WHEN I look at this photograph now, it has two dimensions for me: it is both what I see at the moment and also there is this shadowy flicker of what actually was, which seems in a funny way more real than the picture itself. What I find interesting is that I actually remember it being taken, and also it has an internal story, which we'll get to.

There's myself and my best friend and next-door neighbour Steve, and I'm five or six, and Steve is a year older, so it would be about 1940-ish. You can see my knickers, which I suspect would have matched my cotton frock, but I'm also wearing a rather battered straw hat: you must remember that this is in Egypt, where I was born and brought up, and probably the temperature was about a hundred.

We lived about four miles outside Cairo: there were three houses occupied by Europeans, but otherwise we were completely isolated within what we called the Cultivations. We each had a large garden, and Steve and I used to live this kind of Huck Finn existence.

He was being educated, being a boy, but I wasn't. So he used to go to school in Cairo daily and I used to lie in the ditch outside his house waiting for him to come back so we could get on with the business of the day. I liked him very much.

What we have here is a large wooden packing-case turned on one side, and the case is our house, the structure with which we played extremely complex games. Steve is holding a home-made bow and I'm holding one arrow. He was very good at making things and would have made the bow and arrow. I, though, would have devised the game, because I supplied the fantasy world for the games we played, and Steve always supplied the material props. The fascinating thing is that this had a bearing on later adult life. Steve, you see, became the sculptor Steve Hurst, and I became a writer . . .

Looking at it now, we seem very small and just a couple of children, but I know that it's not really like that at all, that we weren't small, we were enormous, we were very sophisticated people, that was how it felt at the time.

Children are viewed as rather fringe things, on the edge, yet what I have somewhere deep within me, looking at this, is the knowledge that in fact one was absolutely central - I think it's a faint residual perception of the way in which children are completely egocentric; that the world revolves round them rather than them being in any way an accessory to the world.

Well, we forget it, you see, but I think the faintest little part of it lingers, and the photograph gives me a hint of it.

Anyway, Steve and his family left Egypt only a couple of years after this was taken. I and my family stayed on until the end of the war, but then an amazing thing happened.

I had no idea what happened to him, but about 16 years ago I was living just outside Oxford in an old farmhouse which had a large barn attached to it which didn't belong to us.

We heard that this had been sold to a sculptor but had no idea who this might be, and then one day there was a knock on the door and there stood this figure who was not exactly recognisable but there was some vague feeling of familiarity as he introduced himself as our new neighbour.

And there he was again - half a world away and 35 years later, Steve Hurst, my next-door neighbour again.

We were both thunderstruck by the coincidence and we became good friends all over again and have remained so ever since . . .

(Photograph omitted)

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