Short stories/politics/creative non-fiction/childrens
Mark was born in 1958 and grew up in Berkshire. He went to school at Bradfield College, near Reading, and then studied for a degree in Economics at the London School of Economics.
Mark’s career was in retail, working for small and large companies, before he opened his own chain of shoe shops, which he sold in 2007. Aside from politics, Mark likes to keep fit with running, cycling and trekking. He has run several marathons, completed the Coast to Coast Walk and the Two Moors Way in Devon for charity, and cycled from Bangkok to Angkor Wat for the Cambodian Red Cross. He is a member and supporter of the National Trust. He also has an addiction to older Lancia cars, but is trying to keep the miles down!
Mark is married and lives in the Westminster North constituency, in St John’s Wood. He is an active member of the Friends of Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill and a patron of London Zoo. He is also a member of the St John’s Wood Society, and regularly attends Westminster council's St John’s Wood Forum. Mark supports a north London football team - he is a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, but gave up his season ticket last year as it was becoming too painful!
Before moving to St John’s Wood four years ago, Mark lived in Camden, where he rejoined the Liberal Democrats after a long gap since his LSE days. While in Camden, Mark was instrumental in the campaign to save the area around Camden Town Tube station from the developers, helping to stop the destruction of Trinity Church in Buck Street, the Electric Ballroom and part of the market. These would have been replaced by a 16-storey office block.
Since moving to Westminster he has been Treasurer and is now Chair of the local Liberal Democrats. He fought the Abbey Road council by-election as the LibDem candidate in May 2007. He was very involved in the campaign to stop sixty mature trees being cut down and meadowland being concreted over in Regent’s Park to provide Astroturf football pitches.
He was selected as the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate in January 2009.
(Here’s my short story which was longlisted for the 2021 Fish Flash Fiction Prize)
THE GREAT OAK
The storm took forty trees from the golf course, its nine holes carved from a corner in the grounds of the crumbling estate in a forlorn attempt to eke out some revenue. The golf club dragged in a few euros, but Peter, possibly the last of the Cleave family who’d live in the place (well, a wing), wondered if it was worth the effort.
The golfers moaned on Facebook that the storm had only blown over the conifers around the edges, shame it hadn’t taken the big old tree on the fairway. This imperious oak blocked the route to the green, but Peter was damned if he would chop it down.
The online frenzy came to a head when Paudie Cahalane posted the veiled threat that ‘strange things happen at night’, telling members not to be too concerned about the tree.
Peter knew what Cahalane was thinking, and when the next in the endless onslaught of storms swept through, he was installed in the lookout tower the golfers used to check if the green was clear. This tempest came with thunder and lightning. In a burst of white light he could see Cahalane scurrying across, chainsaw in hand.
Peter rushed down the ladder and ran towards the tree as a phenomenal gust almost took him off his feet. There was a fearful crack, and freeze-frame lightning showed the tree splitting half way down its trunk, with an enormous branch hurtling down towards the upturned and terrified face of one Paudie Cahalane.
* * * * *
Next morning the Fire Brigade couldn’t get the tree off the body. They called in Kennedy Tree Care; even they took three hours.
Today my children’s book Brian the Barrington Bear which is beautifully illustrated by Alice Jowitt goes on sale in hardback, soft cover and online – you can buy the books here: Amazon.co.uk : brian the barrington bear
(though please note these people don’t hold stock, they wait for you to order!)
I’ve also seen it’s for sale at Barnes & Noble if you’re in the States! If you’re local to me, some of our shops will be selling it too – e.g. Hambridge Village Stores. If you have an outlet where you could sell some, do please tell me! Also, please let me know if you find it selling anywhere else so I can pass that on. And do please review it on the retailer website if you buy it! I’m learning on the job so any feedback gratefully received.
Some reactions to it below. The target market is probably around 7 years old!
Brian the Barrington Bear Abdolutely delightful, beautifully written, lovely illustrations – Gill, Somerset * The story is lovely. Very timeless, charming and touching – Helena, Children’s Author * Fabulous story, loved it. The illustrations are simple, but beautiful, too – Gayle, Northumberland * Lexi (6) loved the story and so did I! She said it’s her favourite new book – Mandy, Nice, France * I enjoyed your wonderful story immensely and the illustrations are gorgeous – Sabita, Gallery Owner * This is wonderful! I can’t wait to read it to the children! – Kerry, Somerset * Callie loved, loved, loved the story and has called her Harrods bear Brian – Domenica, Washington VA, USA
Just an update really – plenty going on at the moment. Brian the Barrington Bear is coming out this Friday in eBook, soft cover and hardback. Will post everything you need to know here on Friday! And I’ve recently heard that a piece I submitted to Moxy Magazine will be published. It’s all about an imaginary airport of your dreams and nightmares, plane crashes and ‘boneyard’ wrecks. Again, details will be posted here on publication.
Meanwhile I’ve tidied this site up – in the early days it was used for my political blog when I stood for parliament – I’ve left a couple of posts there for interest’s sake…
In the 70s, my brother and I were… planespotters. Home was near Windsor, and during the holidays we’d pester our mother to take us there to catch the 727 Green Line to Heathrow. She probably didn’t mind, two boys out of her hair all day. In our bags went our tools – binoculars, log books and air band radio, which could be useful if we couldn’t read the plane’s number on the fuselage.
The radio looked like any other but alongside the usual medium and long wave you could listen to conversations between the pilots and air traffic control on VHF. So if you missed ‘copping’ a number with the binoculars, you might hear the pilot speaking to the tower.
Also into the plane spotting kitbag went a packed lunch. A cheese sandwich, a bottle of Cresta (it’s frothy, man) and a banana, which made the cheese sandwich taste of banana too, especially if it was a hot day and we let everything mush up in the bottom of the bag.
They called them Green Line Coaches, but really it was just a single decker bus. Once we got there, we’d go to the Queen’s Building, a labyrinthine rooftop terrace between Terminals One and Two.
The Queen’s Building was a remnant of an earlier age of innocence, where the plane spotters were outnumbered by friends and families waving off or welcoming travellers. Those expecting passengers would wait until they saw the correct plane touch down, often with the guidance of a friendly spotter, and then they’d rush down to the terminal to be in place to greet their people before they’d collected their baggage and come through passport control.
But as we passed whole days on the terraces, we lived and breathed planes. Not just looking at them, but reeling in the throb and rumble as the planes landed and took off. Landing, thrust reversers screeched as pilots urged their aircraft to a stop. Taking off they’d make even more noise, every inch of throttle needed to get a hundred ton metal tube into the air. And the smell – a pervasive fug of burnt kerosene.
And why do I say seaside pier, in the middle of an airport? Well, there were little cafes and shops, and photo and recording booths. It was a rare day that we didn’t take home a set of mugshots of us pulling faces or a cheap piece of vinyl recording some unlistenable din we’d made. There was a camaraderie among the planespotters, and if someone missed spotting a number someone else would volunteer the info.
I regularly use Heathrow now for business trips to Ireland, and while I’m waiting for the plane to Cork I probably sit in much the same place sipping my moccachino from the Eat concession as I did when I trained my binoculars on the runway. I watch the planes, but I don’t write down any numbers, from inside what is now known as the Queen’s Terminal.
So, that’s that then, and we’re on the brink of a new government being formed – it looks like (despite the efforts of the Tory press) enough people voted Lib Dem to give us influence and temper toxic Tory tendencies.
For my part, I was squeezed in Westminster North but pleased that the winner was a woman with integrity who genuinely cares for her constituents. We tried hard to focus our efforts on getting a council seat – we didn’t manage this but we beat Labour into a distant 3rd and narrowed the gap on the Tories.
I’d like to use my final “Election Day” blog to thank all the members, supporters and voters – and to list some of the tributes to our campaign below:
“Well done on a great campaign (best ever in these parts I think)” – senior party strategist.
“I just wanted to tell you that whatever happens today I think you’ve fought a brilliant campaign” – phone call on polling day from anonymous voter.
“Mark, I really admire the job that you locally and your leader nationally have done” – blog post
“Mark Blackburn made a stonking speech tonight: ‘Let’s no longer pander to the politics of fear’ ” – a fellow LibDem candidate
“Your votes were EXCELLENT. Please keep working over the next four years” – another LibDem candidate
“I am so impressed by your work and energy – and if I lived in Westminster North might even be tempted to vote for you” – a Labour Party supporter
“Awesome!” – a new member
I’m not just posting all this for my own benefit (though it is heartening to read!) but as a tribute to all of you who helped in this campaign. Thank you all. And so that’s it for now – but I’ll be back – whether it’s five months or five years!
Firstly, an admission of failure. I tried really hard to write some kind of blog every day, but the last few days have been even more manic than usual, and I’ve failed. But, some good news – new volunteers ahoy! So I’m sure with their help I’ll catch up.
Back to the subject in hand – climate change. Yesterday, along with other Lib Dem PPCs, I went along to Oxfam London and South East in Victoria and learnt about how they’re dealing with the problem. We focused particularly on their work in Pakistan, and heard from Arhab Shakar who’s been Oxfam’s Programme Officer there for nearly three years. He told us about the effects of floods, cyclones and drought in different areas of the country and how Oxfam are working with local women and men as well as the government and other agencies to reduce risk and mitigate the future impact of such disasters.
I found Shakar’s most powerful example of the scale of the problem to be his figures for the depth of the water table in the drought region of Khuzdar in Balochistan. A few years ago, inhabitants had to drill 20-30 feet to reach the water table. Now they have to drill 100-120 feet. Practical measures Oxfam are taking to remedy this problem includes the provision of water pumps.
The cynic might ask what’s this got to do with canvassing in the residential streets of north west London? Obviously, climate change is a global issue which affects us all, but in our voter surveys more and more people are listing it among their concerns along with the usual very local problems. Linking stories they can identify with, like heavy local flooding and spring coming “eleven days early”, with the life-changing events happening in places like Pakistan, make climate change a universal issue you can talk about on the doorstep.
Getting into arguments about whether climate change is man-made or not is now just a distraction – the fact is that it’s there and we’re the only ones who can do something about it.