End of series update, Challenged in China.

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Dear readers,

It feels very fitting that my fifth short story collection, Challenged in China, has been the biggest test to date of my so-called writing skills. My first year in in The Big Filthy was a culture shock like no other, an experience that made all my previous travels seem like a piece of cake in comparison. I kept an informal blog that year for family and friends, so I had a wealth of notes, thoughts, photos and emails to draw on. At a whopping eighteen chapters, this has also been my longest set of tales by quite some distance. 

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End of series update, Based in Belgium.

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Dear readers,

Sometimes things just don’t turn out as you’d planned. Err… scratch that, in my experience I’d have to say stuff often doesn’t pan out the way you thought it would. I spent a good three months or so putting together my Belgian short stories. When I was done, I had twelve chapters covering one of the most exciting periods of my life. Some of these tales were by far my most personal to date. As a result, I had to take more care than usual with the content and how they were written, while one or two people had to be consulted along the way to make sure I wasn’t burning any bridges! I thought I’d pulled it off, but then, at the last minute, I had to hit the eject button on half of the installments, leaving the series in a bit of a mess.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Vienna.

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Archduke Charles of Austria Statue, Heidenplatz, October 2002. My maiden voyage to Austria certainly didn’t turn out as I’d expected. I landed in town with a couple of friends, loaded with ambitious plans for a weekend of high culture. But in the end it just didn’t happen. I suppose I could blame it on the rain, which didn’t stop coming down from the moment we arrived to the morning we boarded our train back over to Bratislava. This shot was taken on our first day, shortly before our visit descended into an almighty pub-crawl.

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Zaid – a short story from Belgium.

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In the autumn of 2004 I found myself suddenly relocating to Belgium, at the expense of an attractive job offer in Italy. It was one of those major forks in the road, the kind of big decision that could transform a life. Which, for better or for worse, is exactly what it did.  

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“Mister Lie-ton, so nice to see you!” he purred in his thick, strangely charming sticky-toffee-pudding-voice. Extending his hairy ape-like arms towards me, I returned the gesture as he locked me into that familiar bear hug, an endearing staple of any Zaid visit. “Happy Birthday!” I cried and he could only chuckle in reply, his cheeks turning just a touch red. “Thank you Lie-ton, thank you”.

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Muntstraat – a short story from Belgium.

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In the autumn of 2004 I found myself suddenly relocating to Belgium, at the expense of an attractive job offer in Italy. It was one of those major forks in the road, the kind of big decision that could transform a life. Which, for better or for worse, is exactly what it did.  

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12 School Lane, 1989.

I’ve had loads of homes in my life. So many that I couldn’t name them all if I tried. From this multitude of mostly temporary habitats, two stand out head and shoulders above the rest. As a kid growing up in England, there was the magical 12 School Lane, Old Amersham; a cosy little three bedroom council house next door to St. Mary’s, the primary school I attended. Located opposite a large park, with playground, lawn tennis courts and the local youth club, that modest little council house served as HQ for what was a virtually idyllic childhood.

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Henderson – a short story from Belgium.

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In the autumn of 2004 I found myself suddenly relocating to Belgium, at the expense of an attractive job offer in Italy. It was one of those major forks in the road, the kind of big decision that could transform a life. Which, for better or for worse, is exactly what it did.  

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“Get out Henderson!” I’ snapped with my usual grimace, “you truly sicken me!” Typing up another delivery request on Paktel’s clunky old system, I poked my head out from behind the screen to peek at her in the gap between our computers. As expected she was smirking right back at me, shaking her head and rising above it all in the admirable way Henderson always did.  

“Henderson, you’re fired!” I’d announce, at least two to three times a day, sometimes while she was on the phone trying to deal with a customer. This would invariably result in the corners of her mouth creasing up as she struggled against laughing out loud. Then, having finally hung up and removed her headphones, she’d let it all out. “Mr. Jobsworth!” came her protest in that melodious Scottish accent, “I’ve done nothing wrong! Why do you continue to persecute me?”

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A Single Man – a short story from Belgium.

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In the autumn of 2004 I found myself suddenly relocating to Belgium, at the expense of an attractive job offer in Italy. It was one of those major forks in the road, the kind of big decision that could transform a life. Which, for better or for worse, is exactly what it did.

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It was a few weeks after my breakup with Lucie when I woke up one morning in my little student room and realised I was actually pretty happy! This was a surprising development on several fronts. Firstly was the accommodation itself, a dingy box of a room containing little more than a desk, a sink and a dubious bed that kept collapsing when I rolled over in the night. The toilet, bathroom and kitchen had to be shared with a pair of local girls and an eccentric Iraqi called Zaiid, who spent his days living off Belgian social benefits and failing to learn Flemish. 

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