mine back in my high school days and part of the reason for the trip down under was to join classmates for our graduating class 50th anniversary. You may recall my reference to David Roberts in posts back in 2016 and 2015 as Dave visited us in our Niwot home many times. When his enthusiasm over his new home bubbled into emails and texts, we knew we just had to find time to visit him and the generosity of Dave and Suzanne bubbled too as they gave us the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with them in their new abode atop Bilgola Plateau.

To say that Margo and I were poorly prepared for the welcome we received would be an understatement as Dave and Suzanne opened their doors to perhaps the most magnificent home we have ever entered. Anywhere – and that includes the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a French seaside villa located at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera that we have visited numerous times!

If you have ever listened to a couple of verses in the Carly Simon song, You’re so Vain you will likely be familiar with the lines:

Well I hear you went to Saratoga
And your horse, naturally, won

Having lived in Saratoga, California, for as many years as she had done - yes, I know, a different Saratoga - I always think of these lines whenever talk of Saratoga comes up but how little I knew. You see, this past week was a big occasion for Australia. The first Tuesday of every November is when the nation comes to a stop. It’s time for yet another running of the Melbourne Cup. It’s a time to party and a time to dress up. And it’s a time too to have a little flutter on the horses. 

Dave took as to a fancy establishment in nearby Newport where the ladies competed for prizes in a fashion category and there were many outstanding examples of fashion that was easy on the eye. But it wasn’t the fashion parade that attracted Margo’s attention so much as the ticket she bought for the sweepstakes – a tradition dating back to who knows when – whereby you buy a ticket and draw a card or pretty much any slip of paper to see what horse you will be supporting when it comes time for the big event.

Margo drew horse #23 and with absolutely no knowledge of what it all meant, settled in to watch the race unfold with a glass of bubbly in her hand. As the horses turned for the final time in traditional fashion, the race to the line was a spectacle taking up the full width of the Flemington course. And out of nowhere, blindingly fast along the outside of the track, came #23 and it went on to win, naturally. I don’t think Dave quite believed it and kept pointing at the big screen telling Margo, I think that’s your horse! It was Margo’s horse after all … as they say, she scooped the pool and it was onto a magnum of Veuve Clicquot! The photo atop this post captures that winning feeling perfectly I think. We now have been informed as to who won the fashion contest – but we left early before the ladies of Newport got a little out of shape. Or so we were told after the event wrapped up.

In the previous post I wrote of how it’s hard to put up an argument against an invite to join friends, colleagues and associates for a little bubbly but how little we knew as in Sydney, with the Aussie dollar faring as poorly as it is against the almighty US dollar, it seems a day barely passes where somehow or other a glass of bubbly finds its way into our hands. We have caught up with our really good friends, Dieter and Chris who invited us to their penthouse condo overlooking the harbor at Balmoral even as we have caught up with the “old boys club” of former Nixdorf folks all of whom had worked at one time or another for Dieter who had been Nixdorf’s Managing Director. Truly, a big thanks to Kevin who seems to muster a good group of folks whenever we are in town.

But perhaps the highlight of the week came when we had breakfast in the northern suburb of Hornsby, followed by a train ride to Beecroft to pick up a couple of items, then on to North Sydney for lunch with former IDC Vice President, Len Rust, before catching a ferry to Manly for a stroll along the Manly Corso and then it was dinner in the beachside community of Collaroy with Paul Matthews and his lovely wife Georgina. Paul joined IT only a few months before I did so we have much the same backgrounds but Paul went on to create a business that still sets a benchmark for very clever entrepreneurship. On the other hand, I actually met Georgina long before that as the two of us both worked at Overseas Containers Limited in Bridge Street, deep in the heart of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). Who knew that after the decades had passed we would once again be able to catch up to share stories and be able to laugh hard and long well into the evening hours.

Whether it was time spent with my brother Greg and his wife, Robin, or simply hanging out with Toni in his coffee shop. Whether it was the fun times we are now having with David and Suzanne at their fabulous home or with Dieter and Chris – and yes, their Balmoral condo is simply amazing with its views straight out the heads of Sydney harbor. And too, whether it is with colleagues Paul and Georgina or Len or Kevin there is only one constant. The sheer joy in being able to catch up on five years of happenings; of five years of absence and yes, five years of well, so much has happened, hasn’t it! In closing it is all too easy to simply sit back and say well, we could have done all this over the phone or via skype but in reality, we simply couldn’t have.

It’s the sum of what we see in the faces of our friends, what we feel in the smell of local cooking and the sights of an ever changing vista. It’s all of this and much more … yes, these are big times but they are also the best times and for that the caste of hundreds we have met all played a role and for that we are forever grateful. The hospitality of Sydney is being showcased for us and there is no way we could ever say enough thanks to communicate all the joy we have experienced.  We are just so thankful to you all!

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