I am waiting for Mark.
For the last several months he has been missing, Garbo-like, from public life. But in reality he has been writing a new book. We have agreed to go back over the original manuscripts for this edition, to do some editing, add in some extras, delete a few choice words and phrases. We meet in his London home, where he is dressed in a workday uniform of brown shirt, jeans and trainers, hair clipped up in practical busy-busy fashion, all smiles and loud laughter. We first met over five years ago. Then we tentatively shook hands and the laughter was nervous. All that has changed. But some things have not. He still famously hates interviews.
Around us there is evidence of a very regular existence. There are books scattered everywhere, a Sony widescreen with a DVD of Shackleton sitting below it. Atop the fireplace hangs a painting called Fishermen by James Southall, a tableau of weather-beaten sea dogs wrestling with a rowing boat; a gift he bought himself on the anniversary of a publication. Balanced against a wall in the office next door is a replica of the Rosebud sledge burned at the dramatic conclusion of Citizen Kane. As I unpack my scripts, I begin with a question. You once said, 'There is a figure that is adored, but I'd question very strongly that it's me.'
There is silence. A stare. You did say it.
'Well supposedly I said that. But in what context did I say it?'
Just talking about people building up this image of you. It was one of the first things you ever said to me.
'Yes, but I'm not, am I?'
There was also that interview that described you as someone fragile being who's hidden himself away.
'That was fairly amusing. A lot of the time it doesn't bother me. I suppose I do think I go out of my way to be a very normal person and I just find it frustrating that people think that I'm some kind of weirdo reclusive that never comes out into the world.'His voice notches up in volume.
Did you ever feel you would finish your first book?
'Oh yeah,'he sighs. 'I mean, there were so many times I thought, I'll have the book finished this year, definitely, I'll get it out this year. Then there were a couple of years where I thought, I'm never gonna do this. I don't know why. Time evaporates.'
He walks over and picks up the manuscripts. He reads a bit. He laughs. 'Did I really agree to this?' he asks. Mark knows the answer.
'A couple of people who read the first book Tour De Europa,' he says, 'they either really liked it or they found it very uncomfortable. I liked the idea of it being uncomfortable. I thought that was great. I love the ambiguity. But I also loved looking back on lost conversations and instantly remembering an emotion.'
A clock somewhere strikes two and a friend arrives with tea, pizza, avocado with balsamic vinegar and cream cake for afters, only to be playfully admonished by Mark, who protests, 'I can't eat all this shit!'
It would appear some things never change.