March 2015

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March 2015 Rissington Rag
Off-Beat News and Views
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Do I have a view?

A Day in the Life of an Hotelier

"Do you have a view?" the woman asked me on the phone. On what? I wondered. Actually, as I told the caller, I have a view on most things. On the President, for example. On TripAdvisor and Booking.com, to give two more. And on chewing gum. And rude officials. And the use of the word 'like' when not implying a penchant or making a comparison. Plus desiccated coconut. And whether there is any truth in the rumour (which I am starting) that Zayn Malik has left One Direction to join ISIS.
At this point, she sensibly cut me short and clarified her question... so I was able to tell her that yes, Rissington has a view. A spectacular one overlooking the Sabie River Valley and the northern spur of the Drakensberg Mountains stretching away from us towards the Blyde River Canyon and the Great Escarpment, with God's Window peeking at us in the distance. It is, in fact, really quite an impressive view.
And for a change, I am keeping my other views to myself. On the State of the Nation Address and the chaos that is our parliament. And on the parlous state of Eskom's affairs. Instead, we are learning to love the ANC and its leader for their entertainment value and Eskom for our frequent enforced dusk silences, with no buzz of fridges and computers. Just the buzz of the insects and the tinkle of happy conversation. In the words of the great Gus Silber on Twitter: "No one can say we are not a happy nation, when they hear the cheers that resound as the lights come back on."
But I am going to clobber the next person who can't live without the WiFi for two and half hours during power outages. Get a life, for heaven's sake. A Swedish family, on their first day in South Africa, checking into Rissington and almost without speaking to anyone, headed straight to the pool where all five of them, parents and children, lay back on the sunbeds, pulled out their cell phones and tablets and started to type messages. To whom? To their friends? To each other? Who knows? It was bizarre to watch. I hope they all had a lovely holiday together and that they actually got to speak to one another at some point...

The Rissington 20th Anniversary Special

Rissington turns 20 this year and in celebration we are offering you a very special deal. Specifically, we are making a suggestion as to what you should do on your wedding anniversary.

Our new honeymoon suite, Sycamore, was inaugurated at Christmas by long-time return guests Ian and Kate McLean who celebrated their Emerald Wedding Anniversary here. That's 55 Years. So that got me thinking ...

Gosh, there really is a Keep Calm for Everything, isn't there?
I have been married to Rissington for 20 years - China Anniversary; so yes, it's "Hello, my China..." - and I have decided that for the rest of the year, anybody who comes here to celebrate their wedding anniversary will get a percentage discount of the number of that anniversary. So a Pearl Wedding Anniversary is 30% off and a Golden Wedding Anniversary is 50% off. Diamond is 60% off and so on. Here's the list:
If you are in-between the numbers above, we'll round up, and we will buy everyone something to match the occasion - a mango and some arum lilies, for the 4th for example or, for the 9th, maybe (this bit is a joke) a cannabis plant and a cricket bat - and we'll also upgrade all takers to the honeymoon suite if it is available at the time of booking. Everyone, even the under-20-year celebrations, will be offered a minimum 20% discount. The deal applies to direct bookings for the period until 31 December 2015, so book now - but you must book to stay within the month of your actual wedding anniversary this year. Email info@rissington.co.za to make your booking.

Ebola dies as Bono recovers from his bicycle accident

Group bookings to South Africa for this year nose-dived as a result of Ebola but amazingly everyone seems to have forgotten about the 'epidemic', except David Oyelowo at The Oscars. I guess people in Europe and the USA have stopped dying of it so it has become less front-of-mind. But even at the height of the outbreak for every person in Africa who died of Ebola, 73 people died of diarrhoea. So maybe clean water should be the new priority. But then perhaps Bono wouldn't look quite as cool dishing out Imodium, steri-nappies and potties.

Up his own arsenal, maybe?
Just in case you are still unsure about just how big Africa is and of the distances involved - here's this month's version of the True Size of Africa map, which is somewhat clearer than the one I used last time:

Yet More Improvements at Rissington

We (or do I mean I?) have always found star ratings to be rather pointless, simply because the different rating systems in different countries mean that one is never quite comparing like with like. Our policy here has always been to insist that Rissington is a 3 ¾ star hotel with 5 star hospitality in everyone's book. And I like to think we achieve that.
In addition, we take note of every comment that is passed, whether full of praise (most of them, obviously) or pointing out minor improvements which could be made. The past year was one of huge changes at Rissington, most of them listed in the previous Rag but, as they say in Verimark adverts, there is more...
We have bowed to public pressure on yet another of my bugbears. It took the Mugg&Bean in Hazyview 6 weeks from their opening date to break their cappuccino machine (2 weeks less than I had predicted) so I won that argument with the staff who have been trying to get me to buy one. I backed down instead on an Espresso machine. So no to cappuccino, but yes, to an espresso to accompany our ever-widening list of digestifs. We have more malt whiskies and brandies than ever and we have added armagnac and calvados to the list, as well as all the usual liqueurs and a selection of cigars.
   
I attached a DVD machine to the Rissington library's funky flat-screen HD monster TV in December and with it was a range of DVDs for viewers of all ages but the copy of The Great Gatsby was stolen on Day One (thanks, whoever you are, for leaving the box - drop me an email and I will send it to you ... git!) so the DVDs are available from the office. What a shame.
We can't be far off 5 stars, now can we? With all that?
In the best news EVER, for those who witnessed and were terrified by the juggernaut ore trucks that plied our roads for most of last year, they have gone and peace has returned to the valley. We had kind-of got used to them, so it was only when they stopped that we remembered just how lovely it was here without them.
All our phone lines now come through the Internet, along with our high-speed WiFi, so at least the cables can't be nicked again. Should the Internet go down for any reason, please note that our cell phone number 082 327 6842 is always the best way to get hold of us. And with a survey coming out the other day showing that 70% of travellers rate free WiFi as the single most important aspect of a hotel's service when booking - perhaps it was carried out in Sweden - we still have unlimited free WiFi in all rooms and in public areas, although if we catch people skypeing in the restaurant or bar, we turn the Internet off and blame the weather. Ha ha.
The rooms have undergone a major shake-up with new pictures, some new colours and plenty of Turkish mats throughout. We have also opened up some dividing walls and cut back some trees, giving all the thatched garden suites even greater views. We may talk about the upgrades a lot, but my excitement is borne out by that of returning guests with a commom refrain of "Wow - you have done a lot." Well yes, we have. We are even offering a decanter of complimentary sherry in each of the suites. Not bad for 3 ¾ stars? (Keep out of the way of children).
We also have some interesting plans for the end of this year...
Regular waders-through of these newsletters will remember how I fought the idea of air-conditioning and then eventually caved in and put it into the eight suites a few years ago. Sadly, while this has helped the half of the clients who took suites, it has led, if anything, to even more whingeing from those who didn't, so I am backing down again and putting aircon into all the remaining rooms during this winter. So next summer, don't anybody DARE complain that there isn't aircon in the restaurant - because there won't be. I you are too hot in the real world, you can have room service instead and I hope your soup gets cold.
In addition, we are turning the old guide's room and one of the courtyard rooms into a newly-refurbished superior room, which will leave us with only one of the so-called courtyard rooms, which will be known as the budget room. It will be ideal for guides, singles and cheapskates and will mean we still have an entry level room at R500 per person per night but all the other rooms will then be considerably bigger and better, but not much more pricey. This will be completed during September.

Staff News

They say a company is known by the people it keeps but even the best companies lose the odd soul along the way. Have a look at the list at the bottom and you will notice some changes. Kanan has gone back to Zambia after all these years and Nikiwe has also moved on. We have a very stable staff here but, although it is always sad to see people go for whatever reason, it gives us a chance to introduce some new faces and to train them up in the Art of Rissington Hospitality
In Gapper News, we are now fully subscribed until March 2016. The bonus is that Adda Birch Reynardson, a former gapper, is coming back in a more permanent role in September by which time he will have finished university and abandoned his job with Jamie Oliver. Bear us in mind for your school/university leavers in the future but if they can't change a light bulb or a plug on their own, and if they don't make their own beds, then forget it. We are not interested.

The Where in the World Competition

In last month's bumper Christmas competition you were asked where the six photographs below were taken. It turned out to be the most fiercely contested quiz for many years, with Tabernacls popping up all over Wales from Carmarthenshire through Aberystwyth to right up in the North, where the correct answer lay ...
The answers were, reading from top left:
1. Rievaulx Abbey - at the end of a fabulous walk from Helmsley, Yorkshire, in September 2014
2. Y Tabernacl, Holyhead - many people impressively knew this without Googling it. September 2014.
3. The Valley of Desolation, Graaff-Reinet, The Karoo, South Africa, July 2014
4. A dawn view of Spioenkop from Three Tree Hill Lodge, near Bergville, KZN, July 2014. Book it!
5. The Bo-Kaap with Dragon's Peak in the background, Cape Town, June 2014
6. Durban's uShaka Marine World, January 2014
The winners are Peter and Sherryl Scott who may choose when to take up the annual Big 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 ridiculously expensive flat-screen television, outside shower, air-conditioning, private swimming pool.
Here's this month's picture:
What is the bird and where did we take the photograph?

Get your answer to info@rissington.co.za before 15th May 2015 to go into the hat for the prize. You could win two nights at Rissington for two, bed and breakfast, in the best room available on the day of booking.

A Bird in the Hand? To Bee or not to Bee?

We have had a particularly spectacular birding year this year and with the help of guest David Baldock, we have added a number of new species to our bird list, which now amounts to 183 species. We have had regular sightings of five different types of Cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou, African Emerald, Klaas's, Diederic and Black) throughout the summer and we have a pair of Hamerkops nesting in the donga. The eggs have just hatched and the noise, as I write, is terrific.
We have been urging all our guests to take up their binoculars and go for a wander along our new walking path at the northern end of the property. There is a collection of bird books, a birding list and a pair of loan binoculars in the bar, ready for the taking. We have been stumbling over Nightjars in the day time, putting up Spurfowls, watching Bee-eaters, Barbets and Wydahs abundant and spotting big Owls at night.
In addition, David Baldock wrote the definitive Bees of Surrey and its partner volume Wasps of Surrey and spent much of his time in pursuing apiarist matters, so who knows, one day we might even have a bee-spotting list. Now that would be a first for Rissington, I am sure.

And while we are on books, don't forget Nicky Rattray's ...

I mentioned in the last letter that I had really enjoyed helping Nicky Rattray to put together her story-cum-cookery book Out of the Fire into the Frying Pan. Order by clicking on the picture above. As well as within South Africa, delivery from a depot in the UK is also available.

Anti-Social Media

We have finally reached 500 likes on Facebook, so the damned thing has stopped flashing up challenges for me to do so. Let's make it 1000 before Facebook starts to nag me again. We really post very little, I promise.
I have also decided that I love Twitter and I pass on the odd piece. How brilliant is this from Jeremy Paxman ...?
#JeremyPaxman via @spectator : An email from my agent: 'The man who invented predictive text has died. I didn't even know he was I'll.'
It reminds me of a story announcing another tragic passing. This version is taken from SongFacts:

If you haven't done so already, you can look at Rissington's website on www.rissington.co.za. And - tour operators and website operators please note - if you need new pictures for any purpose, you can lift them, including many of those in this newsletter, from the gallery onwww.rissington.co.za/Brochure.
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.
We continue to offer fantastic value, with some great specials available in the winter so if you are coming down this way then, send us an email on info@rissington.co.za and we will tell you what we are doing. Here's the weather forecast for June, our mid-winter:

On Yer Bike: Our Travels ...!

After the past busy year, when Rissington's high occupancies put paid to my travelling, I did manage a trip to the Kruger National Park for 10 days in early December and have been able to start submitting pieces to the Sunday Times again.
You can read on my website about an excellent lodge, pictured above and at the heart if the Makuleke Concession in Kruger's Pafuri Region, by clicking here: The Outpost

Rissington recommends ...

Fugitives' Drift Lodge. If you haven't been there recently, Andrew and Douglas Rattray are now BOTH following in their father's footsteps and delivering daily, moving lectures on their world-renowned tours of the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. See the website HERE and book soon.

Guest Quote of the Month

Finally, my Guest Quote of the Month comes from a non-guest. He had tried to book through Booking.com, a very useful website favoured by busy people, but also unfortunately by a lot of people too stupid to be able to make a phone call or to read a conventional website and derive the necessary information required to match what they actually want with what is actually available. And by a lot of corrupt people, so ...
Mr Ling was trying to book 12 identical rooms at Rissington three days hence for one night in December. We don't have 12 identical rooms and nor do any of our rooms take 6 people, but this was a mere detail to Mr Ling. A detail which he ignored and booked random rooms on the Internet, regardless. We rearranged the occupants to suit the available rooms and tried to debit his credit card for the deposit, but it flashed up SUSPECTED FRAUD. We tried again and again and then resorted to phoning Mr Ling, who was furious. He would pay cash on arrival. We said no. He would make a payment into our account. We said no. He would give us another card. We said no. These websites can cause endless trouble and we told Mr Ling that, because of the fraud warning, we couldn't take his booking. He said he would arrive anyway. We told him that we would have him arrested if he arrived. He said "I will lite a compraint on the website". We told him he wouldn't be able to do so because he wouldn't be staying here.
SUSPECTED FRAUD. It's quite serious really. Poor Mr Ling. He never did turn up but his name will always ring a bell and remind us of the risks of dealing through the Internet. Ding-a-Ling ...
Come and see us (unless you are a fraudster). It'd be madness not to ...
Chris the birder, Hlengiwe who still hasn’t taken her driver’s licence, Shirley, Sipho the driver, Dave the Tattoo-bearer, Thandi the Head Chef, Cindy, The Great Gertie, Yvonne, Emelda, Betty, Thuli, Gladys, Sanny, Zenzile, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Patience, Joseph, Aubrey, Sbusiso, Patrick the Machine, Gapper Drew and Kristie and Cha-Lynn who are on trial (not a criminal trial). And of course JJ who, I suspect, is going to be a workhouse boy in the school production of Oliver (and hopefully not in real life). Plus Bull and Rusty, also keen Hamerkop spotters.