The Rissington Rag - December 2022
Laughter, prizes, news and views from Rissington Inn, Hazyview, this Christmas ....
Welcome to the December 2022 Rissington Christmas Rag with all its competitions (yes, more than one), jollities and news. Also some porcupines, some wild speculation, some unusual human behaviour and a few proprietorial quirks. Read now ... or put aside for a quiet time with a good coffee or a glass of mulled wine but don't miss out.
Goodwill and Snow :
I am just back from a thoroughly uplifting African day, driving through our upbeat neighbouring communities of Bushbuckridge, Acornhoek and Marite; there's music in the air and the children are playing, laughing and dancing along the roadsides; school’s out for summer. In Hazyview, the Christmas trees are up and the decorations have been dangling in the stores for over a month with the PA systems playing Live Aid's Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?. And yes, it’s true, there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas-time but the way things are going, pretty soon there won’t be much snow anywhere. The last few snowbound sites on this continent are apparently going to lose their glaciers completely by 2050, including the great Kilimanjaro. Ernest Hemingway would be mortified but the world will adapt, I am sure. Greta has gone a bit quiet, but we know she is still out there, keeping an eye on things.
I am not sure that the Season of Goodwill has really fully caught on in the Hazyview Checkers parking yet though. Witnessed yesterday: a glamorous 30-something woman, expensive designer sunglasses, straightened hair dyed a soft golden-brown, driving a brand new shiny-blue BMW 4 series … is obviously short of change for the car guard so … she gives him a R10 note … and asks for R8 change. So much for the redistribution of wealth!
On we go with a chirpy Christmas edition from the magical place that is Rissington ... starting with this blast-from-the-past photo of JJ from ten years ago. That’s an orange juice he’s holding, but these days a mango daiquiri would be more likely now that he has finished his matric exams.
Ho ho ho Hotelier tales :
One sunny afternoon last month, a WhatsApp message popped up on the office cellphone from a young couple at the swimming pool asking for a member of staff to come down and take a picture of them dabbling adoringly in the ripples. Yes, honestly! Of course, we complied. It is, after all, one of the best pools in the world and I can fully understand its value as a screensaver. But really?! A selfie-taking service? Doesn’t this defeat the whole object of a selfie?! It is lovely that they felt they could ask, though. And at least if someone else takes your pics, you don’t end up with those strange Popeye-arms, distorted heads, multiple double chins and errant armpits so common in the more traditional self-taken selfies.
However daft the request might seem, I totally agree that this fully-in-touch approach is way better than the 'Remote Hotelier' idea, as practised in so many hostelries nowadays. I really can’t get used to that. I know and understand that we have all been through a few years when other people were deemed best-avoided, but online check-ins and then going straight to the room without meeting anyone? Taking meal orders by WhatsApp? Never chatting with your guests? You can’t call it ‘hospitality’ when you are looking for ways to avoid your clients, can you? I just don’t get it. Next there will be scaled-down camel robots to carry the luggage ...
This is also yet another reason why we are not listed anywhere on Booking.dot.com. We want to deal with people, not avatars, algorithms and auto-messaging. We want to know a bit about our esteemed guests before they arrive so that we can give them all the best possible experience. And we don’t want people announcing themselves online as ‘Genius Bookers’ then failing even to check the details of the room they have booked. Or the style of the hotel. Or its location!
Picture the scene in Bethlehem a couple of millennia ago. Joseph, scrabbling away for WiFi, picks up a vague signal from a distant star and decides to book accommodation through a family-oriented online reservations site called Swaddling.com . But what? No room at the Inn? Oh, hold on… There’s a stable available with hay and a manger. Let’s just book that and see if we can get a free upgrade. We’ll just tell them that we are expecting some royal visitors. That’ll work. We need to impress these VIPs from the East – they might be good for some useful presents. Maybe we can all visit the Dead Sea for the day and ask Michelangelo to paint some pictures of us swimming. We could post them on Gracebook…
Clothes lines :
Guest behaviour has definitely calmed down. People are smiling, excited and travelling for Christmas, which is lovely after last year’s last-minute Christmas Boris Ban on South Africa. Gosh, was it really only a year ago that everyone jumped on that particularly brutal bandwagon?
Anyway, normal service has fully resumed. The theft of shampoo bottles and hair-driers has reduced somewhat, the doef-doef music has been turned down … but the laundry is still hanging on the verandahs. I mean, seriously? Talk about airing your dirty (clean-ish?) linen in public …
I dreamed the other night that I had a gang of guests cooking a braai (barbecue) – complete with loud music, coolerboxes and gazebos – on the lawn right outside my home at Rissington. And they wouldn’t leave, no matter how I tried to reason with them. Maybe the chaos of the past two years does all still occasionally get to me. Remember last year when I (actually) caught two couples, on successive weekends, going at it in flagrante delicto in my garden? That was not a dream. Far from it.
What3words and How to read a map, for the uninitiated :
Have you tried what3words? It is absolutely brilliant and will lead you right to an exact spot, not just to an address or a building. Looking for Reception at Rissington? The what3words location is (wait for it ..) :
I couldn’t have picked a better one if I had tried! See left, then download the App. It’s brilliant.
As this cunning invention proves, though, people nowadays are reluctant to read maps preferring instead to rely on apps to make the decisions. So, they stick in their destination without any thought as to whether there might be two places, hotels or restaurants by the same name. For example, there are two Belfasts in Mpumalanga (and one in Northern Ireland), two (at least) Amsterdams in the world (with ours and The Netherlands' version being just over 13 000 kilometres apart) and there are literally thousands of restaurants called La Trattoria.
Drivers still blindly follow what seems to be the shortest route, regardless of the number of towns or the amount of traffic on the roads, whether they are dirt or tarred, whether or not they go through private properties with locked gates or whether (in Africa) the roads even exist at all.
Please don’t follow Google Maps, especially when travelling from White River to Hazyview. Use the R40, not the App’s recommended R538 route. Get the directions from our website, not from a proposal calculated by a computer aboard a satellite two thousand kilometres from Planet Earth! To drive to The Netherlands from here, Google recommends going via the Trans-Sahara Highway, a road which I am quite sure does not exist and would anyway certainly take rather longer than the promised 181 hours. Amsterdam (Mpumalanga SA) to Amsterdam (The Netherlands) in a week, without stopping for sleep, fuel or a pee? Nope!
I just love this Africa map (left) from Visual Capitalist. A few surprises, I think. For example, what is going on in Casablanca that we don’t know about (apart, obviously, from what’s happening between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman)? And I don’t know anyone in Alexandria, but maybe we should all should start making friends there if the lifestyle is so conducive to wealth? Last time I went up the Nile towards that city, bombs were going off in the churches. You can open a bigger version of the map HERE for easy reading.
Bouncing Blobs (as my cousin has called them) :
We have now moved from Geography to History.
Occasionally (even in the dystopian world of Elon Musk) something utterly beguiling crops up on Twitter. This is just such a case. Check out this magnificent (and even quite musical) visualisation of European history from 1500-2022 up to (but not including) the relief of Kherson. Set aside the time to watch the blobs bounce and swell and shrink, appear and disappear. It’s superb. This is a You Tube link, so you don't need to be on Twitter to view it: HISTORY BOUNCING BLOBS
And talking of bouncing blobs, this (shown left) is the broken leg of the bed in Sycamore, the Rissington Honeymoon Suite. after a clearly-torrid couple of days last week. Definite signs of a good 'struggle' and a joyful and enthusiastic start to a marriage, such that they have actuallly managed to break the bed, rather than simply tearing the sheets, medieval-style! These are the kind of maintenance issues we are happy to fix. Memories are clearly being made here at Rissington. And maybe - who knows? - perhaps progeny too!
The Entertainment section and some Elephant Action :
Plenty of Rag readers are fans of my good friend James Hendry, so it is my humble duty to point out to you that he has just published the third instalment of his comic bush-based novels. Return to the Wild is now out in a book store near you in South Africa and available online. And if you haven’t read his earlier two books, A Year in the Wild and Back to the Bush, then you definitely should.
James is also now back on Wild Earth, if the real stalkers want to get their dose of Hendry dopamine from their televisions once again.
In addition (and only slighty related), in case you have somehow missed it, you absolutely NEED to see this clip of a Kenyan news reporter’s elephant troubles. Such a piece of African joy! It is short but wonderful. Click HEre
For more African good news, sign up for The Good Things Guy’s Friday emailed newsletters. There are plenty of happy stories and some good music sometimes too.
Modern privilege :
We hear so much about colonialism, slavery and domination of all sorts and I can clearly see why it is so divisive and explosive but there are miniature cameo conversations which also throw the odd shaft of light (or darkness) on how all of us – yes, all of us, sometimes – think. And sometimes don’t think …
In the early days of my 40-year career in African hotels, we had no telephones in the rooms at the lodge where I was working. In fact, we had no direct landline either. Phone calls came through a manual exchange on a shared so-called ‘party line’. We also had a telex machine.
Winding (literally) forward a bit to when Rissington opened in 1995, we had phone lines, but still no telephones in the rooms. Instead we had a very rudimentary system of manual bells, which you could switch on to call for someone to come to your room. It worked, but it was not ideal because the bell looked stupidly like a light switch, which meant many false alarms and embarrassing interruptions. It also needed to be switched off, like the button on an aeroplane seat, once the guest’s requests had been attended to. Otherwise it didn’t work again.
So eventually we put telephones in the rooms and then, with the appearance of WiFi, we took them out again. We now have 100Mbps up and down WiFi so that guests can WhatsApp call us at any time. Or send a message summoning us to the pool to photograph them in their speedo- and bikini-magnificence against the sunset.
So what’s the point of all this? Well … most people in South Africa never had landlines but they have successfully bypassed all of this and our country is at the forefront of the struggle to live without defunct technology. This also applies to planet-saving through renewable resources (such as solar street lights) and recycling. I find myself feeling enormously proud whenever I walk past our recycling plant and I see a sight like this one on the left, showing glass bottles, tins, plastic and all manner of recyclable items packaged up and ready to be transported out of Rissington and magically repurposed. (I really hope Greta has got this far down the newsletter.)
One idea of privilege which I simply can’t understand, however, is the comment that is frequently made (completely without malice) about lights in the distance to Rissington’s north and how they apparently impact on the views of Africa at night-time. Do we honestly expect our neighbours to sit in darkness so that we don’t have to look at their lights at night? I don’t think so. And do we really demand that the music of Africa be switched off so that we can listen to the birds and the insects? There are limits, obviously, but Africa is all about light, laughter and fun. No-one should bully those characteristics completely into submission to satisfy our their selfish idylls!
From another perspective, if you are worrying about your energy bills or struggling to tolerate the threat of power outages – in South Africa or in Europe – then maybe it is time to see how the other half really lives. For a simultaneously uplifting and sobering insight into how to cope with very little and to get used to it, sign up for Cathy Buckle’s occasional newsletters from Zimbabwe on cathybuckle.co.zw . You will never complain again.
Social Media and Generational Challenges :
Much as people might get upset about social media, in its various forms it plays many crucial roles. To those of us who have pretty-much everything we need, social media is a means of learning about the world and getting details of special offers (see further down) at our favourite hotels. Or on Black Friday. (Eeeugh).
For those with greater challenges than ours, though, social media is an absolute lifeline. Consider this story:
Selby Mashaba is a member of Rissington’s ebullient maintenance and repairs team. He is also the chap who washes the cars and collects up, in the process, bizarre quantities of foreign currency. (I wonder what he is expected to do with Argentine pesos?). Anyway, one day, he was looking uncharacteristically glum and I sensed real distress. It turned out that, the previous evening, Selby had been called on his cellphone by an acquaintance, asking him to come back to Hazyview from his home in Shabalala a few kilometres away and to collect the said acquaintance and transport him and a friend back to their village in his (Selby’s) trusty old CitiGolf. Selby did so, but on return to his own home later that evening, he was mortified to discover that one of his passengers had stolen his wallet from the car. Cash, ID book, bank card; all stolen.
After he had finished his distraught story, I gave Selby some cash and prepared him for the tiresome process he would have to undergo in order to cancel his cards with the bank and replace his ID book through our heavily weighed-down government departments. It was, to be honest, going to be a real pain for him. Anyway …
That evening he put out an appeal on a Facebook page for the Shabalala community with a description of what happened. Within minutes, his wallet had been relocated and handed back to him, with everything except the cash still inside. Disaster averted. Social media, the community and the Internet are lifelines right across the world. You can’t do that with a landline. And Selby is back to his beaming self.
Clearly, with all forms of media, you have to target your market through the right channels and that can be complicated. Just when you think you have mastered Facebook, WhatsApp status and Instagram, you realise that the younger generation ONLY does YouTube and Tik-Tok. I was getting my head around this when a mid-20s cousin came to stay at Rissington with a few mates and they told me that they don’t do either of those and then elaborated that in social media terms (and also in actual social terms, I think) a generation lasts only four years. Heaven help us.
We are just getting to grips with the 20-year-long generations of Gens X, Y and Z only to discover that, not only do they all hate each other but they are also sub-divisible into smaller groups. OK Boomer! And don’t get me onto Twitter. I know Musk is South African, but so is Nando’s and that is much more important. As the former Mr West might sing, quoting Georgie Fame, and now that he is off Twitter again: “I say Ye Ye”.
Wildlife Bushcam Picture Competition :
I have mentioned the new walking trails recently, on our social media feed. When we walk with the dogs in the afternoons, we often see monkeys and occasionally a buck breaks cover, but it is at night that it is really all happening. Some real prickly situations! (Was that a Dad joke?).
I haven’t managed to capture the jackal with the camera yet. Or the caracal. JJ also swears that he saw a leopard the other night. And if JJ says he saw one, it was there. Rissington wildlife is thriving.
There's a bigger selection of full-size bushcam photos below the signature at the bottom of the Rag under all our names. Identify the ten different species shown in those pics, email the list to [email protected] and win a weekend for two if your name comes out of the draw. (No, Latin names are not necessary – that is just showing off.) We often move the bushcam around and a number of the photos show creatures eating wild plums. Yes. They almost all have plums in their mouths...
As a spin-off from our own wildlife plethora, we shall be taking the entire Rissington team into the Kruger for an overnight safari for our year-end party later this month. It’s going to be wonderful. There will be 32 of us, so we shall need a good-sized braai and loads of Christmas crackers. They really are the best bunch of people in the entire world. I can’t wait.
The ‘Where in the World’ Competition :
We drew the name of Rob Cassella from the hat in last month’s competition. The answer was the Big Pineapple, outside Bathurst in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. Nice one, Rob. You have just won yourself three nights for two people at Rissington.
The Christmas Competition is always bigger, with six photographs and a three-night stay for 4-5 people in a hillside suite up for grabs. See how you get on with naming these six places from Lungi’s and my recent trip to the UK. The more detail the better, as always. Send your answers to [email protected] by 15 January to go into the draw.
Celebrations and Offers :
We have enjoyed some real highlight celebrations at Rissington this year. The world has changed and with this change has come the need to spend more time with family. This often appears to take the form of a big party and we love those. If you follow us on Social Media (Instagram or Facebook) you will have seen wedding pictures, an 80th birthday and dozens of photos of our swimming pool brimming with cavorting families.
We don’t take groups of more than eight people, but we make an exception for families and multi-generational groups, especially in the hillside suites. For weddings and big bashes, we recommend taking over the whole lodge and we are happy to negotiate special rates for that. Rissington is quite simply a superb place for a celebration bash.
The three Rs of Rissington – Relax. Revive, Remember – should, as one guest recently said, be extended to four. The fourth ‘R’? Return. On an average night at least a third of our guests have stayed before. Many of them many times. That tells you something. And we love it.
Throughout the year, we have been running specials for longer stays and we shall continue to do that, so keep an eye out. We think a week at Rissington is a pretty blissful idea and the offer has been taken up by literally dozens and dozens of people, some of them again and again. Our current offer, which applies for the first two weeks in December 2022, the last two weeks of January and the whole of May and June 2023, is for 7 nights, dinner, bed and breakfast for R5800 per person in total. People love it. Many have stayed a week; some have stayed two weeks. One or two have stayed even longer than that and none have ever been quite ready to leave.
We could also add a fifth R, I suppose: Recommend. Send your friends. And if you want the ideal Christmas present, just drop us an email to [email protected] and we will send you a voucher made out to the recipient for a weekend or for a longer stay, which you can give to anyone you like as a gift.
A quick shout-out for our TripAdvisor fans. Thank you for taking the time to give us your reviews. It helps keep a sense of perspective and it means a lot to the team. It is wonderful to see so many five-star reviews in the past few months and we really appreciate them. There is one recent three-star review, but I think I have suitably dealt with him so that he doesn’t do it again …
If you have stayed recently and haven’t reviewed us yet, you are welcome to do so on any platform including Google. For some reason, which I have still yet really to fathom, it is important although I don't think I shall ever really understand how it can be constructive to write a negative review. Obviously, positive reviews are a kind way for happy clients to say thank you and to help with the marketing effort but uninvited negative reviews are nothing short of spiteful, I reckon, and that canot be condoned. I don't know. Maybe we are just too sensitive.
Gapping it again :
No, we are certainly not taking Gap Year students again (no, NEVER again!) but, as of this week, JJ – now 18 – has finished school and is starting a year of wildlife volunteering and travel, whilst I am, of course, still on my gap year too, 40 years on this coming February. As my mother once said: “I am sure one day Christopher will settle down and get a proper job”. Sorry Mum. Life is good if you love where you live and can travel enough. I am just back from a couple of days at the magnificent Fugitives’ Drift Lodge at Rorke’s Drift in KwaZulu-Natal. Life-changing even after 30 years of visits. www.fugitivesdrift.com
The only downside was when I stopped at a shopping mall in Nelspruit on the way home and was asked by the chirpy car guard where I had driven from. I said I had come all the way from KwaZulu-Natal, a seven-hour journey. He looked shocked: “I thought you had just come in from your farm. If you have come from KZN, you should be wearing your smart clothes.”
I looked down at myself. Clean polo shirt and shorts. Flip-flops in fairly good condition.
“These are my smart clothes,” I said. He looked me up and down again and was clearly bitterly disappointed in me. I tipped him generously, just to prove that I could. Much more than two rand.
A very merry Christmas to all you lovely, lovely people and a booming travel-full 2023 from ever-cheerful Rissington. See you soon!
Chris and the Team: Shirley, Natasha, Nonhlanhla, Princess, Nkateko, Rosa; Gertrude, Dudu, Yvonne, Angel, Conny; Futhi, Betty, Noggs, Patience, Bonisile, Lilian and Mildreth; Aubrey, Selby, Lucky and Peter; JJ and Lungile; And Philippa, whom you can email on [email protected] for all your booking requirements. Or book online on www.rissington.co.za and tell us about yourself in the ‘Special requests’ box.
Here are the Bushcam photos for the Wildlife Competition (ignore the dates and times - they are incorrect!):