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Tyne bridge from Hilton

I was intending to write my conference report on the train home from the conference on Sunday afternoon, but was so exhausted after a full-on, action-packed couple of days that I caught up on sleep instead! Two days on, the customary post-conference feeling of well-being has returned and I definitely feel renewed, rejuvenated and regenerated.

This year’s ITI conference had a lot to live up to, from the glowing reports of the city itself, to the impressive shadow cast by the previous conference at Gatwick, to its “sold-out” status weeks before it actually began. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

I had been to Newcastle before, but over 30 years earlier, and I was seriously impressed by the vibrant city that awaited me as I walked from the station down to the Hilton. Beautiful Georgian architecture, a monument to Earl Grey (my favourite tea!) and the conference venue’s fabulous setting overlooking the river and those stunning bridges. Even the weather played a part, with clear blue skies and sunshine throughout our stay, showcasing the North-East to maximum advantage.

The conference itself was an extremely enjoyable, eventful and enriching mix of presentations, networking and fringe activities designed to relax and stimulate simultaneously. I was only sorry I couldn’t split myself in half and be in two places at once! As a seasoned conference goer, it was lovely to meet up with old friends and encounter lots of new faces too, including colleagues I’ve been corresponding with for years, but never met in person before. The pre-conference Tweet-up was busy and chaotic: I’m not sure I quite got the gist of tweeting whilst trying to chat to other attendees, but it was certainly a novel experience!

I’d signed up as a buddy in the ITI’s “Newbies and Buddies” scheme, a new venture for this year, but feel I should apologise to my “newbies”, Laura and Isabelle, for not being with them as much as I’d have liked after the initial session. It’s amazing that it’s so hard to find people in amongst a crowd of 300+ attendees, yet you bump into others time and time again. I console myself with the thought that whenever I did glimpse them from afar, they were deep in conversation with other delegates, so I hope they don’t feel too let down! The scheme is a great idea though – and one I wish had been around when I went to my first conference many moons ago….

There were so many interesting presentations to choose from, but my highlights include Andrew Morris’ fascinating talk on “The translator’s invisible toolkit”, which centred on attitudes, beliefs and our approach to work, stressing positive thoughts and change from within. He suggested regularly reviewing good achievements in the past and present and setting manageable goals for the future – and reminded us that the key for any freelance translator is to be as good as you can at your job, successful and happy. All three don’t necessarily go together unless you work at it….

Gabi Bocanete’s session “Breathe and change your life” was another must for me: I’d attended her session at the FIT Congress in Berlin and found this one equally refreshing: it’s so important to take time to think about our posture, breathing and how we treat our bodies if we are to remain physically and mentally healthy and do our jobs to the best of our ability.

Nick Rosenthal and Judith Townsley’s presentation on “Translating a book, by two book virgins” was an entertaining reminder that even the most experienced colleagues don’t always get it right first time and definitely worth noting for project management tips on very long jobs.

I also enjoyed Kim Sanderson’s talk on architecture translation: “When is a square not a square”, for an intriguing take on the nuances of translating architectural detail, and Marian Dougan’s session on “Brain food for translators: the language (and flavours) of chocolate” was extremely interesting and ultimately delicious with three types of chocolate for tasting and a welcome caffeine boost towards the end of a hectic second day!

Inevitably, with three streams of talks there were bound to be clashes and I missed a number of sessions I would have loved to attend, such as Chris Durban’s “Budgets”, Alison Hughes’ debut on “It’s not what you spend, it’s the way that you spend it” and Percy Balemans’ slot on “Fashionable translations”. The disparity in the size of the available rooms also meant that the smaller rooms quickly filled up, so if you were waylaid by chatting to colleagues en route (a not uncommon occurrence, as you can imagine!), you found yourself facing a “Session full” sign. I’m sure that in the past we’ve been asked beforehand which sessions we intended to attend, which would at least give some idea of numbers for each session. Or perhaps a live video stream in another room might be a solution for oversubscribed presentations?

Alongside the mainstream sessions there was a host of fringe events to while away any spare minutes: I seized the opportunity to have a professional photograph taken (no mean feat for me, as I HATE having my picture taken); Jules Selmes was brilliant at putting reluctant subjects at their ease and I’m hoping the finished result will be on my various social media accounts soon – about time too! I also had a blissful stress-relieving head and neck massage whilst waiting in the green room – if only to ease the stress of all that unaccustomed chatting and socialising for an otherwise pretty solitary translator! Yoga and salsa were laid on in the brief interval between the day’s events and the gala dinner, and I opted for salsa, despite a feeling of information overload and a need for peace and quiet. I was so glad I did, as it was brilliant – and it turns out that concentrating on the intricate dance moves to laid-back Latin tunes was just what I needed to revive me for the evening’s entertainment!

Cascade at Alnwick GardenThe trips arranged for Sunday morning were the perfect end to a fabulous weekend: I opted for the Castles tour up the Northumbrian coast to Alnwick Castle and Garden – a must-see destination for me for several years now and it didn’t disappoint. We also stopped at Barter Books, the most wonderful second-hand bookshop set in an old railway station. As you entered, there was a deeply evocative smell of steam trains and old books, then you found yourself amongst open fires, cosy chairs, shelf upon shelf of reading matter and model railways running around above your head! The top hat was the café in the corner, serving delicious coffee and cakes – it’s a wonder our guide managed to extract this particular group of translators at all…..

Barter's bookshop April 2015Train in Barter BooksA few minor niggles: the conference food was disappointing, especially after the fabulous range at Gatwick two years earlier. Someone described it as beige food, and that’s just about right: no salad, no greens, dessert at lunch disappeared before many of us had chance to have any… such a shame for a hotel of the Hilton’s stature. I did wonder whether it might be the North/South divide (and I can say that as a Northerner myself!), but the food we sampled in Newcastle on our sorties into the city on Thursday and Saturday evenings was excellent, thanks to the recommendations of a friend’s student daughter. The Wi-Fi in the hotel was also an issue – not so much for UK translators with access to their mobile data (a novelty for me, living out in the sticks!), but it must have been a pain for international colleagues to have to keep on logging in.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s ITI Conference – I networked, learned and experienced a huge amount. For me, events like this are as much about the people you meet and the fascinating conversations you have (about how to type in Chinese on an iPhone, for example – thanks, Nicola!) as about the formal presentations themselves – and this conference was certainly no exception. Many thanks to Anne de Freyman and the ITI team for all their hard work in bringing it off with such aplomb. Now to put it all into practice!

Newcastle by night