The Rissington Rag - September 2022
News and Views from your favourite Lowveld lodge ...
Hello … and Welcome to the September 2022 Rissington Rag ...
... with news from happy guests, lunacy from one or two difficult guests, snowflake news, generous prizes, special deals, JJ turning 18 and the totally-unexpected return of the missing ‘friends-cum-travelling-companions’ from Do Not Take this Road to El-Karama by Chris Harvie. Read on … or put aside to read with a coffee later, but please do not ignore!
Updated normality … and clean underwear ...
With a lodge-full of merry guests from across the globe (except for China… and, well, Russia, it seems) we have been able to settle back into regular hotel life and all the assorted trauma that goes with that: the Dutch self-washed underpants and socks draped across the stoep chairs for everyone to see as they drive in, for example; the French kids getting stuck into the complimentary sherry and dropping the decanters; the Germans starting every discussion with “I have just one question” and then launching into a full interrogation consisting of dozens of probing queries about South African rules and regulations; the English talking about the weather and especially about how hot England has been, followed by a lecture on the morality of their ubiquitous hosepipe bans; the corrupt traffic cops are back on the N4; airline staff around the world are on strike; luggage is going missing en route. And so it goes on.
We have also reverted from the fundamentally-abnormal of the pandemic, where nothing was predictable except for unpredictability, to much more normal abnormalities like corrupt politicians, climate change debate and gun ownership laws. South Africa can offer advice on all these issues, as well as on whether an athlete is really male or female, how to beat the All Blacks (in Nelspruit – yay! – just as the ‘Rhodesians’ did in Bulawayo in 1949, see left) and where a President should keep his money (yes, our own Uncle Cyril keeps his millions under the mattress, just like any sane human being).
One lodge, many markets
So, over these challenging two and half years, we have become past masters at hosting a vast range of people from many different countries and backgrounds, including our own broad South African market.
Has it been difficult? Only very rarely. After all, a good Toyota dealer can service a Land Cruiser, a Quantum, an Etios and a Prius, which is a pretty broad range. He only really struggles when someone pulls in with a huge Mercedes truck or a vintage Triumph motor bike. Hospitality is the same. As long as you want what we are offering, you will get it, for sure, in high-quality spade-loads.
Of course, there have been occasional difficulties. For example, un-confessing anonymous (maybe sherry-fuelled?) children smashed not one but two windows by the pool-table yesterday morning, in a game which must presumably have deteriorated into a Star Wars re-enactment with the cues being used as light sabres. They left without saying a word, or even reporting the damage. Another lot broke a basin in one of the bathrooms and equally didn’t seem to think that to be their fault in any way. Accidents happen, I guess, but we have removed the darts board, just in case…
Then there was the South African mother (with two evidently somewhat inept nannies in tow) who insisted that throwing food at the walls in the room and drawing with a marker pen on the sheets and pillowcases was perfectly normal and acceptable because what did we expect from kids? Well, it’s more about what we expect from parents, actually, when travelling with kids (and even more so with a nanny per child), as we tried to explain!
It has mostly been a total joy, though, for us to see more and more of our compatriots and to have all our worldwide regulars staying again so frequently. If you all keep coming – and if you keep sending your friends – we shan’t need any new business. It has to be hotelier nirvana.
The Review Love Fest
Obviously, there is still the odd total nana like the petulant and entitled millennial who booked through Air BnB and then, according to her review, couldn’t understand why she couldn’t come to Hazyview on a cheap bus line and get an Uber to Rissington from the Bus Stop. I was away so instead she demanded (by WhatsApp messaging the office) that Rissington’s maintenance manager collect her from town in his Datsun Cherry at his own expense, a favour for which she didn’t pay or even tip him. The next morning, she stood and hitchhiked on the Rissington terrace, trying (unsuccessfully) to cadge a day-trip up the canyon with other guests, rather than paying for a guide and transport. True as Bob, as we say in South Africa (for some inexplicable reason).
The challenges and joys of hotelling are familiar ground but in some ways, this has been like starting all over again: new team members, new menus, more families than ever, kids often slightly feral after being cooped up for years…
The latest irony is that our magnificent new-look pool and gardens have led to a couple of reviewers suggesting that our rooms are (to quote one Frenchman) ‘somewhat simple’. The more we improve our offering in one area, the more it seems that people expect from us, which is fair enough, but there is nothing I hate more than having our rooms described as ‘rustic’. Fences and cows are rustic. Sheds are rustic. Rissington’s rooms are not in any way shed-like!
Expectations are also seemingly unusually high due to pent-up demand from people who have been confined to their homes. The ‘New Travel’ is challenging, airlines and airports are struggling and it is as if we are all slightly out of our comfort zones; a little on-edge.
Rissington is on cracking form though and I must admit that our wonderful little place means more to us than ever before, after two years of fighting for our very survival, so if we seem a bit more sensitive to any rare criticism, then please forgive us! I never court reviews (and we spare you follow-up letters asking for your feedback) but if you have recently stayed with us and loved us, please do post a review somewhere. Anywhere! And tell your tour operator – if you use one. After years of peace, we don’t want the lunatics to take over the asylum again. Fair, positive reviews create balance. But, whatever you write, don’t even think about using the dreaded ‘rustic’ word anywhere. Please!!
Spring is in the Air. And Bouncing Bottoms are in the Bushes …
The actual registered name of the farm on which Rissington lies is ‘Lentelus’ and it is a sub-division of a much bigger farm called ‘De Rust’, which obviously means 'The Rest' (and therefore what you come to Rissington for). The meaning of Lentelus is much more romantic though. The word lus is Afrikaans and it actually means lust, but it is broader in meaning than the English version and is equally-easily used in SA English, in such expressions as “I am lus for a coffee”. So Lente is spring and Lentelus can most simply be translated as – you have guessed it : The Joys of Spring.
Talking of lust, though, and given that, last spring, I more than once stumbled across mating guests going at it, hammer and tongs, in the bush along our walking (or bird-watching!) trail, I am rather hoping there will be no repeat performances this time around. The old expression ‘Get a Room!’ sprang to mind, Ironically, though, they had a room at Rissington – but had decided anyway to go al fresco! A Day in the Life of a Hotelier…
Sunset at Rissington
We just love how great our gardens are looking after the unusual rains (and when not occupied by coupling couples). The swimming pool creates the most magical wow factor when people step out of their vehicles, turn around and look into our view of the mountains. Somehow the pool has drawn us deeper into our environment and made us more a part of our corner of Africa. Every afternoon towards sunset, everyone seems to gravitate, glass in hand, towards the sunbeds to watch the sun go down behind the Escarpment before moseying back to the terrace for dinner. Sundowners by the pool, anyone?
Better than Turkey. Long stays (and high-speed WiFi)
To beat the energy crisis, Germany’s government has (in all seriousness) been suggesting that people should leave Germany and head for Turkey for their winter and keep warm without burning German (or Russian, subject to availability) gas. Well, I think you should all be heading for summer in South Africa instead. Check the weather forecast further down.
The days of hectic holidays-on-the-move are over and we now find that our guests are often settling in at Rissington for four or five days at least. Often a week. Sometimes two weeks. Our new fibre-based high-speed WiFi also means that those who miss their friends or their favourite You-Tubers and are determined to stay glued to their phones (or who want to watch a movie before bed) are able to do so. We have a brand-new dedicated 50 Meg line which can support just about any level of demand and has proven to be very reliable. This, of course, also makes Rissington the perfect place for working from ‘home’, or writing that long-intended novel.
Head to the bottom of the Rag (after reading the bits in-between) for details of our special offers for long stays.
In these days of scams, lies and fake news, please be aware that one of our official brown tourism road-signs is missing from the R40 where that road runs through Hazyview. If you see our sign elsewhere in the world (apart from these legitimate road signs in the UK, shown left – thanks, Spike, for sending!), please be aware that it is stolen and that it is trying to lure you Trump-style to a fake Rissington. In the meantime, we have ordered another (which might take many years to arrive) and cleaned up our road access with our neighbours. Further huge improvements are anticipated to the first section of our entrance turn-off and we shall continue to work on the dirt road section to keep it easily accessible for you in your low-slung Ferrari - or your suspension-free Avis Chinese Haval hire car.
Rissington’s in-house recycling project continues to go from strength to strength and has become ever more planet- and wildlife-friendly. It is now also run for the benefit of a local entrepreneur who profits from the proceeds of the recycled items.
After all, we are all much nicer people these days and we all get the fact that dumping rubbish is just totally unacceptable. Well, almost all of us. Africa has a lot of catching up to do, but then it seems in Europe that, now that dogs are not allowed to poo in public, their owners have to scoop the poop up into plastic bags and dump it (or, apparently frequently) hang it from trees. I mean what is this all about? Biodegradable manure being kept out of the ground and hung from trees in non-biodegradable plastic bags?
Just as Europe has been basking in extraordinary heat, so South Africa has enjoyed a very mild winter with some unexpected overnight rainfall, which has led to the very odd situation in which many of the birds have not migrated at all and the trees still bear last year’s leaves with this year’s shoots emerging alongside them. I am not going to get into a debate about what this all means, but our lawns have remained green right through the (normally-) dry season, the gardens have flowered all year and there have been people (admittedly Europeans and often rather untanned and blue in colour) swimming in the pool every day.
There was a puzzling media report on the UK weather which contained advice regarding the likelihood of exotic pet snakes escaping in the English heat. Why would the poor creatures be more likely to escape from their aquaria if the sun shines? Our South African Garden of Eden snakes all escaped long ago and live a lovely life minding their own business in the bush so perhaps, like having a prevalence of ‘exotic’ snakes in their midst, the Europeans will all just need to get used to hot sunshine and maybe also to invest in (planet-friendly, of course) air-conditioning. And hats.
In the meantime, the joys of our sunny warm South African winters are in no way lost on the Europeans who came here in July and August to escape their sweaty sleepless summer nights and the smoky skies in Europe. It’s the perfect time to travel here, warm-to-hot sunny days, no sun cream needed, no rain at all to speak of and no fighting over the sunbeds now that we have so many. Quite a number of people have told me that they will be returning to our area and avoiding the hotspots and fleshpots of Spain and Greece in future northern hemisphere summers, where the roads melt, the railways buckle and there are snakes lurking under every rock!
Here (left) are the average annual highs and lows for Hazyview as well as those for October and December for the benefit of those of you on your way here soon.
Snowflake haters are so passé
This weather report brings us back to the snowflakes. It’s an old theme of the Rag which we haven’t touched on for a while but it seems we are not allowed to dislike snowflakes any more, not because (heaven forbid!) we might hurt their feelings but rather because someone has actually written a book telling us we can’t hate them because a) they might be right and b) we are not listening carefully enough to what they say.
Well, you can read a review of the book HERE but I think the problem is even simpler still. It is that almost everyone is a snowflake nowadays. It has become a cross-generational thing whereby, through the awfulness of ‘vox pop’ interviews on television, radio, YouTube, TikTok etc, the heart-on-the-sleeve-wearing public is door-stepped or blocked by reporters in the street and asked for its view on everything from mass shootings and Ukrainian refugees to the health sector, old people dying in hospital, heating bills and who should be the next leader in this leaderless world. This feigned interest in public opinion by prurient journalists just fans the flames and gives Joe Soap the incorrect impression that we really give a hoot what he thinks. And that’s just the political issues. It’s even worse when someone famous dies and we have to watch fans blubbing in public. I mean, I miss Olivia Newton-John as much as the next guy, but I don’t need to tell the world about it.
So, I reckon we should all just grow up and get on with it. No-one really cares what we think and nor should they. We just need to let the snowflakes melt on the flames of the extreme heat and do our bit towards becoming self-sufficient and un-burdensome. If Covid has taught us one thing, it is that we actually are on our own sometimes and we must just get on with it and survive. If you need inspiration, just look at the magnificent people on Team Rissington and right across our complicated country, see how they have weathered (no pun intended) the last couple of years and be in awe.
The ‘We All Love a Good Map’ section
Here’s another bizarre collection of maps showing extraordinary statistics from across the world. We all know already that the Dutch are very tall (although I am encouraged to find myself to be of average height for my background) but from the other 39 maps, we now also know, among other things, every country’s favourite beer, some popular surnames, foods and swearwords, and America’s favourite dog by state (a truly astonishing result!). Have a look through these and be amazed …
A Very Important Reunion
It has been a while since I have mentioned my book Do Not Take this Road to El-Karama which came out almost 15 years ago now, but I have an unusual reason for doing so now. As those who have read the book might remember, page 100 (of 333 pages) in this otherwise mostly-placid and (I am told) entertaining and interesting southern and East African travelogue, features a spectacular and only-just-unviolent argument between me and a couple of fellow-travellers which quite promptly led to a sudden and lasting parting of ways at the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika. This situation then led to a further 233 pages of African continental road travel in which we all quite simply went it alone, hoped for the best and also hoped not accidentally to end up in the same campsite for the night for fear of further repercussions. In that aim we were successful and, in fact, we never spoke to each other again until … Covid.
As happened in many cases, the strange, enforced, introverted nature of the past couple of years led our former-fellow-travellers to get in touch, 16 years on, and to suggest that bygones should be allowed to be bygones. ‘Mike and Moira’ (not their real names, but as they are known in the book) came to stay in June this year and, after a slightly-nervous start, we all enjoyed a great week of catching up, sharing stories and poring over maps. If you haven’t read the book, please do. It is out of print but the e-book can be downloaded, cheap as chips, by clicking here on AMAZON . You can even check out the book reviews there too. Some of them are really quite complimentary. Just ignore the German guy. I think he missed the point, somehow.
Anyway, just as the falling-out in print was quite spectacular, so the reunion in person was equally wonderful, despite the ‘Mike and Moira’ confession that they were so angry on that day in 2006 that, on their departure at dawn, they even considered tying my tent to the back of their Land Cruiser and dragging it (with me inside it) down to (crocodile-infested) Lake Tanganyika. Thank goodness they didn’t and that bygones are now officially just that.
The ‘Where in the World’ Competition
We have been running a number of competitions on Instagram and Facebook offering free weekends to the winners, so if you aren’t following us, you should definitely do so now. The June Rag’s competition was a tricky dawn view of Tzaneen, taken from The Coach House Hotel, and no-one (of many entries) won it from the Rag, so I published a second slightly different angle of the photo on social media and this yielded our winners: Herman and Sonja Kieft. They are coming in November for what will be their 25th stay at Rissington. Impressive!
Here’s this edition’s competition photo. Where was this photograph taken? The more detail the better. The winner gets three nights for two people, bed and breakfast, at Rissington. (Please remember that you should please not enter this competition if you have already won a Rissington prize which you have not yet taken up.)
Also, for the more competitive amongst you, here’s an Australian 'Spot the Difference' competition (no prizes!) … and how are you doing at Wordle? I hit my 200 streak a couple of weeks ago. Very rewarding!
Quotes for the loo wall
Avid readers will remember that in the last Rag we asked you to send us your favourite quotes and proverbs. Well, we received a flurry of suggestions, almost all of them quite definitely unsuitable for publication in a reverent newsletter such as this. A hospitality theme emerged, though, and one proverb, in various versions, came up again and again. My father (who spoke no German at all except for an uncanny ability to order the best local beer) also used this same proverb in German, so that is how I shall quote it: Gäste und Fische stinken nach drei Tagen. (Guests and fish smell after three days). Googling around a bit, it has been variously attributed to an old Jewish saying and to American founding father Benjamin Franklin, who must have been a bundle of laughs to stay with in his Philadelphia home.
Of course, at Rissington, this adage simply doesn’t apply. The only fish is sweet-smelling fresh trout in many forms and our guests are welcome to stay as long as they like. Days, weeks, months! It has been a particular pleasure to have one of our favourite guests (all the way from California) staying with us for a couple of weeks in August and (way more than three days from her arrival) the team was very sad to see her go.
Long stays, as I have mentioned a few times, being very much the norm, and following many a request from those who have taken up our amazing week-long offers over the past few years, we shall be offering these deals again. Inevitably, I am afraid, we can only offer the very very low rates at the last minute and in low season and downtimes, so you will need to watch our Instagram and Facebook feeds and our WhatsApp status updates for those.
We are however now offering a year-round special for long stays which can be taken up at any time. With our new superb WiFi speed, they are particularly suitable for those who have begun working from home but would like to work from Rissington instead. The offer is however open to anyone who stays a continuous week or more. It includes breakfast and dinner, bottomless tea and coffee and endless free Internet for the special price of R8000 per person per week, based on one or two people per room. Prices for a third person on request. Direct bookings only. (As I say, lower rates for a similar deal might become available, but these will be announced separately on Social Media and will, in all likelihood, only be available in May and June.)
So … time to work away from home? To pen that long-planned autobiography? To research that family tree? Come and do it at Rissington. Stay as many weeks as you like at that weekly rate but you will need to book early if you are to get in for an uninterrupted sojourn.
The Sunday Times Review
As a travel-writer myself, albeit resting, I know the value of good coverage almost as much as I am aware of the damage of less-complimentary write-ups, although fortunately Rissington has never suffered one of these in the media. I was particularly happy, therefore, to see us featured in the Sunday Times of London. I am not sure that I fully recognise myself in the writer's description of me (and neither is the quoted regular guest convinced that she actually said what he says she said) but we really enjoyed having the paper's Travel Editor staying with us and you can read his exceptionally well-written and somewhat off-beat review of Mpumalanga, featuring Rissington HERE
A Dog Picture
As a final feature, Rissington’s dog Bruno has become a firm and popular fixture both at the lodge, in the social media and in the Rag, so this edition is no exception. The image alongside, however, would seem to suggest that Bruno might have left Rissington and started a rival pub in Graskop. Please be advised that this too is Fake News. Bruno is still right here, with the rest of the team, at the heart of our hospitality. Rusty, his bundu-bashing buddy, also features in a fantastic new portrait in the homepage slideshow of the Rissington website www.rissington.co.za where we have also posted a number of new photos of the lodge and the recent refurbishments. Please take a look around and look at what we have been up to.
To the many of you who have been back recently, thank you. We appreciate you and it was great to see you all in numbers. To those of you who haven’t ventured down this way for a while, please do.
And, in a final happy tribute, many readers will have met JJ over the years, or seen him striding, ever-taller (because he is partially Dutch), into the bush with the dogs to keep tabs on the wildlife. Maybe you were even one of the lucky few over the most recent school holidays, to have seen him wandering around the garden in his dressing gown on a cool day, with Rusty and Bruno (not in dressing gowns), during a break from revision?
JJ is pictured (left), dressed and ready for his matric dance earlier this year. He has just turned 18 (amid a weekend celebration involving a great dinner, a number of exotic cocktails and a fair bit of brandy for him and his friends) and he is about to sit the most important exams of his life, so I am publicly wishing him a very Happy 18th Birthday and the best of luck for the upcoming matric exams. He is a wonderful guy; he is my hero and I am very proud of him!
Please come and stay soon – and, if you are coming this way or if you are sending friends, please remind us in advance so that we can organise an upgrade if possible …
All the best from sunny, green Rissington Inn, Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa as Jacaranda Season approaches.
Chris and the talented Team Rissington