Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Flourishing in Flanders

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Flourishing in Flanders

Article excerpt

Byline: By Sarah Ivison Evening Gazette

The chant of "Middel-burg" greeted Derek when he explained to his Italian colleagues where he was from.

Used to saying "it's a town near Newcastle on the North-east coast" since he came to Belgium in the early 1990s, the 41-year-old was surprised when he was greeted with huge smiles and almost spontaneous applause on a trip to Milan.

"The maddest incident surrounding awareness of Middlesbrough in Europe was on a business trip to Milan to meet a bank in 1999," explains Derek, who lives just outside Brussels in Flanders, a Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

"On the way to the meeting, a few guys from our Milan office asked the usual questions about football and 'where are you from'.

"I was about to launch into the old 'near Newcastle' description but before I had finished the word Middlesbrough they all chanted 'Middel-burg'.

"They insisted on introducing me to our customers as being from Middel-burg and there were huge smiles across the room and almost spontaneous applause."

Derek left Middlesbrough in 1981 to go to Hatfield Polytechnic, then to North London for around ten years.

"I really got the taste for London and stayed on, returning regularly to Teesside for family visits," says Derek, who lives with his Flemish wife, Kathleen, and two sons, Keaton, five, and Lewis, two.

"While in London I developed an expensive and obsessional love for funk music and those second-hand markets in Teesside provided the core of the collection.

"There was a little stall in the Hill Street Centre I used to regularly almost clean out on each visit home.

"Leaving in the early 1980s seemed the only option.

"It was certainly a lot grimmer up North back then."

At the age of 30, Derek had had enough of London and he got an offer in Belgium in 1993.

"I can't see me coming back," says Derek.

"I can't afford England these days.

"House prices are insane and the boom-bust mentality is a killer on the job front.

"Anyway, I've got used to a working healthcare system, a liveable benefit system, an excellent free education system, a usable transport system and a cost of living that is decent for more than just the top-paid 10pc.

"The tax rate of pushing 40pc is a bit of a downer though."

Since being made redundant, Derek enjoyed a few months' break and has become a marketing consultant for financial IT products.

"My Flemish is pretty good but not fluent by any stretch of the imagination," says Derek, whose mum Freda and her husband Dick live in Stockton.

"Progress is hampered by the fact that everyone works in English and so the only practice I get is diligently reading the subtitles on movies shown on Flemish and Dutch television and speaking with the in-laws.

"My French remains 'tourist' despite five years at school and two or three years of intermittent night school when I first arrived in Brussels. …

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