A song for Robert

My Silver Son is a song I wrote for my second son Declan, just before he turned two. I finally managed, a couple of months ago, to write one for my first son Robert.

First In My Eyes is a song about being a father, making the most of the time we have with our kids, and the hopes we have for them.

Audio only:

I finished writing it in time for Robert’s 5th birthday in October, but between a busy period at work and a troublesome appendix I didn’t manage to record it in time. (They finally took the aforementioned appendix out just last week.)

I spent an evening at Mathieu Siegrist’s K-yak Studio in Gland in late November. He did a really nice job on recording, arranging and mixing the song, with great ideas for the instrumental parts and harmonies. I’m hoping we’ll have a chance to work together more in future.

While I wrote this for Robert, its sentiments apply – of course – equally to Declan… they’ll both be first in my eyes, whatever paths they eventually choose to take. I think/hope the sentiments in this song will resonate with any parent. (And I’m not just saying that in case Declan is reading this text many years from now! Don’t forget, Declan, you got your song first!!)

You can download the song from Soundcloud here.

First In My Eyes

You fell off the swing that day; it seems just like yesterday,
I pushed you too hard, I rushed you too soon.
Now you like flying high, a big boy, a bigger smile,
Maybe someday you’ll fly to the moon.

I’ll keep holding your hand for as long as you want to hold mine,
I’ll be reading you stories as long as you think that’s alright.

I know in time you will live your own life,
And I hope you’ll be strong and be happy, be honest, be kind,
You’ll go your own way, and you’ll run your own race,
But wherever you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes.

I love singing songs with you, or playing a board game too,
We can hop on the bikes, go for a ride.
I think now I understand how the child makes the man,
From father to son and on down the line.

I’m teaching you things but I’m learning from you all the while,
So I’ll tie your laces and maybe one day you’ll tie mine.

I know in time you will live your own life,
And I hope you’ll be strong and be happy, be honest, be kind,
You’ll go your own way, and you’ll run your own race,
But wherever you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes.

I won’t forget the day we met, they put you in my arms, I tried not to break you;
I buttoned up your tiny vest, cradled you against my chest, we made you, we made you.

I know in time you will live your own life,
And I hope you’ll be strong and be happy, be honest, be kind,
You’ll go your own way, and you’ll run your own race,
But wherever you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes,
I don’t care where you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes.

A song for “my silver son”

Tomorrow, 2 April 2015, our second son Declan will be one year old. As any parent to more than one child will know, there’s a huge disparity between the amount of time and attention showered on baby #1 compared to baby #2. For Robert’s first birthday we created a montage of photos of some (!) of the people he met in his first year – see below. We couldn’t do this for Declan because he didn’t meet as many people, he was held by even fewer, and those rare occurrences were almost never photographed!

Robert's first year montage

That we took fewer photos of Declan does not, of course, mean we love him any less than his big bro. No, this common phenomenon is mainly down to two factors: having two kids to care for instead of one (and thus rarely a free hand to take a photo, or a free head to even think of it) and, second, the fact that the novelty, naturally, wears off. For Robert (who was also the first grandchild on Nadine’s side of the family) it was important to record all of the firsts; with Declan I think we feel more able to actually just watch and enjoy them: to be in the moment. (Hmmm… Maybe that last point is stretching it a bit, but it sounds good, right?!)

All of this is to explain why I was keen to do something for Declan that I haven’t (yet) managed for Robert, and that was to write a song for him. I had also been trying to capture short snatches of video footage now and again with the intention of putting together at least one video like those I made for Robert. (This one still makes me smile whenever I watch it.)

Well, I did manage to write the song and to do a reasonably good acoustic demo recording of it; and I did have just about enough footage of Declan to put a video together. The song is My Silver Son, for Declan, “my only second one“.

There are quite a lot of songs written by parents for/about their kids. My favourites include two by Ben Folds (Still Fighting It, for his son, and Gracie, for his daughter). I also like Loudon Wainwright’s song Daughter, and of course Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle is rightly considered a classic. In a way I believe such songs are the truest, most noble kind of love song.

But in general I think it’s a really hard thing to get right. It seems to me that something about the context – writing for your child – makes it difficult to avoid sentimentality, and sentimentality is often the enemy of quality. To put it bluntly, a lot of the songs written by parents for their kids are really cheesy, and although the world needs cheesy music, it’s not generally the place to look for great songs and great songwriting.

I didn’t find it easy to write this song for my son, but I got there in the end. I’m certain some people will find it cheesy and I don’t make any claim to being a great songwriter. But I’m glad that I wrote it and I’m proud of the end result. Hopefully one day I’ll write one for his big brother too. For now he’ll just have to take comfort in the fact that we took ten times more photos of him! (And at least I included a reference to him in the chorus.)

[The audio is available for download from SoundCloud, here.]

My Silver Son (Song for Declan)

The birds don’t sing for you,
They’ve been singing since the day you came, it’s true,
But you know, that’s what they do
So I will sing for you,
Anytime you need a melody or tune,
Whatever kind of song you might need,
Your daddy’s got it right up his sleeve.

And so my silver son, my only second one,
Well who is the man you’re gonna become?
With your brother’s big blue eyes,
And your mother’s open smile,
You will always find a world that’s bright as a silver sun.

Time will wait for you,
Take as little or as much as you need to,
Your smile will see you through.
Cos the world that waits for you
Is so full of possibilities, so new,
But maybe while you’re taking your time
You’ll hang around with me for a while.

And so my silver son, my only second one,
Well who is the man you’re gonna become?
With your brother’s big blue eyes,
And your mother’s open smile,
You will always find a world that’s bright as a silver sun.

Keep smiling, keep smiling, keep smiling,
Keep smiling my silver son.

The Vich Herald

As Robert’s birth was announced two and a half years ago in The Geneva Bugle, we couldn’t let the birth of his little brother Declan pass without a sequel. Having moved from Meyrin to Vich in the meantime a new masthead was required.

The Vich Herald

He’s almost five weeks old as I type this and is doing really well. Sleeping for decent stretches at night, feeding well (with Nadine doing a super job) and generally a content little lad. Robert has taken on the mantle of big brother without too many problems. He pushes the boundaries with us a bit more than before, but with Declan he’s been very gentle and loving. He’s also alive to the fact that he now has a captive audience for his performances:

Two happy and healthy boys who have the best mother in the world (who also happens to be the best wife in the world). I’m a lucky man.

Before his brother arrives

With Robert’s little brother due to appear in the next couple of weeks, I thought it would be nice to post a selection of photos from his first two and a half years. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve looked through the photos chronologically – it’s interesting (for me) to see how he’s developed.

In case you’re wondering why he started wearing glasses from February 2012, he was diagnosed at that stage with strabismus, affecting both eyes. They also picked up that he had astigmatism.

Recently, following a year with the glasses and daily patching of his eyes, he had an operation to correct the strabismus. It went smoothly and his eyes are well-aligned now. He’ll continue wearing glasses, with custom-made lenses, to treat hyperopic astigmatism. Apparently treating these things at a young age can be very effective, so hopefully the long term effects will be no worse than having to wear glasses. In any case it doesn’t seem to have bothered him at all.

(Click on the images for big versions and captions.)

 

A little bit of Bangalore

My sister Meave and her family moved recently to Bangalore, where her husband James will be working until late next year. We decided to pay them an early visit, taking advantage of Robert’s final “free” flights  before he turns two at the end of this month.

They’re living an a nice big apartment in the Domlur area, which allows James to walk to and from work. Avoiding the often chaotic traffic was a key factor, but it’s also a good neighbourhood, close to the lively Indra Nagar area. (They could have  chosen a more sedate gated community, but I think they’re getting a better experience where they are, even if it takes a bit more energy and effort.)

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They’ve quickly taken to the pace of life there. Even after just a few weeks they have a good grasp of the city – and a dash across the busy streets is almost second nature now.

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We spent a considerable amount of time in autorickshaws – or “autos” – manoeuvring through the busy traffic, with every available gap quickly filled by motorbikes, autos or cars that are remarkably free of dents and scratches. The air is dusty, and always filled with the sound of horns and hooters. But it’s a fun way to get about and we were soon taking rides alone, having learned the ins and outs of agreeing a fair fare. (The photo shows Nadine with James and my nephew Daniel.)

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Naturally, this being India, wheeled vehicles are not the only hasard on the road. These cows were strolling nonchalantly down one of the quieter streets in Domlur, but we often spotted animals in the midst of the rush hour traffic.

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Thankfully our visit was after the rainy season, but there were still showers now and again. When the rain gets heavy, the bikers pull up at the side of the road and take shelter wherever they can, patiently waiting for the shower to pass.

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Our first week took in a visit to Lalbagh Park, where Daniel was very excited to add to his count of monkey-spottings, and a swim at a very nice pool complex in one of the gated communities. Perhaps the biggest hit with Robert, however, were the slides and climbing frames at the playground in Indra Nagar.

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One of our two trips away from the city was to Mysore, just over three hours away by bus. It was a smooth journey in air-conditioned comfort, but it felt quite strange to be watching a Bollywood film shot partly in Dublin while travelling on a bus through the India. (The volume was also way too loud – thankfully our return journey was movie-less.) Mysore is considered a must-see in the region and it was thronged with Indian tourists. We managed a quick tour around the impressive Amba Vilas Palace…

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…but Robert was definitely  more excited by the horse and cart we used to get back to our hotel. (A change from the auto.)

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The following day we visited Mysore Zoological Gardens, where we were pleasantly surprised to find large enclosures, healthy-looking animals, and messaging focused strongly on conservation and sustainability. (Nice photo Nadine!)

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At times it felt like we – and particularly Robert – were just as popular as the exhibits however. We had lots of requests for people to take photos of or with Robert. We mostly declined as politely as possible, but in this case he was pounced on while having a little rest on a bench.

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Back in Bangalore, the weekend included a visit to the small (for a palace!), but perfectly formed Tipu Sultan’s Palace, preceded by a walk through the city’s famous flower market. William and Daniel became the centre of attention, presented with garlands of flowers (in their respective favourite colours of course). We also took advantage of our hosts’ offer to babysit and had a night out to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary. Sadly our visit to the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms didn’t live up to our expectations – but it was nice to be out and about for the night (or at least until the citywide closing time of 11pm).

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Sunday brunch at the Leela Palace hotel was a real treat. As impressive a buffet as you’ll ever see and plenty of bubbles to wash it all down. (Robert was so excited by it all he refused to take his usual nap.)

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During our second week we flew down to Kerala for a couple of nights, saying at the little slice of paradise that is the Bethsaida Hermitage, near Kovalam. It’s an Ayurvedic health resort, but our chosen therapy consisted of nothing more than relaxing as much as possible. The food was almost entirely vegetarian and really tasty. We sampled cuisine from all over India, with curries, dhals, biryanis, and breads of all kinds, all bursting with amazing flavours.

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Our room had a little terrace and garden, and a view of palm trees wafting in the breeze coming in off the Arabian Sea. It wasn’t yet high season, so the resort was quiet. There were a few glum-looking Russians lazing by the pools or wandering about in dressing gowns following some treatment or another. (One treatment seemed to involve having a palm leaf wrapped around your head for a few hours – very strange-looking.)

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I took a couple of dips in the sea. The waves were big and there was a considerable undertow, but with advice from the local lifeguard I felt confident enough. It was exhilarating!

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Back in Bangalore we spent a final couple of days shopping, eating, bowling and generally making the most of our time with the family. I have to say, one of the best aspects of the holiday for me was being able to spend two weeks more or less constantly with Robert.

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Our final evening included an early 2nd birthday celebration…

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… and we took advantage of the play area during our stopover at Frankfurt Airport to shake out the long haul wrinkles.

It was my first visit to India and although Bangalore wouldn’t have been my first choice of destination, I feel that I know the country much better than I did before. I’m sure I’ll return to explore more widely in future.

He’s walkin’

Having put a little video together to capture the period when Robert was dragging himself around the apartment during the summer, I couldn’t resist doing the same now that he’s just started walking. It was shot and edited in the couple of hours either side of his bedtime this evening. The soundtrack is old school again, with a Fats Domino song being the first one that popped into my head for this video. Enjoy!

And while I’m playing the proud father role, here’s 20 seconds of him having a post-bathtime giggle one evening last week. He really does like his books!

What Julia did

About five years ago my friend Julia bought a rundown property on some land close to the village of Alegrete in eastern Portugal. Last weekend we paid her a visit to see how the project is progressing.

The property is on the edge of a national park, surrounded by wooded hills. Her plot of land is home to olive trees, cork oaks and various other plants, herbs and bushes.

The building itself wasn’t much more than four walls and a bit of roof when she bought it. It’s now the warm, welcoming home of Julia and Vitor, stretching across two two floors, with a guest bedroom, wood-burning stoves for heat, and plenty of space. Of course there will always be a To Do list – they plan to plaster the exterior wall shown above and there are some chimmney issues to address – but it’s already a very comfortable place to live now.

There are upwards of twenty olive trees on the property.It’s not enough to generate a significant income; nonetheless, they can take their crop into the local press and take home how ever many litres of olive oil they produce. And there are plenty of olives for eating throughout the year too.

Another useful harvest comes from the cork oaks, whose bark is chopped off every nine years. It’s not of sufficiently high grade to use for wine bottles but there are many other uses. The axe above is used to cut a seam down the trunk of the tree…

….and then the bark is prised from around the trunk. The tree itself isn’t harmed, and another thick layer of bark grows back over the years that follow. The trees are marked to indicate when a harvest was last cut from them.

Julia and Vitor have had to clear the land of quite a bit of dead wood, which now serves as a useful supply of firewood. The bark also has to be stripped from these cork oak logs, partly to prevent unwanted ash from clogging up the flue, but also as even these off-cuts can be sold for a modest sum.

It’s quite a labour intensive process. I was happy to give it a try under the guidance of Vitor on Sunday morning. Between us we stripped three wheelbarrows worth of logs in about an hour, generating a couple of big sacks of cork bark. (He, naturally, did the lion’s share of the work, but I felt like I held my own.)

They’re not just removing trees from the land – they’ve also planted lots of fruit trees, with a clever watering system designed by Vitor to help them get through the hot summers.

While they wait for the new trees to bear fruit, they have many generous neighbours who are happy to share. This pomegranate tree is just around the corner – we made fresh pomegranate syrup – and some quince fruits from a neighbour were made into jam over the weekend too.

The longer term plans revolve partly around the distillation of essential oils. For example, there are lots of rock rose bushes on the land, which can be used to create a sought-after essential oil. And that’s just one example of the many plants that can be used in this way. The still above was bought at the market in the nearby town of Estremoz and can be used to distill oils above a gas flame.

The steam travels through a long pipe, cooled by water, before ending up in a flask like this one, which can be used to separate the oil from the water.

What will all that hard work harvesting fruit and cork and distilling essential oils, it’ll be necessary to relax too. The ground between these three cork oaks has been earmarked for a spa pool, with the trellised entrance already taking shape. A return visit will be necessary I think!

We took a stroll up a nearby hill on Monday afternoon. I got to watch the sun set from close to the summit – and to look down on the valley where Julia and Vitor’s place is.

A bird-watching hide has been erected from which you can spot a multitude of birds of prey. We, however, just used it to keep Robert amused!

We had a wonderful time sharing a few days with Julia, Vitor, Zoe the dog, and Antonio and Lou the cats. Robert was tolerated by the animals and spoiled by Julia and Vitor.

When we got up on Tuesday morning they had prepared a plate of special treats for the birthday boy.

They’re living in a kind of paradise, in circumstances that many people dream about, but few have the persistence and vision to see through. I admire Julia very much for the way she’s made this work. We were neighbours on Rue Jean-Violette in Geneva for five years – nice and all as that was, she’s in a much better place now.

Oh, and I should point out that I won the winner-takes-all domino match on our last night in Alegrete, taking the golden fly swat as my prize!

To finish, here are a couple of other shots of us enjoying the Portuguese autumn sunshine.

Don’t Fence Him In

A little video I shot of Robert one day (the first one in the video, as it happens) inspired me to make this montage. He was in pre-crawling phase where he was dragging himself around the apartment noisily and enthusiastically. As you’ll see in the video, he had a habit of stopping just as he reached a room and peering around the corner before going on. And watch out for the little twirl towards the end.

I had a lot of fun a couple of mornings getting the rest of the shots – he was a little late to his childminder those mornings and I was late-ish for work…but it was worth it!

I love this Bing Crosby recording of Don’t Fence Me In. It comes from an album of Cole Porter songs where the original recordings from the 1940s have been cleaned up.

In case you’re wondering, I put it together using the Movie Maker software that comes bundled with Windows. It’s pretty basic but perfect for quickly throwing something like this together. Unfortunately the digital camera I used to shoot the videos was set to take quite low resolution videos, so it doesn’t blow up to full screen well.

When I uploaded it to YouTube I immediately got an email from them:

Dear eoghan1,

Your video “Don’t Fence Him In“, may have content that is owned or licensed by The Orchard Music, but it’s still available on YouTube! In some cases, ads may appear next to it.

This claim is not penalising your account status. Visit your Copyright Notice page for more details on the policy applied to your video.

Yours sincerely,
– The YouTube Team

The Copyright Notice page further stated:

Your video is still available worldwide. In some cases, ads may appear next to your video. Please note that the video’s status can change, if the policies chosen by the content owners change. Learn more about copyright on YouTube.

This claim does not affect your account status.

I’m not sure whether they have a deal with The Orchard Music already or whether this is more of a preemptive thing in case a problem arises with that label. In any case it seems like a fair approach to me – they publish the video but let me know that the music is copyright protected.