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August 17 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My dad's last step on Burmese land

My father, Wilfred Carroll, left his homeland of Burma twice. First in 1942, when the Japanese army forced a retreat of allied troops into India, and then in 1951 when, having retained his British nationality after independence, he made the momentous decision to emigrate to England.

This picture captures his very last step on Burmese land, as he boarded the SS Salween in Rangoon on 21 March, holding my brother Michael's hand and carrying me. Also with us were my mother, Norma, and two-month-old sister, Denise, ready to sail to Bristol and a new life.

I can only imagine the first culture shock, departing in tropical heat and disembarking, four weeks later, into the cold and damp of Avonmouth. My father was never to return, or to see his parents again, but he always believed he made the right choice for his family, despite the hardships endured in establishing a home and a career in postwar London. He worked at the head offices of the Co-operative Wholesale Society for 30 years, and helped to raise seven children, spending eight years of his retirement in Western Australia. He died in Sidcup, Kent in 2004.

I was two and a half when this picture was taken, so I have no memories of that day on the dockside.

As we grew up, my parents made us aware of our diverse ethnic background, which was half-Irish mixed with Burmese and southern European, frequently recounting stories of strict Catholic schooling and a hectic social life in prewar Rangoon, and keeping their Asian culinary skills very much alive in the kitchen of our council house in Essex.

The one thing my father did not speak of was his experiences as a Chindit in the jungles of Burma.

So it was with much excitement and fascination that in February 2012, 61 years after this photograph was taken that I returned for the first time to the street in which I was born in October 1948. We managed to deviate from our package holiday tour long enough to track down my parents' house, their schools, the church where they were married and the hospital where my older brother and sister were born.

Places had been renamed and there we saw some crumbling facades, but these were still the unmistakable edifices of my family's colonial past that I had seen in many a photograph album. At the docks in Rangoon, I conjured up a vivid image of my father taking that nervous step into the unknown, against the best advice of friends and relations.

When the aircraft wheels lifted off the Rangoon Tarmac, I had that sense of abandoning something that was dear to me, forever lost in the past. I knew then how my father had felt in 1951, and I cried. Patricia Perrin

Playlist: My grandad's financial dealings

Pop! goes the Weasel (nursery rhyme)

"Half a pound of tuppenny rice / Half a pound of treacle / That's the way the money goes / Pop! goes the weasel"

As a small child, whenever we visited (or were visited by) my nana and grandad, I could expect to be lifted up on to a knee and sung to. I am sure there were lots of songs, but the one that is clearest in my memory was a favourite of Grandad's.

I am unsure now, as I was then, what the song is all about, and a Google search hasn't enlightened me. Of one thing we can be sure though, "that's the way the money goes".

My grandad's financial dealings are something I wasn't aware of until later in life. As a nipper, when I was told he was popping out to the Salvation Army, I believed that was where he was headed. It would be many years until I found out that this was code for the bookies. One such trip, long before my time, resulted in a winning accumulator bet that eventually (after much debate with the company involved) came through and pretty much paid for their family home.

There is a photograph in my home of me as a toddler on Grandad's lap, and this song always drifts through my head when I see it – complete with index finger in cheek "pop" sound effect. I hope my little niece, Alice, will also treasure memories of having this sung to her by Great-Grandad.

My grandad would have been 100 this year, but sadly missed this landmark by a few years. To mark the occasion, the extended family is meeting on his birthday this month for a reunion. There will be lots of tales of Tom (or Thomas on Sundays) to be told and I suspect this tune will be sung. Ruth Goodwin

We love to eat: Fairy sandwiches

Ingredients

Sugar sprinkles/hundreds and thousands

Sliced white bread (sliced pan, preferably)

Soft butter

 

Butter the bread, cover with the sprinkles and cut into tiny, dainty triangles, fit for a fairy. Be sure to take the crusts off – neither fairies nor children like them!

I used to love fairies, especially the flower fairy books of Cicely Mary Barker. I would dress as a fairy and hide at the bottom of my grandparents' woodland garden in the hope of catching a glimpse of these magical creatures.

After one such adventure I asked my mother: What do fairies eat? Why, fairy sandwiches and flower tea, was her swift response, which she probably lived to regret. Soon I was demanding fairy sandwiches for birthday parties and afternoon teas on the lawn.

I have no idea if she got the recipe from somewhere or created them from her own imagination. The bread (sliced pan as we called it, according to Irish custom) was thickly buttered and sprinkled with multi-coloured hundreds and thousands. The soft, savoury bread, rich butter and crunchy sweetness of the sprinkles was magic itself.

I still get to enjoy fairies through my three young children. My seven-year-old son doesn't believe in fairies – but still requests these. And I am only too happy to sprinkle a little magic on them. Lucy Pearce

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August 10 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Laura's wedding challenge

This is a picture of my daughter Laura and her husband Jamie about two hours after they had promised to love and cherish each other in 2006.

I am not keen on weddings. Having been happily unmarried to my partner Eileen for 33 years, I am not sure I see the point. The cheesy commercialism, extravagance and stupid cupidity surrounding many marriages these days does not endear me to the custom. So when my eldest daughter announced her intended nuptials, perhaps I was not as enthusiastic as I could have been; even less so when a small family affair escalated into an event for around 100 guests.

Fortunately, others involved saw it as an opportunity, a challenge even, to have a good old shindig without bankrupting families and friends alike. And so we all (even me) sat around a table with Maureen, Laura's mum, and made a plan.

It went like this: hire a beautiful but dilapidated castle on the banks of the River Tyne, usually used by youth groups, for three days. Spend a day cleaning and decorating it. Have enough food delivered from a supermarket to provide two breakfasts, lunch and an evening buffet. Prepare the food ourselves. Ask guests for a small contribution per night for basic dormitory accommodation and meals. Ask them to bring their own alcohol.

Book a local register office for the ceremony and use our own cars for transport. After the vows, arrange a mass game of football back at the castle. Do not hire a disco. The bride and groom will concoct a playlist.

Ask for volunteers among family and friends to help in the organisation.

What could go wrong? Er … that might have required another, much longer list! Fortunately, though, we pulled it off.

The football game was not that incongruous because the bride and groom had met while he was coach of her football team, who were all guests. One of my personal highlights was sneaking away from kitchen duties (briefly) to join in the football just long enough to nod in a cheeky far-post header. Other games, scenic riverside walks and fishing were available for footyphobes. Asking for help was also a masterstroke. People I had never met were clamouring to join in our collective effort.

At times we thought we had taken on too much, especially with the food, but when the weekend was over and the bleary-eyed guests made their various ways home, there was a definite feeling that we had all shared in something special, something personal, getting to know people in a way that wouldn't have happened at a "normal" wedding.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the last ingredient: a warm September weekend with cerulean skies, after a week of rain. Perfect. Anthony Peacock

Playlist: Now I can hear what I didn't before

Wow by Kate Bush

"Ooh, yeah, you're amazing! / We think you're incredible"

This song reminds me of visiting Crystal Palace park in south London during my early years. My childhood memories are of outings to parks and museums, and we often went to Crystal Palace park, with its fake dinosaurs and open spaces for riding bikes.  

My parents had a blue Vauxhall Astra estate and there was always a tape playing in it. Kate Bush is the soundtrack to my early childhood in the mid- to late 80s and this must be one of my earliest memories – in the car, staring out of the window at the tall south London terraces of Norwood and Beulah Hill while Kate shrieked in the background.

I have started listening to Kate Bush again and the memories come hurtling through time. The lyrics of Wow are about being "alone on the stage", the lone actor in your own story, the selfishness of the human condition.  

Music is a significant part of my life and listening to this again is also an exercise in reinterpretation. At four or five, I just heard the tune, but now that I'm 30 I hear the meaning of the words.   Frances Hawkins

We love to eat: Granny's chocolate pudding

Ingredients

2 tbsp cornflour

1 dessertspoonful cocoa

1 dessertspoonful sugar

1 pint full-fat milk

Place the cornflour, cocoa and sugar in a saucepan and add the cold milk a little at a time, stirring until it blends. When all the milk is added, put the pan on a medium heat. Stir slowly and continuously until the sauce thickens smoothly, making sure it doesn't catch on the bottom. As soon it starts to boil, take off the heat and pour into bowls. On a cold evening, eat straight away, like thick, hot chocolate, or wait until it cools and a delicious thick, rubbery skin appears on top.

Granny used to make this for my sister and me when we were children. We adored staying at her little cottage in a bleak coal-mining valley in County Durham. As Mum drove us over, we would watch for the smoke from her chimney and then chant, "I can see Granny's house! I can see Granny's house!" all the way down the fell until we arrived.

Her house was a ramshackle treasure trove of adventures. Mum despaired at the fact that she had no fridge, there were cobwebs in the larder, and she never brushed our hair, but my sister and I loved the wildness of it.

At Granny's house, preparing lunch involved a scramble up the bank to "South America" to dig up potatoes. Bread was toasted on a fork in front of the fire while we guzzled "pink drink", a homemade elderflower brew, which, looking back at the increased zest it gave us for handstands in the garden, must have had a bit of a poke to it.

I love to remember my special Granny by making her chocolate pudding for my small children now. These days you can buy a hundred varieties of chocolate pudding from the supermarket, but there is something special about putting a few store-cupboard ingredients together to make a simple teatime treat. Holly McEnaney

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August 03 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My trip to the 1936 Olympics

In the summer of 1936, when I was nine, my grandfather, mother and I made a trip to eastern Europe that I will never forget. My grandfather, Aaron Schindler, was a member of numerous Jewish charities and followed the activities of European politics as he had quite a few relatives living in various European cities. He had been hearing about Germany's escalating campaign against its Jewish and minority populations, and felt he should see for himself what was happening and took my mother and me – much to my delight.

We crossed the Channel in July and headed by train to Vienna, Krakow and Warsaw, where we met lots of relatives. Getting them to understand me was quite difficult, but with the help of my grandfather translating from Yiddish to English, we managed. My grandfather, who could see signs of uncertainty and unrest throughout the region, was trying to persuade various members of the family to consider leaving their homes and businesses to start a new life in London. He could offer them jobs, as he owned a successful ladies clothing business in Bow, east London.

Our journey continued to Hamburg and then on to our final destination, Berlin, where we met more relatives. There, my grandfather surprised me. As a special treat, he asked me to accompany him to the XIth Olympiad as he had managed to get two tickets in the main stadium.

With my pocket money, I bought two Olympic brooches from one of the shops outside the stadium.

Inside, I saw a mass of people waving flags – more than 45 countries were taking part. I also saw quite a few men in uniform waving flags I did not recognise. Later, I found out that they were swastikas.

Almost opposite our seats was a row of boxes, and we could see a group of men sitting in them. The German couple beside us told my grandfather that some of the men were Olympic officials and the man seated next to them was Chancellor Adolf Hitler. I was too young to understand the importance of Hitler's presence at this great non-political sporting event with the sea of swastikas and military uniforms but, years later, the 1936 Games were often referred to as the "Nazi Olympics" and I realised that I had witnessed an historic occasion.

One of my most memorable recollections of that day was watching Jessie Owens, the great American athlete, win one of his four Olympic gold medals. I can't remember whether it was the 100m or 200m, but there was a lot of noise in the stadium. Owens made history as the first athlete to win four gold medals at the Olympic Games, a feat not equalled until 48 years later when Carl Lewis won gold in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. As Hitler had intended the Games to showcase his Aryan ideals and superiority, it is both ironic and poignant that Owens, a black athlete, turned out to be the most successful Olympian that year.

I wish I had been old enough to fully appreciate what took place that day in Berlin, but, still, I knew it was a very special occasion.

After our visit, my grandfather managed to get only one relative out of Vienna and another from Poland. Fortunately, some managed to get to the United States. Sadly, the others perished in the Holocaust.

Now the 30th Olympic Games are being held in London and it is bringing back many memories of that trip. I am so glad I was able to be a  part of history and to share my story now.

Anita Silberstein, nee Zerman

Playlist: In memory of my true love

Blow the Wind Southerly (traditional English folk song)

Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly/Blow the wind south o'er the bonny blue sea/Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly/Blow bonny breeze my lover to me

In 1957 I was filled with excitement at the thought of singing this folk song in a junior school choir festival at a Norfolk secondary school, which at the time seemed many miles away, although in reality it was just six miles. In the spirit of inclusion, all the class were to sing, although, as the teacher moved along the line to hear us, some were asked to mime. I was terrified at the thought that I would be one of them; in the event, not being chosen to mime gave me misplaced confidence in my singing voice. Since then, I have always felt free to sing loudly, despite comments from my unappreciative family.

We were dressed in our finest clothes and it was a day to savour. In later years, I could always remember the words to this song when other memories failed me.

My lover did come, although not by boat, and regrettably he died young. I think of him as I sing the song to rock my new grandson to sleep. When he is being particularly fractious, my daughter will phone up and ask me to sing it to him down the phone, in the knowledge that it calms him. When he has been in my charge, I have played him a better version on my phone. I regret that he will never know his wonderful granddad. If only his grandad could be blown over the horizon to meet the little soul and, of course, me. Any direction of wind would do.

Rosie Penna

We love to eat Ayrshire: tatties by theirsels

Ingredients

Ayrshire potatoes

Water to boil

A bunch of syboes

The cooking is simplicity itself. Scrub and boil for 20 minutes in their skins and serve with melted butter and syboes (spring onions)

A few weeks ago, I read the long-awaited notice in my local greengrocer's window: "Ayrshire tatties now in."

To all Scots, the arrival of this uniquely flavoured "pomme de terre" is greeted with as much gusto as the wine lover's first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau.

In season for a matter of weeks, the crop is devoured by the nation as quickly as the potatoes are pulled from the ground. First batches are initially sold at a premium in suburban shops and local markets, prompting me to comment to my salesman that he balanced my produce as if trading in gold – to, which he replied, "I am, sir, I am."

I lived abroad for many years and invariably my trips back home were out of season, leaving my taste buds deprived of this national delicacy. My sister would invariably tease me by describing how she had savoured the current year's crop and telling me it was the best she had ever tasted.

One of the distinct summer memories I have of childhood is returning home after marathon games of football to enormous plates of butter-slicked Ayrshires heaped high and washed down with a glass of cold milk. My taste buds tingle as I write. With four hungry mouths to feed, my mother would buy a daily supply when stocks became plentiful and much cheaper, knowing there would be no complaints from her brood. "Is there any more Ayrshires, Ma, just by theirsels?" was the constant request in too short a season.

In 1990 I returned to the UK to live and work in London. On phoning my sister, I was told the Ayrshires were in season and, to my delight, she sent two pounds of the nuggets by parcel post. I don't think I have ever received a tastier welcome-home gift.

Now resident in my native land, there is no need to wait for the post. I just keep the pot boiling until, sadly, the season is over for another year.

John Bookless

We'd love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email family@guardian.co.uk. Please include your address and phone number


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Letter: News photography – no snap judgments

When Tom Hopkinson (my father) rescued a man being lynched in South Africa (The bystanders, Weekend, 28 July), he was no longer "editor of Picture Post" but of Drum magazine, on which he was the only white staffer. Rescuing black photographers and journalists – in as beaten a state as the man in the story, but almost always thanks to the forces of apartheid – came with the job, as he relayed in his autobiography Under the Tropic.

Ian Berry, however, is too modest in claiming "It never occurred to me to do anything" in like situations. While he may not have directly intervened in this instance, he was there at Sharpeville in 1960, acting with considerable courage in warning as well as photographing victims during the massacre. Berry's impressive body of work played its own part in documenting and thereby strengthening the campaign to end the apartheid regime.

As Berry's fellow Magnum photographer, Abbas, told me when I interviewed him and put the familiar question regarding the "humanitarian" responsibilities of a photojournalist in a conflict zone: "If I wanted to be there to save lives, I'd join Médecins sans Frontières. As it is, I am a photographer, and my first responsibility is to show what is actually happening to the rest of the world."
Professor Amanda Hopkinson
City University, London


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July 30 2012

Letters: No room in the Olympic family for genuine sports fans

My 12-year-old daughter, a member of three sports clubs in Newham, started saving Christmas and birthday money to buy Olympics tick ets. Two weeks at home in the Olympic borough would replace an annual holiday. We spent hours trying  to make a purchase. Our saving and time spent clicking were rewarded with not a single ticket.

This frustration was compounded when we saw rows of empty seats just half a mile from our home and then discovered that at least a fifth of seats are reserved for the Olympic family and their corporate friends (Army brought in to fill seats, 30 July) . The ticketing process is seriously flawed and designed to ensure that those who make a profit through encouraging obesity prevail over those who want to see and learn from their role models. So much for the commitment to "inspire a generation" and "create step change in sporting participation".
Simon Shaw
Stratford, London

• Empty seats filled by soldiers, teachers and schoolkids? Potemkin seats?
Mick Furey
Maltby, Rotherham

• Against a fall in sales pre-Olympics of 6.5% year-on-year, the last two weeks has seen a drop of 26% and last week a drop of almost 38%. Other shops have experienced a similar collapse in sales. Warnings of congestion in central London have made the area a ghost town. How many shops will survive until the end of the Paralympics on 9 September?
Nigel Kemp
London

• One reason that the opening ceremony delighted so many (Letters, 30 July) is that, in an age shaped and limited by politicians and marketing people, this was the vision of an artist.
Nigel Richardson
London

• Was Commander Bond employed to guard the Queen before G4S was found wanting, or was he part of the troops brought in to make up the shortfall.
David Walker
Dudley, West Midlands

• We deplore the article by Ai Weiwei (China excluded its people from the Olympics. London is different, 25 July). People around the world have strong memories of Beijing four years ago. The Games were more successful than many expected. They have left a profound legacy for China. The huge contribution to the international Olympic movement is globally recognised. China's careful preparations and high efficiency won applause from across the world, including the IOC.

The entire Chinese nation showed enormous enthusiasm and interest. They actively participated: 1.7 million volunteers busied themselves. Their smiles were sincere, their participation spontaneous, their hard work selfless. Ai's opinions by no means reflect the true feeling of China's 1.3 billion people. We wish the London Olympics a great success. At the same time, we will not let the Beijing Olympics be diminished or China be falsely accused.
He Rulong
Chinese embassy, London

• I keep getting confused between the main paper and your Olympics supplement.
Chris Faux
London 


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July 27 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Why I'm lucky to be alive

I was born in Glasgow on 8 June 1942 and this photograph of me, with my 18-year-old mother, Bridget Devlin McIvor, was taken on 21 July. I feel duty bound to inform you – because it meant a lot to my mother, who lamented the fact every time she looked at this photograph – that we had been caught in a heavy downpour just before we reached the studio and the, "dead mean photographer" would not give her enough time to fix her hair.

A lot had happened between my birth and the day of this photograph. On 14 June, Glasgow's medical officer of health had sent a letter to all the city's GPs notifying them that six crewmen of the TSS Awatea, a troopship that had docked from Bombay, had been diagnosed with smallpox.

Just over a fortnight after I was born, Glasgow's first smallpox case was diagnosed. The following week, smallpox vaccination centres opened all over the city – but not in time for my mother's visit to Clackmannan, taking me to stay with her mother and grandmother for a few days. At the bus station, the Red Cross would not let her board the bus as I hadn't been vaccinated against the disease.

We returned home and I was duly vaccinated a day or so later, with the certificate to prove it. We set off again to Clackmannan. At the very beginning of our visit, I cried and cried. The vaccination site on my upper left arm had become swollen and inflamed and I had a slight fever. At her grandmother's urging, my mother rushed me back to Glasgow and I was admitted to our local general hospital.

My mother was told that I was not expected to live and there was nothing they could do. My father was given immediate compassionate leave from the Highland Light Infantry. I was dying of general septicaemia caused by a "dirty vaccination needle", as my mother later described it. Courtesy of the army, my father arrived in Glasgow in record time. By then I had been transferred to Yorkhill (Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children).

In all, 36 people caught smallpox during this outbreak, 11 ship cases, two of whom died, and 25 people in Glasgow cases, six of whom died. In August 2009, when I watched a BBC4 film, Breaking the Mould: the Story of Penicillin, I was astonished by what I learned. When I was a child my mother had told me that a consultant paediatrician at Yorkhill had arranged my rushed hospital transfer. He had a son – an army doctor – who had somehow got hold of penicillin and given it to his father to give to me. I loved this story and heard it many times as I was growing up. I also have a reminder – a large vaccination scar and slight muscle wasting of the upper left arm.

Until I saw that film three years ago, I never knew how very lucky I had been. I later discovered that in the summer of 1942 there was only enough penicillin in the world to treat a couple of hundred people or so. Penicillin was not mass-produced until 1943-44.

So how did an infant-sized course of the antibiotic become available to me, a child from a single-end in Lyon Street, just off the Garscube Road, Glasgow? Was I part of a clinical trial, I wondered?

As you can see from this photograph, by 21 July I was fully restored to health. I can imagine the awe that the experienced nurses and doctors caring for me in Yorkhill must have felt when, for the first time, they witnessed the power of penicillin.

For me, what was truly miraculous was that two Glasgow doctors, a father and son, cared enough to put themselves in the firing-line. I wish I knew who they were. I remember asking my mother, when I was about 14, what their name was – she thought it might have been Cowan but could not remember. I think that was the last time we ever discussed it.

I wish she could have been there to watch that documentary with me all those years later. Mary McIvor

Playlist: The day I found music

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2

"... But I still haven't found what I'm looking for"

It is an older brother's job to pass music down to his younger siblings. In his room, my brother hoarded dozens of plastic cassettes mysteriously marked in ink. The handwritten words were strange, words like Echo and the Bunnymen and The Sisters of Mercy. They made little sense to me as a nine-year-old, but Nick was obsessed with them – and with one cassette in particular. One with just two letters: U2.

When he heard U2 were coming to Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, he began a relentless campaign to go to see them. He was 14 and my parents thought him too young, but there was no way he was going to miss out. After days of silences and bickering, a solution was reached – we would all go.

Early on in the day, none of it made much sense: queuing in the pouring rain for hours, flanked by smelly hamburger vans and strangers necking cans of Tennent's lager. As soon as we got there, I wanted to go home.

So I waited, moodily, as the sky darkened and the seats filled. Then the lights came on and the sound of a slow organ began to creep around the ground, followed by a jangly, building guitar and a tremendous, deafening cheer as Bono and The Edge walked out on stage. It was electric.

The sounds were the same as those that came from my brother's room, but much louder. My bad mood evaporated as thousands of people clapped, sang, cheered and climbed dangerously on to the thin plastic backs of the stadium seating to be just an inch higher, to see U2 play. Now I was one of them, albeit a very small one who couldn't see much. But I could see Nick, in awe, singing.

That moment, U2's Joshua Tree tour, August 1987, watching my brother sing "... But I still haven't found what I'm looking for" was when I began to love music. My brother did his job well. Adam Dewar

We love to eat: Avgolemoni soup

Ingredients (serves two to three)

3 oz rice

1½ pints chicken stock

2 eggs

Juice of ½ lemon

Gently boil the rice in the chicken stock until it is almost cooked. Beat the eggs and mix with the lemon juice and a ladleful of stock. Very slowly, add the egg mixture to the stock, stirring all the time over a low heat. Season and heat until slightly thick.

Avgolemoni is Greek for "egg and lemon," and this soup is the most traditional of Cypriot meals. When I taste and smell it – two senses so fragile yet so enduring and faithful – I am instantly transported to my childhood in Cyprus. Tearing up the stairs to my Cypriot grandmother's flat and running into her arms, as she hugs me with one and stirs with the other. Too short to see into the pot, I wait impatiently, leaning against her. Warmth, safety and soup.

Before she died, she taught my mother to make the soup. My mother is Welsh, lived in Cyprus for 54 years and knows how to cook only one Cypriot dish: avgolemoni soup. That's how important it is. It is there on cold nights, when I'm upset, when my team have lost. It's even become medicinal. Got a cough? Soup. Scratched your leg? Soup. My first night in England for university, staying with relatives, disorientated and nervous: guess what my Cypriot aunty cooked? "Everything's going to be fine."

When I cook avgolemoni now, often it is because I need to feel its restorative power. There is something beautiful in its simplicity, yet equally complex in the feelings it creates. It connects me to my past, giving continuity, redolent of my Cypriotness and youth, and in the present it binds me to a community that I live far away from.

Now, in full circle, when I serve it to my family I know exactly what is coming. The ritual I never tire of. The sharp intake of breath as it appears, hot and steaming: Dad will slurp, sister will tell him off. Mum will sip. I'll dive in, dipping mountains of bread. And then, always, a few seconds of complete silence – my favourite part – as minds drift and memories roll in. I really don't know where everyone is at that point, but I know we are bonded.

Proust famously recounts the moment he tasted a madeleine dipped in tea, and the profound memories it gave him. "Whence could it have come to me, this all powerful joy? … It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup, but in myself …" He wrote seven volumes based on this experience. I can't do that, but I do know that avgolemoni is more than just a bowl of soup. It is identity, nation, tradition. It is home. Paris Christofides

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Franz West loved, above all else, art and its creation

Although renowned for his kindness, humour and generosity, Franz West didn't care a hoot about what anyone thought of him.

He loved, above all else, art and its creation. His studio, in Vienna's third district, was to me one of the most wonderful places on Earth. There he surrounded himself with a team of extremely able assistants. Something of a dandy, and in spirit an aristocrat, he was a throwback to fin de siècle Vienna. His favourite philosopher was Wittgenstein, and his knowledge about philosophy, art, dance and music was enormous.

His life was dedicated to art. He was told by his doctor last year to take a two-month break but smiled at the thought of retirement and said: "I'm not going to stop," returning to his studio within days of leaving hospital. He was unhappy if he had failed to produce anything good in a day. He was alternately inspired, with an iron will and a fierce determination, and at other times at an utter loss, and horribly miserable as a result. He was happiest when working.


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June 29 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Memories of Glasgow

We didn't have a camera when I was a child, so all my memories are stored in my mind. This picture is of me with my husband and two grandchildren, who are growing up in a very different world. I was a first-generation Asian Sikh, born and raised in the Oatlands area of Glasgow, an experience that still lives with me 50 years on.

Oatlands people were working-class, but with real hearts: we went shopping for the old women who lived alone, knocked on doors and ran away, and held concerts on the stair-landings where you paid with "wallies" – broken china. We lived opposite Richmond Park on the other side of Glasgow Green. To me, it was a magical place where each summer holiday the "shows" would arrive.

I was fascinated by the caravans, with their beautiful lace curtains and lanterns hanging outside. Looking up the steps, you could see inside to vases of flowers on the tables, bright rugs and cushions on the sofas. To a seven-year-old girl, it was magical, watching the Gypsy women with their big skirts and earrings, and the handsome Gypsy boys, who always winked when you walked past.

My parents would take us on one supervised visit to the shows and we were allowed on the safe rides, swings and roundabouts. Waltzers, motorbikes and the big wheel were forbidden because the Gypsy boys stood at the back of the waltzers and swung the cars round as they speeded up. They swaggered about, chatting up the girls.

We were warned not to go to the shows on our own and told the Gypsies would take us away and make us work like slaves in their camps. But we never listened and sneaked across through the park and over the bridge on to the green to explore the shows.

All the latest music blared out from the roundabouts, swings, waltzers, the big wheel and the helter-skelter. The sweet smell of candyfloss and toffee apples and the screams of the girls on the big wheel with their boyfriends made me want to be "white", too, like them – why couldn't I go on the big wheel and stay out late? I used to dream of being kidnapped by the Gypsies so I could work the stalls in big earrings and skirts that made me want to dance. But no one kidnapped me, and every year the shows would come and go. Trishna Singh

Playlist: Me, Dad and County Down

Coney Island by Van Morrison

"I look at the side of your face as the sunlight comes / Streaming through the window … / And all the time going to Coney Island I'm thinking, / Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?"

I walked into the hospital ward and saw my father sitting in the chair, Yeats-like, "old and grey and full of sleep" – a few days short of his 90th birthday. "Dad, I've been on Desert Island Discs."

While I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, Radio 4 rang through our house: Just a Minute, Thought for the Day, The Archers and, my favourite, Desert Island Discs. I loved the music and the romance of the island – and had always wanted to be on the programme.

Years ago, long after I had moved from Northern Ireland to England, I discovered Van Morrison's poem-song Coney Island. As he sang about the places I had visited as a nipper, memories flooded back.

I sat on Dad's hospital bed, pulled out the CD player and pressed play. I wasn't a Desert Island celebrity – I had been invited to tell my story on Radio Derby in celebration of 70 years of Desert Island Discs. Coney Island was my song and this was my story. My dad worked long hours in his own grocery business, hauling heavy bags of flour, serving in his shop and delivering boxes of groceries along narrow, high-hedged lanes around the town where we lived. But come Saturday lunchtime, we would pack a few sandwiches, throw a rug into the Morris Minor and hit the road. Our stamping ground was mainly the coast of County Down.

We whiled away many a summer afternoon digging in the sand, playing cricket, roaming the sand dunes, climbing rocks, eating sandy sandwiches and swimming in the rain. Like Van Morrison, we too were charmed by Strangford Lough. Waiting for the little ferry to take our car across from Strangford to Portaferry was thrilling. Pleasures were simple in those days.

"On and on over the hill to Ardglass." Morrison bought "mussels and some potted herrings" there; we'd head over the hill from Tyrella to Ardglass so that Mum could buy whiting for tea. The fresh fish cooked in butter tasted delicious after a day out in the sea air.

I had told my story and the song was coming to an end. I looked at the side of my father's face as the sunlight came streaming through the hospital window: he had dozed off. It was with great poignancy that I listened to Van Morrison sing: "Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?"

Time waits for no man and my father's days of roaming the County Down coast have probably come to an end. But the places and memories he gave me, captured in Coney Island, are locked inside my head. Helen Moat

We love to eat: Eliza's birthday cake

Ingredients

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) sugar

170g (6oz) self-raising flour

57g (2oz) cocoa

Four medium eggs

Vanilla extract

Fresh cream and raspberries to fill

Weigh the ingredients and line two 21cm circular cake tins. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark four. Call the midwife.Cream the butter and sugar together between contractions. When the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, hand to your birth partner, who should gradually add the remaining ingredients and split the mixture between the two tins, baking for 20 minutes.

Early one Thursday morning, it was clear the new baby was coming. I woke my husband Neil and 19-month-old son, Wilfie, and together we walked the dog, then dropped Wilfie off with my mother-in-law. Once back at home, it took a while to get through to the midwife, but finally she was on her way.

As the contractions grew longer and more frequent, Neil filled the birth pool. Between contractions, I began weighing out ingredients for a cake. It would be a nice treat for after labour. I got as far as creaming the butter and sugar when the midwife arrived.

She checked me straight away and surprised me by saying I was 7cm-8cm dilated, so quite far along, but still many hours to go if my first labour was anything to go by. I got in the pool, which was bliss. Neil picked up the cake-making where I had left it, adding flour, cocoa, eggs and vanilla extract.

After a little while, he came in to say the cake had gone in the oven. It was 11.50. We calculated it would be ready at ten past. The midwife asked if he had set a timer, but we don't have one, and I laughed as I couldn't see much would happen in the next 20 minutes.

But it wasn't long before I felt a brief "pushy" sensation, which subsided quickly and was followed by a blissful few contraction-free minutes. As I floated in the pool, I could smell the cake and was suddenly starving. Neil leant over the edge to feed me two chocolate chip cookies, bought for the midwives.

Perhaps fuelled by the sugar, I suddenly had an urge to lean forward, and, with a big, quick contraction, the baby's head emerged. A few moments later, the rest of her followed ... Eliza arrived at 12.09 – just in time for cake. Dawn Todd

We'd love to hear your stories

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June 22 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Waving the red cloth on our roof

I moved away from home about five years ago to my wife's country, Denmark. After three tough years starting a new life, I finally managed to visit my family back on the Aegean island of Chios. in September 2010. It was a healing visit. I took many photos and this is one of my most cherished. This is my mother, Mary, on our roof, waving at my brother who was working on the passing ferry.

I have a Greek father and an Irish mother. After my little brother was born in the late 70s, we moved to Greece from Castlecomer, Kilkenny.

My dad was a seaman, the son of a seaman. He travelled all over the world and sometimes we joined him, but mostly not. He would be gone for 12 to 18 months at a time. It seemed an eternity to us. We were so sad every time he left, so happy on his return and anxious in between.

Luck had it that my dad sailed by the island just in front of our home, three times in his long career. He would call us on a satellite phone and let us know a month before. I can't describe how much we all looked forward to it and when he finally arrived, it was like winning the world cup!

Two of us would go up to the roof and wave to him with our red cloths – the most visible colour – while the third would be downstairs talking to him via satellite. Then we'd take turns.

He would blow the ship's loud horn, while the bells of nearby St Nicholas church were greeting him and wishing happy sailings. I said to him, "Make a circle, Dad" – and he did. Since then, that has become a custom for the island's large naval community.

The boat in the background is the Nissos Chios (Isle of Chios), which my brother was working on. It connects the island to the port of Piraeus, in Athens. He passed by every second day and my mother always went up to the roof and waved a red cloth to him.

My brother lost his job and is now unemployed – he has been for two years. The crisis is hard. But yesterday, I heard he could be sailing again by the end of this month – what great news! Now those red cloths might wave happily again. Michael Patronas

Playlist: Betty, they are playing our tune ...

God Bless our Native Land! (Sung to the tune of the national anthem)

"God bless our native land! / May heaven's protecting hand / Still guard her shore."

There was a television sketch many years ago in which the Queen, hearing the national anthem played, turned to her husband and said "Philip, they are playing our tune."

My wife, Betty, and I feel much the same about that very familiar tune, as it was played at our wedding 62 years ago. In fact, it was the same tune with different words. Betty and I were married on 14 September 1950 in Rothwell, a small boot-and-shoe town in Northamptonshire. We hadn't wanted a church wedding or anything fancy and would have been happy with a small, quiet ceremony in a register office. There certainly wasn't the money for anything big. But, after some debate, Betty's mother got her way, and we had the wedding in the Congregational chapel with the wedding breakfast in the Co-op Rooms.

We did get to choose our own hymns, rather unusual ones for a wedding, the minister thought. In addition to God Bless our Native Land!, we had The People's Anthem.

The hymn-singing over, we walked, man and wife, with our relatives and friends to the Co-op Rooms for lunch. We didn't run to champagne. In fact there was no alcohol at all, just cups of Co-op tea, as Betty's father and grandfather were leading lights in the local branch of the Sons of Temperance.

But we all enjoyed the meal and the speeches. There are no photographs of the happy day: we could not afford a professional photographer, and none of our guests had a camera. Betty and I have lived happily ever after. Chris Birch

We love to eat: Mum's spotted dog

Ingredients

Self-raising flour

Suet

Raisins or sultanas

White sugar

Milk or water to mix

Ingredients, quantities and cooking time are all approximate. Individual slices freeze really well and only need to be zapped in the microwave for a short time to make an instant dessert. Mix all the dry ingredients with the milk and form the dough into a chunky sausage shape. Wrap in greaseproof paper, with a pleat to allow for expansion, wrap the dough in a cloth (any piece of clean cotton will do) and tie each end with string. Place the spotted dog in a large pan of boiling water and simmer for at least two hours. Unwrap, slice and serve topped with butter and demerara sugar.

In our house, it was always spotted dog, never spotted dick. Why? My sister and I have no idea. Maybe it was something to do with our mother's sensibilities. (When we were growing up, she didn't think it was nice for girls and women to wear trousers with a zip opening at the front.)

Whatever the name, the pudding has always been greeted with delight, even if there are those who would rather it was served with custard.

Spotted dog was a significant part of our growing up, possibly because in the postwar austerity of the late 40s/early 50s the ingredients were inexpensive. Nearing retirement, my sister recently made her very first spotted dog and used this recipe. She reported that it tasted OK but was rather solid. It seems she had used plain flour by mistake, instead of self-raising. Her subsequent effort was successful: "Just like Mum made." Jane Clark

We'd love to hear your stories

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June 13 2012

Letters: Street politics

The Secret History of our Streets which Lucy Mangan so positively reviews (7 June), while gripping viewing, distorted the facts. My dad, Nicholas Taylor, who Lucy thought should apologise for the demolitions shown in the programme, only agreed to be interviewed as an early and successful champion of saving London's inner-city streets from the bulldozers, which had been unleashed by the LCC development plan of 1952. Instead the programme cut and pasted snippets of conversation taken from hours of interviews and made it look like he was in fact a supporter of this appallingly misconceived urban planning. The demolitions were approved between 1961-64 and had nothing whatsoever to do with my dad. When he became chairman of the planning committee in 1972 he stopped numerous projects, preserving large areas of Deptford. He also wrote a prominent architectual book in 1973 calling for an end to the building of high-rise estates.
Martin Taylor
London


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May 28 2012

Letters: Of skulls, nudes and sketchy art critiques

Hang on a minute – Jonathan Jones wrote in his blog (15 December 2011) on the appointment of Tracey Emin as professor of drawing at the Royal Academy: "Emin is an outstanding draughtswoman." Jonathan Jones reviewing Emin's Margate exhibition (Artist Emin leaves the wild child behind, 26 May): "The suspicion that she is not after all a genius at drawing increases as she shifts from one medium to another … As for drawing, Emin is good at it only by the standards of a generation that preferred concepts to achievement." And in the same week, "as a longtime admirer", that he trashed Damien Hirst's new paintings at White Cube (Review, 23 May). Hmmm … not sure what I should be thinking now. Perhaps I should just ignore the professional critic and rely on my own instincts of recognising overpublicised mediocrity when I see it?
John Keane
London

• Damien Hirst should perhaps stop painting, at least in public but not necessarily for the reasons expounded by your art critic. Damien Hirst is compromising his creativity by allowing himself to be bullied by the snobbery and elitism so prevalent in the art establishment, that only painters are artists. So much bad art is produced by those skilled with brush, pencil and crayon, and artists should not be bound by the forms of past times. Mr Hirst must believe in the integrity of his expression, and the means by which he can communicate it most effectively, and not waste time and effort trying to please the intellectuals. They always get it wrong.
Chris Trude
London


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April 17 2012

Letters: Academic appeal to save the Wedgwood

We are concerned at the threat to the Wedgwood Museum and Archive as an integrated collection in the UK (Royal Academy's call to save Wedgwood Museum, 16 February). The threatened sale could result in the collection being broken up, passing into private hands, or going overseas. Each of these outcomes would be a disaster for Britain's industrial and artistic heritage. The Wedgwood Museum preserves the design, production, organisational and social histories of one of the world's leading ceramics manufacturers and is recognised by Unesco as being of outstanding international importance. It represents a flagship collection for the history of British consumer goods industries; a testimony to one of the most brilliant designers, technologists, and industrial artists of the 18th century; and a key part of Britain's industrial and artistic heritage.

In contrast to the high priority and profile given to campaigns to save paintings for the nation, this important collection appears to be neglected by an art establishment which seems more interested in individual, high-priced works by overseas painters than in saving the artistic legacy of Josiah Wedgwood and the numerous artists and craftsmen who worked for Wedgwood from the 18th to the 20th centuries. For a country that prides itself as leading the world in creative industries and in producing high-quality art for a broad market, this seems to be an unfortunate set of priorities.
Peter Scott Professor of international business history, Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Andrew Popp University of Liverpool Management School
Fred Anderson Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Bridie Andrews Bentley University, Massachusetts
Maria Ines Barbero Director, Centro de Estudios de Historia y Desarrollo de Empresas, Universidad de San Andrés, Argentina
Bernardo Batiz-Lazo Professor of business history and bank management, Bangor University
Mark Billings University of Exeter
Alan Booth University of Exeter
Gordon Evelyn Boyce
Ludovic Cailluet Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale, Dunkerque
Angus Cameron Leicester University School of Management
Martin Campbell-Kelly University of Warwick
Ann M Carlos Professor of economics, University of Colorado, Boulder
D'Maris Coffman Director, Centre for Financial History, University of Cambridge
Stephanie Decker Aston Business School
Tolera Zelalem Desalegn University of Milan
Colin Divall Professor of Railway Studies, University of York
Linda Edgerly Director, The Winthrop Group Inc
Jari Eloranta Appalachian State University
Judy Faraday John Lewis Partnership Archives
Jeff Fear University of Redlands, California
Susanna Fellman Professor of Business History, University of Gothenburg
José Luis Fernández Fernández Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain
Dale L Flesher Arthur Andersen alumni professor and associate dean, Patterson School of Accountancy, University of Mississippi
Andrew Godley Professor of management & business history, Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Terry Gourvish (London School of Economics), President, Association of Business Historians
David Hancock Professor of History, University of Michigan
Daryl M Hafter (Eastern Michigan University), former president, Society for the History of Technology
Per H Hansen (Copenhagen Business School), President-elect, Business History Conference
Barbara Hahn Texas Tech University
Roger Horowitz (University of Michigan), Secretary-treasurer, Business History Conference
Jane Humphries (University of Oxford), President, Economic History Society
Karen Hunt Professor of Modern British History, Keele University
Richard R John Professor of journalism, Columbia University
Florent Le Bot ENS de Cachan, Paris
Luis de León Molina Bilbao, Spain
Yongdo Kim Hosei University, Tokyo
Nancy F Koehn James Robison professor of business administration, Harvard Business School
Berti Kolbow Institute of Economic and Social History, Goettingen University
Elisabeth Koll Harvard Business School
Theodore P Kovaleff Columbia University
Naomi R Lamoreaux Professor of economics and history, Yale University
Daniela La Penna University of Reading
Margaret Levenstein (University of Michigan), Past president, Business History Conference
Stephen Linstead Professor of critical management, University of York
Ken Lipartito (Florida International University), President, Business History Conference
Katey Logan Business Archives Council
Niall G MacKenzie Head of research, Institute for Innovation Studies, University of Wales Global Academy
John J McCusker Ewing Halsell distinguished professor of American history and professor of economics, Trinity University, Texas
José Miguel Martínez-Carrión Professor of economic history, University of Murcia
Anette Mikes Harvard Business School
Stephen Mihm University of Georgia
Elena Moran
Stephen L Morgan (University of Nottingham), Editor-in-chief, The Australian Economic History Review
Marina Moskowitz University of Glasgow
Alistair Mutch Professor of information and learning, Nottingham Trent University
Simon P Newman Sir Denis Brogan professor of American history, University of Glasgow
Shigehiro Nishimura London School of Economics
Richard Ovenden Bodleian Library, Oxford
Mary Quek University of Hertfordshire
Veronique Pouillard University of Oslo
Michael Rowlinson Professor of organization studies, Queen Mary, University of London
Mary Rose Lancaster University Management School
Elena Laruelo Rueda National Institute of Industry Historical Archive, Madrid
Thomas Max Safley Professor of early modern European history, University of Pennsylvania
Marianne Schmitz German Historical Institute, Washington
M Stephen Salmon Senior business archivist, Library and Archives Canada
Andrew Smith Coventry University
Merritt Roe Smith Cutten professor of the history of technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Anna Spadavecchia Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Uwe Spiekermann Deputy director, German Historical Institute, Washington, DC
Marc Stern Bentley University, Massachusetts
James Sumner University of Manchester
Stefan Schwarzkopf Copenhagen Business School
Kevin D Tennent University of York
Paul Thommes Aachen University
Steven Tolliday (University of Leeds), Past president, Business History Conference
James Walker Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Eugene N White Professor of economics, Rutgers University
Daniel A Wren David Ross Boyd professor emeritus, University of Oklahoma
Robert E Wright Nef Family chair of political economy, Augustana College, South Dakota


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Letters: The web's new world order

The British people fought wars and went through a great deal of civil strife to construct the form of democracy we currently have. Thus there is nothing wrong with our government seeking to ensure that within its national boundaries activity in cyberspace conforms with its laws. The alternative proposition, that the law of the internet is coterminous with the decisions of the US supreme court, is unacceptable everywhere except the US.

The internet of course is magical and wonderful. But we should not have to put up with all the bad stuff in order to benefit from the good. By failing to deal with significant levels of online crime, I'm afraid the high priests of the internet industry, of whom Sergey Brin is most certainly one, have created the situation of which he and they now complain (Web freedom under threat – Google founder, 16 April). It may not be too late to halt or reverse some of the processes Brin is anxious about, but time is running out and laissez-faire will not cut it.
John Carr
London

• I recently replaced a defunct mobile phone and, a week in, find that the new phone's default settings included backing up "application data, Wi-Fi passwords and other settings to Google servers". Is Mr Brin a suitably qualified glasshouse stone-thrower, or does the above sit uncomfortably with Google's previous sniffing for Wi-Fi networks while making photographic surveys?

Internet freedom must rely upon a sea of small providers rather than disproportionate control by nations or global corporations. I will be looking to remove other Google services from my phone.
Mike Brown
Newcastle upon Tyne

• "Internet freedom" is just a vehicle for transnational corporations such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook to impose their ideology of rightwing libertarianism on the world – strident capitalism, no taxes, no government, no community. They are a threat in the same way as Murdoch has proved to be, but for some reason we talk about them as if they were the post office or the library.
Dr Stephen Dorril
University of Huddersfield

• Ai Weiwei's comments on the power of the internet to achieve freedom (China's censorship can never defeat the internet, 16 April) remind me strongly of the prescience of your former Communist affairs correspondent Victor Zorza (died 1996). I recall the characteristic enthusiasm with which he told me, almost certainly as far back as the 1970s, that he was convinced that fledgling information technology would prove to be a death knell for totalitarian regimes. As your other articles demonstrate, however, this is not quite so straightforward a matter, given the partially successful attempts at censorship in today's authoritarian countries. But the general conclusion still holds, as Ai Weiwei suggests. Once the monopoly of information slips out of the hands of the rulers of such countries, political consequences are bound to follow sooner or later.
Peter Roland
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

• Russia's alarming restrictions on internet freedom, including the imprisonment of pro-democracy bloggers (Nervous Kremlin seeks to take back control, 16 April), are inconsistent with its membership of the UN Human Rights Council. When he first became president in 1999, Vladimir Putin promised to defend freedom of speech. When he returns to the post next month, Putin would do well to honour his word – and that of his country.
Hillel C Neuer
Executive director, UN Watch, Geneva

• Re your editorial (14 April), New South Wales police have set up a social media community engagement project called Eyewatch. Each of our 80 local area commands has a Facebook page. Each day, police publish local crime issues and crime prevention tips. We are now formulating neighbourhood watch closed Facebook groups across the state so communities can be in touch with police whenever they want to. Our pages have attracted 93,000 fans and over 30m page impressions. Crime is being solved; communities and police are working together to identify problems and create community solutions. This programme – applying the Peelian principles to the 21st century – could be easily adopted in the UK.
Chief Inspector Josh Maxwell
Manager, Project Eyewatch


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March 30 2012

Letters: Art and arms trade

Today sees the launch of a campaign calling on the National Gallery to end its support for the arms trade. The gallery regularly hosts events for the arms industry, as a result of a sponsorship deal with global weapons manufacturer Finmeccanica. These events include receptions for the weapons fairs Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) and the Farnborough air show.

Such arms fairs are a key part of the global arms trade, bringing authoritarian regimes and weapons manufacturers from around the world to the UK to do business. In 2010 Libya, China and Saudi Arabia were among the customers being courted at Farnborough. In 2011, Bahrain and Egypt were shopping at DSEi, even though both were using lethal force against protesters at the time.

By entering into this deal the gallery not only provides a gloss of legitimacy for a reprehensible trade; it is also providing very practical support for the arms industry. How can an institution which celebrates the creative spirit of humanity open its door to those dealing in products designed to kill and destroy?

We urge the gallery not to host a reception for the Farnborough air show in July and to end its sponsorship arrangement with Finmeccanica.
Peter Kennard Artist
Will Self Novelist and journalist
Matthew Herbert Sound artist/composer
Mark McGowan Artist and associate lecturer at Chelsea College of Art
Lisa Wesley Artist
Steve Duncombe Co-director, Center for Artistic Activism, New York
Tim Jeeves Artist and writer
Ian Mack Painter
Leila Galloway Artist and senior lecturer, DMU
Space Hijackers Artists
Leah Borromeo Journalist and film-maker
Brett Bloom Artist
Hayley Newman Artist
Brian Holmes Art critic
Cecilia Wee Curator and writer
Noel Douglas Artist
David Caines Visual artist
Nathan Witt RCA
Sarah Waldron Campaign Against Arms Trade
Stop the Arms Fair Coalition


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March 24 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Honeymoon in Scarborough

There's someone missing from this photograph – the second groom, Great Uncle Jack. He's probably on the other side of the camera capturing this image on Scarborough beach. This is a honeymoon snap of my nanna, Olive – she's the one on the right in the smart top, with her neat hair pulled back and white underskirt tucked between her knees, with her new husband, my grandad Stan, a proud Yorkshireman resplendent in flat cap.

On the left is Olive's sister Nora in billowing knickerbockers – Great Uncle Jack's new bride. It was August 1931 and there wasn't much money about. To save costs, Olive and Nora had a joint wedding in their village of Rillington, north Yorkshire. They carried matching bouquets and dresses to the church – no veils, just hats. The grooms also had hats – smart black bowlers.

The joint honeymoon in Scarborough would have been quite an occasion. Olive was one of 10 children, and day trips to the coast were limited to one a year when they were growing up. Olive left school at 14 to go into service with a wealthy family, cooking and cleaning. My grandad was a gardener at the same house. That's how they met. I love this photo – I especially like the way Stan, a massive grin on his face, has rolled his suit trousers up so high to protect them from the chilly North Sea. He was 30 when he finally tied the knot.

Sadly, I don't really remember Stan – I was only four when he died. But my dad, Richard, says Stan – his dad – was a kind, gentle, patient man, and he loved taking photographs, so the camera he's holding in his hand is probably his pride and joy.

You can't tell from this picture, but Olive was a very strong woman. She was quite formidable in later life, and fiercely independent – as children we grew up nearby and often stayed with her, and we knew she was not to be messed with! She lived alone for most of the two decades after Stan died and never remarried. I remember her sitting in her favourite armchair near the fire in her creaking old house, the Aga on in the kitchen and telling stories about the past. In true Yorkshire style, these always included some point about the value of money – how it was easily spent but hard earned. She only left that house when her mind started to fail towards the end of her life, and Alzheimer's took these memories away from her. When Olive died in 2001, aged 91, I was a student in Cardiff and there was an exam on the day of the funeral. In the end, I took the emotional decision to stay for the exam.

Missing Olive's funeral is one of the biggest regrets of my life. If I could turn back the clock, it's one of the first things I would change. I wish I could tell her how sorry I am.

Linda Harrison

Playlist: I wanted to hold Mum's hand

I Want To Hold Your Hand by the Beatles

"Oh yeah, I'll tell you something / I think you'll understand"

This record by the Beatles takes me back to spring 1964 and my second term at boarding school after the Christmas holidays, when I was 11.

On Saturday mornings after prep, we girls were permitted to play 45rpm vinyl records on a Dansette player in the small, unheated wooden hut that served as our assembly hall. Someone had a copy of I Want to Hold your Hand from home, and it was played over and over again.

"Oh yeah, I'll tell you something / I think you'll understand / When I say that something / I want to hold your hand."

Some of the older girls mooned about miserably, thinking of a boy they had liked over the holidays, but I knew nothing of such romantic pain. All I knew was how I desperately missed my mother and wanted to be with her and to hold her hand again.

"And when I touch you I feel happy inside / It's such a feeling that my love / I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide."

There was no one to hold your hand at boarding school in 1964. If you admitted to wanting your mother, you were considered a complete sissy. Homesickness and emotional pain were not mentioned in those days.

I invented a "boy" I had a crush on in case anyone noticed a tear on my cheek. It was infinitely more acceptable than saying I missed my mother and wanted to hold her hand. Perhaps I wasn't the only one.

Eve Morris

We love to eat: Beef and Guinness casserole

Ingredients

900g lean stewing beef, diced

3 tbsp oil

2 tbsp flour

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)

2 tbsp tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tbsp water

¾ can Guinness

Sprig of thyme

Fry the onions and garlic in olive oil then transfer to a bowl. Coat the meat in seasoned flour and brown in the pan. Add the Guinness, followed by the rest of the ingredients and cook in a slow oven for three hours.

I've been pretty much a vegetarian since the early 80s, only suffering the occasional lapse when too inebriated to resist the lure of a late-night kebab. It's primarily for political reasons – initially health, too – and hasn't always gone down well. A boyfriend once called me a fascist vegetarian because I wouldn't let him eat his fish supper in my flat.

Since then, in the 18 years I've been married, I've seldom cooked as my loved one's culinary skills are absolutely outstanding. Pete can turn his hand to anything and is a legend among friends and family for his cooking, so I have just let him get on with it. Anything I attempted turned out poisonous, bland or burned, and I have always drawn the line at cooking any of his favourite meat dishes, so eventually I stopped trying. He has always been happy to cook for me, and has done so most nights during the years we have lived together.

Times change. He recently got a job on a farm and is out all day in all weathers, often coming home tired, freezing and starving. As I work at home a lot I have been happy to go out and buy meat for him, but never considered cooking it. However, on a particularly horrid afternoon recently, I envisioned Pete coming home cold and hungry. I knew he'd kept a recipe he liked the look of for beef and Guinness stew, which had come in a free booklet in the newspaper. So I decided to make the first meal I had made for 17 years. And with meat as the main ingredient.

It went well until I opened the packet of meat and laid the wobbly red slab on a chopping board. The texture was soft but firm and the fat on the side was sinewy – I couldn't believe I was doing this. With a mixture of fascination and horror I stripped the fat away, and began to chop the meat into chunks. But as the knife slid through the blood red steak I realised I didn't feel the slightest twinge of guilt, and was almost enjoying this new experience.

I coated the chunks in seasoned flour by hand and then fried them in the olive oil, browning as directed. Then it was time to add the Guinness, which sizzled and frothed. I obviously couldn't do a taste test, so considering the sorry-looking blobs of meat in their liquid bath, I began to wonder if I had done it right. Then it was into a slow oven for three hours.

I checked anxiously every hour or so, and after a while something began to change. The Guinness reduced until it reinvented itself as thick gravy. I began to feel quite excited and hoped it would taste as good as it looked.

When Pete arrived home, his first words were, "What is that amazing smell?"

When I presented the casserole from the oven, his jaw dropped. As he flaked a piece of molten beef on to a fork and into his mouth, his eyes closed and he said, "This is absolutely delicious. I can't believe you did this for me."

He gave me a huge hug.

Later, wiping his mouth, he said: "The other meal I really love is chicken in red wine with shallots and mushrooms."

Oh dear … I seem to have started something! Jeanie Lynch

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January 28 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Dad on a rare holiday in the 1930s

What a great time these young men are having. A group of lads sharing a rare holiday in the 30s, determined to have a ball. The rolled shirtsleeves and vests suggest hot weather. My father, Ben, is the one astride his motorcycle on the far left of the photograph, which I think may have been taken on the Isle of Man. I know Dad went there in his youth to watch the TT racing.

Ben was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, in 1906, and worked for the co-operative movement until the 1930s when, after studying engineering at night school, he moved to Surrey to work for Vickers-Armstrongs, the aircraft manufacturer.

Dad was a quiet man, whose favourite pastimes were reading and walking in the woods. I love the way this photograph shows him in his youthful element, larking about with a group of fellow motorcycle fanatics. The guy on the right has dropped a piece of rag as though they are about to start a race, but the demeanour of the participants shows that nobody is going anywhere.

There are girls in the background, standing next to the barn. Only one large tent is visible, probably shared by all the lads, because a second photograph shows a smaller, round tent hidden behind the motorcyclists, which was most likely to have been the girls' tent.

For my father, a holiday meant camping and his only concession to my mother's lack of enthusiasm for his passion was to hire a caravan.

As his five children matured, he bought a motorbike and sidecar, which had to be a Royal Enfield. He and I travelled all the way to Birkenhead from Surrey for a family wedding with my 12-year-old self riding pillion. There were no motorways in 1957, so it took all day. I also remember being taken to watch the motorbike scrambles at Pirbright in Surrey.

It could be that Dad's first motorbike was a Royal Enfield as well, but I will let any motorbike enthusiasts among the readership decide. Erica Medcalf

Playlist: A knees up that might be costly

Uptown Girl by Billy Joel

"Uptown girl / She's been living in her uptown world"

I first heard Uptown Girl in the early 80s, playing on my sister's radio in our shared room – it was always tuned to Radio 1. But it was a while before it came to my dad's attention, being a man more inclined towards classical.

Every Saturday we sat down to watch children's television and in those early days the video, full of neon tones, seemed to catch all the family's attention. The song was a big hit in 1983 and hung around for weeks – whenever it came on, with its upbeat melody and catchy tune, my dad couldn't help but dance. And it was quite a sight – fingers clicking, knees bouncing and change jingling in his pockets. We laughed until we cried. I remember it vividly.

Years later in 2001, it was re-released for Comic Relief. In his mid-70s, my dad probably shouldn't have attempted such moves but yet again the bendy–knee dance came out. Again we laughed until the tears fell.

My dad is due for a knee operation soon. I hope his passion for bendy-knee dancing didn't contribute too much to his dodgy knees. And maybe once he has recovered he will dance again – though not necessarily to Uptown Girl. Caroline Russell

We love to eat: Bread and dripping

Ingredients

Good white bread, cut in thick slices

Beef dripping

Salt

When I was 12, my father left his office job in London and started a shop. My mother worked there too, part time. It was a huge change in our lives. Till then, my mother had always been at home when we came in from school, ready with food and questions about our day. We'd have a children's tea of eggs and bread, fruit and cake, and by the time my father came home from work we'd be in the bath and ready for him to read us a story. Then he and my mother would eat alone in comfort. For the past year or so, I'd been allowed to join them for this grown-up dinner, while my brothers had gone to bed early.

Now, though, my mum would be out most days. I was 12, and regarded as quite old enough to look after the two boys, so it was my task to get home from school first and make sure we all got something to eat to tide us over till the main meal, which we ate together. 

I also had other tasks: the fat old coke boiler in the kitchen would need to be fed and stoked, and possibly even relit. No hot water otherwise. I might also have to prepare vegetables. Quite often, too, I'd walk up to the bus stop to help my mum carry shopping she'd done in the lunch hour. But I didn't mind: I can still remember the huge pleasure of coming home to the empty house and being in charge, responsible for my brothers. Bossing them about, I expect they'd have said.

My mother cooked a big roast every Sunday, big enough for the five of us to have at least two meals: hot on Sunday, then cold on Monday with salad. Whatever was left over after that would be minced and added to the next meal, and my mum might make soup using the bone, if there was one. When it was beef, there was always a bowl of dripping: underneath there would be a rich brown meaty jelly, full of fragments of roast meat scraped from the tin, with a thick layer of salty fat on top. We'd spread slices of crusty white bread with it and settle down in front of the electric fire to eat it. You can sprinkle salt on the top, to make it even more delicious.

I don't often roast a big joint of beef now, but when I do I always take care to set aside a bowl of dripping, to enjoy on bread, and remember the warm comfort of our house after school and our snacks in front of the fire. Claire Bainbridge

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January 27 2012

Letters: The trouble with tobacco haters

Why doesn't Mr Chapman debate with a good and satisfied customer of the tobacco companies (Plain packs will make smoking history, 25 January)? Someone who has seen what will replace it as a smoothing, calming contemplative helper. Someone whose friends died of alcohol consumption, not tobacco. Someone who has smoked for nearly as long as he has lived. Someone who knows about the fanatical attitude of haters of tobacco. Someone who is not so naive about advertising and packaging.

Someone who has almost outlived a fanatical anti-smoking father. Someone who is fed up to the teeth with people who think they really know what health is. Someone who is not afraid of the cowardly, crooked politicians who stifle the debate about pleasure in the now. Someone who knows that time is elastic. Someone who knows how easy it is to lie with statistics. Someone who is not a professional agitator, who knows there is no such thing as a professional smoker but knows there are hundreds of dreary, professional, highly paid anti-smokers.

Someone who thinks laughter is good for you as it drains fear from the body. Someone who has something better to do than to try and control the quiet lives of others. Someone who knows we are all a bit different and is fed up with the growing regimentation of people. Someone who knows that smokers can live perfectly average-length lives but heavy drinkers rarely. Someone who is shocked by the growing conformity among people, and what that might mean for a reasonable free society. Someone who prefers the centre of Bohemia to Australian suburbia. Someone who knows we have to die.
David Hockney
Bridlington, East Yorkshire


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December 10 2011

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My dad, who was 'disappeared'

If anyone asked me what was my most prized possession, I wouldn't hesitate: my family photos. This is one of the four I have of my dad and me together. Unfortunately, the digital revolution had not yet arrived when he was around, but maybe it is for this very reason that those pictures are more valuable than anything else.

This was taken in a park close to where my grandparents and my dad, Alfredo García, lived. He and my mum had recently separated after a short-lived and ill-fated marriage. They met in high school in Buenos Aires (where I'm from) – the same high school I would attend years later, known for its outstanding academic credentials but also, and especially in the 70s, as a hotbed of political dissent and communist activism. My parents were both peronistas (followers of Juan Domingo Perón, who, alongside Evita, had become the hero for the oppressed working classes), actively involved in youth movements with strong anti-military and anti-bourgeois ideals.

When the rightwing coup d'état took place (on March 1976, a month after my birth), the military junta began to carry out secret, undercover operations to kidnap, torture and murder anyone involved in any sort of political activity. My mother had decided to bow out, but my father continued.

Nobody knew at the time that those who "disappeared" would never return, and when my father was taken (minutes after dropping me off at my grandparents' house in July 1978), the fear of repercussions meant my mother and I had to keep it a secret for years, until democracy returned in 1983.

My beloved grandparents, who had lost their only child, devoted the rest of their lives to keeping his memory and legacy alive while running their grocery shop and looking after me every weekend. My grandma, Lola, was a madre de Plaza de Mayo marching every Thursday around the square, defying those in power and demanding justice for her son. I have no recollection of my dad apart from the picture I have pieced together from other people's memories and anecdotes. But somehow, I feel I know him very well and that he is a big part of who I am.

He was only 25 when he died and we don't know when or how, although investigations have determined that most of the 30,000 were tortured in concentration camps and thrown from planes into the ocean, dead or alive.

When I look at my face, I see his smiling back at me. He has left a big hole in my life, but a big sense of pride at the same time for what he did and the friendships he formed in his short life. Although I will always miss him, I take comfort in the fact that his ideals – and everything he fought for – have contributed to Argentina being a much more democratic and egalitarian place, where such atrocities would never be allowed to happen again. Paula García

Playlist: The very first single I bought

Honky Tonk Women by the Rolling Stones

"I met a gin-soaked bar-room queen in Memphis / She tried to take me upstairs for a ride"

I had no idea what a gin-soaked bar-room queen was, but as soon as I heard the cow bell and guitar opening bars I was hooked. I persuaded my dad to give me the money to buy my first single. I went to the Broadway Record Mart, handed over 8/6d and walked home feeling suddenly more grown up.

It went straight on to the radiogram, and I played it over and over again.

A few weeks later, at my cousin Ingrid's wedding, the DJ was asked to play it so many times that he started to pack away the rest of his records while the celebrations were still in full swing. I recall my uncle dancing to it too. It was a dance he did to all the tunes he liked, assuming a slightly crouched position while simultaneously hopping on one leg and clapping.

Fast forward 10 years and my first love was a lanky, scowling Mick Jagger lookalike. I was tall and slender with long dark hair and a penchant for Anna Belinda clothes, and fancifully thought our bohemian style set us apart in our particular pocket of south London. I had been seduced not just by the music but by the snakehipped gyrations and androgynous beauty of Mick.

Five years ago, when I got married, I made sure Honky Tonk Women was on the playlist at our reception, and all those years later it still had everyone up on the dancefloor. By now both my father and uncle were dead, and the Jagger lookalike was a happy but distant memory – but new memories are made all the time and Mum twirled her grandchildren round and round till they were giggly and exhausted.

I love the song and Keith and Mick remain the ultimate rock'n'roll reprobates who, despite often being parodied, have never lost their edge.

I have it on CD but get the biggest kick if it is played on the radio while I am driving – I turn the volume up full blast and sing the lyrics verbatim now knowing, at 50, what they mean. Diane Morgan

We love to eat: Kitty's sausage meat pie

Ingredients

12oz (340g) self-raising flour

1lb sausage meat

Pinch of salt

1 boiled egg

3oz (85g) margarine

1 or 2 sliced tomatoes

3oz (85g) lard

2 tbsp water

Rub in the flour, salt, margarine and lard until a breadcrumb consistency has formed. Add cold water and work into a soft dough. More water can be added if required. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to rest. Divide pastry in half. Roll out one half and line a shallow pie dish. Mash the sausage meat into the pie dish and cover with sliced boiled egg and tomatoes. Roll out the remainder of the pastry and cover the pie dish. Prick the top with a fork and bake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes at gas mark 5, or 180C.

If you're feeling adventurous, add herbs or fried onions (or both) to the sausage meat.

None of us knew where our dearly loved mother got this recipe for sausage meat pie but it was one of her signature dishes. Every generation down to her great-grandchildren has fond memories of devouring large slices of this pie (hot or cold) with anything from salad to roast potatoes and veg. It is particularly effective for curing hangovers. Even now my sisters cook it to mark special celebrations, and on holidays we always take at least one pie with us.

Our lovely mum was born and raised in the Bermondsey docks in the 1920s in an Anglo-Irish family of 16, so she lived with grinding poverty for many years. By the 1950s she had a husband (our wonderful dad, Jack) and us six kids (four girls and two boys) in a three-bedroom council house on the Bellingham estate in south London.

Times were hard living on one wage, but in an era of coal fires, linoleum-covered floors and icy bedrooms, her cooking brightened the house with delicious aromas.

Even when her kids had flown the nest, we were never far away and she delighted in showing her love through her culinary skills (typically for her generation, she never said the L-word).

Last year, Mum passed away leaving an aching hole in our hearts. Eighteen months later, we visited a well-known spiritualist. Immediately, Mum pushed through, telling us that she was having a whale of a time with all her brothers and sisters but that her Yorkshires still beat Aunt Bessie's.

We all left that room with a smile on our faces and the knowledge that when we die, there would be the smell of baking wafting around the pearly gates. Jeremy Harrison

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December 05 2011

Einstein an Gandhi



Verehrter Herr Gandhi

Ich benutze die Anwesenheit Ihres Freundes in unserem Hause, um Ihnen diese Zeilen zu senden. Sie haben durch Ihr Wirken gezeigt, dass man ohne Gewalt Grosses selbst bei solchen durchsetzen kann, welche selbst auf die Methode der Gewalt keineswegs verzichtet haben. Wir dürfen hoffen, dass Ihr Beispiel über die Grenzen Ihres Landes hinaus wirken und dazu beitragen wird, dass an die Stelle kriegerischer Konflikte Entscheidungen einer internationalen Instanz treten, deren Durchführung von allen garantiert wird.

Mit den Ausdruck aufrichtiger Bewunderung

Ihr

(Gezeichnet, ‘A. Einstein’)

Ich hoffe, dass ich Sie noch einmal von Angesicht sehen werde.

Gandhis Antwort:

LONDON, October 18, 1931

DEAR FRIEND,

I was delighted to have your beautiful letter sent through Sundaram. It is a great consolation to me that the work I am doing finds favour in your sight. I do indeed wish that we could meet face to face and that too in India at my Ashram.

Yours sincerely,

(Gezeichnet, ‘M. K. Gandhi’)

(Gefunden bei lettersofnote)



Reposted fromglaserei glaserei

November 26 2011

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Our beach hut on the south coast

"What's a beach hut, Granny?" The question tugged me back to childhood holidays in the 50s, rekindling memories of a world that has changed beyond recognition, apart from rows of little wooden chalets marshaled along the promenade from Southbourne all the way to the west of Bournemouth. Our family took two days in Dad's pride and joy, an old Austin Seven, to travel from Wolverhampton to the south coast.

Our landlady laid down many rules: "No dinner for late arrivals" was one. There was no menu; you had what was on offer. You had to be out of the house by 9.30am and you weren't allowed back until 5.30pm. Smells of Ajax and rancid fat assaulted our nostrils when we breezed in from the fresh sea air. Those were the days. Well-behaved children could take it in turns to ring the gong for mealtimes.

"Try not to spill the potty when you get out in the night," was Dad's last command of the day. Four families of four competed for the bathroom. We once had the room at the front with a bay window; it had its own washbasin and crusty soap – luxury.

Each day started with the 8.30am non-negotiable breakfast of cornflakes followed by bacon, fried egg and baked beans. I loathe baked beans. Come rain or shine, we would trail down the cliff path to our beach hut, No 2,378, with a plastic beach bag stuffed with sliced white bread, margarine, meat paste, a couple of Lyons individual fruit pies and, on the last day, a pack of Kunzle cakes. My tastebuds tingle at the thought.

Once news got round our digs that we had a hut, other guests would often "just happen" to pass by. "Could we just dry our Jenny out of the wind?" A tricky one to refuse, so a cuppa would be offered, which generally extended into lunch. By the end of the week, our four-seater hut was accommodating a dozen interlopers most days.

"Look at the time!" my father would say each day at precisely 5.10pm, followed by a mad dash up the path to the digs, seconds after the hallowed 5.30pm unbolting of the front door.

After dinner, still hungry, we would stroll out to our favourite Forte's cafe and tuck into vanilla slices and mugs of Horlicks, waiting for the late August sky to darken before the Austin chugged along the seafront between Boscombe and Bournemouth piers, as we oohhed and aahed at fairy lights on lampposts and the moon shimmering on the sea.

Fifty years on, to celebrate my 60th birthday this spring, our children organised a short break in Southbourne. Huge bedrooms, two en suites, a kitchen with every luxury imaginable. At the end of our stay, the three grandchildren were asked what they had most enjoyed. Their answer? The beach hut. We had been nowhere else, done nothing else – no one had wanted to. Watching the little ones charging about on the beach while I brewed tea and made squashy sandwiches gave me a feeling of happiness and warmth beyond measure. Some things don't change to satisfy our 21st-century cravings – they don't need to. Trina Beckett

Playlist: When you no longer stood by me

Stand By Me by John Lennon

"If the sky that we look upon / Should tumble and fall / And the mountain should crumble to the sea …"

We were a joyous gang of four couples when we got together in Thames Ditton and sang along to this version of Stand By Me. It always followed an evening of lots of eating and, more pertinently, lots of drinking. Groups such as ours standing in the kitchen singing at the tops of our voices at midnight on a Saturday would not have been unusual, I'm sure, but we thought we were the best gang in town, if not beyond.

The gang's membership changed over time with divorces and remarriages, but I always felt that you and I could sing along to Lennon in the firm knowledge that we would indeed stand by each other.

That comfortable feeling was shaken when you announced that you didn't love me any more. With hindsight, it was rather astonishing that, for a few painful months, I held on to the belief that we could sort things out. Then the hope of standing by each other was shattered when you announced you had been having an affair for months.

The sky I looked upon did indeed tumble and fall as I fought to maintain some semblance of order – to no avail. In retrospect, you had always had a hard edge beneath the gentle surface. Your ability to move on to a new life despite the upheaval involved was as cold-hearted from where I was standing, as your lack of interest in developing any relationship with my children.

You didn't stand by me, but I'm now sure it was for the best. My new wife is a truly gentle soul and we are much better suited. Similarly, you are probably better off in your new relationship. Let's hope we are now all better able to stand by each other. Roger

We love to eat: Miss Bigwood's favourite

Ingredients

1 thick slice of white bread per person (do not be tempted to use the pre-sliced "plastic" variety)

1 rasher of bacon per round of bread, preferably back bacon

1-2 slices of red leicester or cheddar

Vegetable oil for frying

Worcestershire sauce for garnish

Place one or two slices of cheese, depending on thickness, on each slice of bread and press down hard – the cheese should cover the bread as far as possible. Cut the rasher of bacon in half and place on top of the cheese, ensuring the cheese is covered by the bacon, and again press down hard. Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a frying pan and, when it is sizzling, invert the slice of bread into the pan, bacon side down.

Press hard with a spatula on to the back of the slice. Fry until the cheese has melted into the bacon and the bacon is cooked. Turn out on to a plate, sprinkle with Worcestershire sauce and tuck in to the succulent mix of crispy bacon, cheese and fried bread.

Miss Bigwood was a schoolfriend of my grandmother; she worked until she was 80 in a mill in Leeds and lived in a real one-up, one-down, back-to-back house in Leeds until the late 50s. When my grandmother died, my mother stayed in touch with Miss Bigwood and every year she would spend a week with us in Northamptonshire for her annual holiday. This was the only time she left Leeds and her job.

To us she was something of a curiosity, an old lady still working and still attached to the niceties and conventions of a life firmly rooted in the late-19th, early 20th century. I still have no idea of her first name; to us she was, and always will be, Miss Bigwood.

On one visit she showed me how to make what we now call Miss Bigwood's favourite. I do not recall her name for the dish, but I do remember that it was a special treat when her budget would allow. My mother told me that on occasions she had seen her prepare an evening meal consisting of flour mixed with a little milk and fried to make a fritter. Bacon and cheese were reserved for pay day.

The result, to my young palate, was delicious, and the dish immediately entered our household repertoire. It is still a special Saturday lunchtime treat for my two sons, now both in their 20s. They never had the pleasure of meeting Miss Bigwood, but have often asked who she was, and they both make her favourite.

As a postscript, on my first visit to France in the 60s I was introduced to a traditional French snack by my new pen friend. It was called Croque Monsieur, an upmarket ham and cheese sandwich, but – being French – supposedly far superior to anything we might have in England. Not so, I thought, this isn't a patch on Miss Bigwood's favourite, but how does one translate that into O-level French? Prue Huddleston

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