Rissington Rag: Nostalgia Unlock Winter Edition
A Day in the Life of a Masked Hotelier
This is certainly the most important Rissington Rag that I have ever put together and it is an edition full of ideas so, despite the ubiquitous reading fatigue, please put aside some peaceful time with a cup of coffee to catch up on our new way forward and to enjoy a rather different take on everything that is going on. It will be financially beneficial as well. We are offering some very interesting deals further down the page. Don't skip bits ... because if you do, you will miss out on great millennial-bashing, a bit of ill-informed Dolly Parton - Age, Husband & Songs - Biographytelevision criticism, a couple of dodgy cartoons, some fine photography and a chunk of important social comment, as well as unexpected appearances by Darth Vader, Dr Who and Dolly Parton. And some browsers clip the tops and bottoms of emails, so be sure that you see all the way to the sign-off and the names at the end of the message!
It is all very exciting, isn't it? It is like starting out in business all over again. For the first time ever, due to the countrywide ban on trading for the entire hospitality industry, Rissington had a zero percent occupancy rate in April, which was pretty depressing to be honest. By mid-May we had opened up again for Essential Workers which offered a small trickle of renewal and, although that didn't begin to cover our costs, it felt good to have a purpose again even for just a couple of people on a good night. Now, in June, we are currently able to accommodate all business people. We hope that the numbers will continue to grow as the lockdown continues to be lightened, with the imminent re-opening of restaurants and with the possibility of some leisure travel being allowed very soon. We have a group of a dozen cops staying right now - I will have some fascinating tales to tell about that particular scenario in the next edition when all this bizarre water has passed under the bridge - but we are still pretty much hand-to-mouth at this stage with the bank account totally shredded. And we are not alone in that, I know.
It reminds me very much of the early days of Rissington, 25 years ago, when we had absolutely no cash at all. If we received any income then (however small - even it was just the bank manager coming to lunch in order to protect his investment) I would become hugely over-zealous and rush out to buy a lampshade for one of the five rooms. Or a pillow. Or a towel. If someone stayed the night, I would squirrel away the proceeds and save up for a big investment, like a duvet with a cover or a lamp with a light-bulb to go with the lampshade.
In the meantime, we have all now been reluctantly absorbed into this bizarre new era of masks, sanitisers and no holding hands or kissing, making the whole world seem like a kind of macabre nightmare school-dance. No doubt it will all soon become second-nature - just as it did with the teenage dance fumblings. Yes. Even the mask-wearing will come easily, in the same way that we would now never think of driving without wearing a seat-belt or skiing without a helmet. The sooner we can get rid of the miserable medical mouth-covers the better though. Having the entire world dressed up as extras from Casualty is an unnecessarily depressing reminder of where we are with this extraordinary situation. Let's all therefore agree to WW2 Replica Gas Mask transparent PNG - StickPNGsport the type of face-wear that looks like bits of bikini, rather than the left-over surgeon's props from House. As a general rule, I am in favour of the polka-dot, paisley and leopard-spot - very classy - but, when visiting us, please take it easy on the WW2 gas masks and the Darth Vader outfits. You will frighten the dogs.
Wearers of seriously stylish facial accoutrements at Rissington will win prizes, so let's see what you are made of. Let your inner Versace or Vivienne Westwood fashionista flow. Anyone who looks even vaguely like a dentist will automatically be disqualified and, if you are stuck, Rissington has its own jaunty range of face-patterns available, duly sanitised, from Rissington Out, our very own little fashion outlet and book shop, where you can also buy our T-shirts, specially designed for easy inner-elbow sneezing.
A Long Journey for Tourism ...
If you are in any doubt about the impact that all of this has had on tourism, take a look at this map which shows the travel restrictions around the world as of 18th May 2020:
At that time, 100% of destinations (217 all together) had travel restrictions in place and 75% (163 destinations) had all their borders closed for international tourism. Some countries have since opened up a little, but it is all going to take a fair bit of unravelling. Countries with fragile economies such as South Africa - and in Europe, perhaps Greece and Italy - are among the hardest-hit. Interestingly, the countries that are most tourism-dependent are apparently the ones most likely to have completely closed their borders. Oh, to be running a hotel in Venezuela or North Korea, where you weren't honestly expecting noticeable numbers of international visitors anyway!
IATA has produced an excellent interactive map which constantly updates the status of every country in the world, allowing you to click on the country and check current restrictions. You can see it HERE and save it to your bookmarks. It is a great help when looking at how matters are shaping up in the world of travel.
This lockdown experience has reminded me (although perversely in terms of freedom to travel it is the opposite in so many ways) of the 100 days we spent travelling around Africa in 2006, which ultimately led to the writing of my book Do Not Take this Road to El-Karama (which you can buy for a pittance HERE or HERE). We were on the road for just over three months and little by little we noticed that we were hankering after strange and unusual items that we felt we were unexpectedly missing in our lives. We were all near-vegetarians, for example, by the end, because it had been so rare for us to be able to buy good fresh meat. We drank black tea and we were dying for a cappuccino, which was something we hardly ever drank at home. I suffered bizarre cravings for pain au chocolat but when I eventually found one at the Delamere Estates food outlet near Lake Naivasha in Kenya, it was bitterly disappointing. JJ says that his biggest suffering in lockdown (apart from not seeing his friends) is that he misses the Oreo pudding at his boarding school.
Of course, not only tourism is suffering but all its endless suppliers are too. In high season, for example, just the tourists alone in South Africa BEWARE OF Chicken Little Fans... The Cult of Constipated Crazies!eat as many as half a million eggs per day for breakfast. At the moment, there are no tourists, so what happens to all those eggs? Or to the chickens? Or to the people who feed the chickens? Or to the people who own the chickens? Or breed the chickens?
At Rissington, where we currently have a negligible income, we are still buying the cheapest food for ourselves; we wear our slo5ps (flip-flops) until our heels break through. We are cutting back on everything except (those of us that still have it) our hair. No cold room. No aircon. Everything is switched off - and we have reduced our electricity account by 70%. It is amazing what you can manage without, when you absolutely need to. And now that no-one is flying in with supplies from the UK, we are down to our last litre of Ribena and we have completely run out of British jelly babies, which are without a doubt the best in the world. This in itself is yet another chronic side-effect of the pandemic!
Where Do We Go from Here? Don't ask a Millennial ...
For several years now we have all known that our lovely Millennials hold the key to the way that things are going to be done 'going forward' (as they say) and it seems that their moment may finally have come now that, just like them, everyone is isolating and hiding their faces from the real world. This is the Millennials' Wartime. They will tell their grandchildren how tough life was in the time of COVID-19, when we were all confined to our homes except for rare and dangerous facially-protected forays to supermarkets, foraging for food and fighting over the last dragon-fruit and the little tubs of pomegranate seeds that would feed the need for superfoods to fight off the virus.
I read recently that the Snowflake Generation's latest sympathy-seeking whimper is that, on top all the other challenges that the world is throwing at them, many are now undergoing what they are (really) calling a ‘Quarter Life Crisis’, described as 'formative issues from being locked out when trying to find their way in the world'. Gosh. And that was pre-virus. Imagine what a state they must be in now. Three months ago, 60% of 22-35 year-olds were apparently suffering from this condition (now it is probably 100%) compared with fewer than 30% of their parents at the same time of their lives. They are, they say, 'trapped by career and relationship choices'. Or at least they were before COVID-19. Perhaps worrying about losing their jobs in the real world and being locked down with their boyfie or girlfie will have rebooted their priorities a little and focused the mind a bit. Back to the fumbling!
Local White River cartoonist and national treasure Dr Jack, in the cartoon above, has neatly summed up much of the nonsense that is being spoken worldwide (and if you haven't bought all three different editions of his South African Byrd Book, you really should).
So, in short, this unexpected era is going to be no time for shrinking violets. We are going to have to mask up and man up. We have to face the fact that, from a travel perspective more than from any other, things have changed forever. We have lived through the Golden Age of travel and we took it for granted. Fifty years ago, an exotic holiday was driving to an old-fashioned family hotel in the Drakensberg for organised putt-putt, quoits and bingo-in-the-bar-at-seven or a family trip by road and ferry to a Butlin's-style campsite in Brittany. Then along came Freddie Laker and, later, Richard Branson and by last year it seemed that most middle-income families in Europe were going on at least one, maybe even two overseas trips a year. Perhaps one to Florida and another for an African safari. We didn't bat an eyelid when every single contestant on every single quiz show said they would be spending their winnings on a family holiday to visit long-lost relatives in Australia or checking out the cherry blossom on the way to Mount Fuji, taking their 'fee-on-says' to Bali for a week or inviting their mothers on New York shopping trips to Bloomingdales. Flying was just something we did. Until now, when we can't ... and it all seems rather odd. All we can do these days is sit at home and dream of the Kruger National Park or, more proactively, watch a virtual game drive in the Sabi-Sand.
Sure. We will travel again. We will fly again. But it will be a bit more complicated and we shall never take it for granted again. Bucket lists anyway always seemed to me to indicate an unhealthy sense of entitlement. We shall just have to get smaller buckets and fill them with less extravagant desires.
South Africa is slowly emerging from the gloom and opening up little by little. Of course, domestic tourism will be first to open. The good news for us here in Hazyview is that we (and the rest of the people of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces) are now allowed to make day visits to the Kruger National Park, so we are doing it for you.
Naturally, we went in on the day that it re-opened and it was like a rebirth, with huge herds of wildlife as far as the eye could see. The game seemed to have completely forgotten about us and milled around in the road, absolutely unfazed by our return. Great piles of dung, that had not been driven over in weeks and weeks, lay everywhere. The birds seemed somehow louder than usual. At dusk, we saw a hyena with two tiny pups that would never have seen a member of the public before ... It was magic. It was so wonderful to be back that, in our four hours, we only covered a few kilometres as we marvelled anew and stopped for every bird and insect. We took dozens and dozens of photographs, even of the impala, of which we saw four huge herds over a hundred-strong. Not to mention the elephant in musth which had us reversing for about fifteen minutes as, unaccustomed to the intrusion, he strode determinedly towards us.
Soon we shall be able to share our park with the rest of the world again, but for now, it is simply a great privilege for us to be able to enjoy it ourselves!
Some of the hikes up on the Panorama Route are also open and we started off with the 16-kilometre Loerie Day Trail which follows the Sabie river and then climbs right to the top of the Bridal Veil Falls and back down through the forests. It is a tough hike (especially for Ryan, our Rissington nine-year-old) but we all really enjoyed the change of scene, the space and the open air. We didn't see another soul. The highlight was seeing two Knysna loeries/turacos, a metre away at nose-height, and literally hundreds and hundreds of butterflies of all kinds and colours.The Sabie river, as it runs down the escarpment towards Hazyview, is reputed to have the broadest range of different butterfly species of anywhere in the world. And from what we saw on that Sunday, I can believe that.
Am I making you envious? Sorry! But there is a solution at the bottom of the page ...
Travelling for a Reason
It is quite possible that some Responsible tourism with us ensures change and improvement each timeaspects of luxury might not seem so important in the future and that our basic needs will be simply to feel safe from disease and to escape into the open spaces. And of course that is where South Africa comes into its own, both for South Africans and visitors. I believe that we are entering a new age of travel. Let's call it the Silver Age, when everything is about getting out and sharing experiences with the communities around us. Sharing our 'silver' yes, but also sharing genuine hospitality, immersive experiences and experiential learning for everyone's edification. The idea of community tourism is very close to our hearts at Rissington and we are spending much of our current downtime plotting ways to relaunch our whole area for safe walking, cycling, visiting and self-drive tours for dynamic youngsters (and oldsters) who really want to get out-and-about and to meet people. And I can promise you, if we are involved, that there won't be a staged tribal dance in sight. Everything will be spontaneous and for real. This will be about getting involved, but it will not patronising in any way. It will take visitors right into our communities and inside their lifestyles, for the benefit of everyone. The Silver Age becomes the silver lining.
Intra-African travel is also going to be a large ingredient in the way forward. We shall need to share our funds and our ideas right across the continent of Africa, where the already-wobbly economies have been absolutely knocked for six by the past couple of months. With very few flights available, we therefore need to hit the road and drive to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and further afield to East Africa as soon as we humanly can. We need to engage and support neighbouring nations in every conceivable way. If you are reading this in Europe or Asia, you might just have to fit out a vehicle and drive down from your end. If you are in the USA or Australia, you might even have to swim a bit first (!) until the flights are back, which, of course, they will be sooner or later.
Art for more than Art's Sake
Let me give you an example of how this kind of co-operation can so easily work. The above piece of artwork now hangs above the fireplace at Rissington in a spot that has been in need of a centrepiece for 25 years. Crown is the creation of a highly-talented youngster named Shearer Ngobeni (shown), whose father works at a private game reserve called Londolozi and who lives with his family in the rural village of Hluvukani, 30 kilometres east of Hazyview. Shearer was at school with JJ thanks, partially, to support from The Good Work Foundation, a local educational initiative supported by many of us in tourism. You can see more information on their education project in our rural communities HERE.
Anyway, I digress. Shearer approached me at his own initiative, with the suggestion that we might commission an art piece - the choice of subject would be ours - and that the funds raised would go towards the purchase of equipment and materials for Mother and Child Industries, a company founded by Shearer and his mother, Minah Dzimba, to empower women and the disadvantaged through the design and creation of clothing and home accessories. So that is what we did. The picture fits the Rissington focal point perfectly and Shearer and Minah have now launched their first range. Here are a couple of samples.
I love the simplicity, practicality and lack of pretension. Communities can, should and must work together as equals. This is a perfect instance in which tourism can work for everyone without even so much as a thought for issues of race, history or blame. I am going to make it my main challenge, from now onwards, to identify further opportunities to demonstrate this simple premise. Anyone with any suggestions is welcome to contact me. And when you come and stay, let's go exploring and look for new possibilities!
Crucial to this process is the need for us to focus on creating tourism products in South Africa for all South Africans. To see tourism as exclusively the domain of international tourists, or of the rich, is never going to work or to be sustainable, or even to be safe, for so many reasons. If you want a fascinating insight into the frustrations of being a black South African tourist in your own country - and we have recommended this before - you should read Sihle Khumalo’s excellent, entertaining and occasionally unsettling book Rainbow Nation My Zulu Arse. You can download it from Amazon HERE and Takealot HERE. I am proud to say that Sihle and I shared a publisher and an editor at one point of our writing lives, although nowadays he is much more prolific and intrepid than I am.
In short, yes, we have to rebuild tourism but not, I think, as before. This really is an opportunity to deal with the over-tourism problem, the non-representative problem and the patronising box-ticking of 'doing' places, as in "I have done South America". New tourists need not to 'do' places, but to immerse in places; to twin their lives with others, if you like, and to create bonds and support systems and not 'look at me' photos. Reinventing tourism not by ticking off countries but by becoming part of them, even from a distance. And without patronising people or asking them to dance for us.
Enough Lectures, it's Time for 'Turn Again Rissington' ...
So what is Rissington going to do to reinvent itself as it emerges from the recent ordeal? Well, everything really and a little bit of nothing ...
Firstly, of course, we are taking health issues seriously and we are following every single recommendation and more, when it comes to keeping people safe. The last thing any of us needs is for the effects of the lockdown to be perpetuated even for one second longer than necessary, which means sticking to the rules and making sure that we look after ourselves and each other. I say above that we shall all very quickly become accustomed to taking extra precautions and Rissington will be no exception, but we must also not lose sight of the fact that, even before the shenanigans of the past few months, Rissington was always uncrowded, always clean, always open-aired and is now ideally-suited to the new requirements for space and social distancing. We shall also be looking at all sorts of interesting ways to expand our offering in terms of outdoors activities. We are still planning to dig the bigger pool we promised, but we shall also be adding badminton, lawn bowls (a bush version), jukskei, croquet, table-tennis and all sorts of other fun activities (yes, maybe even including quoits but maybe not bingo-in-the-bar) as well as treasure hunts and wildlife walks on the property with JJ, Ryan or me. And probably the dogs!
We believe that there are going to be two major market surges from this, the first consisting of dynamic solo travellers and the second (and most prolific) being family holidays. We intend to cater fully for that in our rooms, in our style, in our health-consciousness and in our sense of fun. Those of you who have been coming here for years should not notice the difference too much, but if you bring along your families you will notice a world of new opportunities that you had never been aware of, not only at Rissington but in the area generally. What is more, all these additional Rissington facilities will be absolutely free. And if you are wondering what the wildlife looks like, here are some of the more exciting creatures we have caught on our bush camera over the past couple of days.
We even caught a hippo on the camera a couple of weeks and I will give a Rissington water bottle to any under-16 who can tell me what the fuzzy animal is in the background in the third photograph!
Rissington Turns 25 When Nobody is Looking!
Rissington's much-anticipated 25th birthday celebration eventually morphed into what is now termed a 'behind closed doors' event, a bit like the Bundesliga and the Austrian Grand Prix, but we nevertheless had a great celebration on our social media pages and we received dozens and dozens of emails wishing us well. Thanks very much for those. They meant a lot. Of course most of the staff were off at the time as we were closed but they were all involved throughout the weekend on a WhatsApp group which we set up to share messages and where Betty Khosa, one of our housekeepers, recorded a wonderful unaccompanied solo rendition of Happy Birthday from her home and posted it for us all to hear.
When Rissington opened in the middle of 1995 we were seven staff including me. Of those, three are sadly no longer alive, one now works for the Kruger National Park and two are still with us. (And I am fine too.) Rissington has a fantastically loyal team and as testament to that, at the bottom of this letter, I have capitalised the names of the people who have been here for more than ten years. It is almost half of them ... and if you think how the team has doubled in number in the past ten years, it shows a very low staff turnover. While we are on the subject of the original line-up, let's also pay tribute to the wonderful Joseph Malandula, with his fabulous sense of humour and energetic mirth-filled story-telling skills, who worked here from the day we opened until the day he died. Likewise we shall never forget Kuki Ngobe who was similarly integral from day one and who helped me to create so many of the wonderful dishes that we have all known and loved for so long on the Rissington menu. And then there were all the loyal and energetic Rissington dogs over the years too, who gave their lives up to keeping our guests happy: Fitz, Sandy (aka Isicabu), umQombothi, Bull and, greatest of them all, Sport, who moved to Rissington with me in 1995 and then lived alongside me here for a total of 19 years. What a hero!So to mark the event, as promised, here are a few more 'Before and After' shots from the building works and the opening look in 1995 compared with same view now in the present day:
In the early days, the bar was out on the verandah (and I lived where the bar is now!)
The sitting room was originally a kitchen and we knocked the arches and the bay window out of the solid larder walls
Building the stoep roof and designing the gardens were both major projects
This old workshop and staff quarters building was knocked down in 1995 was replaced five years later with our first garden suites, Sycamore and Ivory.
The work continues though, and most recently, this (below) is what Lucky has been doing to Sycamore and Ivory during lockdown. New sliding doors have taken the place of the tired old wooden one doors and windows and the rooms have undergone a complete refurbishment. Rissington never stops updating and continues to bring us joy day after day as we continue to keep it in tip-top condition even when there is almost nobody here ...!
Of course, so much has changed in the past twenty-five years and to highlight that, let's not forget that Rissington started out in an era when, to telephone us, you had to 'phone the Hazyview exchange and ask the operator to put you through to 'Hazyview 700'. To make a booking you had either to be unusually successful in 'phoning or to send a letter though the post. The fax had, in fact, just come into being and we had one very soon after we opened (with that shiny rolled paper that faded after a month or so) but hardly anyone else had one, so most of our bookings came in the form of hand-written or typed (on a typewriter) letters. To pay a deposit, you sent a cheque and we went to the post office to pick it up and then to the bank to deposit it. Was it awful? No, not at all. In a strange way it was much more personal than today's ubiquitous Internet-based form-filling communication, although it was a bit more time-consuming (as was personally visiting a high street travel agent as opposed to the impersonal system of booking online). The first Rags were also typed out on paper and then photocopied and sent out by post. And instead of ghastly TripAdvisor reviews, people used to write us thank you letters and post them to us. Yes, they really did. Many, many of them. It was all so much more genuine - and in all that time only one cheque ever bounced.
Much more will change in the next twenty-five years as well, of course, but I can tell you one thing for sure. Whatever happens in the coming months or, heaven forbid, years, Rissington will still be here for its fiftieth birthday. I shall be only 81 years old, but I trust that the next generation will have taken over by then. And as we plot our way through the coming challenges, we shall be making sure that we already start the process of preparing Rissington for the adaptations it will be making in preparation for its half-century celebrations in the year 2045 ....
Ndlovu plays Dolly Parton
Bearing in mind that Ndlovu is isiZulu for an elephant, this is potentially an alarming headline, but we are talking about the fabulous Ndlovu Youth Choir. We love them and we love everything that they stand for, having been proudly involved by hosting founder Dr Hugo Tempelman and many members of his team and his fund-raisers at Rissington for many years. For those who aren't 'with the story' the local South African choir was a star performer on America's Got Talent 2019 and had the whole country - indeed the whole world - talking. They have also performed at many other big events including 'The Match in Africa'. the record-breaking exhibition tennis match in Cape Town between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (and Bill Gates and Trevor Noah!) earlier this year, and they were due to be the headline act at this year's Hazyview Festival which was unfortunately postponed. The choir is a large and talented part of the fund-raising efforts of the Ndlovu Care Group which operates a number of crucial clinics in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces of South Africa. You can see more details HERE
They were also due to perform at Rissington's birthday but instead they sent us a lockdown video of themselves singing Happy Birthday from their headquarters in Groblersdal. You can see that on the Rissington Facebook page. For your watching pleasure in the Rag this time, here they are with their very own version of Dolly Parton's Jolene.
Many real old-timers (if I may call you that) in South Africa will also remember, in the early days, that Rissington had a strong association with SAfm, the radio station that was born out of the old 'English Service of the SABC' around the time of the transition to democracy, and particularly with the station manager and popular presenter Tony Lankester (latterly of the Grahamstown/Makhanda National Arts Festival). Many of our early guests initially heard about us on the 'Rissington Challenge' - a brainteaser set either by me or Tony and aired weekly on his Saturday morning SAfm Weekend show. Anyway, the point of all this is that Tony's and (his wife) Jayne's son, James Lankester, has also launched a part-time music career and this is him with has friend Nathan Nadler-Nir, performing one of their works under the name WokRing. We like to have something for everyone in the Rag and I think this is oddly beguiling. 'Like' at will!
And, for something yet again completely different, you know how we South Africans really love our national anthem. Well, this makes me cry every time. It was recorded remotely during lockdown by 1000-plus proud patriots led by well-known South African performers including Busiswa, ProVerb, Leah, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Andre Schwartz, Donald, Katlego Maboe, Zolani Mahola, Tumi Morake, Khaya Dladla, Danny K, Relebogile Mabotja, Caroline Grace, Moonchild Sanelly, Willem Botha, KB and others.
I challenge you to keep a dry eye:
Did anyone spot the cameo performance in the video by one of those vehicle-invaders from the Outsurance ad? Apparently he is on breakfast television, but when I told JJ that, he said "Breakfast television? Whatever is breakfast television?" Not knowing this is, of course, a strong sign of a good upbringing. How, though, do you explain that particular intrusive red-sofa-filled iniquity to someone who has never been subjected to it? I can however see a clear link between breakfast television and the invasive Outsurance campaign...
Passing the Time, Podcasts and Anti-social Media
Tragically afflicted as I am with a persecution complex, I half-expected all the keyboard warriors, trapped in their houses during their recent incarceration, to take it out on us hoteliers with bullying reviews born out of boredom, but this has not turned out to be the case. Maybe this is the first indication that the world really is going to emerge from this a kinder place, as we have so often optimistically predicted. Maybe we can still expect revenge postings from people who didn't buy travel insurance and who resent being charged cancellation fees but I hope not and anyway they are few and far between as almost everyone has simply re-booked for a later date (and benefited from generous discounts in exchange for their loyalty). I have done the same myself with my planned travels. We are refunding all deposits for those who no longer wish to travel, although we are obviously trying to persuade everyone to postpone rather than cancel, in order to save jobs and keep up the incentive to re-schedule. After all, they were all planning to come at one point, so why would they no longer want to re-book as soon as they are able?
Here's a shocking thought - and I never thought I would say this - but I have really enjoyed the far more frequent interactions we have been having with our guests on Facebook and Instagram throughout this drama and I shall continue to do so. It has been fun finding ways to illustrate what it has been like for us and our lockdown team, confined to base with no visitors whatsoever. I have said this a few times too: it is every hotelier's imagined dream to have his hotel to himself, but I can tell you now that the novelty wears thin very quickly. And after 12 weeks, desperation sinks in and you start to dream of any guests, even the nightmare ones, just to have someone to host.
Social media must also have been a sanity-saver for so many people cut off from their families. I can see that very clearly, just as I appreciate how lucky we have been to have had a small selection of members of the fantastic Rissington team isolating with us. I am filled with admiration for the young here - mid-teenagers JJ and Megan as well as nine-year-old Ryan - who didn't leave the property even once in ten weeks. Instead, they have plugged themselves into school on Zoom, day after day, and interacted with their friends that way. I find them, their patience and their kindness to each other and to all of us absolutely admirable in our times of stress, Thanks, team. Thanks, family.
Anyway, if you want to see what we have been up to - and some of it really has been quite a laugh - visit our social media pages and follow @rissingtoninn on Inn-stagram. We would also like everyone to join the ‘Inn Crowd’ on Facebook and Twitter, as well. Facebook followers will benefit from our extraordinarily generous Facebook specials. There will be quite a few of those popping up, as and when the provincial and international borders open.
Now, completely un-Rissington-related, here are a couple more recommendations. Firstly, if you haven't already done so, you HAVE to get into Podcasts. They are the thinking man's 'YouTube' ... simply because you don't have to stop what you are doing in order to listen to them. Good podcasts are the solution to long car journeys (if only we could do those) and the antidote to bad radio, with which, as a nation, we are criminally cursed. (Exceptions exist, of course, dear Radio Friends, I know.) And if you don't know where to start, you could do no better than to listen to The Boring Talks Podcast by James Ward from the BBC. There are currently over 40 of them to enjoy and the vast majority are as un-boring as anything I have ever heard. You won't regret it for a second and you will find out about all sorts of riveting topics you never dreamt you could have been interested in. Do it. I have been enjoying them so much that I even left my first-ever online review. Ask a 12-year-old to help you get set up.
Another mystery which continues, but has become all the more evident since there has been no cricket or tennis to watch, is the bizarre predilection of British people for crime dramas (as seen on South African television) which turn all their tourism regions into murder hotspots and make even C-19 look relatively harmless. We have mentioned Midsomer Murders before, and the carnage wreaked therein by murderous farmers, shopkeepers and priests right across the Chilterns, but the bloodshed has now spread to the Cotswolds (Father Brown and Agatha Raisin), Northumberland (Vera), Devon (The Coroner) and even Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare and Hathaway). On the darker side there's the Cymru Noir of Hinterland, turning Welsh Aberystwyth and its beautiful surrounding marshes and mountains into a killing ground and, even more isolated, Shetland leaves those Scottish islands' beaches littered with corpses. Considering that only 700 people are murdered in the UK every year, the crimes covered on all these shows combined must alone just about make up all of them, so it should be safe to assume that all other regions are totally risk-free when it comes to being murdered..
And as if that is not enough, the Brits have now taken to filming weekly deadly events in the places where they love to go on holiday, like the Caribbean (Death in Paradise), the Côte d'Azur (Riviera) and the Balearic Islands (The Mallorca Files). It's all very interesting and there is some fantastic scenery but don't we have enough trouble in tourism right now, without feeling that we have stumbled upon a perfect murder scene every time we step out into a glorious landscape? If the virus doesn't get you, a demented farmer on a combine harvester will mow you down and mince you up as you hike the lovely hillscapes or the local craft cheese-maker will break into your charming thatched cottage in the night, hack you into little pieces and then sell you off as the mouldy bits in his melt-in-the-mouth Mendip Blue. I think crime should maybe relocate and leave tourism regions alone for a while. We have enough problems already.
The 'Where in the World' Competition
This was last month's picture and it was, as so many people correctly surmised, the new Chinese-built suspension bridge linking Maputo with Catembe/Katembe across the Bay of Maputo. The winner of two nights for two at Rissington, for giving the best answer to come out of the hat was Kirsten Whitworth, not for detail but for honesty. In her own words:
I think the photo is the new(ish) bridge in Maputo between Maputo and the suburb across the bay whose name I've forgotten - and googling would be cheating.
Quite right. It is a simply enormous construction, at just over three kilometres long and with a span of 680 metres bridged, unsupported, between the two pylons, it is the longest suspension bridge in Africa - and I found myself becoming almost nerdily obsessed with it, taking literally dozens and dozens of photographs. It is such a treat in modern-day Africa to find a structure that still manages actually to enhance its already-beautiful environment, just as I hope the next one does. Here is this month's competition picture:
As you can see, we haven't done much travelling. In fact, so seriously have we taken lockdown and keeping our staff (and now our few guests) safe, that until last week, my only breakouts had been in the form of five trips to Hazyview's Checkers supermarket for supplies - and absolutely nowhere else. So, no prizes for guessing where this was taken, but there will be a prize if you give enough detail to show that you have worked out exactly where I was standing.
Entries to [email protected] by 31st July 2020 to go into the hat for the prize-draw to win two nights for two at Rissington in the best room available on the day of booking. Go for it! We'd like to see you. Actually we'd like to see anyone!
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
With turmoil all around us, world experts seem even more ubiquitous than ever and unusual people, who would normally beaver away in the background and out of the limelight, suddenly become household names which we need to learn and pronounce correctly, like the Director-GeneraThird Doctor - Wikipedial of the W.H.O. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. His fame is so unexpected that, Googling 'WHO Doctor' to check the spelling, I was re-directed to TARDIS.
A so-called 'World Crisis' also gives far more airtime to all of our leaders, allowing them almost unfettered access to the public, for better or worse, Noticeable, though, is how we refer to them. South Africa, for example has a 'Cyril' and Britain a 'Boris'. Russia a 'Putin' (never a Vlad) and the USA has a 'Trump' (never a Donald, but sometimes an oddly egotistical 'The Donald'), In the old South Africa we had FW, PW, DF and so on. Our leaders then seemingly did not even have first names, and if they did, they used them all at once, as in Frederik Willem de Klerk. In the new South Africa, our politicians either have incredibly long names like Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma (known as NDZ for short) or punchy short nicknames like 'DD' Mabuza and 'Juju' Malema.
Truly great African leaders are known by simple terms of respect, as with Nelson Mandela, who was known variously as Madiba and Tata and with Julius Nyerere who was known always as Mwalimu (The Teacher). Nicknames are a very African concept and while Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe is rather menacingly known as 'The Crocodile', President Museveni of Uganda is now commonly known as M7 and João Lourenço of Angola is even known as JLo. Very cool.
Like everyone, we haven't actually been on any travels so, instead, maybe we should talk about where we haven't been from our extravagant bucketful of plans. Our half-planned June skiing trip to Argentina was canned altogether and I also currently have credits from cancelled bookings with South African Airways (although I can probably kiss that goodbye), British Airways (a stake tantamount to a shareholding), Kruger National Park (from a trip that didn't happen at Easter but which we hope to take up soon) and seemingly most of Madagascar's accommodation establishments from a trip we were planning for September.
Right now, I could really do with the money instead but, being in the industry, as I said above, I fully understand why no-one wants to refund it to me. It won't take much pressure for the tourism house of cards to collapse altogether so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully someone somewhere will get their priorities right and put some serious thought into propping up the travel industry before all those egg-bound chickens implode, but we can't be overconfident, given that humans landed on the moon in 1969 but didn't think of putting wheels on luggage until 1970. For anyone in science who is reading this and may not have picked it up, this vaccine is very important. But probably not as important as it is for all of us to change the way we live and to show more respect for the planet and for each other.
There are plenty of scare-stories going around regarding how long South Africa's borders are likely to remain closed and a confusingly-worded statement from South Africa's Minister of Tourism even led to a speculation that international tourism might not even open up here until February. This was intended to be very much a worst-case scenario and remains exactly that. Absolutely worst case! It seems much more likely, given the low trajectory of the disease on the continent, that we may be fully opening up in or soon after September. Let us all very much hope so. Be positive. Book now. For any date from now. It will make you feel better and you can always change the booking without cost if things change. Domestic tourism could be opening up any day now.
It's the real deal
Claustrophobia is not all about the lingering after-effects of being locked in the cupboard by an errant sibling as a child. We are all - even the introverts among us - currently feeling trapped. It can be caused by anything from not being able to leave the bedroom (if we have 'the symptoms') to being confined to the house, or the garden, or the province, or the country we live in. No-one could have imagined that it would ever come to this. Strangely, though, I find that it is not so much not being able to travel - after all, we would often go through long periods without travelling - but the cooped-up nature of knowing that we could not travel even if we wanted to do so. We couldn't visit family or friends overseas. Or even in Cape Town. In fact, I think this must be especially tough for the Capetonians who can't get to the bush. To be honest, I don't mind the lack of intercontinental travel and I think I have visited most of the places I want to see (with the exception of Russia, maybe) but I would be really miserable if I couldn't drive through Africa. And I imagine almost everyone else reading this feels the same.
With the possibility of travel slowly returning, Rissington is looking at a number of ways for you to get out into our open spaces to soak up some warm South African Lowveld sunshine. A number of them focus on families, because we believe that a change of scene will do you a power of good, especially if shared with family members you may not have seen for a while. Can you think of anyone? Grandparents? Uncles and aunts? Children? Even old friends?
If everyone who reads this makes a booking, we will somehow survive. If everyone who reads it then forwards it to someone else, we will comfortably survive (and if someone forwarded it to you, please sign up at the bottom of this page to receive the Rag every three months so that you can always be part of the fun). At this stage, all we know is that we are open for anyone travelling on business and that as soon as we are allowed to accommodate everyone else, we will do so with enthusiasm. We can't wait, truly! Whether all our fellow local products will survive is hard to say right now, but you can be sure that Hazyview will bounce back as fast as it can and that soon it will once again be a haven of peace, space, light and smiling faces. And Rissington, as always will be at the heart of it, but just tucked away a little! Here are some ideas:
STAY FOR SEVEN :
Our seven-night stays have always been popular. The current rate is R5500 per person for the full seven nights with all meals included. So the only other costs are extras like laundry, drinks from the bar and any other little add-ons like your zebra-stripe bikini-top fashionista mask from the 'Rissington Out' shop. (Add an extra R1500 per person and you can have two days of open-vehicle game drives in Kruger, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Conservation fees not included, minimum 2 people). TEN-NIGHT OPTION: R7500 per person all included as above and with same add-on game drive option.
RENEWAL WEEKEND :
A weekend of spoiling in any way that we can find that appeals to you. Tell us what you have missed and what you like : a spa visit, gin-tasting, shopping for art, eating local dishes, craft beers, locally-grown coffee, driving through beautiful scenery, throwing yourself into adrenaline activities. What else? Let us know and we will shop around, tailor-make it for you and give you a quote. Starting from R1100 per person for two nights and R1600 for three nights, bed and breakfast.
FAMILY WEEKEND :
Time to let the family run riot in the open air. Rissington has endless fun and games for them now that the thrill of online-gaming has finally worn off due to excess. Badminton? Croquet? Soccer on the lawn? One of our prize-winning treasure hunts? Chasing the dogs ... (Bruno is a match for anyone!). Learning to cook some of our dishes with one of Rissington's friendly chefs? Book four or more of you for a weekend and we will also throw in a half-day private open-vehicle game drive in the Kruger National Park with a fully qualified guide. All you need to pay for is the conservation fees and a tip for the guide. (Minimum age limit for game drive 4 years). From R9800 in total for a three-night stay with all meals for a family of four (maximum two over 18s). Shorter stays also possible. Ask for a quote.
As South Africans, we are accustomed to thinking that we cannot afford private game reserves, but we have found you an exception which, combined with a few nights at Rissington, would give you a really good-value and exciting trip to the Lowveld, where the sun always shines. Take a look at Tsakane Safari Lodge HERE and then book yourselves a couple of nights at Rissington to recover and then a couple of nights at Tsakane to renew your acquaintance with the wild. We will handle the bookings for you. Tsakane offers a minimum stay of two nights including all meals, game drives and bush walks. There is also a three-night option. Here are some pictures of Tsakane, just to whet the appetite:
And if none of this appeals, then tell us what does. Are you celebrating a birthday? An anniversary? A well-timed pension payout? Or simply celebrating your freedom again? Come and see us. We are just a host of happy faces, waiting for people to smile with ...
We are also still operating our voucher scheme and now seems like a good time for you to give away a stay at Rissington to someone who matters and who needs a break but might not feel they can afford one. Has someone really been good to you during the recent plague, for example? Why not buy them a week at Rissington? Or one of our weekend packages?
For our bona fide Business clients, from now onwards, you will also automatically qualify to earn our UMNDENI POINTS. For every ten nights you stay on business, you can bring your family for a night for free. So stay 20 nights in a year and they can come for the weekend with fully complimentary accommodation for up to five of you in a garden suite. Free, mahala and for niks.
All true. All because we want you to come and to send your friends. Or, even better, to bring them along with you.
Guest Quote of the Month
Alas, we have had no guests to quote, so let's go with a couple of tourism industry quotes. The first is from me, aboard my high horse (again):
I honestly think that most people find the words 'work' and 'home' to be completely incompatible. Everyone claims to be doing it but, believe me, it takes years of practice to work at home. Ideally you need to have written a book and proved to yourself that you can dedicate a year of your life to one ongoing project without being distracted. And you only know that you have mastered it when you find A Rant about Telephone Calls | Bibi Baskinthat you can't stop and that you are quite simply working at home the whole time. Not sleeping, not eating, not stopping for coffee and biscuits, not watching innocent villagers being murdered in quaint English villages on the television. Writers are used to it - and are as productive as ever in the current scenario, if not more so, because they can't go out even if they want to. Hence this long Rag, which has taken me the best part of a month to write The rest of the world seems to think 'working at home' actually means 'not-working at home and instead playing with the cat and watching a lot of television, becoming news-aholics and social-media-fanatics, doing crosswords, completing a nine-year-old's schoolwork because it is easy and it makes them feel clever, baking and eating much more than usual'. Thank goodness, again, for the fact that there hasn't been any cricket or tennis to watch - or most people would have achieved absolutely nothing useful at all since the end of March.
Personality of the Month
And secondly, the words of a tourism national treasure. Many of you will know Frank Watts but you may not realise it. He is the ranger and 'the voice' in the famously viral YouTube clip which became known as Battle at Kruger. Well, Frank is about as dedicated a ranger as it is possible to be and, on top of that, he is a philosopher, a gentleman and a storyteller of note. Frank has spent the months of lockdown putting his feelings down on paper; Not wearing his heart on his sleeve, but clearly and entertainingly explaining how the loss of freedom we are all suffering is exacerbated if your version of 'working from home' means that you are usually out all day in the Kruger National Park with the animals and you now find yourself holed up, housebound and immobile day after day instead.
As Frank says, you can read his short story for the price of a cup of coffee and you can't visit your local coffee shop right now anyway, so give yourself a treat and get it online here https://www.freedomwriter.co.za/ for R30 then settle down and hear what it feels like for our real outdoorsmen to to be totally dis-empowered. It is not a happy tale, but it is very valid. Buying it online is simpler than ordering cup of coffee and goodness knows even that can be complicated enough. Flat white? Latte? Mocha breve? Café bombom? No, I will just have Frank's short story, thanks very much! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
And if you haven't seen the extraordinary Battle at Kruger, you can see it on YouTube HERE. Those buffalo put up an extraordinary performance and the incident even has its own Wikipedia page.
That's all for now ...
As we say in South Africa, Salani kahle! Stay well. Keep in touch. Tell us how you are doing. And by the way, drive carefully. People seem to be shockingly poor at driving with these masks on. Also, in another recent warning, apparently there are reports of over-ardent hand-washers suffering hallucinations (or maybe enjoying them?) after using too much hand sanitiser. Take it easy. There are new, unprecedented and unexpected perils stalking us out there ...
Please come and see as soon as you can, in sunny warm Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa ...