Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Last year I attended IATEFL Harrogate virtually, from the comfort of my cubby-hole in Dublin. It was great. I saw loads of talks and listened to lots of interviews. This year I had the chance to go in the flesh. I promised I would write about my real visit and how it compared to the pajama version. I arrived in Brighton late on Friday and spent Saturday going to talks. All good. All interesting but to be honest I could have got the content just as well at home. It's nice to get out of the house though sometimes.

On the morning of my own talk, Sunday, I was in a heightened state of excitement. I'd spent a lot of time preparing my presentation on Linked Language Learning. This was my European debut. A lot of the people I had been following on Twitter and whose blogs I'd been reading and commenting on would no doubt be there. The new books I've been working on since I was a lad would be out, freshly displayed to all. There were even publishers gift's, iTools, an interview, a tweet-up. Everything a self-promoting spud could ever dream of.

I got up at the absolute crack of dawn, went for a jog all the way to the Royal Pavilion, took a shower and had a light breakfast with a fellow author, (the now legendary Lewis Lansford of English for Oil and Gas fame). Then I headed upstairs to reflect a little before setting off to join the fray down the road.

On returning to the still of my palatial room, as I sometimes do at these important moments, to add a little additional significance to the occasion, a little frisson, I reached for a random book. As I was in a hotel room this happened to be Gideon's Bible. I closed my eyes and opened the book, gently tapped the page with my forefinger, opened my eyes and started to read. Can you imagine my extreme disappointment to see the following verse from the book of Job (27:12)

You have all seen this yourselves. Why then this meaningless talk?

I mean, really! Clearly some sort of administrative error. A glitch in the matrix.

I pressed on with the day but of course I had no chance really. To be honest my talk was indeed, as predicted by God, very poorly attended numbers-wise. But! But! It's quality that counts, innit? There were some very special people there and you know who you are. Thank you so much both of you.

Why didn't the crowds cram the place to the rafters? Well apart from the Divine veto of the event, I was on straight after lunch. The sun came out for the first time that weekend. The room was too big and rather removed from the main shindig. Most people made the wise decision to stay on the beach or have a leisurely lunch, or go to one of the 25 or so concurrent and clearly less meaningless talks. Excuses excuses! What the hell. We were singing. We were dancing. It was a glorious, special time that anyone who was there will never forget and an important day in the movement that was to become Late Language Lunching.

Don't get me wrong. Despite the unfortunate cosmic misunderstanding regarding my carefully prepared lecture I am very happy to have gone to Brighton. I genuinely consider it to have been an honour and one of the funnest things I've done professionally or even unprofessionally. I breathed the same air as all those people. You know. Those people. They'd been whizzing around the spare Firefox window beside my manuscript for the last two years. These are the people who've been keeping me sane. Well partly sane anyhow.

Trainspotting Highlights of my weekend? As is the mode at the moment allow me a dozen or so name drops:
1. I was in the same room as Shelly Terrell. She actually exists! In real life!
2. I was on the other side of a revolving door to Gavin Dudeney. I thought of jamming it with my foot so I could just hold him there like a kind of high tech goldfish as the entire running of the event ground to a standstill. But I was merciful. I let him swim away.
3. I sat in a talk next to Ken Wilson, whispering conspiratorially and Tweeting fiendishly throughout. Him not me. He must have been a handful at school I reckon.
4. I watched Scott Thornbury being interviewed...in real life! God that man has a fine voice and how he uses his hands. When he's not scaling fish or crushing olives or whatever it is he does for a living.
5. I met Four Horsewomen of the Bosphorous. I want to go to Turkey so.
6. I embraced Karenne like a long-lost friend (was I overfriendly, I wonder?) and thrilled as she choked up describing how important blogging was to her.
7. I met Sue Lyons-Lyons-Lyons for the first time, sitting together by the sea in the early morning dew with...
8. Heike! Who I met again later in the day looking really fed up. I went back and got her handbag which she'd forgotten (and I thought Germans were meant to be organised), tiptoeing into a talk to retrieve it from where she had left it . Amazingly nobody stopped me.
9. I joshed with Jamie Keddie briefly as he rushed off, clearly clean out of his mind with enthusiasm and images.
10. I had a sincere and deep conversation with a very nice gardener called David Warr who seemed to have mistaken the venue. I realised afterwards it hadn't been a conversation as I'd done all the talking. Sorry, David.
11. I even shook hands with my old school chum (well we weren't quite contemporaries) Jeremy Harmer. He rushed off too but who needs the Book of Job when you've done that.
12. I met the surprisingly tall Nik Peachey. Surprisingly tall? Why had I an image of that man as being about the size of a 300ml can of lager? Daft really. We talked about oaks.
13. I offered a seat to Carol Read. I repeat. I offered a seat to Carol Read. If you've spent 15 years in the world of young learners ELT you'll appreciate what that means.
14. There was a publisher's dinner, with real food. I met important people who will hold great sway over my future. They were really nice and clever and fun and good-looking and I will do anything they like for them as long as I live.

These are dizzy heights for a wee lad. Will I go back? Probably one day. But I've learnt my lessons. Don't go rooting around in hotel bedside cabinets. Don't go looking for signs. Don't name drop. Don't think that your talk is the most important reason you're there. It's not. Neither is the Esplanade. It's all about sharing. Reality is quite fun enough. Especially when you're in the IATEFL zone, man. Bring me my dressing gown! Roll on 2012. It's not in Dublin by any chance is it?

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