Christmas 2014

Welcome to the
Christmas 2014 Rissington Rag
Off-Beat News and Views as
Rissington Goes from Strength to Strength

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THE GOOD NEWS : 2014 has seen Rissington’s occupancies rise yet again ...
THE BAD NEWS : You need to book early to get into your favourite hostelry ...

A Year in the Life of an Hotelier

Saint Bob Geldof, who is currently occupied with finding a cure for Ebola (or he was until his mate Bono fell off his bicycle on rough terrain in Central Park, New York City) famously – and rather fatuously – said ‘There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time’. No doubt he is right, apart from the Snows of Kilimanjaro. But we also have to break it to you that Christmas snow is still more likely than a Christmas card from South Africa this year. The Post Office has been on strike for over three months.
Although the (non-)workers have just decided to go back to (non-)work, there is currently a 10-week backlog, with hundreds of tons of undelivered mail. What kind of civilised country doesn’t have a functional postal service?

At a sorting office near you
But it doesn’t stop there. It has been a truly ridiculous year politically for the most beautiful country on earth. Even the President admits that the ANC is in chaos, but then rather bizarrely insists that the country would be in even more of a mess without the current governing party ...
Which brings us to the electricity supply. I was brought up near Godalming, in England, which, in 1881, was the first town in the world to have electric street lighting. A year later, Kimberley was the first in the Southern Hemisphere and then, strangely, just up the road from Rissington, the gold rush village of Pilgrim’s Rest was the second in South Africa (powered by the fascinating Belvidere Power Station – you should do the walk; it is beautiful). Anyway, Hazyview, on frequent afternoons in 2014, now has no lighting at all. So far backwards have we moved that we are more than 130 years behind the levels of development of the town of my birth!
Of course, the current (excuse the pun) lack of supply is not a problem peculiar to Hazyview but is rather a nationwide issue. In the early days of what is, rather quaintly, called ‘load-shedding’, we quite enjoyed the enforced quiet and the calming conversation induced by powerlessness, but it is a lot less funny when you are trying to do dinner for 40 in the dark. Rissington has a generator in the main building, but the lack of electricity is a nuisance either way. As the joke above has it: AC = Alternating Current, DC = Direct Current, ANC = Absolutely No Current.
We can beat the system on most fronts though, just as we have abolished our reliance on Telkom for WiFi and on the Municipality for anything at all.
And if you didn’t see the riots in parliament the other week, that is because the ANC had the cameras turned off and kept them from us. Mobile phone footage has emerged, though, and you can watch a brief video of our idiotic legislators at ‘work’ by clicking on this image and scrolling down to the clip:

A hard day in the National Assembly, Cape Town, before the Riot Police were called in. Seriously.
So as our descent into chaos continues and the New South Africa turns 21 (and grows up?!), Rissington celebrates its 20th glorious year. This is Africa, after all, and government is totally irrelevant to our ability to wake up in the sunshine and have a wonderful time. We love what we do and the challenges associated with keeping the wheels on, despite Eskom’s ‘forces of darkness’ ...

20 Years of Rissington Inn

Which brings us to our annual moment of gross self-indulgence. In the post-election euphoria of 1994, South Africa entered a new era of hope and positive thinking. A year later, Rissington opened its doors. Hurrah. And, wow, we have come a long way since then.
From a derelict house on scrubby lands to a highly successful lodge set in lush sub-tropical gardens. (Somebody wrote the other day that it was ‘almost a botanical garden’ – almost?!). From five rooms to sixteen. From five staff to forty. From 20% average occupancy to month after month of occupancies of 80-90% and more. From a little country restaurant to an award-winning eatery, our latest accolade being a Diners Club Platinum Wine List Award (see below). From charging 20c/page to send a fax to offering free unlimited uncapped WiFi throughout the lodge, rooms, pool and gardens. From basic rooms to comfortable, spacious retreats. From guide books to Google.
And of course with the Internet, the coming of Trip Advisor and a radical change in the way that the client researches everything from the quality of the accommodation to the number of shelves and hooks in the bathroom.
It doesn’t matter how many shelves and hooks we put in our rooms, there’s always somebody who wants more shelves and hooks ...
Hence our slogan for our anniversary: ‘Rissington Inn - Keeping Happy People Happy for 20 Years’.
Thank you to everyone who has loved Rissington, everyone who has returned again and again, everyone who has kept in touch after their stays, everyone who reads these Rags. Or should I say ploughs bravely through them ...
To all of you, thank you, thank you. And a very Happy Twentieth Birthday to Rissington in 2015!

Occupancy Chart

You will be bored by now with my telling you that this has been our best year ever, so here’s the proof, as of the end of November! The blue shows the original rooms and the red shows the additional capacity we have created and how we have filled those rooms. Look at the recession in 2010 and 2011 and then look at us now. Percentages are therefore calculated on 5 rooms ...

The Book Section (Don’t skip this, it’s great!)

Published in 1936, here’s an excerpt from High Street, Africa by Captain H Birch Reynardson, whose great grandson Adda was a gapper here a few years back, describing a visit to the Kruger National Park:
“You can go as far as Pretorius Kop” said the Keeper of the M’timba [now Numbi] Gate “but no farther: no travelling after sunset, you know – everyone has to be in camp between sunset and sunrise.”
It was late afternoon: the sun slanted its golden rays between the trees, and threw blue shadows across the road. A herd of wildebeeste was grazing in the open and only an old bull turned to stare morosely at us, as we passed slowly thirty yards from him: beyond, three koodoo moved stately to the edge of the glade and stood with their splendid heads silhouetted against the daffodil sky. To the right a few impala galloped leisurely, gracefully, across our front, and then – one, two, three, four, five – bounded high over the road, the low sun turning their coats to gold; they shone like burnished beasts of heraldry, strutting upon an azure field.
Three days and three nights we spent in the Park, much as other people spend them. Rising early, very early, we sought for lions and found them not; but (almost literally) ran into two comprehensive families in the heat of the day. A lioness strolled between the cars – blasé, uninterested ...
What else was there? Everything – a catalogue of the fauna of Old Africa; grazing, sleeping, wandering, hunting; living free and undisturbed as they have lived these thousand years. Free and undisturbed, and unafraid. For the denizens of the Old Africa have made an apparently strange, and a convenient, concession to the denizens of the New. They approve of motor-cars – at least they have no objection to their presence; so long of course, as the business is not overdone … But should one of them suddenly halt and – incredible horror! – disgorge one of those evil-smelling and highly dangerous humans – of that Old Africa does not approve. And therefore it is against the law.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Whatever happened to the art of travel writing? I guess the standards of education fell worldwide and the majority nowadays wouldn’t understand either the thinking behind the words or the beauty of a ‘daffodil sky’.
The book is out of print but Google it and try to get hold of a copy. It is an absolute joy from beginning to end, covering the road from Cape Town to East Africa, much like my own book but far, far better. And if you can’t get hold of the Captain’s epic book, read anything by Lawrence G Green, a South African travel writer from the 1950s. Equally wonderful.
But we have other books to discuss. For example, Susie Cazenove, a good friend and a stalwart of the Southern Africa safari world, has just updated her fabulous Licence to Guide (2004) and re-released the updated version in paperback as Legendary Safari Guides. You can find out more by clicking on the picture. I understand that the book itself is available at Exclusive Books in South Africa and there is an EBOOK version.
I have also now got my copy of Nicky Rattray’s Out of the Fire into the Frying Pan, which I helped put together. I am strongly recommending it, if nothing else, because it is a really good recipe book but it also contains lots of great stories and some really fabulous photography. Click on the picture below to read more or to order your copy:
Rissington also gets a mention in my very famous Aussie mate Tony Park’s latest novel The Hunter, available in bookshops all over the world. Yes, that’s how famous he is. All over the world. I am only half-way through the book, which is set in this area, but I haven’t got to the Rissington bit yet. I am reliably informed that nobody in the story gets hurt here (as I strongly insisted to the author) but that Kanan (under the cunning alias of Canaan) gets an honourable mention, along with a gapper character. For such individuals we have ourselves become famous.
And, as always, you can still download Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama (by me) onto your iPad or Kindle. Buy it on Kalahari here or on Amazon here.
And remember that I was also responsible for the written content of the Kruger Lowveld site, which can be seen here at www.krugerlowveld.com. It is a great place to research the region - and keep an eye out for the imminent guide book too.

Pigs Might Fly

We have been running a major drive against corrupt traffic officials in our region, where there have been numerous cases of tourists (and others) being forced to pay illegal cash bribes to traffic police for often-imaginary contraventions. I am happy to say that the campaign, along with a number of other projects aimed at preventing scams, card skimming, petty theft and so on, has been a huge success and the number of cases of crime and scamming involving tourists has dwindled to almost nothing.

No stopping – and look who has stopped!
All of this also had the rather bizarre side-effect that I was named Kruger Lowveld Tourism Personality of the Year, for which I received a dead-smart certificate and a trophy for the mantelpiece. Very dramatic.
And if you would like one of our anti-corruption cards to wave under a traffic officer’s nose, cut this out, fold it in half and use it!

Gappers and Community Work

Talking of gappers, which we were, if you have a model child - someone young, useful, intelligent and insightful who is at a loose end – or know of one, looking for a three to six months of life experience in Africa, gives us a shout. We have space for one gap year student from March 2015 onwards and another from July. They must be competent and educated. No drop-outs or addicts please. And who knows, they might even go on to feature in a Tony Park novel.
The appeal reminds me of a fantastic cartoon in The Spectator earlier in the year:

‘Apart from your generation’s over-inflated sense of self-worth, what else makes you the best candidate for this vacancy?’
So if that question seems relevant to your nominated gapper, the answer had better be convincing!
We keep in touch with most of our former gappers and I am very chuffed to say that one, Sammie, currently works for Rick Stein (and has done so for some time) and another, Adda, was managing events for Jamie Oliver. There you have it. Rissington is training staff for celebrity chefs. Gordon Ramsay keeps asking us to send him people, but I just tell him to Eff Off!
As well as taking on teenage waifs and strays from around the world, Rissington is also involved in a number of charities. We support a school and an orphanage in Hazyview, we do plenty of community work in the town and I am still actively involved in the David Rattray Foundation, making radical improvements in numerous schools in rural KwaZulu-Natal. For more information, click HERE.

Harvie Chickens

Just a few pictures to amuse you in the run-up to the end of another fun year. Here’s Hlengiwe with the Platinum Wine Award. We have been winning Gold for years, but we have been upgraded.
Here’s my trophy for Tourism Personality of the Year. Rather magnificent, I am sure you will agree.
And here’s the Graskop outlet of Harvie Chickens.
No relation, but how odd is it that my strangely-spelled surname should be shared by a poultry retailer in Graskop of all places (unless, of course, they named the shop after the Tourism Personality of the Year!)?

Upgrades and Security

“It has got a real WOW-ness about it!” This was the very succinct appraisal of our newly-upgraded honeymoon suite, from Betty Khoza, whose enviable task it is to clean it every day. I just love the way that our wonderful staff so approve of the place they work in.
Here are some pictures of Sycamore with its new look. It really is stunning. Just try and stop yourself jumping onto that fabulous day bed and looking out over the gorgeous Rissington gardens to God’s Window and the mountains beyond.
We have invested more this year than ever before in upgrading Rissington’s rooms, as always taking into account suggestions made by our much-loved guests as much as pursuing our own ideas. All of the garden suites and some of the other rooms have new armchairs, new pictures on the walls, new Turkish mats, improved lighting and hanging space, upgraded door fittings and lots of fun, updated décor.
We have also taken the plunge and put a new electrified fence around the entire property, not because it was really necessary but because people seemed to expect it. There are advantages though and it does mean that we can relax even more than we did before. And don’t worry – it’s almost invisible.
The only negative comment we occasionally receive from our guest feedback is that people missed air-conditioning, so please remember that not all our rooms are air-conditioned. Frankly, the need for it is rare, but if you do want it, you must book a garden suite or a hillside suite!
Next we shall re-tile and re-fit all the bathrooms and put an extra shower into the hillside suites. It never seems to end, but at the same time it is very rewarding to see Rissington just getting better and better.

The Where in the World Competition

The September pic turned up a number of correct answers, so as ever, we chose the most detailed and specific. JJ was standing – on the auspicious occasion of his 10th birthday – on the banks of the Blyde River at Swadini with the escarpment and (just out of picture) The Three Rondavels in the background. The winners were Steve and Lyn Rood. Looking forward to seeing you again, especially since I missed you the last time you were with us.
Here are this month’s pictures. The six make up the Christmas Competition, which traditionally wins the bigger-than-usual prize of three nights, dinner, bed and breakfast, for up to four people in a hillside suite at Rissington (two bedrooms, two bathrooms, sitting room with television, outside shower, air-conditioning, private swimming pool).
Where were these six photographs taken? Click on the pic for a larger version:
Get your answer to info@rissington.co.za before 15th January 2015 to go into the hat for the prize. And remember, even naming one of the above absolutely correctly might well be good enough to win ...

Rissington Pictures


Room pictures available on the website
We have had the photographers in again to update our much-admired website. Pictures may be downloaded from www.rissington.co.za/Brochure, as can our updated Info Pack in pdf format.
My old travel story website is also still up and running on www.christopherharvie.com and you can keep up with the Rissington Facebook page by clicking below. LIKE us please and keep up with very occasional relevant news.
 

On Yer Bike: Our Travels ...!

It has been something or a travel-free year, due to the busy nature of Rissington Inn, about which I am not unhappy at all. We have made our usual frequent trips to the Kruger National Park (for exactly the reasons that Capt Birch Reynardson enjoyed it 80 years ago) and my only foray out of South Africa was a brief trip to England and Wales in October, where I walked the beaches of Anglesey and the moors and dales of Yorkshire with great enthusiasm.
There’s little to beat a good night in a British pub after a day’s walking in the rain. And the Fawlty Towers moments that go with being welcomed by an Eastern European to a Helmsley pub with the explanation that the “there is no lift for lifting baggages and Zeblon the baggage lifter is on lunch till 30 past 2 so carrying own baggages please upstairs to room.” I suddenly missed Africa badly. Then our waiter at dinner was from Durban and suddenly everything seemed OK.

Rates

We continue to keep our rates down with no increases in tariff for the courtyard or the larger rooms. For the latest prices, check the website. And remember that we offer a corporate rate for people staying on business and generous discounts and upgrades to returning guests.
Please, I repeat, make sure you book the room you want – and if you’d like air-conditioning, you need to book a suite. If, for some extraordinary reason, you want television, you must book a hillside suite. The cathode ray tubes have finally been jettisoned in favour of flat screens.

Guest Quote of the Month

I have two. My most bizarre Guest Quote of the Month, at dinner, on their first night came from a group of Belgians, to me: “You speak very good English!” Well, thank you. It is my first language, so I have had some practice.
And to the woman who asked whether I had financed Rissington using money obtained from a Nigerian 419 scam featured on the loo wall, in which I was purported to be the last remaining descendant Mr Tanko Faruck Umara, an Ovarian farmer from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, who died in exile in Guinea Conakry in 1998, all I can say is: No, he did not leave me the sum of US$19,000,000.00 but I recommend that you apply. Just send an email with all your bank details to ftuu@eudoramail.com and you will almost certainly become miraculously wealthy beyond your wildest dreams!

Stanley, the Spare Reindeer?
Father Christmas, I presume ...
May your dong ding merrily on high and may you find time to watch Love Actually, especially that great line by Emma Thompson: “There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?” to which her child replies “Duh!” If you haven’t seen it, you really must.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all!
Come and see us in 2015. It'd be madness not to ...

Chris the English-speaker, Hlengiwe who just built a new house, Swirly Shirley, Sipho the driver, Kanan, the hero of a novel, Nikiwe, Thandi the Head Chef and who now wears the uniform to prove it, Cindy, The Great Gertie, Yvonne, Emelda, Betty, Thuli, Gladys, Sanny, Zenzile, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Patience, Joseph, Aubrey, Sbusiso, Patrick the Machine, Hans and Stefan, the twins, who are back for Christmas, Mbuso the Barman and Gappers Joe (my PA) and Flora (Hleng’s PA). Rynhard is no longer here, drawn away by the inexplicable allure of Pretoria. And of course JJ who just progressed to Grade 5. Plus Bull, who just found the leguaan again, after all this time, and Rusty, whose English is almost as good as mine.