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The Rissington Rag - December 2020

Posted on Sun November 29, 2020.

Good news, interesting views and special offers from Rissington Inn, Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Dear Ragsters

Welcome to the December 2020 Rissington Rag.

Two pieces of good news. Firstly 2020 is almost behind us … and secondly, this is a somewhat less wordy Rag – almost half the length of the September Rag and approximately a 15-minute read. Definitely worth making a coffee and setting aside the time to indulge. Let’s start with a statistic …

What's it all about?

Here’s a mind-blowing fact. We have spent more Rissington funds on upgrades and improvements, between the end of March this year and now, than I spent on the actual purchase of the property and its (then) two buildings in 1995. How is that for a great way of celebrating Rissington’s 25th anniversary? There's more on what we have been doing below, with some fantastic pictures too. But until then …

You are quite safe reading on, although it gets a tad more fun and even slightly racy further down. There is no mention of the virus, there are no cheap political swipes, not one jibe about a world leader. Or a world leader on the way out. Nothing. You are in refreshingly good hands. No need to wear a mask. There's not even a mention of Christmas until the very end. I mean, how can we talk about Christmas? We haven’t even had Easter yet, have we?

So how has your year been?

To be honest, ours has been an extraordinary year in so many ways, most of them good.

Notwithstanding the challenges that we have faced from some of our clients (see the next section – ouch) I have found myself reminded again and again what a privilege it is to live permanently amongst joyful, naturally-affectionate, spontaneous, fun and positive people. I think Africans are amazing. All of us. From whatever background.

There has been so much optimism on display and there has been so little complaining. The mutually-supportive spirit of the continent, known in South Africa as Ubuntu, has been to the fore throughout this entire challenging patch and the mountains and valleys around Hazyview have been riven throughout with smiles and cheerful laughter despite the obvious challenges. Our government has also done a great job of keeping a sense of balance.

Driving around the region now that most of the restrictions have been lifted, I have also been struck all over again by just how truly awesome is the raw rugged beauty of our corner of the continent, living, as we do, in the shadow of iconic mountains like Legogote and Mariepskop that can be seen for hundreds of kilometres and of the long spread of the magnificent escarpment that links the two. I don’t think I could ever take this for granted, but there is no doubt that I appreciate it all the more right now. Even after 25 years of Rissington, I still almost have to pinch myself every morning.

Staying positive

The positivity of Africans is deep in our very nature extending to every aspect of our being and this has been all the more noticeable when dealing only with South African guests, as we have since March. The best example of this – and it happened day after day while we were completing our improvements – was that not one person complained about the mess or the dust or the angle-grinders as we filled in the old swimming pool and built the new one. We stayed open throughout and, without exception, the reaction was to look out of over the carnage and say “Wow! This is going to be beautiful when it is finished. Good luck with it!” There were no complaints, bad reviews or threats to tell tour operators!

A cynic might say that Africa’s unselfconscious fatalism has its advantages in reducing stress because we don’t really expect things to work or to turn out as promised, but I am not as that cynical as that. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am filled with admiration for our continent and, as I have been reminded again and again over the past nine months, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. Not ever – and especially not now.

And if you want a sign of faith in the future, here it is. The long-awaited Hazyview branch of the world’s most famous store has finally opened. And why not? We are the future, after all. I must check out the Food Hall.

Missing items from Rissington rooms …

So … how has your year been? We have had a fascinating time. We have adapted from day to day, we have entered all sorts of new markets, we have contributed more beer bottles to recycling than ever before, we have started buying very cheap hair dryers (because there is an unwritten rule that if your own hairdryer is better than the one provided by the hotel, you don’t pinch the hotel one) and we are no longer automatically refilling the shampoo bottles for guests during their stays because we fear they must be drinking it …

But otherwise, it has been a doddle. So here, based on the experiences we have enjoyed with our domestic clients, is my list of …

How to stay popular in South African hotels by being a low-impact, undemanding guest …

  • Never complain. Remember we are an African hotel in the African bush, not an international hotel in Los Angeles or London. 
  • Understand what a complimentary upgrade is and be grateful for it (preferably by spending more on food and drink purchases from the hotel)
  • Don’t argue about the table that has been allocated to you. If you don’t like it, you should have got here earlier.
  • Especially never complain about the road, even if you claim that you would have got here earlier had the access been better. You should have left earlier. This is Africa. Everything is unpredictable. Be ready for that. It’s not our fault.
  • Don’t complain about the WiFi. It is fine. This as Africa (see above). If our WiFi is really that bad, use your own for a while, until ours gets better again. Which it will.
  • Don’t complain about the shower pressure. You have water. And it is hot. Isn’t that exciting enough? And anyway our water pressure is better than in any European country I have visited.
  • Don't complain about the weather. In fact, if it is raining say (like a good South African) “Wow, isn’t this rain lovely? Let’s hope it carries on…”  This protocol arises from living on a continent where the prevalence of rain is directly linked with the availability of food and is therefore critically important. This link doesn’t exist quite so clearly in the European mind but that might soon change with global warning. So, practise here.
  • Have well-behaved children. Have you noticed how immaculately polite and respectful all South African children are? And how they smile all the time and are easily amused without being glued to their phones?
  • If you must bring your own drink, be embarrassed enough to keep it hidden and be prepared to buy ice and lemon (and even tonic) from us to go with it.
  • Don’t complain about the noise of other guests. How can you be unhappy about someone else’s happy noises (although, yes – bad music is another story). As one guest said about another guest’s late-night shrieks of joy: “Don’t worry about the noise. We all like to party…
  • Don’t complain about our music in the bar. We like a bit of Youssou N’Dour, Zahara, Ismaël Lô and Khadja Nin mixed in with our Sting and our Genesis.
  • If (as happens on very rare special occasions by prior arrangement) we permit you to braai in front of your room, you should buy your pap (mieliemeal) from us. And sheba (relish). And beer. And ice. And give us the leftovers.
  • Don’t bring in food from KFC (our chicken and chips is much better) or order deliveries from one of the pizza outlets. Bruno, the Rissington canis africanus dog, really hates the scooters and he pushes them off the road, so you might never get your super-sized Hawaiian with extra polony anyway.
  • If you are going to play loud music from your vehicle, especially when you park it in front of the lodge with the doors open while you check in or pay your bill, make sure it is something that everyone will enjoy. Jerusalema springs to mind…
  • If the sign says ‘Hoot once to open gate' and it is not opened immediately, do exactly that. Hoot ONCE and then be patient. Someone will see you eventually.
  • Poop on the floor is not a threat to mankind. We share this continent with a lot of wonderful creatures and they are all allowed to poo. Training them as to the locations where this is permitted is challenging, especially in the case of geckos.
  • Wear a mask in public areas and don’t complain about not being able to breathe. As a nation, we have an unusually high proportion of surgeons, exotically-dressed religious sects and traditional leaders, miners, bikers, welders, perlemoen poachers and deep-sea divers so we are used to wearing a mask. We don’t complain. Even when it is hot.
  • Health and Safety is not an African concept. Just be broadly sensible if you are sober enough to manage it. And if you do fall over, try not to land on anything too hard.
  • Always remember to compliment the staff in any review you might be thinking of posting. They are doing the most fantastic job under very complicated circumstances and should be lauded publicly for that as often as possible.
  • Don’t use the word ‘rustic’ to describe Rissington. We have just spent our life’s savings keeping the place open and upgrading absolutely everything. Relaxed – yes. Charming – fine. But not bloody rustic. Please.

And if you do get it into your head to write a negative review on a booking site, don’t hold back. Make it so wild, frenetic and outlandishly incorrect and untruthful that is clear that you are completely unhinged and readers will know to ignore your mad rant and follow the lead of the 5-star 95% reviews above and below yours.

And here’s a final warning from Thailand, where you can now be jailed for leaving a bad review on TripAdvisor. You can read it here:    TRIPADVISOR JAILING

I think it is a great plan. We might even go the same way. I said at the beginning of the year that we would all be much better, kinder people by the end of this and I think it is working. We have had only one TripAdvisor review (highly appreciative, as it happens) since March and our reviews on booking sites are almost invariably exceptionally enthusiastic, with only a very few in the 'clearly unhinged' category.

So, let’s try to stick to that, shall we? No more cyber bullying, no more unreasonable requests. More giving and more self-sufficiency in our approach to travel (like learning to read a map and not asking for directions all the time or recommendations as to which ATM to use, or which petrol station; they all do the same job).

Let’s all be more African, in fact. Otherwise we hoteliers will sue. Now – that’s fine hospitality for you!

Butter wouldn’t melt …

There is only one area where we have really struggled recently. when dealing with many of our compatriots. There has rarely been a meeting of minds when it comes to the dogs.

Most (and I mean a huge majority) of South Africans are terrified of dogs. Seemingly, most have actually been bitten by dogs, so it is probably fair enough. Now, Rusty (right) is quite introvert and doesn’t really bother people much but Bruno is another story. He is effusive, excitable and – most of all – intrusively friendly. And he particularly loves the game where people scream and run away, upon which he chases them and tries to nibble their hands and they scream louder to the point of hysteria and he barks with excitement because the game just got a whole lot more boisterous and fun, causing even more terror … and so on … until someone bursts into tears ...

It is not a great success but we just don’t seem to be able to get everyone – even some of our regulars – to believe that we have, of course, realised that it would not be such a great idea to leave aggressive biting carnivorous dogs lying around all over the place, ready to pounce on random unwitting victims and to tear them to shreds before devouring them hungrily. We tell them that our hounds are in fact hand-picked for their laid-back and friendly non-human-eating personalities. It remains a struggle to convince many of them, however.

Upgrades and seriously exciting changes

At the risk of boring our Social Media followers, who have seen some of these shots before, these are our wonderful upgrades. They speak for themselves, I think, but take a good look at these pictures.

Remember what else has changed too. Rissington has a fully family-friendly offering with the addition of more wildlife and birding trails, experiential visits to local community projects, badminton, bowls, boules (pétanque), pool, table tennis, croquet, board games, treasure hunts, cooking and baking in the Rissington kitchen and so much more. Tell us before you get here – if at all possible – what you would like to do and we will make some plans.

Also take a look around the new website, if you haven’t already done so (you are on it already if you are reading this) for more pics - and there or more photos coming in the next few weeks, so return to the site soon. You can even book direct on the website and cut out all the awful online booking ‘services’ that have been holding onto your money throughout this mess and offering you vouchers instead of refunds. Or just us send an email at [email protected]. You are MUCH safer, these days, booking direct with us and getting to know us before you get here or – if you prefer - booking through a real person at a real expert tour operator. Someone who has been here. Not an inflexible, corrupt computer algorithm. And yes, we refund deposits if you are unable to travel due to restrictions so you are OK booking now. In fact, it is recommended. Some months next year are getting very busy.

Keeping your costs down

Despite all these improvements, we have made a concerted effort to keep our rates right down. It is a long-standing policy which has saved our business this year, with our domestic travellers looking for one of the best-value rooms in Hazyview and getting it at Rissington – and then, in most cases, being upgraded into a much bigger room.

Rissington started in 1995 as a country lodge hotel aimed at the South African market and it stayed that way for a good five years before gaining ever-greater popularity with the international market but it has been a pleasure to go back to our roots for a while. We are however. of course, really looking forward to welcoming back our overseas guests and thus appealing to the whole range of tourism again – both local and international. We hope to keep it that way at our fun, uncomplicated African hotel.

For this reason, we are holding our current rates until October 2022. In other words, there will be no increases whatsoever for two years, keeping us open and affordable to all and enabling everyone to get back here as soon as possible. In order to make it easier for families to stay here en masse, from now onwards, children under 16 will pay nothing at all for their bed and breakfast if they share with two full-paying adults in our garden suites and superior rooms. And the prices for children in the hillside suites have been significantly reduced too. In addition, as I have said, we have relaxed all our cancellation policies so that everyone (especially international visitors) can book ahead with confidence.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook for occasional specials and for ongoing news and fun stories about what we have been up to. Our all-inclusive week-long specials have been particularly popular with our regulars, many of whom have recently taken them up and simply settled in and relaxed for seven nights or more. These frequent specials are only generally announced on social media. You may follow us now by clicking on the link in the black bar on the right at the top of this page.

And just for the fun of it, here’s another link to my book Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama in case you haven’t read it yet. Just click on the title for the e-book from Amazon. South Africans will also find it on Takealot. It may be a tiny bit out-of-date, but it is still fun, positive and occasionally thought-provoking.

The racy bit. Competition time – where in the world?

For a change, I am posting a photograph and telling you where it was taken. This was taken outside the Stressfree Lodge, opposite the Traffic Officer Training College in Mkhuhlu, 15km east of Hazyview. At least that’s what this establishment was called before they knocked the new loo window into the early part of the name, making it ‘Tress-free’ and therefore sounding more like a hairdresser. The HOURS AVAILABLE, painted on the wall by the gate, indicates that their esteemed clients are not obliged to pay and stay for a whole night, but just for as long as it takes. I imagine that this may potentially also be a creative way of enabling the paying of corrupt traffic officers by means of favours. I took the photo from my car, so I am unable to report whether the interior design matches the salubriousness of the exterior. (However tough times have been in the past nine months, Rissington has not once considered resorting to letting out rooms by the hour, you will relieved - but I hope not surprised - to know).

None of us has done much travelling this year, so to win a prize, you should send me your most amusing 2020-inspired travel (or non-travel) photo and I will publish the best one in the next edition of the Rag. The sender of the finest photograph will win three nights for the family (up to five people) bed and breakfast, in a hillside suite at Rissington.

The winner of the previous prize was Sharon Stone (not that one, I don’t think) who correctly surmised from last time’s photo that JJ was on his bicycle half-way up a tree on the Loerie Day Trail just outside Sabie. Sharon, come any time you like for your free stay.

The end of the year …

The last big dip in tourism was ten years ago in the recession of 2010. We weathered that and we will weather this. In 2010, the World Cup saved us. This year it has been the sheer tenacity of the Rissington team and the loyalty of our regulars.

It has, in truth, been yet another great moment of unity in South Africa and our enduring positive spirit spread worldwide through the Jerusalema dance routine, which went totally and utterly (excuse the pun) viral. The original video of the song has racked up over 250 million views on YouTube, not to mention the dozens and dozens of versions filmed and posted by tourism and other ventures, showing their teams of pirouetting chefs, housekeepers, managers and gardeners getting stuck into it. You have probably seen hundreds of versions of it by now but here’s something completely different, from the Waterkloof Air Force base in Pretoria. It is very refreshing. And, let’s face it, everyone needs some good old South African goose-bumps every now and then.

Watch it here. It is well worth it:   JERUSALEMA - AIR FORCE STYLE

It’s time to dance …

And it is time to party. We recently had Rissington royalty staying as the May family celebrated the 80th birthday of Malcolm, their patriarch. The Mays were the original Rissington (Johannesburg) Welsh contributors of so much of the Welsh humour in the bathrooms (and not many hotels can boast Welsh humour in their bathrooms as a selling point, can they?). Three generations attended – a group of fourteen – and it was a joy to watch the party unfold. In fact, Marvellous, one of Rissington’s top ‘maître d’hôtels’ lent over the stoep and shouted to me: “This is what I have missed; these people really know how to party.”

So, if you have any reason to party, come to Rissington. Our new terrace and all the extra space are well-suited to any sort of safely-distanced get-together. Choose your reason and bring some friends and/or your relations and have a bash at Rissington. We will help with the planning and put together a special menu for you. Here in the Hazyview heat, apart from the obvious very-necessary precautions, we really are living quite normally ... so plan a visit to the Lowveld. Any excuse will do.

The Way Forward

My talented friend Pippa de Bruyn described South Africa as the ‘future of space tourism’ in an edition of Britain’s Daily Telegraph at the end of October. It is, of course, true. She is not talking about Virgin Galactica or and any other bonkers non-priority expansions to other planets. She is talking about the open air. The Kruger National Park, the Drakensberg Mountains, the Karoo, the Kgalagadi and the Richtersveld, the empty beaches of the West Coast, the new open dining terrace at Rissington. This country is the perfect destination for our new world. We all need to plan some travels in South Africa, whether we live here or elsewhere. We need to give ourselves something to look forward to and we need to support our favourite African destinations and as many of our community tourism projects and entrepreneurs as possible. As I keep saying, the only way is up.

Come for summer - now ...

We are a smaller, tighter and even more friendly team and we are proud of what we are offering you. We love what we have done to Rissington and we would like to show it to you.

There’s nothing that will cheer you up more than having a holiday booked. If you can't come now, why not pre-buy a Rissington stay? Or give a voucher to a friend or partner? A Rissington break could never be worth more than it is now, when it is just what everyone needs.

Keep in touch. Forward the Rag. Share it with your friends - and if this Rag was forwarded to you or you picked it up elsewhere, please sign up at the bottom of this website page for your own Rag link to be emailed to you when it comes out.

We shall all be working this December … including ‘the kids’: JJ, Megan, Ryan and Lungile. We would love to see you. We are still here and still strong and optimistic. Unlike both South African Airways and British Airways, we haven’t sold off the liveried plates, knives and forks. Or the toothpicks and trollies. We are very grateful to everyone who continues to support us. It keeps us going and we need that. And if you really can’t come in December, watch the social media and our website for news of specials, especially for long stays. There really is nothing better than a week at Rissington. Except, that is, for two weeks at Rissington. And I should know. I have been here every single day (with only one night away) since the middle of March – and I never tire of it.

We wish you all well. Oh – and we wish you a very Merry Christmas... or. as they sing in the UK, I'm forever blowing bubbles ...

Chris and the wonderfully cheerful and festive Rissington Team

(Photo of one of our fellow-guests, taken at Leopard Rock Hotel, Zimbabwe. Christmas 2018)