The Rissington Rag - December 2021
Good news, interesting views and special offers from Rissington Inn, Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa
A WARM WELCOME TO THE RISSINGTON RAG - DECEMBER 2021
Hotel stories, tempting deals, some competitions, fun facts and (hopefully) intelligent thoughts from the team at Rissington Inn, Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa. Something for everyone, we promise ...
Back to normal(ish) and then … whoops! :
Suddenly … just when we seemed actually to be living quite normally again, the rug has been pulled right out from under our feet. It’s almost surreal. It is 01 December as I write this and we are in a state of flux. Let’s hope for the best for Christmas and beyond. I am sure this is just a temporary glitch. A short-term hiatus. We are getting better at dealing with all the uncertainty and – most of the time – at making sane decisions. Nothing beats the power of positive thinking!
Now … let’s get on with the Rag because we need some sanity. We have seen some mad things, haven’t we? I even saw a woman rinsing her change in sanitiser on the way out of a Hazyview shop the other day, before she felt she could put the coins into her purse. Dirty money? Money laundering? Who knows what she could have been thinking?!
Beyond the Watershed :
Bookings are still (yes, even now) coming in at Rissington from around the world for next year and everyone is excited at the prospect of travelling again. Restaurants have been buzzing across South Africa, our tourism attractions have become busier with some (maybe temporarily stranded!) international tourists as well as domestic visitors; our theatres have reopened; live shows and music performances are at last a possibility once more.
The picture shows Watershed, one of our country’s greatest bands of the past 20 years, performing at The Barnyard Theatre in nearby White River last month. It was a great evening and it truly was a ‘watershed moment’, reminding us old(ish) rockers just how much we had missed getting out and how important it is to support our local events and our tourism itself, lest they cease to be.
This month’s Rag has a much lighter tone than last time (thank goodness for that) but we must not lose sight of all the many lessons we have learned – and continue to learn – from this situation. Look back to the middle of last year when, with no idea how long it was all going to last, we celebrated the peace, the birdsong, the empty roads and the lack of footfall on Rissington’s walking trail. It is therefore crucial that we perpetuate that appreciation of space and silence. A travel revival can still be enjoyed in conjunction with the revival in nature that so excited us last year. Our hatching owls at Rissington. Our many new bird species. Our still-frequently-seen genets, red duikers and porcupines. We need to continue to give space to each other and to every creature that shares the planet with us. (There you go. That was my COP moment. Eat your heart out, Greta. Blah blah blah!).
With bookings really picking up for Easter and beyond, you would be well-advised to book now for January, February and March 2022 in order to get here (assuming you are able to travel to Southern Africa) while it is still going to be relatively quiet and while you will have Kruger, the escarpment and the canyon to yourselves. To encourage you to do so, anyone quoting the words ‘Watershed Moment’ when making a booking for a January, February or March 2022 stay at Rissington will get 20% off their room rate. Do it now. New direct bookings only, as ever! You can book tentative dates with full confidence that there will be no cancellation fees whatsoever if you can’t make it due to a travel ban or to changes to the availability of flights.
New Tourists :
I sometimes walk a bit of a fine line when discussing the challenges of running a lodge such as ours, but just in case you don’t believe me, this is the behaviour we are sometimes up against. I have left the full details of the link visible so that you can see clearly what it is about. Click on the link to read it!
The past year, since the early lockdown days of our armed-to-the-teeth police guests who needed us to lay on extra security to keep them safe (see The Rissington Rag, September 2020 : HERE) we have been able to accommodate many more South African guests which (most of the time …) has been a great joy and a privilege. I sometimes think it has been very good for our country to be locked down with itself and to have to get comfortable. It has, however, also had its challenges, none of them more notable than the recent local elections, which saw support collapse in a pool of voter apathy for all the main parties, to the extent that (as one radio presenter said) most of our municipalities will be run by a ‘collision’ of parties. As that great South African expression has it, maybe it is finally officially a ‘train smash’ after all!
When discussing the new tourism issue, I often make an analogy with driving. As children, almost all of us Ragsters were passengers of our parents who drove us around and as such, we developed some road sense and an awareness of danger and cause and effect when it came to accidents and speeding. Driving now probably comes more easily to us than it does to those who didn’t have that privilege in their youth.
Tourists are similar – and I don’t mean this in a patronising way. It is a skill (maybe an inherited skill?) to be able to plan and to enjoy travel, just as it is a skill to choose the right accommodation and to maintain reasonable expectations, to be thoughtful to other guests and to staff and also to understand what is included in the cost and what is not. Breakfast, yes. Takeaway towels, no.
As part of a plan to rectify this dearth of experience, every single member of the Rissington team has, in the past month, had the opportunity to bring a partner to Rissington for the night and to stay in the room of their choice (free of charge, obviously). They have had the full guest experience from check-in to check-out including dinner and breakfast. The other members of the team, in each case, have done their bit to make the stay special, as shown in the photo on the left when Nonhlanhla's stay coincided with her birthday. Everyone has absolutely loved the experience and it has been so enjoyable to watch them all make each other's stay so memorable and unique.
The Graskop area has unexpectedly (in fact to its total astonishment) become a tourism mecca for young visitors from Johannesburg, many of whom are ‘first generation tourists’, new to travel, and it has created a hugely successful and burgeoning weekend trade of minibus drivers escorting groups of young (and sometimes not-so-young) comparatively well-heeled visitors around the formerly sleepy artisty town and from one viewpoint to the next. Much of this is selfie-driven and focuses on sites such as the superb Graskop Gorge Lift and accompanying bungee Big Swing, as well as God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and a number of waterfalls. Another chunk of it is food- and alcohol-fuelled and descends on the numerous picnic sites along the escarpment every Saturday. It is exciting; it is creating jobs and it is, in fact, just a great big African weekend party, after which everyone turns down the music, clears up the mess and goes home.
So, if it’s not for you, don’t go to Graskop or up the magnificent Blyde River Canyon on a Saturday. Go on any other day of the week. But do revel in some of the misprints in the flyers, advertising the minibus shuttles. There’s the PANAROMA ROOT EXPIENCE, for example, which sounds like an exotic smokable drug and includes such delights as the BRAVE RIVER CAYNON, the LONE GREEK FALLS and LUKE BURKE’S POTHOLE. There are the THREE RENDEWLS and of course, there is GRASKOP GEORGE himself. Possibly the most unlikely attraction is the JG Strydom Tunnel, named after the former hard-line apartheid prime minister (and uncle of recently-departed former-President FW de Klerk). Never mind the name, though. The access to the tunnel is a fantastic spot for hanging out in the road on the edge of the Olifants River Gorge and having your photograph taken for Instagram whilst narrowly avoiding being mown down by a truck.
And, in case you wondered, there is even a Wikipedia page about selfie-related injuries and deaths. There were 33000 such cases in 2014 alone. For more information, click HERE
More Positive Spin-offs :
Tourism has generally undergone a huge reset and again there is much to be gained from what we have learned. Over-tourism, for now at least, is a problem of the past (except at the God’s Window knees-up on a Saturday morning), crime involving tourists has plummeted and the traffic officers have had to stick to legitimate ways of making the money to subsidise their extravagant lifestyles (although a South African friend of mine, last week, was encouraged under threat to pay a bribe through his cellphone on an app because he didn’t have any cash on him; the traffic cop even helped him to download the app, which my friend agreed to, but then he ultimately refused to hand over the password which would have enabled the cop to access the payment… So watch out for that ruse – and always carry your Anti-Corruption card!).
The working-from-home concept has been complicated too. The police can’t really use that excuse, so the traffic cops have hardly worked at all (too much close contact when extracting bribes) and the Hazyview police station closes down completely for 48 hours of deep cleaning every time anyone coughs or sneezes, so they all go home (and don’t work at all). My bank manager has been working from home but she has no phone line, no cellphone signal and no Internet so I don’t quite know quite what work she is actually doing. As Mark Twain so rightly said: “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”
The most bizarre case was that of the gate guard at Phabeni Gate into the Kruger. He was working from home and posted a number on the gate for us to phone him. When called, he simply gave us permission to open the gate and let ourselves out as long as we weren’t carrying any rhino horn. (We were not.)
As it happens, the statistics tell us that our Mpumalanga region has the lowest number of Covid cases per capita of any province in South Africa and the lowest overall number of facilities. It must be something in the water. Or the sunshine. Or the wonderful lifestyle; but then don’t get me started on the conspiracy theorists who have now got onto their high horses and insisted that there is something sinister in the fact that the Greek letters Xi and Nu have been abandonded when it comes to naming Covid variants, the former to spare the blushes of the Chinese President (whom we must apparently obey) and the latter because it is the (unlucky) 13th letter of the Greek alphabet. Instead we have Omicron, which the 'vaccine-hesitant' have pointed out is (somehow significantly in their view) an anagram of 'moronic'. In return, I offer them the fact that it is also an anagram of the hotel expression 'inc room', of the chocolate drama 'moc noir', and (back to Watershed) of 'omni roc' as well as (almost, but near enough) of 'macaroni' and 'No Crimbo'. There are so many mad people out there.
What can you expect (and not expect) at Rissington :
As a family, just like so many other people we all know, we unhelpfully contributed to those stats a good few months ago by contracting Covid. JJ ( who is now 17 years old and 6ft4in) and a friend brought it back from school and shared it with the rest of us in the house, although our responsible protocols meant that Rissington’s team and guests were unaffected and carried on regardless. It’s no joke of course (although, having had, by then, a first dose of the vaccine I was almost without symptoms and only really noticed because I was putting a lot of chilli onto my food and was able to share the house with three quarantining teenagers without being aware of the nasal assault of smelly socks and/or excessive cologne that would normally accompany them).
Like all South African hotels, Rissington continues to stick to all the recommendations in terms of masks and social distancing and there are certain services that we will not be able to provide any longer for sensible reasons to deal with not spreading diseases. Here is a list with some reasons, followed by a list of great new ideas and services which we have come up with as result of all the mayhem:
- Magazines: I know – it’s disgusting when you think back to how we all used to share public magazines with people we didn’t know. And especially in doctors’ surgeries where literally everyone was carrying some ghastly disease. How stupid were we?
- Biscuits: Because of the jars and the handling (but we are making biscotti … see below)
- Turndowns: None of us really want other people touching our ‘stuff’ these days, so we are limiting ourselves to cleaning the rooms thoroughly once per day, not twice. We think it is wise.
- Chocolates on the beds: See biscuits (above). And anyway, who wants a chocolate just after they have cleaned their teeth? And how many short-sighted people have, like me, often woken up with a molten chocolate in their hair or - worse - in their ear. You can still get our homemade chocolates at Rissington – oh, yes! – but they come with the coffees and teas after lunch or dinner.
- Phones in rooms: Very dirty things, hotel phones. So, we are now encouraging our guests to WhatsApp us from their rooms or from the pool or to WhatsApp call us on their own phones if they need something. Remote check-ins are also the order of the day. No more standing around in reception ogling each other in surgical, Laura Ashley or Darth Vader masks. (Completely unrelated but if you haven’t seen Eddie Izzard’s Lego Darth Vader sketch – and if you don’t mind a few F-words – watch it HERE. It is an all-time classic piece of comedy.)
And here are the new ideas:
- The WellBeing Bar (located in the Real Booze Bar): an Honesty Bar offering a variety of flavoured Swahili coffees, herbal teas, health drinks, healthy juice shots, fresh flavoured waters, mocktails and (lest we get too worthy here) homemade biscotti, as promised.
- New Menus: A whole new range of fixed-price Table d’Hôte menus, changing every day. Many of the same delicious meals as before but tweaked and perked up and the return of some of the old favourites you have been dreaming about. A daily-changing choice of three starters, three main courses and a number of desserts. And if that doesn’t appeal, you can always order from the Terrace Menu with its chicken dishes, steaks, burgers, pizzas and local dishes.
- Happy Food: There is at least one vegan dish every day, at every course. (Fewer farting cows but, perversely, more farting humans, especially after chick peas.) Plus a gluten-free option. We realise this is important and we have put a lot of work into it! And the Restaurant is open to all, whether staying here or not, subject to there being space.
- In-Room Massage and Spa Treatments from a visiting therapist. No need to go out to the spa and then wake up to drive home. The spa will come to your room and you can immerse yourself totally in a slow drowsy hour or two.
- The New Pool is, of course, our greatest ever improvement (costing, I have just realised, more than I paid for the entire property 27 years ago) and it has been a huge success, filled day after day with frolicking youths playing games and exercising adults doing laps. Plastic glasses are available for poolside cocktails and romantic poolside dinners are arranged, especially for honeymooners, anniversaries and proposals. Bring out your inner romantic at the Rissington pool. Then post a selfie. It has to be one of the world’s finest and most impressive Instagram spots.
- Sport: Inside the main house there is a new pool table and dotted around the place we have a whole bunch of new games like croquet, table tennis and boules, volleyball and even a mini roulette wheel.
- The Library has been radically expanded with works in many languages. Plenty of classic holiday reading, including numerous abandoned copies of The Da Vinci Code, Airport, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and 50 Shades of Grey (so keep the children away) and a few more classic oeuvres from among my French, German and Russian text books at school and university. It’s a really eclectic selection, accompanied, for the more interactive, by Monopoly, Backgammon, 30 Seconds and numerous other games and puzzles.
- The View: We have pulled down the phone cables which straddled the garden and even gone as far as (ourselves) painting the tin roofs of the neighbours’ farm buildings, two kilometres away on the other side of the valley, in order to improve the view. Has any other hotel ever demonstrated such determination and attention to detail?!
- The Herb Garden has been lovingly replanted with fresh flavours and garnish, there is plenty of planet-loving spekboom in the rocks around the lodge and the recycling plant has undergone a revamp.
Do we miss the old pool? No, not at all. I can’t think why we ever had it there in the first place. The new terrace that covers it over makes the most fantastic new open-air eating area and we shall no longer have sweeping housekeepers and visiting policemen falling in the pool. Yes - both happened. Both in uniform. But only one was armed.
As for the new pool, we have only one case so far where it was valuable for a guest to have brought two masks, one for the nose and mouth and one to act as a G-string in place of a speedo. And does anyone know what the ‘G’ stands for? Well, I have found out for you – it's that magnificent English word: ‘Gusset’. A gusset string. Of course. The Rissington Rag is the only tourism newsletter in the world to provide you with such riveting information.
Where in the World :
Another by-product of all the lockdowns has been the opportunity for all of us to explore our own lands. Actually, South Africa offers the capacity to tour numerous other countries without even leaving home shores. Within 50 kilometres of Rissington we have a Cork, a Kildare and a Clare with not so much as a drop of Irish Guinness; we have a Madras and a Calcutta complete with wandering cattle but no curry; a Somerset with no scrumpy and an Alexandria with no lighthouse, an Arthur’s Seat without a sword in a stone and an Agincourt (but no King Henry V).
There is also a place called Croquet Lawn right alongside Agincourt, although try as I might, I can’t find out why it was named thus. Further afield we have a Ludlow and an Edinburgh without castles, we have an Amsterdam with no canals, windmills or jenever (although there is probably a red-light district if you dig deep enough) and a Newcastle without a Geordie in sight. I could go on and on, but I won’t. The point is, we have all been out and about discovering our homelands unlike ever before and we have turned up some fascinating places. I even went as far as the Wild Coast and Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth). If you can’t say it yet, start practising now.
The winner of the September competition was South African tourism stalwart and national treasure Ken Hermer. Another benefit of the lockdowns, I believe, is how it has pulled us all together remotely, so to speak, and whilst we have all (I imagine, because I know I have) lost friends to the pandemic (our industry’s great balloonist Bill Harrop and his wonderful wife Mary spring to mind), I have also found myself in more regular contact with old industry friends like Ken and also with my former colleagues from Cybele Forest Lodge, Fugitives’ Drift and at The Leading Hotels of Southern Africa. It has also brought out some of tourism’s wilder old souls (such as the inimitable Lew Rood) who have helped us all through with their cheerful memory-filled missives. Am I getting maudlin? No, I don’t think so, although I did put together my own Desert Island Discs the other day, with Africa by the great Senegalese singer Ismael Lo landing at the top of the pile.
Ken correctly identified the exact spot on the Olifants River where I took the above picture and with typical self-effacing generosity has asked me to donate the prize to a worthy family, which I shall do when I find one. It shouldn’t be too difficult. There are so many wonderful people out there.
For the Christmas edition, we always offer a somewhat more generous prize and this year we have decided to give a two-people-for-two-weeks stay on a bed and breakfast basis at Rissington to the 18-to-25-year-old who tells us why he or she has deserved it most. We are aware (because they keep telling us) how hard-hit that age-group has been as a result of not being able to travel, hang out with their friends and party, so we are giving them a break from our usual snowflake-bashing and offering them a prize of their own. Are you 18-to-25? In only 50 words, what has lockdown done to you and what has it taught you? And what are you going to do about it? Send a photo with a (very) short description of what it means. And if you are not 18-to-25, give the challenge to someone who is. Maybe they will win and bring you with them!
Here's the Deal:
As I have said, it is very important to us to nurture all the new markets and to ensure that we continue to appeal to them and can accommodate them so, in order to be ‘all-things-to-all men’ (and all women and all the new people who are not sure which gender they are or who think they might be both) we propose the following:
GAP IT - We are offering gap year specials to the youth. This does NOT mean working here (we have been down that road too many times already) but it does mean that we can offer really good-value long-term budget accommodation in our guide’s room and staff accommodation to Gen-Zs when they are finally able to travel. Email us for more details, giving approximate dates.
NO KIDDING - Longer holidays and multi-generational holidays are all the more important these days so, from now on, children under-16 stay for free with their parents in garden suites and superior rooms. The pool is hugely popular with the young and we can also help with all the activities bookings around us : kayaking, tubing, quad-biking, horse-riding, elephant interactions, the crocodile farm and so much more.
WHERE IS THE REMOTE? - For those now working remotely, we are offering (very much subject to availability) the idea of a month at Rissington, with free WiFi and peace and quiet. This would be a great option for anyone working from home on a particular project or writing a book or researching a family tree.
BEFORE THE RUSH - As above, we are offering a special of 20% off our rates for direct bookings staying in January, February and March who quote the words ‘Watershed Moment’ in their (direct) booking email to [email protected]
REGULAR SPACE - In order to be sure always to be able to accommodate the people who have continued to support Rissington over the past couple of complicated years, we shall also be keeping two rooms free for every weekend until a week before, so that we can try to get those new regulars in whenever they want to stay!
NB NO CANCELLATION FEES will be charged in the event that anyone is unable to travel for Covid reasons not covered by their travel insurance or if they are unable to obtain insurance.
Proudly African moment:
Many wise words and sayings have come out of the African continent, so here are a few which seem particularly to resonate right now:
Bophelo ke molaetsa. Thee letsa (Pedi) : Life is a message. Heed it. (Learn from life’s lessons)
Ukuph’ ukuziphakela (Zulu) : Giving is to serve a portion to oneself. (Kindness is reciprocated)
Umuzi ngumuzi ngokuphanjukelwa (Zulu) : A home is a home when it is visited. (If you are kind to strangers, you will have many visitors).
There is much to be proud of in the way that South Africa has tackled the recent crisis and many people have written to us at Rissington with supportive messages in emails and on social media (if you are not following us on social media, please do so from the website immediately – we are RissingtonInn on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Mega and Google and everywhere). I don’t know how many times former-guests have told me how they yearn to be in Africa and somehow this video just seems absolutely to ‘get’ that. Here is Jeremy Olivier with the incredible Ladysmith Black Mambazo. If the smiling faces in this video don’t persuade you that you need to be here, then nothing will. Watch it HERE.
Books and Movies:
Books have been our sanity and now a South African has won the Booker prize, which is exciting but means that we can’t get hold of a copy of Damon Galgut’s The Promise for love nor money. I have also booked a copy of An Island by Karen Jennings, another South African nominee. It is odd that bookshops seem not to stock the books we want any more. I had to order online in the end. How we are all learning!
Also don’t forget my old friend Tony Park, who is staying here as I write this. Hazyview features heavily in his books and Rissington and I have even been known to make an occasional cameo appearance. Tony is very busy with his writing at the moment and, with another old contact, Wilbur Smith, having been recently consigned to the great laptop in the skies, Tony is now the only option for new real Afro-drama (and no, that is not a hairstyle any more than it is a recognised writing genre).
There are currently two Tony Park books dominating the shelves: Last Survivor (2020) and Blood Trail (2021). The second of these is set in and around Hazyview.
and Tony will send a free copy anywhere in the world to the first person correctly to tell me how many novels he has now published as of 1st December 2021.
In the meantime, old-time Ragsters will remember that I have written before about my young Kenyan friend Stephen Kazungu, whom I met on the 2006 trip that led to the writing of my first book Do Not Take this Road to El-Karama. Well, Stephen has now outdone me completely by writing four books (his first, he has kindly claimed, was on-a-very-minor level inspired by me – how flattering) and they are all available online. So if you are up for a uniquely random blend of thought, word and deed in the words of a very driven and inspirational entrepreneur in the great Kenyan tradition, take a look HERE and see what you think.
On the other hand, if you prefer a movie and are aware of racial issues in the way that only a truly multiracial thinker can be, watch Passing. You don’t even have to go to the cinema and deal with all the new regulations and danger tape or, masked like Zorro, queue for two hours for your popcorn. It is available on Netflix. Brilliant.
Rissington’s not-so-Wild Dogs :
I have mentioned before that some people really don’t like dogs in hotels, but here is a ‘Tale of Two Maxes’. Both of these little boys coincidentally go by that name and both of them, like so many before them, fell completely and utterly under Bruno’s spell and he under theirs. Rissington doesn’t do cat pictures, but boy, do we do good dog pictures. Or pictures of good dogs. Dogs that don’t eat people.
And a quick recommendation for South African dog-lovers who want to take their dogs away for a weekend: try Stone Hill just outside Magaliesburg. This was another area of the country I hadn’t visited for almost 30 years when I found myself there again a couple of months ago. Stone Hill is the ultimate for dogs and even for those who don’t want to take their dogs along. Take a mountain bike, hiking boots and a pair of binoculars instead. A wonderful place – and the Cradle of Humankind and Sterkfontein Caves are just around the corner.
In case your dogs aren’t able to travel with you, November also saw the UK launch of DogTV, the first television service created specifically for pampered pooches. The channel claims to use research into canine psychology to create programmes that keep dogs entertained, to help with separation anxiety and to prevent loneliness. So at least you can leave them alone with a few biscuits and the television on and be sure that they will cope mentally with your absence. No excuse not to come to Rissington on holiday then!
The End of The Year (no, not the End of The World) :
That’s it. Let’s hope that we soon see The End of what has been a very trying couple of years for all of us. We are almost full for Christmas and filling up fast for next year. We are all fully vaccinated and ready to return to an easier way of living, so here’s wishing absolutely everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Happy Happy 2022 from all of us, as we prepare to grow back to a full-strength team with plenty of old faces (definitely not looking old) and a few exciting new ones too. Come and stay. You know you want to …
Chris and Team Rissington