Rissington Christmas Rag
Off-Beat News and Views
Rissington Inn, Hazyview, South Africa
A Day in the Life of an HotelierIt was Bill Bryson who wrote: "I felt lucky to spend every day in a place that other people saved up to visit only occasionally." He was talking about living in Bournemouth, England, in his book The Road to Little Dribbling. I believe it to be even more firmly true of living in the Lowveld, and in Hazyview in particular.
No disrespect to Bournemouth, but I know which I prefer. And the average age of the residents of Hazyview is about 70 years lower, to boot.
Even in paradise, though, the clouds can gather. For example, this morning was a beautiful sunny morning and I was full of cheerful greetings at breakfast until one guest riposte came back: "I heff a huge problem - I need to update my iCloud immediately!" As I say, not a cloud in the sky. Just iClouds.
It is funny too, how people sometimes talk about the Rissington team as if we were not there. I don't know how many times I have walked past a table, only to be pointed at with a conspiratorial "Das ist der Boss" or "Dit is de eigenaar" or "That must be the owner". Ask us - and we will talk to you! There's no need to speculate privately about who we are! We actually want to get to know you. There is one such person whom I will forgive though - and I will fill you in on that particular Guest Quote at the end of the Rag...
I sometimes wonder (in rare, uncharacteristic, dark moments) whether we are approaching the last days of old-style hospitality. Will we soon not meet our guests at all? Will they check in online and go straight to their rooms, following an online map and without visiting reception? Will they then watch an online information briefing? Order meals in their rooms by email? Pay online and leave without saying goodbye? Or even hello?
Rissington is an 'Inn', which has always seemed to me to imply a more hospitable establishment than a 'guest house' (which sounds as if it is run by a lonely, intrusive Eastern European widow with bad breath) or a faceless hotel with no smiles. And I like the idea of being an innkeeper, even if (topical Christmas quip) sometimes there is no room at the Inn. (Keep trying to get in, though - it is worth it for genuine hospitality - unless you are living under a cloud, especially an iCloud, in which case, stay at home).
And remember we speak a number of languages at Rissington so be careful what you say. French, German, Dutch, some Italian and Spanish are all spoken here ... You will probably be alright gossiping in Russian though. I am fairly sure I am the only one with any Russian at all and it is limited to being able to count to five, making a proposal of marriage and saying "Rev Green killed Miss Scarlett in the drawing room with a spanner".
According to Google Translate : means "Are you the owner?" but then knowing Google, it could actually mean "in the conservatory with a lead pipe".
The End of England?!You would have thought, since the last Rag went out, that politics might have taken a turn for the better, but matters really don't seem to have improved at all. Not only do we now have that old BBC treasure of a children's programme, Trumpton, on full-time, but Jacob Zuma, unbelievably, remains at the helm in South Africa, albeit arguably not really in control. He is still at the top of a short list of people, including some second world war leaders and a couple of recent UK Prime Ministers, who, when I see them speak, truly make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
It must tell us something when our hackles actually rise. It is instinctive, like premonitions of danger and the ability to tell the time without using a watch. Our instincts have been dulled over the centuries, but the hair on the back of the neck is still a powerful indicator that something is wrong.
And talking of Brexit, which we also were in the last Rag, this was the rather alarming genuine conversation that I had in the bank in Hazyview, the other day, when I tried to send some money overseas.
Me: Hello. How are you?
Teller: I am fine and you.
Me: Fine and you. Fine. Fine. (These things can go on for a while). I would like to send some money to England.
Teller: England has been abolished. I had this problem last week and it no longer exists.
Me: Oh. That's a blow. I know things are a bit confusing but I didn't know it had actually been abolished. In fact, I am fairly sure I saw England on the News last night.
Teller: No, it is not possible. It does not exist. Can we put France? (This was her best suggestion, looking at the dropdown options - we had gone through Britain, Great Britain, UK.)
Me: Er, no. Not France. I don't want my money to go to someone in France.
Teller (suddenly enlightened): Wait - is UK the same as United Kingdom? We can send it to United Kingdom.
What a relief. We agreed to that. Goodness knows what will happen if and when Scotland secedes. Will England be reinvented or born again? Or will we have the DKFIE, the Disunited Kingdom Formerly in Europe?
But whatever and wherever your politics, I strongly recommend keeping up to speed with ours through the Daily Maverick. There can be no country in a more fascinating situation than South Africa and this is good, outspoken comment at its best, slowly but surely getting to the truth of just how entrenched our corruption is.
Have a look, by clicking on the logo below, and maybe sign up for their daily emails.
Ancient Hazyview History revisitedAn eagle-eyed reader very helpfully pointed out that the dapper gentleman (right) shown in the last Rag was actually Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton, not Harry Wolhuter. Mea culpa. There are some fairly alarming pictures around of the Lowveld's founding fathers, the two look similar and were both spectacularly moustachioed.
Stevenson-Hamilton's nickname was Skukuza, meaning "the one who sweeps clean" and his assistant delighted in the name of Doispane, which was reputed to have derived from Dustbin. He gave his name to the Doispane Road which leads to Skukuza from Rissington's closest Kruger entry gate, Phabeni Gate, ten minutes from here.
Stevenson-Hamilton, unlike Wolhuter, did not kill a lion with a knife (nor did he dispatch a leopard with a screwdriver, in the manner of a legendary Sabi-Sand worker who was attacked on the back of a pick-up about 15 years ago) but he was the first warden of the Sabi Nature Reserve and was integral in its development into the Kruger National Park as we know it today.
So here they are, correctly labelled.
|Harry Wolhuter||James Stevenson-Hamilton||The lion|
Harry Wolhuter (again)
Are you really who you say you are?The latest fad, in a dishonest world, appears to be the assuming of false titles for possible personal gain. Again we are in the realms of the 'Dropdown List' of options. No longer simply Mr or Mrs or Miss (or Ms, if you must), we are now given a choice of Lord, Lady, Baron, Baroness, Sir, Revd, Canon, Sister, Rabbi, Prof, Viscount, Dr, Capt and so it goes on, although I have yet to come across a Chief or King option, which would be most suitable in a country that has 10 kings and more than 5,300 chiefs, as is the case in South Africa. For the record, the former are paid a salary of just over R1 million each per year, by central government, and the latter R79,384 each per year - and that is before their allowances from provincial government, which in the case of the Zulu King amounts to over R60 million per year, putting him on nearly 1,700 times the recently proposed official minimum wage.
So do people actually give themselves false titles in hotels to try to get better service and upgrades? Well yes, I am afraid they do. We recently had a Lord and Lady of the Manor - a title which you can buy for a nominal fee on the Internet - masquerading as real nobles. Want to try it? Visit www.lordtitles.co.uk to buy your 'Lord and Lady Couple Pack', which includes five square feet (just under half a square metre, so just big enough to stand on if you keep your feet together and wear small shoes) of 'dedicated estate land' with a view of Coniston Water in the Lake District. There's even a photo on the website of the singer Lorde being presented (ironically?) with a Ladyship Pack, making her Lady Lorde. Isn't that taking this new Transgender thing somewhat to extremes? Please note that the website makes it clear that you must order before 21st December 2016 if you want your title by Christmas.
Here's a thought from Anatole France, the 19th century author and man of letters: "There are very honest people who do not think that they have had a bargain unless they have cheated a merchant."
I speak as someone who would rather overpay than haggle, but a hotel generally has a published tariff. That tariff applies to everyone and the facilities are the same for everyone, no matter what their rank or title. Unless they are regulars, in which case we will spoil them rotten!
The "Where in the World" CompetitionThis was a tricky one, I must admit, and nobody even came close to getting it right. The photo shows the mind-blowing view to the north from the hiking trail above Ntshondwe Camp at Ithala Game Reserve in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. Sadly, you were all so far out that, for the first time in the history of the Rag, I am not awarding the prize!
But ... it is Christmas, so here are this month's pictures. As usual there are six photos making up the Christmas Competition, with the bigger-than-usual prize of three nights, dinner, bed and breakfast, for up to four people in a hillside suite at Rissington - with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, sitting room with television, outside shower, air-conditioning, a wonderful newly-refurbished private swimming pool with huge views and so on and so on...
Rain and Breeding in the LowveldThe drought seems to be breaking, if not broken, with some good falls of rain and a slight recovery in the veld, although the dams remain very low indeed. We have had some spectacular flying ant breakouts, but the other insects that we love so much seem to be keeping a low profile. We have had very small numbers of those fabulous 'sausage flies' that crash around bumping into everything and the mosquitoes are very few indeed, which of course means it is perfectly safe to come here. Rissington is in a very low-risk area and it always amazes me that the idea of a mosquito might actually deter anyone from coming here. After all, we live here all year round, we breed here and we braai here. What is the big deal?!
And as for the animals, well, more rain is needed. And thanks to all our guests who have been so understanding of the need for rain. I know it has spoiled your view but the environment does come first - and even better, very few people have made the 'Curtains Closed' joke about God's Window. Thank you.
On Yer Bike : Our TravelsTravels have been few and far between in the past three months, apart from keeping a (literally) weather eye on the Kruger National Park to see how the drought is affecting the wildlife.
The first two weeks of December see us repeating our no-social-media, no-gaming, no-television holiday experiment, this time to the Eastern Cape. Oh, and there is the small matter of a fantastic three-night stay at the inimitable Londolozi Private Game Reserve in the Sabi-Sand.
Back to road trips, though, and it is always an absolute joy to travel around our country. South Africa's roads are generally in magnificent condition and although the driving can often be interesting, it is generally quite good. I have written some handy tips for drivers on my blog on the Portfolio website if you want some (occasionally irreverent) ideas. You can read it HERE. It includes the useful tip that we don't actually have driverless cars in this country, so the car you are looking at does have a driver, but he might well be lying down while he steers his vehicle.
And in addition to our excellent roads we also have very cheap tolls, compared with, say, the Panama Canal, where the average toll is $54 000. I will never complain about paying R50 again.
Anti-Social MediaIn this wired-up, jumped-up, ridiculous world, where people's mobile phones actually whistle to them and they respond, spare a thought for the old payphone. How sad they look, standing alone on roadsides, unloved, untended, unused.
The new terminology can however come up with some quite intriguing names for itself and some quite dull ones. Did you know, for example, that ROM is short for Read-Only Memory and RAM is Random Access Memory. I bet they wished they had thought of something slightly funkier than that. Like the CD-burning programme which is called Nero, because it is 'burning ROM' - geddit?
Isn't it quaint that rebooting a computer actually comes from the expression 'to pull someone up by their boot-straps'. And how lovely was it of the geeks to breathe new life into the #HASHTAG key and the @ which no-one knew what do with? Except the guy with the blackboard in the market with a sign that says PATATOE'S @ 50p. He can't spell or punctuate, but he can use an @. And now we all can. The Netherlanders call it an apenstaartje. Monkeytail! How cute is that?!
Back to basics, though. My writing website www.chrisharvie.com has been completely reinvented and updated, including a newly-researched and updated version of the popular REASONS TO BE POSITIVE ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA.
As always, you can download Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama (by me) onto your iPad or Kindle from Takealot (the former Kalahari) HERE or Amazon HERE.
When you next dig out your tablet, I would urge you to join the Inn crowd and follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter ...
www.rissington.co.za. By mid-January, there will be more interactive photography, a great range of new pics, showing off all our upgrades and even some 360 degree tours of the rooms and the main house. Tour operators and website operators please note: you can update your photos any time by lifting them from the gallery on www.rissington.co.za/Brochure. We urge you to do that. There is nothing worse than having stale and out-of-date images lurking on the Internet.
Gap Year StudentsJust a reminder that we have stepped up our gap year programme for pre- or post-university students. From now on, we shall be looking at taking on two or even three youngsters at a time, to supplement our superb permanent front-of-house team and to spread the benefits amongst keen participants. Anyone may apply but we expect that all successful applicants will be 18-25, at least half-intelligent, interesting, energetic non-smokers, preferably with a driver's licence. Males and females welcome, but not couples. Aim to stay three months. No hopeless cases please. No beards, no tattoos, no lying around in bed all day. Email email@example.com.
Guest Quote of the MonthBefore I take you to the Quote, here is my fascinating fact for December :
Rissington is higher than the highest point in The Netherlands.
Rissington lies at 530m above sea level. The Vaalserberg, where Holland meets Germany and Belgium, is 322.7m above sea level. So Hollanders, please be prepared for altitude sickness, especially when visiting the Blyde River Canyon, as Graskop is a dizzying 1400m above sea level, 55 metres higher than Ben Nevis in Scotland (the highest point in what is currently known as the United Kingdom).
So to the quote. Canadians for a change. I had been tipped off that they wanted me to say hello to them and I could see them pointing at me and wondering when their moment would come (although goodness knows why anyone thinks it is exciting to meet me).
So I introduced myself to them. They were fun. They loved Rissington (well only a really sad person wouldn't) and we chatted for a while before I was called away to help some other guests with directions and ... as I walked away, I heard the one lady say to her friend ...
"He is so much younger than I was expecting!"
Thank you Ma'am. You made my day.
So. Yes, I am the owner - and yes, I may even be younger than you expected! I started Rissington when I was 30 years old; the sketch above - by a member of staff - was done for the invitation to Rissington's 10th birthday, and this year we celebrate Rissington's 21st birthday on New Year's Eve. Anybody want to join us? The rooms are full, but there is space for a few locals and non-residents in the restaurant for our 21st Birthday Quirky Quiz and Pub Night on 31st December - Now with Real Bingo.
New Year's Eve just as we have always done it, but with a Birthday Twist. Join us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So it is Christmas ... in Africa - and there's a blog on the Portfolio page about how South Africa celebrates Christmas too. Have a wonderful time and come and see us next year. It would be madness not to - and a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2017 to one and all.
Chris the Younger, GM Hlengiwe (and, nope, still no driver's licence, but she promises ... ), Ever-cheerful Shirley (who is now Assistant Manager), Nonhlanhla (FOH Manager), Sibusiso the Body-builder, Genius Euginia (who is currently away on a breeding programme), Stan The Man, Sydney Australia, Gappers Sami and Hugh II, Sipho the Driver, Head Chef Thandi, Cindy, The Great Gertie, Emelda, Zenzile, Betty, 10-Ton Thuli, Lily, Sanny, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Patience, Yvonne, Able Aubrey, Sbusiso the Womaniser and Guy The Guy. And of course JJ, who enters his last year at Prep School next year and won this year's Eco-Adventure Trophy. Plus German(ish) Shepherd Bull, who, to his relief, can no longer hear the thunderstorms, and wagging-tailed Rusty, the wagtail chaser.