Hatches and dispatches

At the town hall to declare my son’s birth, I fill in a one-page form with details of myself, my wife and our new baby. The form seems a little strange in places, and the lady behind the counter confirms that it’s an old model that hasn’t been updated in a while. Then I notice the title at the top “Declaration of a live birth”, and the final question at the bottom: how many previous births have you had, “nés-morts” and “nés-vivants” (born dead and born alive)? I’m not up on my Belgian stillbirth statistics, but I’d be willing to bet it’s quite some time since they were that common.

While I wait I take a leaflet from the pile on the desk, which lists all the most popular forenames registered in that district of Brussels the previous year. Number one is Arthur. Matteo is pretty popular too; 20 in this district alone (which means, at a very conservative guess, over 100 Matteos born last year in Brussels).

Towards the end of the transaction the lady dealing with me finishes her shift and hands over to a colleague. I notice as they move around that all staff carry with them a shoebox containing various items of personalised stationery. No arguments here over where all the pens have gone or who stole whose stapler, it seems.