“So how did you end up in Belgium?”

I’m frequently asked this question. My short answer is “I moved to Belgium to work for a communications agency in Brussels.”

I have a long answer too. Recently when I told it to someone, he considered it so amazing that he said I must share it on my blog. So here it is. After all, it does deal with how I “discovered Belgium”.

And it’s probably a good a time to do so, because 2017 is the 30th year that Liz and I have lived in Belgium. It’s the 5th anniversary of my blog. And I’ve just passed 500 followers. Three good reasons to break from blogging about hiking & cycling and write something personal.

But where to begin?

We moved to Belgium in 1987 from the Netherlands. But the story starts before that, in …

Stockport, England    

The year is 1982. October 15th. I arrived late in the evening outside a rental house in Stockport with my old Ford Escort bulging with all my belongings and with a desk strapped precariously to its roof-rack.

The plan had been to share the house with Tim, my friend from university. We were both unemployed and had decided that being miserable together while the job rejections built up was likely to be more fun than being alone and miserable. In the event, between signing the contract and moving in a week later, Tim changed his mind and decided to carry on enjoying the comfort of his parental home and his mother’s cooking.

So I moved in by myself. On my 24th birthday.

The house was old, small, unheated and barely furnished. But for me, it was a home and a base. And there I lived for a whole year.

In that time, I applied for numerous jobs, and got the same number of rejections. These were the early 80s; the UK was in recession and jobs for graduate biochemists were as rare as Trump supporters today.

But … I had a dream

I had always enjoyed writing, and as a biochemistry degree wasn’t getting me interviews, far less a job, I began to dream of being a writer. Maybe a journalist. The problem was that I knew it was no use applying for a job as a journalist as I had only a limited portfolio of published articles. One, to be precise. (Some of you will have read the sad story of my first published article elsewhere; maybe I’ll share it on this blog too).

So I set myself to getting a portfolio of published articles

I pursued this goal with great focus. I purchased a second-hand typewriter and wrote and submitted a stream of articles to newspapers and magazines on all sorts of topics. Nature, the environment, walking and cycling were my main topics as I had the background knowledge. But I also wrote about local history and sport; I even wrote a radio play for the BBC.

It was incredibly hard work. The small house I was renting had no central heating; just a tiny portable heater. As autumn turned into a very long, cold winter, sometimes I would be sitting at my desk behind my typewriter wearing a coat, hat and scarf. It even got so cold that I typed with an old pair of woollen gloves with the tops of the fingers cut off.

Until the end of August the following year – over ten months later – I was totally unsuccessful. I did not have a single word published.

And then everything changed!

One of my submissions was to New Scientist magazine. It wasn’t directly about science. It concerned the employment situation for science graduates and was (in my opinion) a humorous account of my job search. The concept was that for all the help my science degree was giving me in the job market, I would be better off selling it.

Entitled “For sale: One science degree”, it started with a small ad: “Biochemistry degree. Class 2(ii) Hons (Wales) BSc. One owner. Hardly used. Only 16 months old. Will consider exchanging for a job.”

Amazingly, they accepted the article – and paid me for it too. The mind-boggling sum of ₤60.

But that wasn’t the end of it!

One morning a week after the article had been published, and I was still glowing from the knowledge that I had instantaneously doubled my portfolio, I heard the letterbox clang. I picked up an envelope from the mat. It was not a letter, but a telegram.

“PLEASE SEND MORE SAMPLES OF WORK OTHER THAN NS ARTICLE IF INTERESTED IN POST OF TRAINEE COPYWRITER”

I read it again. And again. I found it very difficult to believe that someone was interested in me for a job.

The telegram had come from a company in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. That made it even more surreal.

That same day I packaged up my only other published article, along with half a dozen of what I considered my “best rejections”, and posted them off to Eindhoven.

And waited.

Four days later …

… another telegram dropped through my letterbox (you’ve probably realised by now that there was no telephone in the house).

“THANKS COPY INTERVIEW EINDHOVEN SOONEST SUGGESTED ITINERARY FLY MANCHESTER AMSTERDAM EINDHOVEN DAY ONE OVERNIGHT EINDHOVEN RETURN DAY TWO GATWICK MANCHESTER”

As with the first telegram, I read and reread it before the implications set in.

I was being offered an interview. In the Netherlands. To be a writer. A copywriter, whatever that was.

After a brief telephone conversation to confirm dates, times and expenses, there followed a hectic but thrilling couple of days, at the end of which ….

I was offered a job!

So I ended up in Eindhoven, initially being trained as a copywriter before being let loose on clients of my own.

“What’s this got to do with Belgium?”

After four years in Eindhoven, the company I was working for didn’t have enough copywriting work for me so I looked elsewhere and took a job in Brussels with a company that promised me a heavier workload.

Imagine my disappointment when I realised that this new company actually had less work for me than the company I had just left. So two months later I decided to set up in Belgium as a freelancer and find my own clients, which I have doing ever since.

And that, as they say, is that

Writing it out like this makes me realise again what an amazing story it is, the like of which I have never experienced since.

Three lessons learned

1) Small actions can have big consequences

A person is sitting in the canteen of an office in the Netherlands. It’s his lunch-break. He idly picks up a magazine and flicks through the pages while eating his sandwiches. He reads my article and makes a decision. He returns to his office, picks up the phone and asks the publisher for my address.

It was a small action which was to change the course of my life. Not only did it result in me getting a job, but it was a job I never knew existed, in a sector that I knew nothing about, had not even considered applying to, and for which I didn’t have any qualification.

If I didn’t already believe in divine guidance, I would have started believing.

It obviously had implications for my personal life too. Just prior to the New Scientist article being published I met Liz. She encouraged me to take the job; we married seven months later; our eldest child was born in the Netherlands; our other three children in Belgium. They have grown up with Belgium as their home and educated in the Flemish system.

2) Follow your intuition: It may benefit someone

What if he had simply closed the magazine and thought:

  • “The publisher will never release this guy’s address”
  • “He probably isn’t interested in leaving the UK”
  • “It’s easier just to ask Human Resources to place an advertisement”

But he didn’t. He followed his intuition and picked up the phone.

3) Persevere: You never know what’s just around the corner

I sometimes think back to that cold winter in Stockport, watching the woodlice crawl up the kitchen wall, shivering as the wind whistled through the cracks in the window frames,  hoping the Tippex wouldn’t freeze or the typewriter seize up in the cold, and wondering if it was all worth it and if I should just give up.

I’m so glad I persevered.

 

76 comments

    • That’s right Maggie, and it’s made me aware of the importance of those little words or steps that at the time seem inconsequential but may in fact have larger consequences. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What an amazing lesson to everyone to keep trying, keep going, keep putting one foot in front of the other because you never know how successful you can be unless you persevere. I am so glad you were convinced to post your story. It is a wonderful one that is still being written. 🙂 And, the bonus is you live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. 🙂

    Like

  2. Thanks for the follow, Denzil. Enjoyed your life story of perseverance. I continue my pursuit of having a novel published. (I’m now on the final revision of my second novel.) Breakthroughs come in unexpected ways, as your own story bears witness.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So many milestones and great cause to celebrate. I have wondered why you live in Belgium, apart from the obvious reason that it’s so beautiful. It’s funny how things work out exactly as they’re meant to. Tenacity is a wonderful thing and it certainly paid off for you.

    Our daughter spent her two year working visa living in Stockport. She was in a share house too but it was much more comfortable than the one you describe. She loved Manchester.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That is an amazing story! And I agree with all of the lessons it teaches, and would add another: always write from the heart. Because that lead about selling your science degree would have caught any good editor’s attention, even though you won’t find anything like that in a book on how to be a successful free-lance writer. I’m impressed that you are making a living as a writer…that’s not easy to do!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You are a good writer, for sure. Your own story in this post is so engaging. I kept reading and didn’t want to miss any detail. I’m happy for your perseverance and that affords you to be a freelancer.
    When my daughter graduated in 2007 and started looking for jobs. She methodically sent out so many applications a week. Some didn’t respond, one response said, “Thank you, you’re one of the 200 applicants…” Anyway, it was the beginning of the great recession in US. I said, “It may take you five years to find a job.” She said, “Mom, don’t say that.” I just gave her “permission” to take five years to find a job. She signed up for Americorp for one year, then took two part time jobs for another year. At the end of one year in part time jobs, both offered her full time positions. She decided on one, but it won’t challenging enough, so she was looking again. This time, she got three interviews for this one job. Her husband and I helped her prepared for the second interview. I went with her, sitting in a coffee shop across the street, praying, eagerly watching the door to see if she was coming out. After half an hour, I felt good that the interview took a long time. Being an administrator, sitting on the other side, I knew what was happening. She came out and said she had to go for the third interview, because her immediate supervisor was sick. So she would go back to be interviewed by her. I asked if she told them our family vacation plan. She said she did. They still wanted to hire her and allowed her to take no pay vacation after a few months on the job. She went through a lot in searching for a job, and I did my best to be an supporting and encouraging mom. Wow, I told you a long story!!! Miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It was so interesting to hear about the steps (and leaps) that brought you to Belgium. See, your Science degree did pay off, after all.

    I loved this line: “jobs for graduate biochemists were as rare as Trump supporters today”.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m so glad for this personal post and to be learning a little bit more about you, Denzil. Hurrah for perseverance! I loved your approach in that first article. Humor and a unique voice are key and they are something I need to work on, for sure. You are such a good writer!

    As far as a cold house goes: yikes! Our current house for three weeks doesn’t have central heating ether and I have been freezing, even though we are in Southern California. It is no fun to wake up in a cold house and having to sit behind the keyboard all day, leaving the oven door open to warm up a bit. Luckily, there is no need for Tippex anymore these days. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so kind Liesbet; I appreciate your comment about my writing. Yikes back at you too, with your cold house. And I thought south California was all sun and surf! Obviously not. What temperature does it get down to out there? The problem with a cold house without heating is that once it’s cold, it stays cold, even though it might be a little warmer outside. Don’t get too lose to that oven! Best wishes.

      Like

      • The first week we were here, we woke up to about 50 degrees F inside the house (about 10C), but the second week, it was up to 60F without the space heater. And, you are so right, the worst part is that the house doesn’t warm up. Some days, it was warmer outside than inside and we had to put sweaters back on when it was 70F outside. Now, I will stop complaining, because today and yesterday, it was 70F (about 20C) outside. Tomorrow, we drive back north again! BTW, the only place in the US where it can be nice and warm over the winter seems to be Florida. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. An inspirational tale illustrating perfectly that it pays to keep your sense of humour healthy, even when the rest of you is starving and freezing! It is fascinating to read your account of how events link together to direct us to where we are meant to be at certain times in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It didn’t occur to me that you wrote for a living, Denzil. Somehow I thought you had a day job and that you hiked and wrote for a hobby. Glad it all came together for you. It must have taken a lot of effort. Do you ever regret not becoming a biochemist? 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Well we all have some contrived routes to get here – speaking as another graduate scientist (Physicist) who never used any of his high quality education.

    Great to hear your version. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is wonderful! I love reading your story. I was a college professor. I’ve taught nursing for years. I recently changed focused to pursue my passion for writing. It’s not an easy transition. You double guess your decision when you leave a comfortable job. Perseverance is key! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Denzil,
    Congratulations on five years and 500 followers. The commenters here seem very engaged.
    I travel often, but I have never been to those places. I almost became a travel blogger but now I blog about blogging tips. Maybe you can check out my blog if you need a blogging tip or too. That’s what I write about.
    Janice

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Hello Denzil! Finally I’ve had a chance to read one of your posts! An awesome and captivating story. Thank you for sharing. And I’m not sure how my little comments helped if you already believe in dreams, intuition and things happening for a reason- you’re already there! I’ll catch up with more in the coming days. 🌟🌟🌟

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well we all need reminders from time to time, don’t we Di? And yours came at exactly the right time. If readers are wondering what your comment refers to: I was struggling with the tension between pursuing a hobby (blogging, writing, cycling, nature etc.), while facing the opportunity to use part of this time in perhaps a more pragmatic and humanitarian opportunity. Should I choose the latter because it might be more helpful to people (a rather egoistic approach, I know). Di’s comment was “Being our own joy, we create that in the world”. She helped me to see that in doing what we believe in, and enjoying it, we can spread that joy to others.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Denzil, I’m working on an intro paragraph for republishing your Step One of Writing. This one is just as amazing. You were so brave, and I think Liz was too. You are so right about following your intuition and persevering, but it is a step that is difficult to take without financial backing. As Carol would say, “Good on ya.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Marsha; looking forward to seeing it. I was indeed very lucky to be offered a job without a qualification in journalism or communications. And when I went freelance it was very much on a wing and a prayer, as we didn’t have any savings, and Liz was pregnant with our second child. Exciting times!

      Liked by 1 person

        • That’s right Marsha. As with your Woodlake story, we never know what’s just around the corner. A telephone call, a conversation, a random remark, or in your case an email, can lead to new opportunities which in some cases can be life-changing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Exactly! And it has been. For me blogging has been life-changing, not that my life was bad or unfulfilling. Absolutely not, but in retirement I get to begin the career that I wanted as a young child. I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to be a writer. I have been blessed to do both – and simultaneously. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

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