I first got to know Mark at a small gathering at his place. I was feeling shy and didn’t want to go as I didn’t really know him, but I was persuaded by Caroline, and as the evening progressed and I got to know Mark, his boys, David, Debs, Catriona and Jana, I relaxed.
At some point, RockBand was fired up. My normal option would probably have been to watch self-consciously from the sidelines, but aided no doubt by the pint sized measures of vodka and coke that Mark was feeding me, I had a go… and thus the greatest rock band never to perform a gig was born! Mark and Debs on vocals, Stu on lead guitar, me on bass - epic! The drum pads weren’t working, but no doubt we would have made do with a succession of spontaneously combusting drummers for our American tour. Or perhaps William would have stepped into the breach.
Fast forward a few months, another night round at Mark’s, many of the same faces, and an introduction to Chaz and Tracey, and Hélène. Ridiculous amounts of alcohol flowed (I think it was pints of G&T this time), much nonsense was talked. Tenuous connections were discovered, shared interests revealed, war stories from games industries exchanged, musical tastes found to be compatible! Turns out Mark and Chaz were in Colindale at the time I was growing up in Kilburn. The age gap was small enough - surely we must have passed in the street, stood next to each other in Games Workshop, jumped up and down with the rest of the Iron Maiden or Marillion crowd at Hammersmith Odeon?
Forward again, this time a barbecue at Mark’s with Nigel in attendance. Once more the world was put to rights, ably assisted by alcohol (I seem to recall Slippery Nipples featuring heavily). Another storming night. Another stonking hangover. There were more nights like this, though sadly not nearly enough. Relaxed chats in An Lanntair. Innocent meetings at MacNeils for a few drinks which magically mutated into HebSar drinking nights. A systematic assault on the HS1 cocktail menu (I blame Debs).
Each of these is a treasured (though somewhat blurry, for some reason) memory.
Yes, alcohol features heavily, but it was the easy drinking of relaxed company, not the mutually assured destruction of a search for oblivion.
I treasure them for the sense of welcome and friendship that Mark created amongst the kindred spirits he gathered around him. He had an easy generosity, and always went out of his way to help us. He also wore his heart on his sleeve, and had plenty of stress in his life when I knew him. I hope I occasionally managed to provide a sympathetic ear to him, though I wish I had done more. Somehow despite his own concerns, he always had time to listen to my troubles, offering advice and reassurance.
I only knew Mark for three years or so, and I wouldn’t presume to claim to have been a close friend, but I wish it had been much longer, and that I’d had the chance to become one.
I wouldn’t normally consider doing anything so gauche as quoting Marillion lyrics in polite company, but I suspect that Mark would let me off. There’s a bit in one of their songs about losing one of their friends in a car crash: “I remember Toronto when Mylo went down / And we sat and cried on the phone / I never felt so alone / He was the first of our own”. Death is part of life, and like everyone reading this I have lost people very dear to me. Somehow though, it feels like Mark was the first of my own.
And now I’m crying again. Bugger.
Miss you Mark.