When asked to write a few words about ScotNet’s landmark birthday, I went back to Jackie Jones’ article for its 21st anniversary, which reminded me that I had been fortunate to be present at ScotNet’s inaugural meeting. Looking at the cast list of motley linguists carefully listed in the very first set of minutes reminds me of how vibrant, colourful and supportive the network was then … and is now. Yet memory suggested that it was certainly not the well-oiled machine then that it has since become. Memory is a fickle beast, so a “quest for the truth” led me to contact some of the early members to exchange reminiscences and try to piece together the early days of ScotNet. What follows is, in a sense, a joint effort in collective memory.
What is striking about the first meeting is the preponderance of interpreters in attendance; I had shared a booth with four of them (Sylvie Ludwig, Andrew Walker, Omar Babbar and Isabelle Perez), added to whom were Ursula Böser and Annie Mead, a Hong Kong Chinese interpreter. Translators were much thinner on the ground (David Kerr, Susanne Thorsen and Gordon Stuart at that first meeting).
None of us can quite remember exactly how they came to hear of this brave new venture. Universities were strongly represented, with Andrew Walker for Stirling and Anne Sutherland for Heriot-Watt University’s translation agency, which supplied most of the interpreting equipment in Scotland. They were later joined by Professor Nick Round of Glasgow and Hugh Keith of Heriot-Watt Universities. Hugh later became Convenor, and fondly remembers that, even back then, the association boasted members on five of the Scottish islands.
The late 80s and early 90s were the halcyon days of interpreting in Scotland, and Isabelle remembers major international conferences hosted in places as far flung as Stornoway and Orkney. Translation, and particularly interpreting, was booming in Scotland. Yet among the interpreters there was the feeling that ITI head office in London was more translation-focused and certainly somewhat remote from these new realities north of the border. Indeed, I seem to remember at one point, during an interpreting gig, a German interpreter launching an impassioned appeal for us to create our own association. His “declaration” was an early outburst of ScotNetionalism (sic and sorry). One thing led to another and … a branch was ours! ITI is much to be thanked and admired for instantly acceding to a request from Scotland to set up its own branch, and, as the minutes show, the first meeting was held at the elegant Edinburgh flat of Sylvie Ludwig. She later, when pastures were no longer so promising up here, left to become an AIIC interpreter and work in France.
I hosted the second meeting at the University of Strathclyde, where we all crammed into a cubbyhole which was later to become the photocopying room. Some members were anxious to project a modern image and found that the title “chairman”, applied to men and women alike, was somewhat outdated. A heated discussion ensued, went round and round in eddying circles (a foretaste of delights to come), and Nick Round, a seasoned practitioner in pouring oil on troubled waters, suggested the genderneutral term Convenor … perhaps our first step in trying to forge a distinctive Scottish identity. It was the only clear decision I can recollect from any of the meetings I attended. If pushed, several of us would readily admit that discussions tended to ramble a bit and lack focus. The most important thing was to stand up and be counted!
Another memorable event was hosted by the eminent and, in our view, somewhat eccentric polyglot and translator Gordon Stuart, at his home: Colliston Castle, just outside Arbroath. We arrived after dark, so did not get the full 16th-century-castle effect. When we went inside, my abiding memory is of ancient doors (lots) punctured with makeshift cat flaps for his collection of cats (also lots). We huddled, as David Kerr recollects, in front of a rather weedy threebar electric heater (hardly in keeping with the size and grandeur of the venue) while the cats prowled around us (a tantalising promise of warmth, perhaps), during another lengthy and largely inconclusive meeting.
Yet, such was the ardent desire to create something distinctively Scottish that increasing numbers of people braved the weather on countless occasions to turn out and lend a hand. And so, like Topsy, from these modest beginnings, we grew and grew (and thankfully refined our Committee skills) to become the ScotNet that we know and love today. We did not, however, in those days think to document ourselves photographically. I leave this vision of the past to your imaginations.