I have sometimes mused on how twitter friendships can be like getting to know someone through a keyhole. Of course we all present a certain version of ourselves to the world but on twitter this is often accentuated. You can have daily conversations with people and have no idea of their real name, what they do, even (as I have discovered on occasion) what gender they are. And yet in other ways you can know them very well from the glimpses they allow you through that keyhole.
I confess I had no idea who Mark Colvin was when I first noticed him on twitter, but I soon realised he was a prominent and highly regarded broadcaster in Australia. I didn't look much beyond that. Over the years we would swap tweets on a regular basis, often jokes and bits of wordplay. And as happens through the kind of constant casual companionship that twitter promulgates, we became friends. Eventually I held this stranger from the other side of the world who I have never met in great affection. I know I'm far from alone in that.
Last year one of Mark’s friends, @JuliusFlywheel , approached me about commissioning a drawing for him. It was the first time I'd understood that Mark was living with a serious illness, not something that he paraded in his busy timeline. And it also opened up Mark’s life to me. For the drawing, Mr Flywheel and his friends regaled me with little details about him that I might want to include and sent me links to articles and recordings. I immediately felt humbled and, if I’m honest, a bit pathetic. I had no idea about him. Despite all these years of knowing him, I knew nothing of his career in journalism, his years as a foreign correspondent, how covering the terrible events in Rwanda would lead to his life-long battle with a rare blood disease, and yet how this in turn lead eventually to his remarkable friendship with Mary-Ellen Field and how she gave him a unique gift - one of her kidneys, and as it now transpires another four years of a rich life.
Yes, I did feel a bit pathetic, but in retrospect I think I was wrong to feel that way. Part of the beauty of twitter is that it’s a place for a meeting of minds. Who you are, what you do, your status is unimportant. Nevertheless, I do feel a certain sense of awe about what he achieved in his life.
It's hard to write the next bit without these over-used words seeming a little hollow, but I assure you they are heartfelt. I feel honoured to have ‘met’ him and to have entertained him with my silly jokes. It was a privilege to have been given the opportunity to draw a picture for him, filled with ideas and memories from those who knew and loved him best. In my drawing the great COLVINIUS stands in the centre, speaking to an admiring, attentive crowd. In his hand is his ipad, the thing that linked him to people, ideas and friendships when his body had failed him and stopped him from physically going out to meet the world.
Mark's memoirs "Light and Shadow. Memoirs of a Spy's Son" are a must-read.
Thanks to @aptronym, @Boeufblogginon, @JuliusFlywheel & @drng for commissioning me and for all their time and input into the drawing, and my deepest condolences to you and Mark's family, friends and loved ones.