City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

A birth, in 13 places

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The bare facts are these: Oliver Kornel Hill, born 22.47 on 12 July, weighing in at 4.02 kilos and measuring 55cm. Mum and baby both doing well. Overjoyed is too feeble a word to describe the way we feel, and it’s near impossible to comprehend, let alone describe, what it really means. So I won’t even try.

Yet I have something to write about here. I feel I should, but I’m uncertain as to whether it fits. There’s no editor, no paying readership, and no particular external constraints or raison d’être for City of Sound. Nothing I have to live up – or down – to. So what’s fair game for the blog? Do I say anything about Oliver here? It’s not exactly on-topic, but really, who cares about that? And yet, if I’d like this thing to, say, contribute to the advancement of knowledge even in some tiny way, my personal details will usually be persona non grata. I’ve lobbed this conundrum back and forth in my mind, like Nadal vs Nadal on clay courts, and admittedly on long sleep-deprived walks with Oliver, where there is little other obvious stimuli kicking around. What to do? Geoff Dyer, in his hilarious and brilliant ‘Out of Sheer Rage’, expresses this inconvenient problem best:

"There were no constraints on me and because of this it was impossible to choose. It’s easy to make choices when you have things hampering you – a job, kids’ schools – but when all you have to go on is your own desires, then life becomes considerably more difficult, not to say intolerable."

Intolerable. I’d long ago decided that City of Sound wouldn’t have much ‘personal editorial’ on it. I don’t particularly appreciate weblogs that do, and with the lighter social software of Facebook et al around, there are other places for that now.
But of course, personality surfaces all the time. Indeed, trying to suppress it would be a little like trying to prevent a rising water table in the Midlands. My personality is evident in the curation of subject matter, and the way I write, no matter what. But I generally steer clear of personal details. it’s not That Kind Of Blog.

If asked to define it, City of Sound is for the serious/playful, imagined/factual discussion of cities and places, architecture and design, one way or another. (Perhaps the most important aspect of that previous sentence is the "one way or another" part.) Given that, something occurs to me as a way of noting Oliver Kornel Hill’s arrival on this planet.

People say – until it’s ultimately tiresome and essentially robbed of meaning – that having a baby "changes everything". I’m not going to go into what that means to us – that’s personal – but I thought I would write a little about how the places and spaces that were familiar to us had begun to warp and twist in entirely new ways, and how I experienced new, unfamiliar places as a result of the birth.

And yet, as Dyer later suggests in his study of D.H. Lawrence, all writing – particularly note-based writing, which this is –  is about yourself as much as a subject. And this is a good thing, at its best generating lightening flashes of insight on subject as well as self that the false objectivity of academia cannot approach. He relates Rebecca West’s notes on Lawrence’s penchant for writing about a place as soon as he got there, without even experiencing it:

"Fresh off the train: "tapping out an article on the state of Florence at that moment without knowing enough about it to make his views of real value’. Later she realised that ‘he was writing about the state of his own soul at that moment, which … he could render only in symbolic terms; and the city of Florence was as good a symbol as any other."

I can’t promise any searing insights into "state of my soul", and I’m clearly no Lawrence, but these pieces, roaming around aspects of architecture, history, service design, loose definitions of London, contemporary prams, hospital wards and nurses uniforms, music and such-like, are certainly in response to Oliver’s birth.

So this is the story of his birth, our birth, across the 13 or so places that define it for me. But it’s a story of those places too, the buildings that shape them and the things that shape those buildings. As I began to see the familiar in new ways, I jotted down these notes. (Almost all of the accompanying photos are taken with my mobile phone, also due to new circumstances. Please excuse the low quality. But then again, if buildings don’t look good on scratchy mobile phone pics, then they’re probably not any good. The imageability of the buildings, as Kevin Lynch would have it, should come through.)

I realised half-way through that it’s also a farewell to many of those places. We’re leaving for Australia in late August, and so I’m increasingly aware that I’m walking around Bloomsbury for the last few times. So this is also a farewell to a patch of London where I’ve felt most at home, a place I know inside-out and barely at all.


Other pieces in this series:
A birth, in 13 places

1. Scan; Private clinic, Harley Street, Central London
2. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
3. Active Birth Centre, Tufnell Park, North London
4. Antenatal classes; 1A Roseberry Avenue, Central London
5. Bloomsbury Birthing Centre, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
6. Delivery Room 1, Labour Ward, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
7. A&E, UCLH Main Building, Gower Street, Central London
8. Amenity Room 6, Nixon Suite, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (part of UCH), Huntley Street, Central London
9. Café Deco, Store Street, Central London
10. Transitional Care Unit, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (UCLH), Huntley Street, Central London
11. Home, Gower Mews, Central London
12. Bloomsbury, Central London
13. Registry Office, Camden Town Hall, Central London


7 responses to “A birth, in 13 places”

  1. César Avatar

    Congratulations on the birth! And you might be no Lawrence (who knows) but it’s always great reading cityofsound 🙂


  2. Mu Avatar



  3. Dan Saffer Avatar

    Congratulations, dad!


  4. Ben Avatar

    Brilliant, absorbing, stuff.


  5. Adrian McEwen Avatar

    I’d fall on the side of more, rather than less, personal stuff but maybe that’s why my blog is such a mish-mash of topics.
    I can see why you might choose not to, however – I’m sure my readership is lower because my blog isn’t focused and a lot of my non-geek friends only dip in and out because there are regular periods of techie stuff they don’t understand.
    Anyway, it’s something for you to ponder in your sleepless nights 😉


  6. John C Avatar

    Only just caught this, having been distracted of late by too much work, but congratulations.


  7. Louise Avatar

    Hi, Just been researching the Bloomsbury Birthing Centre and stumbled upon your fantastic musings! I am the warbling opera singer….afraid you do get the scales and the practise rather than the performance from the windows of the flat….(apologies!) I agree that the Mews is a wonderful place to live and indeed there is a real sense of community here in its own reserved kind of way. You mention Jessie (my wonderful neighbour who died 2 months ago). She had lived in London all her life and moved to Gower Mews in the 50’s when she got married and said she was so proud of her little flat. She tolerated my singing with great fortitude and told me she missed my tunes when she finally had to go into a nursing home. She also told me many interesting tales of the Mews too numerous to mention here, suffice to say there have been many famous, infamous and colourful residents here over her time!
    Anyway, sad to hear you are moving after just being introduced! Good luck and congratulations on your baby boy.


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