March 2017

Welcome
to the
March 2017
Rissington Rag

Off-Beat News and Views
Rissington Inn, Hazyview, South Africa



A Day in the Life of an Hotelier

It has often been said that, in order to be an effective hotelier, one also needs to be a plumber, a secretary, an electrician, a doctor, a mechanic, a tour guide, a botanist, a chef (and nowadays a dietitian), a builder, a nanny, a politician and increasingly, a psychic. More than anything else though, nowadays, one needs to be a diplomat and there are some examples further down the Rag.
I hope you think it interesting, as I do, to wonder what it would be like to have someone else's job. For example, if I were a doctor, would I want to tell most of my patients that they were rampant hypochondriacs, or at best, suggest that they go home and self-medicate with an Aspirin, a bar of chocolate or a large Scotch? Yes, I would. And if I really didn't like them, I think I would tell them to Google their symptoms, as this would convince them that they were suffering from numerous debilitating and fatal illnesses with fun names like Kwashiorkor and Hailey-Hailey Syndrome, and that they were in need of a different doctor.
This month's "Day in the Life of a Hotelier" is therefore more of a "Thought for the Day". Another insight into our industry:

As is so often the case, in the Rissington dining room last night, more than half of the people had been here before. And not just once. One couple had been here four times, another six times, a third eight times and in the case of one family twenty-three times, and these last came all the way from Dresden, in Germany, yet again. That is what I like. Thank you Ulrike and Andreas.
But then, in uncharacteristically gloomy moments, I sometimes go to sleep wondering why it is, then, that it is so often the other idiots who give their feedback on Internet forums and to their Tour Operators. And why it isn't the people who say to us: "What an absolutely lovely place you have here. Don't change ANYTHING. It is absolutely PERFECT as it is!" because I get dozens of those, every week.
And look what we have done to the place! It looks like a real hotel!

Above, the hillside suites and their fabulous smartened-up pool area. Below, three of the original rooms, refurbished.

Just for the record, we shall actually be closing, for the first time ever, for a week in June, to upgrade the four newest garden suites with new tiled floors and a re-thatch, and in the other rooms to replace the old doors and windows. We shall also be redoing the thatch roof on the main house. So by the end of the winter, every room will have had a recent upgrade. Can't wait!
We know we have our occasional faults but we always, always do our best, and it is good to be loved by our hundreds of returning guests. Thank you to every one of you that comes again and again. You are our reward for all our hard work.

The End of The World?!

In the last Rag, we discussed the end of England. Now, evidently, we have the end of the world - but I always find it odd how quick people are to judge other countries and to come up with solutions for other people's problems. Trump, Brexit and the ANC all won legitimate votes. It is a truism that countries get the governments they deserve, but of course the real truth is that, in countries that hold un-rigged elections, they actually get the governments they voted for!
In these days of a 24-hour media constantly stirring up hornets' nests of discontent, we are breeding a generation of malcontents. These unhappy people would do well to recognise how fortunate they are not to have lived through a World War, or to have been the victims of a brutal dictatorship or suffered under apartheid.
And of course, every country gets upset about different issues...


"Are you English?"
As South Africa continues to get over its hang-ups and to build on its strengths, it puts matters into perspective to think that, only thirty years ago, we were living under a State of Emergency and that Hazyview was at a dead-end in the road, bordering on three apartheid homelands. I remember it well. There were armoured vehicles on the streets and curfews in the townships. That was only eight years before we founded Rissington. What political miracles were wrought in this country between 1987 and 1995! Let us not forget how quickly time heals us.
Nowadays, the greatest perils on Hazyview's streets are not tanks, or roadside attacks, but potholes... and also not forgetting the apprentice drivers from the local Mona Driving School, weaving in and out of said potholes in their L-plate slathered Yarises, presumably (from their inadequate performance) with their eyes closed out of sheer terror.

South African Inventions

As South Africans living overseas will appreciate (because these are the things that they miss most about their home country) South Africa has come up with some of the world's best and worst inventions.
We invented Appletiser. We invented the Kreepy Krauly (a self-propelled swimming pool vacuum-cleaner - I know, first world problems in the third world). Then there's the CAT scan. We also made oil from coal. We invented Nando's. Yes, Rest of the World; get over it! We have had Nando's since 1987, when chicken was first doused in Mozambican peri-peri sauce and unleashed on a public that was fed up with rat-meat being served up as chicken by some of the less scrupulous roadside eateries. Luckily, we also invented the heart transplant, to give all those KFC eaters a second chance when their first heart seizes up in all that fat ...
And of course, there is biltong. And Mrs Ball's Chutney. And Pro-Nutro.

Our latest (and most questionable) contribution to the World is the Boiler-suit Revolutionary, brought to us by our youngest political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. Hard-hatted (and hard-headed) they regularly cause chaos in parliament whenever our on-the-way-out loser President tries to speak. In this time of acronyms our SONA (State of the Nation Address) is now a full SONAR (State of the Nation Annual Riot) but it is catching on elsewhere. Ukraine has had similar disruptions in its parliament. So has Venezuela. India too, although they were (naturally) very low-key.

Politicians should probably all start to wear hard hats. Watch out for a parliamentary riot in an institution near you, as the world complains that it is being governed by the government it voted for. OK. Not North Korea, where the thugs, waving their pink pom-poms outside the government buildings, haven't actually voted for anyone. Beware of poison-tipped umbrellas in the crowd.


Rissington's Menu

OK. Enough lecturing. Let's get on with some Rissington food. It is always a bit of a balancing act when we change the Rissington menu. I still have people complaining that we took off the butternut soup (about ten years ago) so we try to keep on a few of the old favourites, and we try to avoid being too on-trend. So there is no pork belly anywhere and nothing has been 'pulled'.

We have also been gradually introducing some African food to complement our more traditionally European steaks and stroganoffs. Not tripe or mieliemeal or chicken heads-and-feet (or walkie-talkies, as the locals call them) but rather some fun and less alarming ideas that we have picked up on our travels. And, in poorer countries (yes, poorer than America) meat is often a luxury, making it is easy to try lots of delicious vegetarian dishes. So, while we have kept on our springbok carpaccio and our patés and our curries and our steaks and chops, we have also added some delicious new dishes with North and East African influences to the main menu - and we have some unusual and exciting new breakfast dishes. You can still have a fry-up or an omelette, of course, if you prefer, but, on one morning of your stay, why not have our gorgeous curried kidney beans with ginger and onions on toast? Purists can still top it with a fried egg.

Food Fads

As ever, we have paid particular attention to our vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free guests. Yes, yes. You are a pain - but we love you and more and more of us (myself included) love your funny food, especially now that almost everything kills you. Even toast!

So tell the world ...

"I will have whatever she is photographing."

Keeping up with Demand

As I have said before, however prickly we might sometimes appear to be, when people criticise, we do take their comments on board, although sometimes it is hard not be irked by them or to take them personally. I am going to go into a bit of detail here, because so many people ask me how I feel about it.
The greatest issue created by Internet criticism (apart from the anonymity afforded to those who post on specific sites) is the upset it causes to tourism owners. Everyone in tourism loves their product because they created it, very much in the same way that (most!) people love their own children. Now, you are obviously within your rights to like your children but that doesn't mean that everyone else has to like them. Bear in mind, though, that if I don't really like them or if I can think of ways to improve them, that doesn't give me the right to tell the world about it, as to do so would be libellous or slanderous. I should merely avoid your children's company (and yours if necessary!).
So if you don't like the curtains in your hotel room, either get over it, or book a hotel with curtains you do like, but don't bad-mouth the décor world-web-wide. We don't come to your house and write publicly about your hideous retro orange lampshades or your passé dark wood coffee-table! After all, and very obviously, décor is a question of taste.


Not a Rissington bedroom
We do, however, as I say, take criticism on board. We recently had a few comments about our breakfast apparently having a limited choice, which is blatantly bizarre, given that we offer a range of eight different cooked breakfasts every day. Anyway, we decided that it must be that the buffet was somehow lacking. We divided our one fruit salad into two different fruit salads (one three-melon one, and one with kiwis, mangoes and grapes) and added a couple of quiches - and now we are getting rave reviews for our breakfasts. "Best Breakfast in Africa", "Impressive range of breakfast choices", "Great original Breakfast".

Until someone decides to have a go at us because there are no blueberries or sunflower seeds. Then we shall have to think again, but for now, we are obviously nailing the breakfast.
Of course, the biggest challenge is matching expectation, whilst at the same time, keeping it realistic. We are not a five-star hotel. We are not even a four-star hotel. And we provide a huge range of additional facilities that you might not expect at our price level, including air-conditioning, ear buds, headache powders and sweeties on the beds. In fact, everyone loves our attention-to-detail. So surely no-one in their right mind would expect a lodge like ours, which is far from luxury and fairly inexpensive, to provide bathrobes? Would they? Or slippers?!

Well, yes. A Swiss TripAdvisor member thinks we should have both and he has told the world. Extraordinary. I have told him (in front of the world) that he is wrong. If you really need slippers in 35 degrees, bring your own from Zurich. We don't supply them and nor should we be expected to. The Internet is teaching people to complain - but I don't think they need lessons!
Ultimately, that is why we love, so much, our returning guests and our tour operators who so skilfully match clients with the establishments they are looking for. That is why the tour operator remains so important - and everyone else must spend a little more time ensuring that they book the standard/type of hotel that they are looking for, and that it offers the facilities they expect. We offer what we offer - and it is clear from our website that Rissington's standards are very high, but it ain't a boutique hotel. It ain't the Ritz or the George V. For that, you pay ten times as much.
And the people who insist on criticising anything publicly should think before they type. For example, Rissington employs more than 30 people, and every single one of them gives his or her absolute best every single day. I KNOW that for sure. Anyone who thinks that they have waited a couple of minutes longer for their Pimm's than might be expected in, say, Manhattan or Paris, should remember that the person standing in front of them, who is lovingly creating it, probably has a very limited formal education (in a state where the standard of education has deteriorated drastically in the past 20 years), might have walked five kilometres to work, probably lives in a 1 or 2 room house with as many as ten other people, including parents, grandparents, cousins, and orphaned relatives as well as his or her own children. He or she will be self-taught to a large extent - along with on-the-job training from us - and may well be broadly illiterate and have limited English. But he or she will also be the best person available and will be justifiably proud of his or her acquired skills, just as we will.
I know that I would rather work with the Rissington people than with any other people in the world. I also know - or I really hope that I can know - that they enjoy their jobs almost as much as they need them. And with 45% unemployment, they definitely need them. I am hugely impressed by everything they do. All of them. Every day. Rain, shine or cyclone.

Keyboard Warriors and Booking.com Morons

I have long been convinced that about half of the users of Booking.com, Expedia and the like are too daft to write an email or to read a website (and I am equally sure that you, if you use those sites, do not fall into this half because you have got this far down the Rag without stumbling).
From my experience the Booking.com 'Genius' bookers (as their 'top users' appear to be called) are the biggest morons.
So the booking comes through and is flagged thus :

- YES, Genius, we are one kilometre from the street
- YES, Genius, we have 10 hectares of free parking and a maximum of 15 cars here at any one time, which is approximately 6,600 square metres per car. Totally free.
- YES, Genius, it is free, but not only for Genii (OK, geniuses) like you. For everyone. But wow, you should have tried being alive 20 years ago before the Internet! We had to read books to find out stuff, instead of Googling. To make reservations in hotels, we used to write letters, as there was no email, and we would send a cheque for the deposit as there was no online banking. And instead of Instagram, we sent postcards. And worse still, instead of Skyping our families all the time, we actually used to take them on holiday with us - and even to talk to them, instead of staring at our phones all day! It was WEIRD!
- SO, Genius, who are you to demand a FREE welcome drink? As it happens, we give a free welcome drink to absolutely everyone but we are thinking of excluding it for Genius Bookers, simply because they demand it in advance.
- NO, Genius, NO NO NO. Somebody else has paid for those 2 hours, so why the heck should you have them?
- NO Genius, NO. See above.
- YES Genius. Email, so wonderfully personal. Well, we also prefer communication with Geniuses by email. It gives them plenty of time to think through the contents of our replies until they understand them, without holding us up on the phone with daft questions.
- Yes, yes, yes, Genius. Everybody gets a free breakfast. That is why it clearly states that the rate includes bed and breakfast (but no, Genius, you can't take the bed home with you).
AND MY FAVOURITE (COPIED WITH THE CHAOTIC FORMATTING).
- WELL, Genius, the answer is NO. Not available. Whatever on earth made you think that we might be offering free bike rental? What is *39#? A spot to fill in the blank to see what else you can demand for free?! For your information, we also don't have free deep-sea fishing, free ski hire, free mah-jong lessons ...

Do you see what I mean? It has rendered a personalised industry totally impersonal, and, as an old-style hotelier-cum-innkeeper, it upsets me. By all means book and pay through Booking.com or the like, but please, please send us an email to discuss your needs with us. Don't just click and demand things for free. The chances are that they are included anyway!

The "Where in the World" Competition

This was interesting. We had a number of quite competent entries, but the winner of the bumper 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, was Martin Bilski. Congratulations, Martin. Your perseverance paid off!

The answers, from left to right, were:
1) Mapungubwe, Limpopo, South Africa
2) Chilojo Cliffs, Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe
3) Looking west from Garonga Safari Camp, Limpopo.
4) Mooiplaas waterhole, near Mopani, Kruger National Park
5) The view from the office, Rissington Inn (I know, poor us!)
6) The top of the Murchison Falls, Uganda.

Here is this month's competition. Where was this fantastic picture of JJ taken? Be as specific as you can.

Entries to info@rissington.co.za by 15th April 2017 to go into the hat for the prize draw to win two nights, bed and breakfast, for two at Rissington.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, beautiful rain ...


The drought has broken and we have had magnificent rains. Threatened with a cyclone in mid-February (spectacularly pictured above when it hit the Mozambique coast at Inhambane), by the time it reached us it had slowed down and instead gave us 170 mm (or 6 inches) of rain in one night. Perfect. The dams are filling up, and the Kruger has gone from desert to grass as high as an elephant's eye in a few weeks.
The pictures below, from a recent blog by Savanna Game Reserve, tell the story. How is this for a pair of 'before and after' shots, taken from the same spot four months apart, in October and February? Thanks to Neil Whyte at Savanna for permission to reproduce them. See more about Savanna on www.savannalodge.com and I strongly recommend signing up for their newsletter for superb photography and a wonderful running commentary on the changing seasons in the bush.



On Yer Bike : Our Travels

All I have to say this month is this - and it is very simple: Nothing matches the beauty, the variety and the diversity of South Africa and the fact that it changes so much and so dramatically in such short distances. So, we are staying close to home. Last week, as we so often do, we took the simple 45-minute drive to Nelspruit to buy tofu for the new menu (yes, we are even serving tofu - have you tried it? It is actually not totally disgusting.)
The route climbs from sub-tropical Hazyview, at 500m above sea level, through bright, green, sunny banana plantations with long views to the east over the Kruger National Park to the Lebombo Mountains and Mozambique. At the highest point of the journey, now at 1000 metres by the Dagama Dam, we see that famous Lowveld Sentinel landmark, 1200m Legogote Mountain, peeking out above the forest-clad plateau. Descending through the blue gum plantations on the other side, past more huge, swelling dams, we come into the historic town of White River. At 900m, this settler town dates back to the first years of the 1900s when land was donated by Lord Milner to demobilised British soldiers after the Second Anglo-Boer War. A canal was built and can still be seen, creating some of the most fertile land in the country for the growing of fruit, vegetables, flowers, tobacco and timber.
From White River, the road winds down again to an altitude of 670 metres and to Nelspruit (now often known as Mbombela), a thriving, cosmopolitan, modern African city, with great restaurants, a buzzing art scene, sophisticated shopping malls and, believe it or not, there is now even an ice rink opening. How can we have survived this long without an ice rink?
So all of this lies within 50km of Rissington and offers a year-round average of 8-10 sunshine hours per day.
On the way home, as I inevitably do, I turn to my passenger as we top the brow and look north, over Hazyview and Rissington towards God's Window and Bushbuckridge, and say: "Wow, we live in a beautiful place!"
Who needs to travel far and wide, with all of this on their doorstep?
Having said that, I am off to Egypt for 10 days after Easter. Watch this space!

Anti-Social Media



"That's it! They are playing my ringtone!"
Just a couple of quick thoughts in favour of email, after all. A bunch of Christmas cards sent to us from the UK on 01 December 2016 reached us on 27 January 2017, stamped with a message saying POST EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS ROYALMAIL.COM/GREETINGS and a little sprig of holly. You would think 25 days might be long enough, but no. Not to counter the inefficiencies of the South African Postal Service! SEND CARDS TO SOUTH AFRICA FOR NEXT CHRISTMAS NOW...
And on the subject of the post, we have also just survived Valentine's Day. You can see my Portfolio blog on that (fearsome) topic HERE.

"It's 22 carrots"
I loved this Spectator cartoon. Even Valentine's Day has dietary issues!
As I have mentioned before, my writing website www.chrisharvie.com has been completely reinvented and updated. 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 ...

We are also revamping the Rissington website : www.rissington.co.za. There will soon be more interactive photography and a great range of new pics will appear during April, 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 Students

Just 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 info@rissington.co.za.

Guest Quote of the Month

Before I take you to the Quote, here is my fascinating fact of the month :
According to Durban Metro, in the four days from 23-27 December, 267 000 kilograms of rubbish were collected from the Durban beach area - that is a lot Styrofoam - and 49 lives were saved by the lifeguards. (Yes, OK, it wasn't them, although I did once meet The Hoff in KwaZulu-Natal, many years ago).
And for the Quote of the Month, here are some more of the less helpful, more bemusing comments from in amongst the gallons of fulsome and glowing praise of our feedback forms, just to give you a further idea of what we are up against ...
A boiled sweet is not a chocolate
The clock in my room ticked
My room had too many windows
I would have liked a Margarita
The home-made shortbread didn't have nuts in it
The left tap was cold and the right tap was hot
A hairdryer would have been useful. Oh, my wife has just shown it to me.
And these are not intended as complaints, but as useful comments from otherwise blissfully happy people! Let's be thankful, at least, that he wanted a Margarita drink, not a Margherita pizza,
Come and see us. It would be madness not to - but book early please. We so much prefer you to some of the Geniuses out there. Last year we again beat all the records with an average occupancy for the year of 88% and more than 95% occupancy in six of those months, so you will need to plan ahead.
Or come in the slightly quieter winter months of May and June for lovely warm, sunny days (average high of 25 degrees C or 77 degrees F) and cool nights. A log fire burns in the dining room, gas heaters keep the stoep warm during dinner, and everything is wonderfully calm and un-rushed. You can even borrow my *39# bicycle, for FREE.
Identify your favourite time to be at Rissington and BOOK NOW! Drop us an email to info@rissington.co.za.
We very much hope to see you.