Travelling to war with men who steal your possessions gives you no stomach at all for their company

I have just passed my 65th year. I can no longer chase after moving buses, for fear of winding up in some hospital corridor on a trolley for several hours, waiting for an exhausted junior doctor to tend me. I treat every dawn that pierces my eyeballs as a welcome excuse to celebrate my resurrection with a lovely cup of PG Tips - minus half the sugar intake I have been used to, because I read recently that the liver doesn't like it. A joke, really, when I think that for most of my life I have worked in various darkrooms with the kind of dangerous chemistry that would finish off the average pensioner.

My new chemical of choice is selenium, which I am experimenting with in the darkroom - I like the way it brings added drama to the images. But by now, I have developed a serious panic about some of the things that I seem to have neglected in my life. I visit as many galleries and exhibitions as possible; the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy are my regular stomping grounds, but I am still not big on theatre.

I was persuaded to go and see the Vagina Monologues the other day, which I must confess made me squirm. I sat there perspiring from rage and embarrassment. Should I feel guilty for being a man? I wanted the ground to swallow me whole. I suppose you could put it down to the generation gap. Or the gender gap?


I am naturally fascinated by the events taking place in Afghanistan, partly because I was there during the period when the Russians started invading the place. I was with a charming Sunday Times writer, Roger Cooper, who speaks many languages, including Farsi, and who survived years of imprisonment in Iran. He was a lovely and gifted companion.

The current coverage brings up memories of that futile journey with the mujahedin. Covering war is dangerous enough, but to be travelling to war with dishonourable men who steal your possessions when you are prepared to share their danger gives you no stomach at all for their company.

On some days, Russian MiG fighters would attack our column and we would take cover under mulberry trees until they had finished unloading their bombs. We walked about 100 miles during those weeks, and we couldn't wait to distance ourselves from our so-called hosts.

I have been reading a great deal of misinformation coming out of Pakistan and the US State Department. There is so little to be learnt from all the hundreds of hacks who must be having a really miserable time trying to rustle up something new to write about. So far, the war seems to have been comfortably conducted from the relative safety of the air - but my concerns come to the surface when they talk about the ground war. Let's not forget that Afghanistan has millions of anti-personnel landmines designed to kill and maim. Even the Afghans don't know where they all are, and sometimes tread on them. If British soldiers are to be committed, they will need our prayers.


Moving away from my memories of war - back at home at this time of year, I begin to concentrate on how best to photograph the English landscape that has become my passion. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to puff my way up the steep sides of an Iron Age fort in Somerset with all my photographic equipment. Here, I will simply wait an hour or two for the last of the day's light, which I prefer for the dramatic and spiritual quality that will hopefully bring to my pictures a hint of Arthurian legend.

When I am not photographing the countryside at this time of year, I am gleaning it for pickings: collecting apples from the orchard, fishing it, mostly from the little stream that struggles its way through my property - although I can't always bring myself to take the lives of the small brown trout, so I sometimes throw the fish back and turn to picking blackberries and looking for field mushrooms instead.


I have had to tear myself away from all this to go to Paris. I am having a major retrospective at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in November, to coincide with the publication of my latest book. Last week, I took the Eurostar with Tim Jefferies, who represents me at the Hamilton photography gallery and has been liaising on my behalf with the curator of the museum. The train brought us into the centre of the city. Nice weather, good lunch. But a day return costs £300, which entails a visit to the bank manager first.

The train was delayed both ways, and I couldn't help noticing how grubby my compartment was beginning to look. But, I thought, trying to comfort myself, it could be a lot worse. I could be an asylum-seeker clinging to the underneath of this train, with a wife and two children in tow.

Don McCullin's eponymously named book is published by Jonathan Cape