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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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