Jewels: Meet my twin sister born into a ‘rival’ band by mistake, Alison Hay, who describes the relationship between Culture Club and Duran Duran back in the day as “enemy camps.” We met in passing a few times (most likely powdering our noses in the loo), and truthfully? I always liked her, but it took a mutual friend urging me to read a searing commentary on fame (now the Moth to a Flame chapter in her book) that she penned on Facebook, to prompt my sending her a friend request a couple years ago.

A Culture Club Christmas in “the enemy camp.”

I was blown away by how eloquently and accurately her words described a phenomenon I still can’t fully fathom, let alone describe. What caught us both off guard was how parallel our lives have been for past few decades. Both now exes of keyboard players, both long distance mothers, both writers – she is my twin sister born into a different band. However did we function without each other all these years? We started a yearly Christmas reunion tradition that has been happily interrupted this year by her daughter, Sunny’s recent return to the fold, so we traded Christmas blog posts instead of hugs. Now you get to enjoy her mastery of the written word and sharp wit, too!

Yes, Alison’s hair is pink, and you can click on the photo to buy her book

Alison: I wish we had connected all those years back and been the support for each other that we are now, but as fellow mothers of only daughters and survivors with similar war stories we never run out of reasons to make each other laugh and are busy making up for lost time.

Yeah. Apologies for the horrible title, but I couldn’t work grapefruit into it any which way.

In Britain, it’s invariably the case that on Christmas morning we have grapefruit. Tradition has it that on Christmas Eve it is segmented ready for eating and dusted with granulated sugar. In the morning, it is consumed accompanied by brown buttered bread – not toast, just bread. The sugar forms a shell-like crust overnight and sweetens the fruit.

Now I’m telling you this it sounds like the most eccentric thing on the planet. Why, why? I’ve tried to find a reason on the net and although there are plenty of recipes and stories involving a large yellow fruit for Christmas there appears to be a giant conspiracy as to the reason for it. No one is saying. My parents followed the script slavishly, as did the parents of my ex-husband, Roy, so it would have been a fairly universal practice not confined to the mental instability of my particular family.

The brown bread will have to remain an enigmatic mystery, but I’ll hazard the grapefruit was a practice that sprang from wartime when fresh citrus was a rare treat in rationed Britain. Just as my grandparents could look forward to a whole orange in the stocking by the bed as about the best gift that could be mustered, so an even more exotic grapefruit would have had a wow factor that beggars belief. By my parent’s era it was merely habit.

Roy annoyed over forgetting the grapefruit for Christmas last year

I’m going to give it a whirl this year – my grandson fondly hopes a Playstation will be bestowed upon him but imagine his unrestrained elation when instead he discovers an entire orange as evidence of Santa’s visit.

For the holidays last year, I was the house guest of Roy and his girlfriend in their Malibu pied à terre. As we watched our grandson excitedly tear through reams of expensive paper I was delighted to catch Roy muttering to himself with irritation that he’d forgotten to get the grapefruit.

The palm trees might have replaced fir trees and there was sand instead of snow, but the spirit of 1945 Britain lives on in my barking mad ex-husband.

Mikey Craig, Boy George, Rum Cake Masterchef Mum, and Roy Hay

Of course, many families have their own traditions for holiday food. Mikey Craig, the laid back and charismatic bass player for Culture Club, hails from a large West London based family of Jamaicans. Every year without fail his mother would haul out her famous recipe for Jamaican Fruit Cake. Woe betide Mikey if he hadn’t got a slice for all of us carefully wrapped in aluminum upon arrival, at whatever TV studios we were waiting in before the annual onslaught of the Christmas Chart shows.

Soaked in enough rum to sink a navy, and packed with fruit, it was a thing of beauty. One year we had endured a six-hour wait in an Italian television complex while the frenetic and disorganized Italian crews readied the three-minute live slot for the band. Almost postal from boredom one of us suddenly remembered that it was Christmas Eve. For sure Mikey would have been sent on his way with a slab of the celebrated cake and we demanded he pony up.

The famous Jamaican rum cake

Out it came, a generous wedge wrapped in its usual silver casing. We were overjoyed. Paper plates were rustled up from nowhere and a knife was pilfered from the canteen. Oh yes. So busy were we congratulating ourselves and stuffing our faces that we entirely forgot about the live show until a harried and wild-eyed technician burst through the door and said the boys were live in 30 seconds. Mayhem broke out. George barely made it to the stage followed, as if they had been shot out of cannons to skid sideways into position, by the rest of the band. Roy, who had omitted to bring his guitar, danced around the set ineffectually, to the bafflement of the audience. Jon and Mikey were still chewing on mouthfuls of rum cake.

I have managed, by fair means and foul, to wheedle the recipe for the famous cake for your delectation. Do not drive, operate heavy machinery or agree to live television after consumption. It goes thus:

Jamaican Rum Cake Recipe

A day or two in advance, place the fruit in a large jar. Pour wine and white rum in equal measures over fruit, so that it is completely covered. Cover jar and leave the fruit to soak.

Servings: 12

Ingredients:

1 lb raisins chopped
1 lb prunes chopped
1 lb currants chopped
1 tsp grated or ground nutmeg
A handful of Maraschino cherries
Red wine (the better the wine, the better the taste)
White rum
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp mixed spice for baking
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
3 cups baking flour
1 cup breadcrumbs
Finely grated rind of  (preferably) 1 lime, or small lemon
8 oz butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tbsp browning (a cooked caramel-colored syrup found in Caribbean baking recipes. You may substitute maple syrup with a small amount of molasses)
12 eggs
2 tsp rose water
1/2 cup dark rum
2 tsp vanilla

Directions:

1). Sift together the first five dry ingredients. Add breadcrumbs and lime rind, and mix in well.

2). Cream butter and sugar in a very large mixing bowl. Add browning. Add 4 cups of soaked fruit, stirring in with a large wooden spoon.

3). Beat eggs until light and frothy (10 minutes). Add rose water, dark rum and vanilla.

4). Add egg mixture to butter mixture, fold in well. Fold soaked fruit into this mixture.

5). Gradually fold in flour mixture. Test to see if the wooden spoon can stand upright in middle of the mixture. If not, add some more flour until the mixture can support the spoon.

6). Grease a baking pan and line with grease paper. Grease and flour the paper too.

7). Pour mixture into tin and bake for 2 hours in a slow oven, of 300F.

8). Place a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to ensure cake does not dry out.

9). Check cake from time to time towards the end, as baking times may vary slightly. Cake is ready when a toothpick or skewer inserted in centre comes out clean, or almost clean.
To store the cake for a few weeks, keep moist by pouring a little wine or rum on the top and wrap tightly in aluminum foil.

PS: For an incredible roller-coaster ride of laughter and tears, buy Alison’s eBook, Pink Prose on Amazon now.

This post was first published December 8, 2011

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  • December 8, 2011
    6:15 pm

    OMG I have been given the best Christmas gift anyone could possibly give me! A trip back to my 13 year old self completely in awe and in love with Culture Club and Mikey Craig! Yes, there were other beloved bands at the time but my GOD! CULTURE CLUB! I wore nickel sized buttons of each member on my shirts EVERY day! Be still my heart but added to this rum cake that no one should light a match near (party time! ) AND a writer who writes like you’re having a coffee or wine over MANY laughs…. LOVE this! Like you ladies, I married an Englishman and to a lot of the habits like the grapefruit I end up saying WTH a LOT LOL Thank you thank you thank you!

    • December 22, 2011
      8:40 am

      Such a shame it took us this many years to realize how much we had in common and enjoy each others company, but sure am glad we did!

  • December 22, 2011
    12:24 am

    The Jamaican Rum Cake Recipe which you have stated in your blog is very good. I liked it very much. Thanks a lot.

  • December 22, 2011
    8:41 am

    You will have to thank Alison and Mikey’s mom for that (it’s not my recipe), but I’m glad you liked it.