On December 16th, I created my first #feelgoodfriday post, and Mark was the first person I featured. I came across Mark on Facebook through a group he started on March 21st of last year called Clevedon Cars & Coffee, a new community for classic and vintage car enthusiasts. Shortly afterwards, on May 14th, Mark set up the first informal static meet and what a success it was, attracting a great crowd of all ages. and from all walks of life, with just one thing binding them together – their love of cars.

Mark feels that Clevedon is such a natural setting for the cars of yesteryear, and situating it in the Six Ways and Hill Road area, home to an impressive selection of unique, independent shops, cafes and restaurants, makes it attractive to those who may just be accompanying friends and family who are the true petrol heads. It also offers a degree of shade and shelter, a far cry from the usual dusty field where you bake in the sun and viewing the cars is the only pastime. And there’s a certain synergy between the event and the fact that back in 1897, Richard Stephens and Clevedon Motor Cars produced the first all-British-designed and built car.

The epicentre of the meet is the paved area at Six Ways outside Leaf and Bean, but it has grown and now, thanks to Greg Poulter and Chris Brown, includes Tickton Lodge, Weavers House and Channel Court. At the upcoming meet on Saturday, April 8th, Urban Eatz will be at Tickton Lodge serving their delicious Lángos. Almost forgot, as well as food, there will be music in the shape of  ‘Hightown Crows’, a rockabilly blues band coming all the way from London and described by Time Out magazine as playing  “seriously boppin´ blues”. Mark has set up a gofundme page which has so far covered just 10% of the band’s fee, if needs must he will pay the balance along with Leaf and Bean and Three6T, but if the support isn’t there, then he will have to have a rethink. It would be a great pity because the music provided by John Prescott at Christmas definitely added to the vibe. If you would like to support the idea of live music, here’s the gofundme link

So exactly what kind of vibe do you get at a Clevedon Cars & Coffee meet? Be sure that there’s none of the anti-social behaviour that is often, sometimes unfairly, associated with car meets. It’s a laid-back, social event where like-minded people share stories of their pride and joy. There’s no speeding, burnouts or engine revving. The noise level should not rise above the sound of laughter and conversation.

People will often ask Mark if their car is allowed. His answer:  “If you’d crawl across broken  glass just to kiss its tailpipe, yes!”

He added: “Cars parked in the show’s lots should be exceptional. Visitors needn’t bring or even own a car, but they  deserve to see rare or cool works of art, not daily grocery getters”

Lots of cars that attend are still quite affordable; there are many under £10k and a few over £300k. As Mark said, “cool cars come in all price ranges.” And they all have a story about their provenance.

I was really keen to find out more about Mark, and I knew he would make a great subject for Humans of Clevedon, so here goes!

Mark and his wife Lori are both from Los Angeles; Lori is from the north, and Mark is from Santa Ana in the south, and they were married in 1991. They have four children, three daughters aged  25, 22, and 12, an 18-year-old son, and an adorable Malshi (¾ Shih Tzu and ¼ Maltese) called Bandit – an instant shoe-in to any community. And a cow; yes, you read it correctly, a cow called Winkelrieta, but more about her later!

Lori was an international competitive pair skater, so she did most of her schooling through correspondence. She skated for the USA team and competed in the Soviet Block before The Wall came down. Sadly, she no longer skates; her career ended in a car accident in 1988. Having four children of their own, Lori gets to catch up on some aspects of childhood that wouldn’t fit into an ice rink. Lori was a lawyer but now specialises in Ethics and Compliance and is currently the Chief Compliance Officer at a British pharma company.

Mark himself is a Clio-winning television and film director with over seventy-two national prime-time comedic commercials under his belt in the USA. He’s directed commercials for everything from Intel to Mattel and nearly every American fast food company you can think of, including Pizza Hut, McDonalds’, and KFC. Although he left his production company in Santa Monica to support his wife’s career opportunities abroad, he’s still in the Director’s Guild of America, and he still votes in the Academy Awards.

Check out a couple of his ads:

Prior to Covid, Mark had been giving acting and directing classes at Ealing Studios. He explained that directing is up close, physical, and very personal, but the entire population became hamsters, so they shut down. They moved to Clevedon before everything went back to normal. He would very much like to shoot films here in Clevedon.

Mark’s Covid experience sounded fairly typical – isolation, uncertainty, boredom and lack of control.  His wife’s work travel halted, but she’s a great cook, and they made lots of ice cream. He taught his youngest daughter to ride  a bike in their  flat’s underground parking garage (remember when we couldn’t go outside at all!?) He watched all six seasons of Breaking Bad with his older children in the first two weeks. But not so much fun for his son, who was preparing for his G.C.S.Es with Microsoft Teams and was missing out on his beloved Combined Cadet Force. He was ready to fight for queen and country back in London! One daughter spent her university coming-of-age period at home with mum and dad rather than in Nottingham with friends. Their eldest was on her own in the United States and was the first to get Covid.

Mark is a confirmed Anglophile, but it wasn’t until 2017, when a job opportunity in London came up for Lori, that he and the family had the opportunity to live here. Leaving New Hampshire was tough because Mark had spent four years remodeling their home, and the children were settled and happy there. There were many tears, plenty of which were his own. One thing he doesn’t miss is having snow from Halloween to April Fool’s day!

Before moving to New Hampshire, the family had spent eleven years in Switzerland in German-speaking Luzern, ranked as among the prettiest cities in the world. Five generations ago, his great-grandfather had left the canton of Bern for a tiny village in Arizona hence the Swiss name. Having lived in Switzerland from 1987 to 1989, Mark already spoke high German and a Swiss dialect which he had to learn from scratch as an adult, which must have been rather daunting because it is unwritten, but there is little that Mark finds daunting.

Both Lori and Mark have a Scottish-American parent and ran the Wallace Clan in California, where they have seven major Highland Games. Honeymooning in England and Scotland was entirely in keeping with their feelings about the UK.  

I was intrigued as to how this very well-travelled, cosmopolitan family, who have lived in eighteen places since 1987 places had come to Clevedon. The family first set eyes on our beautiful, Victorian seaside town on October 24th 2020; Mark was smitten, as with his wife, it was love at first sight. Not so the rest of the family!

“Dad, there’s no Starbucks!  Our lunch was ‘meh’, and the weather sucked.”

On the drive back to London, Mark pretended to care about everyone’s first impression, but he was head over heels and a week later, at Halloween, they had found a home in “Clevah-don” which is how they thought it was pronounced.

But what was it about Clevedon? The  Rebers have lived in other countries, in metropolitan and rural areas where bears roam the forests……but they chose Clevedon, and it was a deliberate choice. They searched the length and breadth of the country before they discovered our beautiful town, and yes, it was a very practical choice with its proximity to the M5,  Bristol and the airport, and of course the very low crime rate, but it was none of that.  

Mark was  quite simply overwhelmed by: all the unmolested Victorian beauty and charm the Tolkiens discovered on their honeymoon here in 1917.”

And in terms of size, “Clevedon is the Goldilocks of town sizes; it’s not too big, not too little, but just right.”

Lori and the children now share his love of the town, and he joked about what they would do to him if he ever mentioned the idea of moving.

Mark speaks fondly about the people in Clevedon; he has not experienced the stereotypical ‘British stiff upper lip’, quite the opposite. His experience is of warm, friendly, relaxed people going about their daily business, totally unaware of the kindness he sees in their habits and practices. And of course Bandit has paved the way.

It reminds him of home, I grew up in a Latin culture in Southern California where laughter and tears were just part of the landscape. Sure, Clevedon skies are grey, the water is brown, and people are overwhelmingly white, but it’s so much more L.A. than London.”

Mark has welcomed a constant stream of visitors to Clevedon since his arrival; sadly, his parents are too old to travel, but five of his siblings have come to visit, as have some of their children and some of his nieces and nephews. Swedish friends were directing parking at Clevedon Cars & Coffee when a classic SAAB showed up, making them feel right at home. Even his dentist from Switzerland has enjoyed Poet’s Walk.

I asked Mark what life had been like growing up. His father was a junior school Headmaster and therefore had summers off but being one of eight, life was rather expensive.  Holidays were spent camping, never hotels, even on the longest of journeys, such as from LA to New York! His Mum became very proficient at making sandwiches on her lap. Bearing in mind that 11 States are larger than the entire UK, during the course of his childhood, the family toured some 44  in their gigantic 7.5-litre estate wagon. They also explored Canada! Mark did not set foot on a plane until he was nineteen; his love of cars is not really surprising.

I would argue that British and American cultures are very different, and I asked Mark what the biggest culture shocks had been. Like many of my American friends who believed that school houses, prefects and school uniforms were uniquely a feature of Harry Potter along with treacle tart and butterbeer, Mark soon learnt differently when faced with having to kit out four children ready for their first day of term. What would look like lovely first-day school photos to us caused great hilarity amongst their American friends.

The beautiful couple in the photos below are Mark’s eldest daughter Deveney and her husband, Adam, who were recently married.

The second aspect of British life Mark mentioned was related to one of the most stressful life events for many of us, right up there with finding a job, planning a wedding, even having a baby! Yes, you’ve guessed it! Buying a house!

Whilst much of the process would be stressful wherever you lived, it is particularly stressful in England, where the seller is free to accept a better offer from another buyer all the way up to exchanging contracts which can be months after the sale was agreed. Not so in the States, where once the seller has accepted the offer and returned it to the buying team, then the two parties have a legally binding contract – a process that makes for a lot less disappointment. It was a rude awakening for Mark and his family when they were buying property in London, and gazumping and gazundering were the order of the day! Happily, this was not the case in Clevedon, which was good to hear.

London was really good for the Rebers but it wasn’t England and being an Anglophile Mark didn’t enjoy the  “bashing Britain” mentality that makes you seem erudite in some London circles. He and Lori had experienced this as expatriates in other countries as well but described it as quite over the top in London. Their experience in Switzerland was very different; even in their big cities like Zürich, Basel or Bern, the Swiss love Switzerland. He joked about getting out of London so they could experience England and happy for us the day they did!

Finally, you won’t be surprised to hear that Mark commented on our constant complaining about the weather even though it is far milder than in the States, and we really don’t experience extremes of weather in this country. It is a bit of a national pastime and one I hate to admit I indulge in!

Mark is definitely a people person, and when he’s at the car meet, he sees “faces more than fenders” and loves the stories that these proud car owners readily share and are often so interesting and told with such passion.

I wondered what car Mark would have if money were no object, and he cited the 1965 427 Cobra or the 1966 Ford GT40 because they both represent the “special relationship” between the US and the UK in its finest hour – American muscle with British class from AC and Lola, respectively.

Interestingly, Mark doesn’t consider himself to be a good driver preferring to describe himself as a fan. He’s put his GT on the grass on Lavant Corner and Goodwood. Every time he hops in a classic car, he repeats a mantra,:

“It’s just a shiny coffin,

killed better men than me,

Then I step inside

And turn the bloody key”

His particular niche in the vast spectrum of motorsport is European bodies and American V8s from the 1960s and 70s – Shelby Cobras, Panteras/Mangustas, also Grifo/Bizzarrini, Monteverdi and Intermeccanica – what people used to mean by HYBRID. It’s not just the V8 sound or the stump-pulling torque; for Mark, it’s what he describes as “a responsible, guilty pleasure because all the engine parts are cheap and plentiful.”

Mark’s first cars were American V8 muscle cars, and he thinks of his dad helping him maintain his every time he starts one.

Almost forgot to tell you about Winkelrieta! The cow! It’s a great story and says so much about the Rebers. There are lots of stories flying around about Winkelrieta, including one that she’s just appeared and she’s part of an art exhibition with cows appearing all around Somerset – a bit like Gromit Unleashed. Others maintain that she’s been around for decades. Well, neither is true, and the true story is just delightful!

When the Rebers left Switzerland, they had a big farewell party and decided they wanted their friends and family to sign a farewell cow rather than a farewell card! Entrance Winkelrieta!  She’s painted with 1965 red and white Corvette paint so she can remain outdoors. Winkelrieta has moved with them four times and is set to become a cherished family heirloom. She’s also very popular with friends – Deveney’s Prom dates had to have their photo taken with her.

 As you can imagine, Winkelrieta has caused great amusement amongst the removal men and neighbours! She looks very much at home where she is currently, but she was a tight fit in London. (bottom right)

I loved interviewing Mark, getting to know him a little better and hearing him wax lyrical about Clevedon and the people. I’m no car buff, but the Clevedon Cars & Coffee meet-up was good fun, and there were lots of people like me there, not very knowledgeable about cars but interested in embracing something new and enjoying the car talk.

Events like this don’t just happen, and I’m sure setting up and running such a well-organised, safe meet-up has involved a tremendous amount of work, but I’m equally sure it is very much appreciated by all who attend, and I do hope that Mark is successful with his gofundme campaign to support live music at the event.

Thank you Mark!

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