Each time I sit in St Bride’s on Fleet Street during the memorial of another friend, I look around at the crowds they’ve been able to pull in and feel terribly envious. Riffling through the order of service and then the church’s book of correspondents to find the faces of old comrades, I’m like a man wondering if any guests will bother turning up to one’s own hastily arranged bring-a-bottle party. Our 1990s generation of Nairobi hacks has been severely depleted. While we survivors are not a distillation of complete bastards, it’s natural to feel many of the best have gone before us. Too many were killed young on the story. In later years, the mundane explanations for colleagues’ deaths often seemed to hide the allostatic load and its delayed effects on mind and body. It was the impact of seeing too much for too long but also, of course, of living hard and fast and well and having far too much fun.
Mark Huband, who has just died at the age of 58, was a brave man and an excellent Africa correspondent. By the time he arrived in East Africa, he had already seen the horrors of Liberia’s civil war and he was pitched immediately into Somalia’s anarchy and famine. Personally we were never close and we both found it intensely irritating that many people mistook us for one another, especially given we were such different characters. Professionally we were rivals, but in the violent cauldron of Mogadishu we spent a great deal of time together, ducking into the same craters, taking notes in the same famine camps, and in the evenings sharing bottles and stealing each other’s cigarettes. Mark worked for the Guardian and I was a Reuters man.