Friday, April 17, 2020

The things we do for family …

At a time when social distancing has us hunkered down, it’s been a time for catching up with my family in Sydney. There is almost ten years separating me from my younger brother, Greg. Well, nine years and four months actually. There’s only a few days short of two years separating me from my younger sister, Judy. For as many years as I can recall, it’s been my brother Greg who has been the better looking brother, but with the passage of time, we are beginning to look similar.

In many ways, it’s as if our genes are kicking in and we begin to look more like Buckles and clearly of a lineage that we can trace to East Anglia, the mighty river Deben and to Woodbridge.  This particular river winds its way to the English Channel nearby to Felixstowe. Decades ago, I drove to the small town of Woodbridge where grandfather Reginald Victor had spent his youth before migrating to Australia. Having heard all the stories from him through the years the mighty river Deben left a lot to be desired.

On the other hand, there are other family members who see many traits influenced by my mother’s family. Of solid Irish stock, with roots going back generations and where at one point the family had an interest in the Royal George Hotel. Then again, the only references to such an establishment I could find was of a hotel of the same name to the south west of Wagga Wagga and in the township of Urana. Somewhere along the way we were part of the Clancy Clan, or so I heard as a child and to this day, Australia’s most famous bushman, Clancy of the Overflow, I have to believe had to be an ancestor.

Maybe in putting this short update into this post will lead to other family member enlightening me further, but for now, I kind of like the fact that Judy, Greg and I have ties to old Australia as well as to England and beyond … and when I came across this reference, it explained a lot –

Sir Cuthbert Buckell (or Buckle) was a 16th-century English merchant and Lord Mayor of London. He was born in Westmorland, the son of Christopher Buckle. He was a member of the Vintners Company of London. 

Not so much the reference to being the Lord Mayor of London, but rather, his membership of the Vintners Company of London –

… the Company gained a monopoly over wine imports from Gascony. Also, it acquired the right to sell wine without a license, and it became the most powerful company in the wine trade.

Makes complete sense, as best as I can tell … a love of horses on the part of my Mum’s family and then an interest in adult beverages on Dad’s side: Horsepower and wine? Who knew! But wait, there’s even more to this story of family influence given the vocation to which the Buckle family spent their time during the twentieth century.

There exists a strong tie the Buckle family has had to printing dating back to grandfather’s 1902 Apprenticeship in England. With a starting salary of just one shilling (English) per week, it was expected of him to not only learn the trade of printing but to help out in the printers home. It was only twenty six years later that my father, Roy Buckle, began his own Apprenticeship for seven shillings and six pence (Australian) per week; so much for wage inflation. Dad would continue as a printer for the rest of his working life with the only exception being the war years in the 1940s. 

As the article above tells the story, there was more than dad involved in the paper, the Advocate, as he joined his father at this establishment before younger brother Ernie and then elder sister Irene followed him into what we now know was the precursor to the information age. This was a career that spanned 58 years and as I look back at his history with printing, I recall thinking of how I never wanted to work for that many years. Oh well; fifty years on and here I am still writing for a number of digital publications. What’s dad checking out? In his later years he was the only to be trusted proof-reading and correcting railway timetables.  

Graying and receding hairlines aside, the Buckle boys have a long association with Information Technology (IT), but of late, Greg has taken on the responsibility of managing a number of retirement villages. Margo and I had the opportunity to tour these villages when we were last in Sydney and it’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. One thing did strike us both though is once Greg had found that a site had a kitchen it took little time to pass before he organized dinner socials.

However, in these times where we are subject to a changing world driven by a global pandemic we cannot escape, Greg has taken extra precautions not only for the benefit of retirees but for his family as well. To this end and to better ensure his protective mask did its job, he decided to shave his beard. Looking not unlike the shorn sheep that he showed us when we visited Greg’s wife, Robyn’s, family farm outside of Forbes in country New South Wales. Not in a bad way, mind you, but different nonetheless.

I have to admit it took a while for me to come to terms with Greg’s appearance even as I was unsure whether it was an improvement or not. However, I did understand the logic of it all. Appearance aside, I still couldn’t figure out whether this made him look older or younger. For as long as I can recall the Buckle boys always had beards!

Was it our country heritage and our ties to our Irish ancestors or did it have more to do with our possible ties to Westmorland with its close proximity to Scotland.

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
                                                  Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms”

For the sake of completeness, there were stories emanating from the Buckle side of the family that alluded to previous generations as new arrivals in England simply because, as Huguenots and escaping France, seeking religious freedom seemed logical. However, did we arrive in England or did we come down from the Scottish lowlands?

Then again, Greg and I (as indeed did our father), liked the occasional wee dram of single malt whisky that originates in the Scottish highlands. Then again too we both enjoy the finer points of Rugby having both played for our school back in our teens. France, Scotland, England – maybe it was the influence of the Buckles after all that brought out the Rugby Mongrel in both of us. 

Horsepower, Wine and Rugby – did I mention Greg is as much into cars as I am and only recently came purchased a Nissan 370Z Nismo to which he has added a few touches? Yes, it’s all making sense. Not to put to finer point on it, this is where our paths begin to diverge. As was the case with my father, Greg is mechanically minded whereas the only instrument I know I can use with confidence is the phone.

Greg tinkered with early VW beetles, then Holdens and more and I don’t think that there is all that much that he doesn’t know about cars. During that last trip to Sydney, Greg did hand over the wheel of his car for me to take a lap of Bathurst’s Mt Panorama race track and at no point did he look comfortable with me doing the driving. And take note; I am only including this picture (below) as I think we can safely say, it may have been the only time Greg ever followed the 5 kph speed limit!

However, in these times where Margo and I have cars being fed by battery tenders with no option to take a road trip, I don’t think Greg is similarly garage bound as he is supporting essential services. On the other hand, he may be exempt from the restrictions in place. The demands on his time, overseeing retirement villages where the aging population must be at risk, may see him making the commute.

None of this should be taken at face value, mind you, as facts are hard to come by. But in these days there is just a bit of fun, indeed intrigue, wondering through the pages returned by your favorite search engine. When it comes to climbing through the branches of any family tree, it’s way too easy to end up going out on a limb. Lord Mayor of London? Clancy of the Overflow? In this instance, I am sure that this may indeed be the case and yet, plenty of opportunity to speculate, right?

And so it is, against this background, heritage and indeed tradition and in full support of my brother, I have followed suit and have shaved my beard. Ahhh, the things we do for family!  When it comes to going out on a limb, what can I say? The family has already voted but that’s a story for another time. All I am looking for now is any comments you care to make as to whether the beard comes back or I stay clean shave - what do you think?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Recouping, relaxing and ready for what comes next!

As dawn broke the other day it was a spectacular reminder that, despite our worst fears, the sky really isn’t falling nor is the earth coming to a standstill. Given all the headlines, including those telling us we are on a war footing and facing an invisible enemy, there is still beauty all around us. I am not trying to trivialize the pain and suffering many of us are experiencing other than to just take note that this too will pass …

Too simplistic? Too insensitive? Well, not exactly! Being a couple that survived a month on a Princess cruise in February with little more than a bad case of strep nevertheless, just two weeks later, we were diagnosed with the flu. In our case, it was only Influenza B and we were advised to self-quarantine for a fortnight but as that came to an end, we felt no better. Blood was drawn and x-rays taken but we look good (as far as that all goes) and yet, sad to say, we are a little more lethargic than we normally are at this time of year.

I wasn’t spending too much time looking to the east as dawn broke. Rather, it was a case of getting up early as our local big-box store, Costco, was letting in seniors an hour or more sooner than regular opening hours. Walking into the store we were stunned to see row upon row of paper products. The aisles were literally impassable as toilet tissue, facial tissue and paper towels rose from pallet after pallet. Wowie! Oo-aaahh, my precious!

Paper products, wine, coffee and even whipped cream made it into our trolley as did some eggs and flour. You know, the basics. If we are too hunker down for another month, we could at least bake bread, shake cocktails and pour wine and yes, have whipped cream on top of our home baked cherry pies. There was a quip made somewhere suggesting that whereas in the past, witches could easily be detected by pushing them under water – if it didn’t kill them. Today, in this environment, a witch can be just as readily detected - if they put on no weight at all! 

We have some very sad news. Well, at least on one front. While at Costco we stocked up on spirits – all the big bottles we could grab. These are the 1.75 liter deals so in went two Bullitt Rye, two Tito Vodka, Two Kettel One Vodka, Gin, Whisky, Vermouth and much more – dark cherries included. Did I mention cherries a short time ago? Well, we had it all until coming out of the doctors following our last check up, we got the call that we still had stomach / gut issues and back onto antibiotics we went.

Fair enough but then the penny dropped. With these antibiotics it would be ten days without alcohol! Just looking at it on the shelves was too much so we put it all away, storing it out of sight in a large drawer! Makes all of our diligence not to miss a deal on alcohol seem a moot point. But then again, we only have a few days to go – anyone near Ft Collins wants to drop by for cocktails? You would have to proactively practice social distancing, of course but we could shake a few!

Sipping a cocktail while nibbling on cheese and sausage tidbits, all very sensible! And did I mention, enjoyable? This has been a regular practice of ours since we finished our media room and bar. For a couple of weekends we have been binge watching programs from all over the place starting with popular series filmed in Australia before moving on to serials from New Zealand, Scotland, North Wales and finally London. 

Who would have guessed? Seems as though there are really good shows that are filmed in places other than Hollywood or Vancouver! As for favorite shows there was 800 Words (NZ), Loch (Scotland), Hidden (North Wales) and yes, Winter and Deep Water (Australia). Sure did make our self-imposed time of quarantine pass by quickly even if binge watching for a weekend without cocktails was less than ideal.

We continue to fare well when it comes to meals. Making bread from scratch just has to be done if for no other reason than to fill the void in our home with amazing scents. Margo has turned her hand to making pies, pancakes, Aussie scones (helped out with copious amounts of strawberry preserves and clotted cream) and yes, bread. It took little motivation by Margo to bring me into the kitchen at these times. You say fine dining and I say, pass the bread!

Who would have ever predicted that an extended period spent at home, recouping and yes, relaxing could prove to be this enjoyable? To put it another way, since arriving back in Windsor February 29th, we haven’t been anywhere else but at home. No road trips! No conferences or symposiums! No forays up into the mountains. It is such a sad and indeed forlorn sight to see a garage where battery tender chords are splayed all over the place. To think, spring is now officially upon us and the cars are all gassed up but that’s it. Silence in the garage as if the cars know that they have been sidelined indefinitely.

Whenever we do make something special it’s also an occasion to pull the cork from a good bottle of wine. On the occasion when pasta was being served we pulled the cork from a bottle of 2001 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I chose the 2001 as I didn’t want to disturb the 1997 and 1995 vintages we still have in the cellar. Did you know that in life, there is only one thing you should never plan on leaving to your kids - that being, your wine cellar!

Sadly, April is a birthday month for Margo’s family – her daughter and all three grandkids were born in April! Margo is filling a box with gifts but we are unsure as to whether (and when) we will be able to deliver them – social distancing continues as we make sure none of our bugs get to the kids! This weekend Margo was talking with her family - using Hangouts – not even close to being able to hug the little ones.  

Here they are during happier times, playing on Halloween!

On the other hand, during these times, having a well-stocked pantry is a godsend even if the stack of Coffee K-Cups rises from the floor and touches the ceiling. No way could we remain self-quarantined if we somehow managed to run out of coffee! We have always maintained a well-stocked pantry and I have often wondered was it really necessary but for now, I am so pleased that Margo always planned for the long haul.

It is a sobering time for all communities. No matter which continent you happen to have made your home, there are restrictions in place aimed at protecting each of us from this global pandemic. In my last post I only briefly mentioned coronavirus but now its impact on society as a whole cannot be missed. Practicing social distancing? I wonder what it will be like when it is all over?    

For me, there is comfort in knowing we have jams and preserves to see us through to Christmas, at the very least. However, sad to report, we have run out of Vegemite. No kidding – there goes the damper with Vegemite and cheese. Oh dear, we are doing it tough, I know, but then again, we really cannot complain as fortunately, as a couple, we do like spending time together.   

Latest favorite has been Apricot preserves with aged cheddar. Margo and I have kept an eye out for any potential overeating occurrence and to date, we have done OK. Then again, that pantry continues to be a strong drawcard whenever we tire of sitting on the couch, binge-watching a television program from who knows where. If only I could put into practice social distancing from the pantry! And our bathroom scales are out of sight having been pushed deeper into the closet.

Living in semi-rural Northern Colorado we have been buffered from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Barely had the sun come up then the golf course green keepers were hard at work preparing for another day of golf. Those enthusiastic golfers wishing to get in a morning round couldn’t take carts onto the course as social distancing was in force.

Watching them, scattered across the fairways, did bring with it a sense of normalcy even if anything normal could be associated with these times. And yet, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future even as we give thanks for being able to enjoy a sunrise. You just know that this one will be followed by another and then another … 

The biggest paradox of these times however is obvious everywhere you turn. In Colorado the price of gas has continued to drop and filling up the car can be done for less than $30.00. Premium gas for just a tad over $2 per gallon: Unbelievable! And very few cars lined up for their chance to fill up. In these times we have saved a proverbial fortune in gas having just topped up the tank in one car, one time, this month.

This week I was reminded of my family heritage. The Buckle family was always into cars – my earliest memories of my father were of him changing a head gasket on a 1930s-vintage Essex (look that one up!). At that time, his younger brother, David was living with us and my earliest memory of Uncle David was that each month, or so it seemed, he showed up with a new car. As for my other uncles – Ern and Ken – there seemed to be a constant parade of cars with Uncle Ern, in particular, fond of British imports!

What triggered these memories was news just arriving of my Uncle Ken turning 100. And looking pretty good at that; the Buckle family enjoys longevity and so I am constantly reminding myself that perhaps I have a ways to go and maybe that 30yr mortgage isn’t so ridiculous, after all. Having said that, I am only too pleased to send a big cheerio to my uncle Ken! As they say, now that he has batted his way to 100, he can go chasing runs …

The timeliness of this news from my Uncle Ken at this time was just another reminder too that even as we remain housebound, recouping and yes, relaxing thoughts of being ready for what comes next aren’t too far away. Cars may be on the driveway ready to go but so too are we. Temperatures have climbed into the 70s – maybe I should wash and polish the cars. Then again, snow is once again being forecast for the weekend. So much for living in Colorado.

What that next chapter holds for Margo and me isn’t all that clear as of right now, but one thing is for certain; not only will this too pass, but perhaps more importantly, memories of today will fade away replaced with new memories formed in times that by all accounts will be vastly different from anything we have experienced to date.

Stay safe. Practice self-distancing. And wash your hands!