The Rissington Rag - March 2021
Good news, interesting views and special offers from Rissington Inn, Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Welcome to the
Still there? So are we! And still keeping cheerful? So are we!
South Africa is celebrating today after the recent massive reduction in virus cases allowed us to move to the lowest level of lockdown at midnight last night. Just about everything is allowed now apart from night clubs and huge gatherings of people, so let's get on with it ...
This month's Rag is a ten-minute read. It’s time for some good news.
(Warning to superstitious Zimbabweans and others: towards the end, this newsletter contains a photograph of a chameleon).
Social Media rules, OK?
I never thought I would say this but … what is wrong with a bit of dopamine? It is now more and more evident that social media has become crucial for our sanity. For those who can’t see their friends and families because of lockdown, Facebook, Instagram and Zoom have become a lifeline. The key to staying calm and in touch. So, am I – so to speak – eating my words? Yes, I think maybe I am.
Just as we used to get a thrill from leafing through the post when it arrived and finding a letter, an invitation or a birthday card from a long-lost friend in amongst all the bills, I hope this Rag will give you a lift.
Writing The Rissington Rag is one of my greatest joys. It raises my spirits. It is like being in a room with thousands of like-minded people and having a really good catch-up in the knowledge that they probably love Rissington as much as we all do. And that if they could be here, they would.
Where a good email – like a well-written letter – is a real fillip on a bad day, a cheerful WhatsApp is also like a virtual hug (and well worth the risk of whatever it tells Mark Zuckerberg about us, which is probably absolutely nothing at all except what we buy online and might want to buy again – where is the harm in that? Just stop dodgy online shopping …)
So let’s keep in touch. You can now book with us and stay in contact on WhatsApp as well. +27 82 327 6842. Need a hug? Send us a message!
And while we are at it, let’s not miss the opportunity to share (because that is what social media is all about) a couple of lovely parodies of the paragraph heading. The expression 'Xxxxx Rules, OK?' seems to have originated with soccer clubs (as in Liverpool Rules, OK?) and gangs in Glasgow, but I particularly like these:
- James Bond rules, 00K?
- Dyslexics lure, KO.
- Potassium Ethoxide rules C2H5OK.
- Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle probably Rules, OK?
- Absolute Zero Rules 0 K
- and (pre-Brexit anyway …) French Fishermen rule au Quai.
Isn’t language great? I also learned the other day that the word 'shampoo' came into English from the Hindi word champu for ‘massage’ and was appropriated as long ago as 1762. I mean we all knew about chutney and gymkhana and pyjamas. But shampoo? Which then gets absorbed into French as the fabulous ‘le shampooing, making it not only franglais but also frindi!
And here are some more English words you might not know were derived from Hindustani words: cushy, pundit, cot, tickety-boo, juggernaut, kedgeree (Rissington makes a great one), thug, loot and pukka (don’t tell Jamie Oliver). As I say, isn’t language great?
‘Oi, what you not lookin’ at?’
We cannot ignore the plague altogether, of course, because it dominates all of our lives at the moment, especially in South Africa, Brazil and (bizarrely) Kent, an innocent county of England. What links all of us in those three places is the fact that we have a variant of the virus seemingly actually named after us. This, of course, is just a bit of bad luck, in that we were clever and open enough to identify a new strain only to find ourselves blamed for its existence and tarred with its brush. Kent has the advantage of being a relatively small proportion of England, where in Hazyview we are lumped together with the entire country of South Africa (and Brazil…) and, internationally, we are all stigmatised accordingly. If nothing else, it is an unneeded and unfair hurdle to tourism recovery.
We battle on, however, firm in our South African resolve to keep the lurgy at bay and to get on with our lives. The end of all this has to be nigh, after all, and restrictions are slowly being lifted worldwide, just as they are here. Our country now has very few restrictions but we continue to take all our precautions very seriously and there are tens of millions of vaccines on their way here, just like everywhere else. We have even been told that tourism employees will be in the second jab phase after essential workers (and, it seems so far, a lot of non-essential politicians!) so that we don’t infect our guests. Great idea!
It seems, elsewhere though, that desperation is really setting in. This headline says it all (but you can click on it for more details):
It is an unusually-phrased headline but I think we know what they meant – and it is difficult to know how the organising body would check that the participants were sticking to the deal, especially when travelling. It is an indication, nevertheless, of just how keen everyone is to get back on the roads and planes and to indulge in mind-broadening voyages.
The end will come – just as it did in every other war we have ever fought – and with it will come joy, pride and relief. When I left my prep school in the 1970s I was given this certificate which was somehow quite moving (although I have no idea why it wasn’t given to the applicable child in 1946). As one would, I have framed it on my bathroom wall and it inspires me every day.
Let’s look forward to saying we defeated Covid-19 and let’s also learn the lessons it has presented to us. Then we can all be released and travel the world in search of the items we miss most, like Ribena and real British jelly babies.
Celebrating at Rissington
We have much to celebrate at Rissington. We live in a beautiful place. Our little lodge is looking better than ever. We have been able to welcome our (sadly very few) guests in a safe environment for most of lockdown. We have had plenty of rain to fill the dams and swell the crops.
We had a joyous Christmas and New Year, even if our celebrations of the latter were muted by a rather sudden alcohol ban and a curfew. Rissington created a fantastic Mocktails Menu for New Year’s Eve, served by JJ, Lungile and Megan, who worked here for the first time to help the team and to earn some spending money. They are pictured here in a booze-free bar …
So successful were they at selling alcohol-free gin-and-tonics, sangria and margaritas that everyone needed a good strong Virgin Mary for breakfast the next day to help them recover from the non-hangover. At midnight, we had all stood around the pool, as instructed by our State President, and raised a thoughtful candle to all those who had fallen victim to the virus around the world. That, too, was a sobering moment.
Our celebrations didn’t end there though. We have had so many people breaking out of their lockdown reveries and arriving here to celebrate all sorts of landmarks and successes. People need people, after all. Especially on their birthdays. So … until the end of this year, we are giving one free night’s accommodation for a birthday celebrated at Rissington within a week of the actual date. For one night of their stay, the person whose birthday it is will only have to pay for their dinner, drinks and other extras.
And today? Well, this Rag is going out on St David's Day - a crucial date in the calendar for our many Welsh readers who, I am sure, will be waving their daffodils with glee and thoroughly enjoying the current state of play in the Six Nations Rugby.
Everyone who stays here these days seems to be paying reduced tariffs – and receiving free upgrades too. We are also offering our week-long specials of R5500 per person for seven nights with all meals, teas and coffees for those staying any time in March, May and June this year. It’s the best deal in the whole world. Email [email protected] for more details or to make your booking.
What about April? Well, book early for April. It’s Easter at the beginning, the schools are out in the middle and there’s the Freedom Day long weekend at the end. Who doesn’t want to break free right now?!
Time to read …
Of course, it is not over yet, but I do think we are getting better at handling the uncertainty of it all. I found I couldn’t even concentrate well enough to read anything at all in the early days of the Covid era, as we were engulfed by the uncertainty of it, but now I can – as long as what I am reading has nothing whatsoever to do with the virus and the meltdown it has caused.
So, if you are looking for a wonderful, rompingly humorous South African book with some sneaky and thoughtful insights into growing up in this country in the 1980s, you should definitely get stuck into my good friend (and famous former Safari Live presenter) James Hendry’s Reggie and Me.
James is a wonderfully wicked (in-a-good-way) writer and – in case you are interested in following him further – is also now editor of Africa Geographic magazine. Reggie and Me is an irreverent joy from beginning to end.
Available in bookshops and also as an e-book online.
Living well in hard times
There’s no better opportunity than a hiatus such as this for us to reassess our expectations and aspirations. If you are anything like me, you will have cancelled numerous trips, cut back on countless expenses, cleaned out your cupboards more than once, weeded out your iTunes and Spotify collections, changed your supermarket, downgraded your car and looked on in amazement as other people carry on as if nothing has really changed.
This brings us to another question. Do we suffer from envy? Do we want be rich and famous? To be loud and omnipresent like Donald Trump? To divorce publicly like Kim and Kanye? To live in a big showy house? To be accompanied by the Orwellian (and ubiquitous in South Africa) ‘blue light brigade’ VIP escort whenever we go anywhere so that we can randomly drive other people off the road? Or are we simply glad to have come through this and happy with what we have?
I think the past year has been a real leveller with most of us quite simply ignoring famous and noisy people. They have also been hit by the restrictions and, in many cases, they have mercifully faded from view. Especially our politicians. They have become just distant stale air, wild speculation and pointless noise and they have lost their relevance as we all deal with bigger things at home.
Like so many other things we have given up for good, it makes us wonder why we ever listened to them in the first place, doesn’t it? And at least Lady Gaga got her dogs back.
Our homes have become our hotels
As Viz magazine famously said: Turn your home into a luxury hotel by installing a small fridge next to your bed and burning a £10 note every time you use it.
This may be extreme (and a bit unfair on hotels) but – just as we have improved our own hotel at Rissington during lockdown – so many people have made changes to the way they live and started appreciating the good things in life without even stepping out of the house.
Hopefully, when running your homes as hotels for yourselves and your families, you have not been faced with the same challenges we face as hoteliers. It is even tougher now as we try mask up and to provide what everyone is looking for in a post-Covid era.
Imagine what Basil Fawlty would make of all this! Imagine Sybil telephonically planning her social life in PPE and Manuel speaking English through a mask. And while Fawlty Towers, Hotel Babylon and the like might at first glance look a bit far-fetched, I promise you that, in nearly 40 years as a hotelier, I have undergone all those Fawlty-esque experiences. I have chased rats around my bar, shouted at complaining guests, run out of ingredients and made unusual substitutions; I have even had someone drop dead in my dining room (not at Rissington, I should add, where our closest has been a failed suicide attempt). Those shows may be comedies but they are not as far-fetched as you would think.
And while we are on the subject of the trials facing hoteliers, you may be wondering what is happening at our old friend TripAdvisor now that no-one has any travels to write about. Well, they are planning to charge you (and us) for a premium service. Don’t ask me how this will square up with their impartial neutrality or how they will deal with bad reviews on the hotels they have teamed up with but it is looking more and more potentially corrupt to me. Read the plan click HERE
I have long been saying that people will emerge from the current meltdown much more kind and forgiving. Let us hope that TripAdvisor is not the exception. After a year such as this, we should never complain again. And we should remember that travel is not only about our own experiences, it is about the people we travel with and the people we meet. Other people matter more than ever.
We have two uplifting videos for you this month. In case you missed the first one on our Facebook page, here are our old friends the Ndlovu Youth Choir with their own colourful, cheerful composition We will Rise:
And here’s another thoroughly joyful bunch of rollicking youngsters having an absolute ball on the marimbas. I can only find this on a Facebook link, so I am afraid you will have to work out how to watch it there, but DON’T MISS out. Find a way. It is absolutely amazing. I have watched it simply dozens of times and it never palls.
The ‘Where in the World’ Competition has been taking a bit of a rest due to a lack of travel on our part but I feel that I have been remiss in not acknowledging some of the fantastic readers who have sent in thoughts and ideas in response to our appeals in the Rag. Like this poem, for example, from Eric and Anna Silk:
The Rissington offers a quite unique mix
South African lodge, cosmopolitan twist.
While in other establishments prices may rise
At the Rissington restaurant you may be surprised
You are in for a treat, the cuisine is tip top
And wine prices go down more often than not.
The service relaxing, the sun always hot
But the value for money eclipses the lot
You may travel the world, you may wander and roam
But the Rissington Inn somehow always feels home.
It is humbling to know how much Rissington is loved and how much it means to people. And yes, some of the prices have indeed gone down! Thanks to everyone who has sent in pictures, memories and memes.
Let's talk about the weather
We have had some really extraordinary weather while you have all been away and, in January and February, we received more than our usual total annual rainfall in one sodden three-week period. Everything was soggy, our streams all ran into the donga, filling up the little dam which has chirped full of singing frogs every night since. And this magnificent fellow appeared in a small tree, right by the Rissington drive.
The bush has undergone a transformation. Thick, lush and green. Now we head into calmer seasons with lovely, clear, warm days and cool, comfortable nights.
Of course, our recycling spot remains open and very active, but here is a recycling story of a different kind. In March last year, the municipality's tractor reversed into a tree and knocked it flat, near the recycling plant. We had been carefully preserving this tree – a silver cluster leaf – ever since we cleared the bush to set up our planet-saving project, so we were a bit upset about its collapse. Not to be deterred though, we lifted it up, re-rooted it, planted a couple of poles alongside it, talked to it, told it stories, cared for it and nurtured it. Now it has recovered. Very rewarding. Everything comes back if it is well-enough looked-after. We would do well to remember that right now. You can see photos of the rescue process at the very bottom of the Rag.
You need us and we need you …
It has been a long haul but it really does seem to be coming to an end now so it is time for you to make your bookings. 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 to see you soon. We have so much to show you. Our new pool is fabulous. Our new terrace is amazing. Our new menu is delicious. Our gardens are brimming. Everything is painted and in top-top condition. We have even graded the road. Can you believe it?
You can check the website www.rissington.co.za for dozens more pictures of the upgrades and, while you are there (which you are already if you are reading this Rag online), sign up to follow us on Instagram or Facebook or both. You will then receive your own Rissington dopamine fix every couple of days, not months!
We are especially grateful to all the people who have stayed with us during this past awkward year. Without you and your support, we would never have made it. Thank you. Please keep coming. We are not out of the woods yet!
In addition, the generosity of Rissington fans is truly humbling. We have had offers of financial help for staff and even an offer to pay for vaccines for the team. What an amazing group of people the Ragsters are! See you soon. We miss you.
Chris and the amazing Team Rissington, all of whom have shown their typical stalwart stoicism throughout this tricky period. You are my heroes. All of you. It’s tough, I know.
The tree photographs, as promised. The Fall, the Rise and the Recovery ...