This was taken in the house where I lived for 23 years, and epitomises the nearest I got to achieving my life's ambition, which was to live the life of a country squire. The dogs look just absolutely right. A squire's household should have a lot of dogs.

I was 59-odd when it was taken in 1973, but I'd always been interested in the countryside, even as a boy. I was always being asked out to go rook shooting and ferreting, and having gone on to estates and farms, it occurred to me that the most wonderful thing possible - you may think this a rather infantile attitude - was to be born to an estate with a couple of thousand acres, a nice home farm and some good shooting and fishing.

I used to talk about this dream with friends of mine, but we realised we would never achieve it.

I joined the Daily Express in 1946, however, and discovered, happily and quickly, that you didn't have to spend much time in Fleet Street because you weren't ever going to get a story there. And what they wanted me to get were exclusive stories, particularly ones about science and defence.

Now, if you look through Who's Who, you will find that senior civil servants, chiefs-of-staff and politicians all list shooting and fishing as their hobbies - particularly shooting. You are in a different world out in the field, you see, all very private. It's a marvellous medium for meeting people, most of all because, if you're a 'shot' you must be all right.

I knew a lot of people in the Ministry of Defence and, through good luck, I got to know some very important people who got me into the shooting charmed circle.

It was partly fluke, but also part of my policy of trying to live like a country squire. I found that if you spent one day shooting with someone you were closer to them than you would ever get through 10 dinners.

Many, many stories came out of that. When we decided to let off some H-bombs in the Fifties, for instance, no one knew that Christmas Island was to be the place, but I was told it on a farm at Emsworth.

And having met someone like, say, Lord Mountbatten, I could have an interview with him in the Ministry of Defence and there would be a limit to what he could say in the presence of a PR man; but if he asked me down to shoot at Broadlands, he would make sure that I travelled in his Land- Rover, and he'd drive and pick my brains all the time, find out what was going on behind his back - but in a give and take situation.

I became a bit of a golden boy, which gave me freedom and rises, money to live like a squire. But part of being a squire is to have an ancient country home to which you can ask all sorts of people, and in 1957 I was able to buy this lovely house at Ewhurst in Surrey, where the photograph was taken.

It was surrounded by woods and fields; there was a little shoot which I acquired the rights to; and it became my base. I put on parties, and all sorts of people came: people from the Ministry of Defence, chiefs-of-staff, even the KGB.

I'll tell you something I only discovered recently - I can't really tell you about it - but whenever possible, MI5 made sure that they had a spy in on the party, who reported on who was there and anything they overheard.

I got very near to my dreams with this house, but after 23 years the children had gone and it was too big and remote. On our last day, my wife took her car loaded with stuff. I was the last to leave and I kissed the front door. I had great feeling for that place.

Chapman Pincher is a journalist and writer. His latest book is 'One Dog and Her Man', published by Bantam Books ( pounds 3.99).

(Photograph omitted)