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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


Self-raising flour


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

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