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The Bulletin at 60: Gay Kavanagh’s early years were a steep learning curve and enriching experience
My 10-year stint in full-time employment at the Bulletin was a time of great change, both in terms of where and how we worked and the number of people working in the company. When I joined, the offices were located on the first floor of a wide townhouse in Rue des Minimes, just off the Sablon, which was by far the nicest location. From there we moved to a tall townhouse at the top of Avenue Louise and then on to the leafy setting of Avenue Molière (illustration below). Soon after I left, the Bulletin moved offices once again to more modern and spacious premises at the Uccle end of Chaussée de Waterloo.
There were four of us working full-time in editorial in the late 70s – editor Aislinn Dulanty, sub-editor Cleveland Moffett, staff writer Brigid Grauman and myself. A number of contributing journalists came to the office a couple of hours a week to work on last-minute news stories and briefs (Ian Gretton) or the expat community news section Parishscope (Rose Doyle, Pat Zanger). These were pre-email, pre-fax times, so other contributors, including a large number of Brussels based foreign correspondents, often dropped off their copy in person or sent it in via post or taxi.
My main tasks initially were compiling the What’s On guide to events, the TV and cinema listings, and the Happenings section announcing events organised by the many and varied expat community associations in Belgium. We worked on manual typewriters, cutting and pasting (scissors and glue!) the listings still valid from the previous week’s publication and updating them from hundreds of press releases, programmes and other material received by post every day. The film listings involved telephoning the cinemas one by one, noting the information manually the day before printing day. All in all it was labour intensive and deadlines were tight, but the whole production process got easier in the 1980s with the advent of faxes and computers.
The first years were a steep learning curve and enriching experience. I hadn’t been in Belgium long so I was literally plunged into all things Belgian – the arts and culture, folklore, history, politics, gastronomy, fashion and lifestyle, as well as the many causes espoused by the magazine, including conservation, the environment, the feminist movement and much more.
I made lifelong friends during my time at the Bulletin and afterwards when I came back as a freelancer to help edit/proofread and work with the xPats.com website team or as contributing editor for the Newcomer magazine, working alongside Vicky Whenham. Bulletin staff came from all over the world – the UK, US, Australia and, of course, Belgium as well as other European countries.
But there was always a strong Irish representation – the late Aislinn Dulanty, Brigid Grauman, Mary Scott, Kathleen Cagney, Dee Lockhart, Susan Carroll, as well as myself. Bulletin parties and anniversary celebrations were legendary occasions held in offbeat or prestigious settings. But on a much smaller scale, the Saint Patrick’s Day office lunches, organised by the Irish staff, or celebrations for birthdays or other special occasions were memorable too.
Gay Kavanagh left the Bulletin in 1988 to work with John Palmer at The Guardian’s Brussels office and then as a part-time staff writer at CREW, the Centre for Research on European Women. She also worked as a freelance translator, copywriter and proofreader. In 2005, she joined the communications unit of the Left Group (then GUE/NGL) in the European Parliament, retiring in 2018. Gay now lives in southwest France.