[It’s very cold and snowy where I live right now, so even though it’s a bit early, recapping a Christmas special somehow seems . . . right. – WK]
TITLE: A Caribbean Christmas
NUMBER: Series 3, Special
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: December 22, 1998
[There is some sort of cartoon astronaut or something on a poster behind the counter, but I haven’t been able to place him.]
[Those who know better can correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears this episode was shot on video rather than on regular film.]
Without the bike, the ladies say they’ll have to rent a Rolls Royce “without a cover.”
They actually rent a Jeep instead. It’s quite fun to see Clarissa driving Jennifer around for a change.
A drive up a rocky lane (Jennifer: “Poor old bike wouldn’t have kept at all well with these roads”) takes them to a large sort of plantation house called “Good Hope Country House.” [The property is apparently a resort – you can stay there yourself, if you like.]
Their hosts are “the Harts,” [Blaise and Tammy], and they cook for a polo team playing under the name “Chukka Cove.”
(The team has at least two players [is it polo players?] named Mark on it.)
The Good Hope cook, Myrtle, sets them up in the large, rather garage-like kitchen.
Jennifer and the Harts make some sort of a joke about keeping a pet snake in the house, but I didn’t quite get it.
They take two field trips this time. First, they go to an outdoor market to buy some vegetables (“I’m sure it won’t be anything like Oxford Street,” says Jennifer). And then they go swimming in the sea!
[Apparently there is a nude beach near Good Hope; I wonder why they didn’t go there.]
[Jennifer apparently adored swimming and did it daily in the early morning. According to Charles Moore, Jennifer’s former employer at The Spectator, she once said, “I’m a mermaid; I cannot walk on land.”]
DISHES: Clarissa cooks “rice and peas” (actually rice and kidney beans with coconut, chilies and spices). After the field trip she jerks a whole suckling pig over a pit fire.
Jennifer bakes a “spice bun” [actually a gingerbread-type cake – see Food Tips and Lore, below]. In the second segment, she makes a puréed pumpkin soup with chicken, chilies, garlic and spices. And she does a punch of rum, dark cane syrup, lime juice and nutmeg while Clarissa is cooking her pig outside.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE:
Jennifer’s “spice bun” is a traditional Jamaican cake.
It is “made in the Parkin or gingerbread method, by boiling all the syrups and the butter and spices together before I add them to the flour.” (“Very Yorkshire, all those Parkins,” says Clarissa, probably remembering her own Yorkshire gingerbread cake.)
Jennifer also compares her cake to devil’s food.
[I have to say, the British names for dessert dishes drive me a little batty. I accept that all desserts are “puddings,” but last week we had an apple turnover that was a “cake,” and now we have a cake that is a “bun.” Stop the world, I want to get off. – WK]
Jennifer says you can tell when sugar has dissolved in syrup by the sound it makes when you stir it. Speaking of stirring, Clarissa stirs the batter, saying “It’s the nearest we’re going to get to Christmas pudding this year.” Jennifer says, “I ought to be filling it with coins of the realm, and bachelors’ buttons, and spinsters’ thimbles, and whatever.”
The dried fruits she puts in her cake are “candied grapefruit skin, and there are mangos, and there are pawpaws, and who knows what else.”
She also puts Dragon stout into it.
Clarissa says Jamaica produces good honey, and Jennifer says, “They might well, with all these lovely plants here.”
Jamaican spring onions (also called scallions – which the ladies seem to find funny) “are more like the Scottish or Welsh spring onions . . . grown in a clump, not individually,” according to Clarissa.
Clarissa: I’m quite surprised, with all these Scots bonnets flying around, that the food isn’t hotter here than it is.
Jennifer: I’m rather relieved, frankly. Though I do like the curried goat.
Clarissa: Yes, and they’re terribly chapel about it around here. If you go into a butcher’s shop, you don’t ask for goat, you ask for mutton.
Jennifer: Do you really? Why, how extraordinary.
[Wasn’t able to verify that she’s right about the goat/mutton question, and I’m not sure what she means by “chapel,” exactly.]
Clarissa says jerking meat “was invented by the Maroons, who were Spanish slaves that escaped up into the hills. . . . ‘Jerk’ just means to dry – you know, you get beef jerky. It’s an old English word.”
She says Jamaica is the only place allspice grows wild, and that they call the spice “pimento.” [According to Wikipedia, the claim about allspice only growing wild in Jamaica is not technically true, though the association is very strong.] She suggests mixing it into pepper, which “gives a sort of different flavor.”
She also says allspice is “what they use in Old Spice and all those other things that men dab on themselves.” (“Men’s toiletries,” says Jennifer.)
[Not sure about the specific connection with Old Spice, but it certainly seems allspice is associated with men’s grooming.]
A vendor at the market tells the ladies how to make what sounds like a smoothie out of a large squash.
Jennifer suggests using “an old pair of tights” as a strainer.
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST:
First things first: Jennifer actually says “Remembrance of Things Past”!
She says her father was a polo player, who was once injured by a mallet to the face. His eyebrow, she says, “was never the same – it grew in patches.”
Clarissa recalls having Christmas in Australia with her mother.
Clarissa suggests Jennifer ride a polo pony. “I’d rather die,” she says.
SONGS AND MUSIC:
The “Jamaican Mambo” is used as incidental music a couple of times; also “Iron Bar,” performed by the Honolulu Sunshine Band.
Jennifer sings “I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut For You.”
Jennifer sings part of “I Saw Three Ships” while swimming.
LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: Jennifer refers to the Nativity story, and Clarissa says, “I suppose it was hot in Bethlehem.”
About pumpkins, Jennifer says, “At midnight, they’ll change into a beautiful fairy’s carriage.”
There is this conversation when Clarissa brings in her suckling pig:
Clarissa: This little piggy went to market. Isn’t that lovely?
Jennifer: And this little piggy didn’t come home at all.
Clarissa: Well, he came home with me.
Jennifer also mentions the Titanic when putting large ice cubes into her punch pitcher. And she says “God be praised” while adding the rum to her punch.
STYLE WATCH: Both ladies wear large hats, suffer from frizzy tropical hair and sweat a lot.
[Although it’s worth noting Clarissa’s hair looks terrible even in the airport scene.]
My daughters didn’t like what Clarissa’s wearing, but my girlfriend loved it. It appears to have continents on it (?).
She also wears a tiny pin that I think is a crab.
Clarissa is amazed to be working with locally grown spices, saying, “I don’t know why it’s so strange to think of it all growing here, but it is.” She also does the worst Jamaican accent in the history of television, saying “I done gotta jerk my pork, man!” and “Cool Running, man!” [sic].
The ladies suggest that all you have to do when you want a chicken dinner in Jamaica is catch and kill one in the street.
Jennifer: It’s a very dangerous game, isn’t it.
Clarissa: Yeah, it all started with that thing they were playing with a goat . . . what is it? Buzkashi.
Jennifer: Oh, those terrifying people – used to play with a dead man’s head!
Clarissa: The Mongols.
Jennifer: The Mongols, yes. Charming.
[Looks like Jennifer is actually thinking of the legendary origin of soccer, but buzkashi is in fact a very real thing; I had never heard of it. – WK]
And, [just in time for American Thanksgiving]:
Clarissa: You have to be very careful with pumpkins. Never let an American near a pumpkin is what I say.
Jennifer: No, they’re horrible, [the] things they do! That pumpkin pie, which they all seem to adore! It’s sort of sludge covered in cinnamon.
Clarissa: And sweet.
Jennifer. And pappy. Yuck!
Jennifer says Clarissa looks “like a Red Indian” at one point.
Finally, during the gift exchange:
Jennifer: Lapland next year, I think.
Clarissa: That’s a good idea, with the Eskimos.
Jennifer: In Lapland?
[This scene touched me . . . because of course this would be Jennifer’s final Christmas.]
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX:
Jennifer says Clarissa “loves a dashing young man.” She also says polo players always tend to look “smart.”
ON DRINKS AND DRINKING:
Here is Jennifer’s punch recipe:
We have a little poem, and it goes, “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.”
She says, “I think rum’s probably better to drink in the place where it comes from, than harking back to the drinks you’re used to in England. Whiskey doesn’t taste the same. I think this suits the climate better.”
She seems fairly drunk in the second segment; Clarissa teases her about it, in fact. [Even so, I think she pulls off her solo scene while Clarissa’s outside very well. I’ve seen a bit of Clarissa’s other TV programs, but I never feel she works on her own; she comes off as a bit dull and pompous, I think. But Jennifer could have carried a series alone, in my view. – WK]
There are insects buzzing around the kitchen. Jennifer says that the humidity makes it hard to sift flour, and Clarissa suggests there are weevils in it. This leads her to tell what she admits is a “dreadful” joke:
. . . This cotton weevil in Brazil that was eating all the cotton crop, and this other weevil came along, and it et the cotton weevil. And so they put a statue up to the second one, and then a big plaque underneath it saying, “The Lesser of the Two Weevils.”
The diners all seem genuinely to enjoy the food.
Finally, there is another gift exchange. Clarissa gives Jennifer conch shells (“I et the contents”), and Jennifer gives Clarissa a rastacap with fake dreadlocks.
MISTAKES: Water gets in Jennifer’s mouth several times during the swimming scene.
At the dinner table, someone loudly says, “What’s wrong with this fish?” but they aren’t serving fish.
[I love the readers of this blog. One named Gareth sends in this clarification:
[As for the person saying “What’s wrong with this fish?” at the end, they were telling a joke. The next line is “Long time, no sea.”]
[Please note that neither Gareth nor I claim this is a particularly good joke. – WK]
The episode ends, literally, on a very sour note, as Clarissa joins Jennifer in singing “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” [Sad to say, but Clarissa truly was an awful singer – she’s so far off the tune that through most of the song it sounds like she’s singing harmony (but she isn’t).]
PHONY BUSINESS: The ladies “hilariously” try to check Jennifer’s motorbike at the airport in the opening prologue. [It’s a bit tired, truthfully . . . or maybe I was just tired. – WK]
At the end of the second cooking segment, Clarissa takes her pig out to cook while Jennifer makes her punch. The punch-making takes less than five minutes, but when Jennifer joins Clarissa outside immediately after, the pig appears to be fully roasted.
[And most significantly of all . . . well, of course I’ve no direct evidence for this, but I think I can say this whole “Christmastime” trip to Jamaica was actually filmed before they shot the rest of Series 3. You will recall from my recaps of “Benedictine Nuns” and “Lock Keepers” that Clarissa looked rather sunburnt in those episodes (especially the former). Now, it’s possible that she got her burn in some other way or place, but I think it’s just too much of a coincidence. Never trust television. – WK]
TRADEMARKS: Jennifer complains about the weather [though not really as much as she does on hot days in England, it seems to me]. “It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, to have boiling hot Christmases,” she says.