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Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: A relic of my Russian-Jewish past

Apart from the gleaming brass samovar – unused for a good 70 years – atop a chest in my sister's home this photograph is the only survivor of my grandparents' life in the Old Country, as Jews called those places in a distant eastern Europe they had fled. In their case, it was a Russian shtetl (little town). Under a changed name, it's in today's Lithuania, this place they never spoke of, this life experience not in any way transmitted to their children or grandchildren, of which I am one.

I found a picture of the town in the Lithuanian encyclopaedia, a street with those low Eastern European rural houses and once or twice I met Lithuanians and asked about the region, which is apparently very beautiful. They remarked that the Lithuanians were great friends to the Jews and never harmed them. That a thousand years of Jewish life should be buried in lies is nothing compared to the massacre that destroyed all branches of my family over there. The silence of the grandparents must have been their way of dealing with that loss and assuring the tranquillity of their (safely British born) descendants, perhaps.

But when I look at this picture of my then teenaged grandmother with her own mother, sedate in their Chekhov-era dresses – young Rivke with a high-school medal around her neck – I wonder about the cherry orchard, the muddy roads of the thaw and what it was like riding on wagons from shtetl to shtetl, laughing and joking shyly in our dear departed language, Yiddish.

In the photo my granny, mayn bube, reveals tender eyes and firm lips. This tenderness and firmness accompanied her through two marriages and the long, illegal trip from Russia – in 1903 or 1904 – her raising of a family in London's East End and later Ladbroke Grove, then getting her all her children into medical school, teacher training and professional, skilled work. This was all somehow accomplished on the wages of her husband, my melancholy but humorous grandfather, Zayde Reuven, a casually employed tailor.

How she managed all that is covered with another canopy of silence but I know the bond of my own mother's affection for her and note the hopeful, clever eyes that gaze out of this token of our old Jewish-Russian life that, along with the samovar, is its silent witness. Ray Keenoy

Playlist: The sound of fantasy and adventure

Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves by Cher

"I was born in the wagon of a travellin' show/My mama used to dance for the money they'd throw"

Hearing this song has always been a thrill. I was obsessed (between eight and 11 years old) by the thought that I was really a Gypsy child, and that my parents had adopted me.

I never owned the single, only heard it on the radio, which was always on in our house. We lived in the countryside, with several acres of garden, adjoining fields and river to play in.

I didn't realise how lucky I was, or how much freedom I had. I spent as much time as I could dressing up like a Gypsy (or as they were portrayed in my story books). I was desperately keen to walk barefoot and practised on the pebble path in the garden, trying to toughen up my feet, which hurt. My father gave me a penknife and I learned how to make whistles and tried to make pegs.

I recently discovered that Dervish, an Irish band, does a cover of this song, which is lovely, but doesn't have the impact of the original.

I am pleased that my 11-year-old daughter loves this track, but, as we live in the city, it would be social suicide for her to indulge her fantasies by getting into character. I do now own a lurcher, (a greyhound-collie-cross hunting dog) another essential element of the Gypsy lifestyle, but as I am a vegetarian I discourage him from catching rabbits.

Bridget Barling

We love to eat: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fudge


1lb (450g) soft light brown sugar (white granulated will do)

4oz (115g) unsalted butter

1 tbsp golden syrup

2 fl oz (60ml) water

3 fl oz (90ml) cream

1 tsp vanilla essence

Melt all ingredients except the vanilla in a high-sided pot on a low heat. When the sugar has dissolved, bring the fudge to the boil until it reaches soft ball stage – drip a drop into a cup of cold water; if it forms a ball, it's ready – Take it off the stove and beat in the vanilla. Pour into a greased pan and cut while still warm.

In 1966 my family emigrated to Canada from England. One day, a few weeks after we arrived, I found myself barred from the kitchen. My mother and sister were "making something secret". After what seemed like forever, my sister came out with a pan of fudge.

The smell was lovely and chocolatey, the taste fabulous. The original recipe is from the back of Ian Fleming's novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, borrowed from the library that day. But over years of making it we discovered we preferred a vanilla version made with light brown sugar and a bit of cream, and this we have stuck with. My interaction with the fudge is legendary. When I was 15 or so I made a batch (almost a kilo of fudge), ate it within two days, felt I hadn't had enough and made more, similarly devoured.

I felt ill for at least a week and broke out in zits that took months to clear. For more than 30 years I couldn't go near the stuff. But then I made a batch and found myself back where I started: unable to stop eating it. I make this fudge occasionally with my own children, who show every sign of my own weakness. Today they had eight pieces each, but I had 10! Nicola Bessell

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