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The Rissington Rag - June 2021

Posted on Tue June 1, 2021.

News and almost-post-Covid views from Rissington Inn, Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa ...

The Rissington Rag June 2021   

It’s time to celebrate our freedom. This Rag is a fifteen-minute read and it contains plenty of generous offers which are valid for everyone now and also into the future when our international travellers are able to return, so please keep going to the end (or skip straight there if you are REALLY in a hurry to save some cash and if you don't mind missing out on the exceptional competition prize).

A New World with a New Language

Throughout all of this chaos, South Africa has proved yet again that it is a unique country with its own often-comic approach to absolutely everything. We also count ourselves lucky that our government has been sharp enough to realise that we really couldn’t afford to be locked down for long, so while the rest of the world has been through absolute torture, we have largely been able to carry on very much as usual here, albeit somewhat isolated from the real world.

In other words, as South Africans, we are generally used to being trusted to make our own decisions and the State President probably realised that even if he had tried to control us, we probably wouldn’t have taken too much notice anyway. Most of our compatriots have nevertheless taken the protocols seriously and we continue to be sensible, to maintain social distancing and to wear masks in public spaces. Rissington adheres firmly to all the rules, obviously.

In the meantime, the world has drawn up a whole new language of nonsense-words which sum up our situation. Some you will know; some you might not. Here is my interpretation of a few of my favourites :

Elbow bump – something you used to suffer from after falling off your bicycle. Now the final move of a bizarre juddering jive following an awkward hiatus in which the two participants simultaneously flinch as they remember that they may not shake hands, hug, high-five or breathe the same air. Let’s hope it doesn’t catch on or it will end up being as irritating as having someone say ‘Bless you’ every time you sneeze.

Maskne – apparently acne caused by wearing a mask. So you get spots from wearing a mask, then hide the spots … by wearing a mask. The problem solves itself, methinks.

Self-isolation – sitting alone for a number of days. A form of naughty-boy-or-girl-you-might-have-caught-Covid syndrome whereby you are imprisoned in solitary confinement in your own personal leper colony and not allowed to see your grandparents because being near you might just kill them or to talk to your children because they might turn into super-spreaders. (There's another hideous word; it sounds like a new breed of easy-to-use margarine, doesn't it?)

R-number (reproduction number) – nothing to do with a population explosion and cannot be squared and multiplied by Pi to give you the area of a circle. This is a previously-fashionable system for calculating the number of people infected by each infected person. It seems to have fallen out of use, I assume largely because, like just about every other Covid statistic, it is wildly speculative.

Herb community – this fantastic South African malapropism works even better than the intended ‘herd immunity’. These chaps probably just smoke some pot and forget about the real world altogether.

Co-mobilities – another unintentionally-ironic frequent South African mispronunciation of ‘co-morbidities’, the rather gruesome name for the seemingly endless range of pre-existing conditions which can increase the likelihood of death from the virus. These can be anything from asthma to ingrowing toenails, especially if it means getting to the front of the vaccine queue.

Anti-vaxxers – not someone who doesn’t want to go for a Brazilian, but more someone who thinks, like the Brazilian President Bolsonaro, that these jabs won’t work. Well, they won’t unless everyone joins in. And if you don’t get the vaccine, prepare to spend the rest of your life in a lockdown without travel.

Variant B.1.351 lineage, also known as 20H/501Y.V2 (formerly 20C/501Y.V2)  - the punchy new name, preferred by South Africans, for the former ‘so-called South African Variant’. As it is, while the rest of the world still fumbles around, South Africa has a relatively low prevalence of any variant whatsoever, so to lumber us (like Kent) with a variant named after us is as mad as it is irresponsible. Many more livelihoods will be lost as a result of the ongoing tourism collapse that the name has caused. Tragic. Luckily the WHO has now decided that countries and regions may henceforth not be used in variant names as it could lead to unfair stigmatisation. Ah, diddums. Yes, well actually it makes sense, even if it does sound a bit snowflakey.

Covidiot – This is just a great word with so many potential meanings. Never mind the definition. Just use it.

The world has clearly gone mad and no sooner do we finally have a day when the news focuses on something Covid-less (like a new US President who is not a Covidiot or a Good Old South African Government Corruption Scandal) than up the pandemic pops again with another country having a virus disaster with which to dominate the media. There is some good news, of course, every now and then, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s welcome declaration that the latest Ebola outbreak is now over. It had killed a grand total of 12 people. Alleluia! Thank goodness that has stopped its trail of destruction.

Selfie Syndrome

South Africa’s ‘isolation’ and consequent dependence on domestic tourism have led to many moments of mystery but the most bizarre of all of these is the Instagram-inspired Saffer Selfie Syndrome in which people walk around backwards imperilling their own and others’ lives whilst taking pictures of themselves and their friends perched on cliff edges, hanging from trees, spreadeagled under waterfalls and suspended from giant frames in front of impressive views.

Having seen such a protagonist, phone held high in his hand, obliviously reversing on foot into a road full of traffic whilst gesticulating to the photo’s subject to ‘go left a little’, I can only assume that we shall soon be adding ‘Insta-splatted’ to our new list of covidefinitions.

While Rissington continues to post sunsets, pool shots and dog portraits, the rest of Instagram has become increasing bonkers with more and more lunatic photos of daring antics best-suited to the Darwin Awards. Let us hope that the ends (without becoming too fatalistic) justify the rewards.

Learning How a Hotel Works

Our industry’s complete reliance on inexperienced tourists has been an absolute joy for the most part, but it is also not without its challenges when it comes to agreeing a rate. Rissington's tariffs are always low and always quoted per person and not per room, which seems to be a mysterious concept to the many who book for one person and then turn up with numerous friends, colleagues, children, babies, dogs, cats and budgies who are all going to stay in ‘their’ room for free (they think) because what difference does it make to us how many people there are? (OK, there have been no actual cats or budgies yet, but you get my drift.)

They are still only using the one room, they say, but, we then have to explain that, whilst this is indeed true, they will now use all the beds, all the hot water, all the shampoo, body lotion, extra towels (the rest of which they will pack and take home with them along with the odd blanket, the TV remote and even, in one case, a wall-clock). And they will all be having breakfast. They also say on making their reservation that they want to pay an even lower rate for booking direct, for being on business or for qualifying for a pension and that they want to bring in their own drinks and to dine on introduced-from-the-outside KFC. Next they will be asking for a discount because they didn’t finish off the salt and pepper in the restaurant and didn’t manage to use up all the loo paper (although they frequently pocket that and the boxes of tissues as well).

Talking of loo-paper, this situation has also spawned a new bunch of nutcases on online booking platforms who quite simply don’t know what is a reasonable expectation of a hotel … and this is not limited to first-time tourists. We recently had an experienced traveller stay with us, who scored us highly on the booking site but in her very wordy review complained that the loo roll was (most inconveniently) on the left and asked us to move it in time for her next stay. I mean why on earth shouldn’t it be on the left? And if that is too complicated for a right-hander to cope with, then what are left-handers supposed to do all the time? Sit backwards on the loo to get easy access to the lavatory paper? It adds a whole new meaning to the word ‘backhander’.

TripAdvisor – the Beginning of the End

Of course, every cloud, however huge, has its silver lining. Previously, to court online reviews was rather like asking someone how they are. Don’t ask, they might tell you. But our old friend TripAdvisor seems genuinely to have lost the plot and also to have haemorrhaged a handy total of R4 billion in 2020. For more details and further information about what they intend to do about it, you can click on this link: HERE

Rissington has had a grand total of 4 reviews on TripAdvisor in the past 12 months. All of them have been 100% positive. I told you the world would be a nicer place after all this, the Loo-Paper Wars notwithstanding.

Why Hazyview?

If you haven’t yet done so, take a look at the new Visit Hazyview website www.visithazyview.co.za which we have been building for our tourism association. You can also follow VisitHazyview on social media to keep up with what is going on in the area.

When we look at how Hazyview has grown in the past 25 years, it is funny to think that White River was once the area's only big well-established tourism town, what with its interesting history of Milner’s Men, all the lovely hotels and its proximity to the Kruger’s Numbi Gate. The story has it that in the early days, a hundred or so years ago, there was even a motel on the eastern side of the town with a tennis court made out of rolled termite mounds. Was this the original clay court, I wonder? And White River remains utterly charming.

Nowadays, though, everyone knows the much more full-on Hazyview, which has recently thus been nominated by a South African television show as one of the Top Three Towns in Mpumalanga. The area has come a long way since I first moved here almost 40 years ago when Hazyview boasted only 14 shops and a petrol station. Today, it is not only a large retail centre but also one of South Africa's most significant tourism destinations - a hub of adventure, adrenalin, foodie (and the inevitable gin and biltong) experiences, craft shopping, art, wildlife experiences, spas and wellness centres as well as some of the country's finest hotels and lodges, including, of course, Rissington Inn. The Phabeni Gate, which opened (unbelievably) twenty years ago, is Kruger’s newest access and it has put us right at the portals of the world’s greatest National Park.

So, Hazyview is ideally suited to the young new dynamic (Instagram-suicidal) market, while White River retains its country charm, high-end shops, market days and garden-openings. That is the difference between our new town and our 120-year old neighbour (and Nelspruit, which is a wild urban playground and even has its own ice rink!). Horses for courses, I guess, but I know that Hazyview is really making its mark at the moment.

Where in the World?

Travel has always been a luxury and never more so than now. The Tracker device on my vehicle keeps sending messages to my phone asking me why it hasn’t been moved for 72 hours but in reality, as for most people, it is more than 10 000 hours since I last travelled. That’s a lot of hours. Yes, I have been into Kruger for the day a few times and I have enjoyed some good weekends away from their school with our occasional and very-part-time barmen, JJ and Lungile, but that really is it. The world has changed but, after a brief hiatus, the Where in the World Competition is back with a tour of my house to see who can tell me where (on previous journeys) these seven items were obtained:

Do you know where they come from? Naming the country will be good enough, but hazarding a guess at the town or site would improve your chances of winning.

The most accurate answer received by 15th July 2021 and drawn from the hat will be awarded the MASSIVE PRIZE of a free week at Rissington for two people on a bed and breakfast basis. Our week-long stays at Rissington are so popular. You really need to try one!

A Great Book to Take Along on Your Next Trip

So much has changed and yet so much hasn’t. Indeed life gets better by the day and, as I keep on saying, the world will be a better place after all of this is over. We must simply learn the lessons. 

While South Africa clearly still has its challenges, we only need to look back thirty years to remind ourselves how far we have come. This brings me to this month’s book recommendation. Quite honestly, I very nearly didn’t read this. I bought it because I have had some past connections with the author – he also coincidentally designed my book Do Not Take this Road to El-Karama – and I sat down to settle into it one afternoon. I read the back cover and took a big gulp. I don’t know why. Perhaps I thought it would be too depressing, too heavy, too turgid, but I put it down again and all but resolved not to bother. I steeled myself though, thank goodness, opened page 1 and was instantly completely gripped. I then read half the book in one sitting. It is an essential read for anyone with any interest in South Africa’s past or its future. In fact, William Dicey's 1986 (the year is the book’s title and its subject) is one of the best books I have ever read. Superbly put together, engaging, shocking, fascinating and absolutely enthralling. Very strongly recommended. Read it – and you will be happily reminded that we have come a very long way indeed since 1986.

Celebrating a New Rissington

We have much to celebrate at Rissington too. We have our amazing new pool, our newly-refurbished rooms, our beautiful open terrace and our wide-open spaces in the gardens. We have our sunshine, our wildlife, our new menus and our fantastically patient, professional and friendly team.

We also have a new Cocktails Menu, provided by our front-of-house expert, Marvellous Sifundza, who went on a course to become a cocktail-maker and -shaker. When I told him that he was now a ‘hotshot’ barman, he asked me whether he was really ‘short’ – so clearly he thinks he is ‘hot’ – but whatever he is, he makes a fine selection of Cocktails for a sunny evening on the new terrace.

Rissington has lost a number of talented staff in the shake-outs of the past year, many of them taking voluntary retrenchment with (I hope) generous pay-outs which have enabled them to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses. Sipho, Rissington’s driver of 25 years, has become a chicken farmer, for example. Thandi, our talented chef, has opened a bakery and Cindy, who has held many roles here over the years, has gone on to train as a teacher.

These are but a few of the good-news stories that have emerged from all of this, but it is easy to forget that, while hospitality is a demanding industry, it is also a good broad training for running your own business in many spheres. As far as our guests are concerned, much of our regular client-base has been absent for more than a year now but there has been a smattering of overseas visitors finding a way to deal with the regulations or living with the quarantine requirements and travel is thus slowly starting to become easier.

You need us, we need you – so here’s the deal …

It is time to make your booking. If you decide to pay a deposit up-front, it will be fully-refundable in the event of unforeseen circumstances but we would really really really like you to come. We have so much to show you.

The million dollar question that many of our regulars have been asking is whether we shall be continuing with all our amazing special rates once international tourism returns so we have thought long and hard about this and decided that the answer is yes. Here comes the news you want to hear:

The current deal (which we have always offered in quiet times even before the current meltdown) allows anyone to stay here for a full seven nights including all meals for just R5500 per person (for the whole week) and we have decided to offer that rate to anyone and everyone who books a seven-night (or longer) stay in the future. This is a paltry $400 or £275 or €320 for a whole week at Rissington including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, we know things are complicated right now, so you don’t need to give us the dates yet (because who knows when many of you will easily be able to travel here again?) but you do need to pay now. So, for R5500 per person payable before the end of June, we will hold that rate and you can pick your dates when you know you can get here any time that suits you in the future. This allows everyone to benefit from our generous deals, whether they can currently travel or not. There are very few catches except that it must be a continuous seven-night stay and it cannot be used over Christmas or Easter. Otherwise, come any time. It is a huge bargain.  Minimum 7 nights. Extra nights will be calculate pro-rata. Direct bookings only. May not be applied to existing bookings.

And if the cartoon below shows the future of beach tourism in Europe, I know where I would rather be planning my next holiday.

Finally… Hell is in the Past

You can check the website www.rissington.co.za for dozens more pictures of the upgrades and, while you are there, sign up to follow us on Instagram or Facebook or both. You will then receive your own Rissington dopamine fix every couple of days! (You can also sign up for the quarterly Rag to be sent to you Inbox, if you came across this by chance)

We are especially grateful to all the people who have stayed with us again and again during the past awkward year and in particular to our South African guests, who have really stood by us. Without you and your support, we would never have made it. Thank you. Please keep coming and we will keep up the generous specials for our loyal supporters.

The awfulness of the past year seemed to be summed up by two French youngsters in their early 20s who turned up at Rissington in February. They had jumped through hoops to get here – isolation, countless Covid tests and myriad flights and diversions – but their palpable relief at getting to us, sitting in the sun, swimming in the pool, eating out in the garden and drinking fine South African wines was, well, sobering. We watched them emerge from their misery and despair into a combination of relief and release as they explained what they had been through. So remember: there is life after Covid. It’s at Rissington – and it is great.

As the one of them said:

“You have no idea what it has been like. I am 22 years old. I have not been allowed to visit even so much as a bar for almost a year. It has been hell. This is paradise.”

They stayed a week and left thoroughly rejuvenated. The young lady was quite right. We have no idea what it has been like for the people in Europe and other more-restrictive parts of the world, but we do want you to come back to Africa now. And to recover. This is the real world. Not the hell you have been through. And if you need your African spirits lifted even further, try this month’s musical excerpt by the Drakensberg Boys Choir, as recorded recently for Mothers Day. What could be more African than combining Cover Me In Sunshine with Paradise?! This will really cheer you up: CLICK HERE

Come and stay. See you soon. We miss you.

Chris and the amazing Team Rissington.