June 2014

Welcome to the

June 2014 Rissington Rag

Random News and Relevant Views

During the quiet patch in South African tourism and with the Summer Holidays coming up in Europe, some light reading to pass the time …

Rissington’s pool at sunset

A Few Comic Days in the Life of an Hotelier

Although none of us really knows what brought about the change of mood, it ended with tears and epithets all round. There will be no names given, but I will give you a nationality. Australian. So do an Aussie accent to yourself – loudly – when reading the story...
A table of six people on Rissington’s verandah. A warm evening. A three-generation family apparently enjoying a happy dinner together. And then … out of the blue … in front of the grandchildren, a sudden adult-daughter to aging-mother/grandmother outburst … adult-daughter stands up in full view and hearing of the thirty assembled (and astonished) unrelated guests at the other tables and, looking at her aging mother, yells at the top of her voice:
Well, I don’t know. The young children gasped. Adult-daughter walked out and headed, with somewhat unstable gait, down the garden where she wandered alone in the dark for a while. Her poor old mother, gathering as much dignity as she could, went back to her room, leaving her dinner unfinished. Other stunned diners sheepishly looked back down at their plates and carried on with their meals and the ever-discreet Rissington staff carried on with the service, the smiles on their faces giving away nothing more than their usual extreme hospitability.
It has been an Eastern Hemisphere kind of month. (Just in case we are not clear, the Western Hemisphere includes the Americas only.) A Caucasian (and therefore Western Hemisphere) American took offence, on behalf of Orientals everywhere, at my humorous comment on the menu to the effect that “Korean clients should kindly refrain from eating the dogs” but she backed down quickly when I pointed out how much worse it might be were the instruction not there, leaving some unsuspecting Korean client to make the appalling faux pas of devouring one of my dogs, innocently thinking they were part of a generously-provided live canine buffet and therefore there for the eating. The US client then readily agreed that it was probably good that I pointed it out. She had never thought of it that way around, she said.
And our favourite guest was Yusuke Tajima. What a lovely chap. Yusuke is Japanese, has just left school and stayed with us, alone on a grand tour which included four days at Rissington on his way to Morocco. We really enjoyed having this delightful youngster with us. He said his time here was like a dream, with the only disappointment being that “the food did not include more traditional African food, like snake – I truly wanted to eat snake.” We usually find our kudu casserole, our springbok carpaccio and our crocodile curry are about as exotic as people want to go, so I explained that snakes are out of season due to hibernation patterns but he might have more luck in the Arab North. He seemed happy with that answer.

The Unsuitable Political Bit

Would the tour operator who blocked us after the last Rag in which I referred to a neighbouring national leader as Mad Bob, please skip to the next paragraph? Thank you.
Our political situation remains critical, verging on irrelevant. The 20th anniversary of the first democratic election – Freedom Day – was something of an anti-climax with the fifth such election looming and the media filled with introspective thoughts as to just how much things have improved and whether that is enough. It seemed somehow fitting that we should have had more black guests than white ones staying at Rissington on Freedom Day. It was a delightful weekend and a great reminder of how magical this country can be when the right people get together in the right frame of mind.

Struggling with some long division?
Just check your bills carefully everywhere in SA, though. We were recently found to have the worst Maths education of 148 countries surveyed. Our education system is in a serious state of crisis and no matter how many promises the government makes, it gets no better.
In addition, winter is now upon us with the usual threats, due to incompetent management, of electricity shortages and with the matching increase in the number of requests for human blankets from some of our less discerning compatriots. It has been seriously chilly the past couple of nights (but still with temperatures in the mid-20s during the day) although, no matter how cold, I can’t see any appeal in the kind of human blankets that hang around Hazyview at night!

A Light Moment in Nelspruit, now Mbombela

I recently bought, as an investment, a house in a complex in Mbombela (as Nelspruit is now officially called) and the complex came with some suitably ‘complex’ rules. Many of them dealt with noise management – no loud music after 6pm (or 10pm on Saturdays), no hooting of horns especially taxis etc – but were frankly unlikely to impact much on the behaviour of the motley crew of politicians and bureaucrats that live here, just around the corner from the provincial legislature. There is however a very confusing stipulation that all animals hoping to live there – presumably excluding humans – must be ‘sprayed’ (sic) or neutered. Rusty, the new Jack Russell, having been ‘dealt with’ some time ago was therefore exempt from spraying before a visit! What a relief...

"Please don't spray me! ... Or eat me!"

'Elf 'n' Safety

We understand that, as our suppliers are subject to European law, we also have to meet its crucial requirements; such as signs pointing to Fire Assembly Points in 4 acres of open gardens and instructions regarding the complicated art of using a swimming pool without assistance – there has to be a sign clarifying that no lifeguard is on duty, as if you were expecting David Hasselhoff or, better still, Pamela Anderson in an ample red bikini, to be perched on a float-and-bodyboard-decked scaffold overlooking Rissington’s pool. If only! We also have to have different coloured chopping boards for cooked meat (brown), raw meat (yellow), fish (white) and vegetables (green). Essential, obviously. The cavemen did it, and so should we. It is how humanity has survived for so long without becoming extinct from sheer stupidity.
Anyway, a friend of mine, André, runs a restaurant next to the main road in Hazyview and he was having a similar discussion with a recalcitrant Health and Safety officer from the UK. She (the officer) was in full flow on the importance of yellow chopping boards and André was trying to explain that, no matter how important it might be to her, with the level of education in this region, there was no way he was going to be able to persuade his staff to stick to the rules. She insisted they would have to, then something caught André’s eye and he told her to look over her shoulder, where a well-dressed African male was riding a metal supermarket trolley full of firewood at full tilt, maybe 45 kilometres an hour, down the middle of the R40 towards the Sabie River bridge, veering in and out of the trucks with huge skill. The Health Inspector looked on, appalled.
"That," said André, "is about as close as you are going to get to an understanding of health and safety issues in this area."

An abandoned wood-wagon on the Sabie Road
The Inspector backed down, but urged him, nevertheless, to try to do the chopping board thing. Just for her.

TripAdvisor – again!

For what it’s worth, which is something, I suppose, Rissington has been awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 2014. And for those who misread it, the response I quoted in the last Rag was not from me but from a Scottish hotelier, Alex Scrivenor, following a review of his (I am sure) excellent Crags Hotel on Loch Lomond. In fact, somebody was good enough to tell him that I had repeated his excellent riposte in my newsletter and he wrote me an email to thank me. What a bizarrely small world etc etc.
People keep telling me to embrace TripAdvisor. I am doing my best but I shall never really accept it until reviewers are obliged to reveal their full identities – and nor will anyone in hospitality, however much some might pretend to do so. After all, even the site’s most ardent self-professed industry protagonists are only a couple of really bad reviews away from absolutely hating it.
If you are interested in looking at our page, including a recent case where I lost patience with a couple of (happy but ill-informed) reviewers, you can see it by clicking on the Certificate logo above.


We have done a few things. Boring but important. In the bar, Charlie’s tables (named after ex-gapper Charlie, whose idea they were) make more space, seat more people and give a kind-of barista feel (not barrister, you understand, which would be too expensive). They really have improved the room or, as they say on TV shows, ‘transformed the space’.

The new, more sociable, bar tables at Rissington
All the larger (superior) rooms and the garden suites also now have stunning new armchairs and tables – all the wicker has gone – and the kitchen has undergone a major (really major!) refurb with all new units, fridges and surfaces. We continue to work very hard on the gardens and I have bowed to pressure and concreted the paths to all the garden suites to allow for easy suitcase rolling. For years, I have been muttering that people too old to carry their suitcases shouldn’t be allowed to travel, but as we all get slowly older, I can now only apologise and say you were right. And Rissington is now wheel-case friendly ...

Nicky Rattray’s book

One of my most enjoyable ever collaborations has been helping Nicky Rattray put together her story-cum-cookery book Out of the Fire into the Frying Pan, which is a great-fun read about the trials, tribulations and triumphs arising from the running of my alma mater Fugitives’ Drift Lodge. As well as some good stories and a liberal smattering of useful facts, the recipes are really handy and manageable. Including that amazing muesli, the award-winning quiches and Anndora’s cabbage and toasted noodle salad. For more information, keep an eye on the Fugitives Drift website www.fugitivesdrift.com. It’s the perfect Christmas present for chefs, historians and hoteliers alike.

The Where in the World Competition

This was last month’s mystery photo. The winner was my old friend Peter Bristow who correctly identified Mini Town, on Durban’s Marine Parade (now sensibly renamed O.R. Tambo Parade, after an airport!). I am sure Pete goes there a lot, which is why he recognised immediately the mini replica of Durban’s City Hall which, slightly oddly, was modelled on Belfast City Hall in Northern Ireland. Sadly Mini Town is not what it used to be but it is still worth a visit just for the moving mini-ships and mini-planes and some great old mini-cars. All proceeds go to charity, which makes it all the more worthwhile. And I was pleased to see the newspaper to which I contribute being delivered throughout the mini-settlement in a mini-truck.
Here’s this month’s competition. Where were these pictures taken?
You could win two nights at Rissington for two, bed and breakfast, in the best room available on the day of booking. In a slightly unusual twist, I know the answer to the one on the left (for which the prize will be awarded) and can only guess at the one on the right, although I think I have got it. We want you try and date them both as well. Sadly, you can't increase them in size - and I will attribute the photos in the next Rag, as to do so now would be to risk giving away the answers.
Get your answers to info@rissington.co.za before 30th July to go into the hat for the prize. And in case you wonder whether our winners use their prizes, here is a purple-crested turaco (formerly lourie/loerie) pic taken by Steve Brynes, who won the birding competition last year. He drove all the way to Rissington from Sun City to take up his prize and to get this photo. These birds are notoriously difficult to photograph, so this is quite a coup.
And the wildlife pic of the month, taken by Ian Madgwick, a BA pilot who comes here almost every month. How’s this fantastic zebra shot, taken in the Kruger? You can buy Ian’s equally excellent sketches and watercolours from The Rissington Gallery, off the bar.

Zebra at dusk

Team News

Kevin Brandkamp, who joined us for a three-month stint two whole years ago, has, to Rissington’s detriment, finally been able to drag himself away. He is off to London, where we wish him all the best. In all the years I have been in this industry I have met very few people able to make a guest feel more welcome than Kevin was able to make them feel, and I am sure he will succeed wherever he settles. Taking his place is Rynhard Burger (from Secunda and probably quite relieved to get out ...) who starts on 1st July. He is a very good chap and we look forward to working with him, hopefully also for more than three months.
Our gappers come and go, doing their usual 3-6 month stints. Welsh Harry has gone to Manchester to study Philosophy. Tom is now pursuing his agricultural interests in Cornwall. In situ, currently, are Ellie Johnson, who was a guest only six weeks ago but has adapted well to the change of role, and Matt Dyer, from Bromley, who is a qualified life guard, should Health and Safety ever demand it. And there are more on the way, with the positions full well into next year so get your waifs and strays to book early if they are planning to apply. Space available from next May onwards.

More Good News

The Artography photographers have been here again, as you can see from some of the amazing pics in this Rag, and if you haven’t had a look at the new website yet, you should. And even if you have, you should have another look at the fresh material. See it here www.rissington.co.za. And – tour operators and website operators please note – if you need new pictures for any purpose, you can lift them from the gallery www.rissington.co.za/Brochure.
My old travel story website is also still up and running on www.christopherharvie.co.za. You can follow the Rissington Facebook page by clicking below. LIKE us please and keep up with very occasional relevant news. As always, we promise not to deluge you with religious tracts or motivational junk, Love, Light, Peace or shots of people having ‘fun’ and drinking themselves stupid, with their mouths open wide and green tongues hanging out.
And, as always, you can still download Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama (by Chris Harvie) onto your iPad or Kindle. Buy it on Kalahari here or on Amazon here.

On Yer Bike: Our Travels …!

This year’s winter trip was called off. Rwanda seemed an awfully long way away and Rissington is too busy for me to abandon it for that long, which is, of course, good news. And although the Talking to the Neighbours book topic is a good one, I’d talked it out in the bar so often that I felt I had written it already, so I scuppered it. While researching the book (which now won’t be one) I did come across this superb map though. Try this so-called African Performance Map by clicking HERE. It is very addictive - you can check the performance of any African country and make comparisons with all the others on any aspect of governance (health, education, political freedom, diversity, life expectancy etc). They are ranked overall along the bottom line. Amazing that South Africa’s overall general score is the second highest on the continent, just below Mauritius and just above some if its neighbours – and closely followed, interestingly, by Libya – yet SA has the second lowest life expectancy on the continent, better only than that of Swaziland. Such is the scourge of HIV-AIDS. Click on the link and play around on the map for a while. It is fascinating.

Rissington recommends

With Normandy in the news at the moment, don’t forget my former stepsister Sarah’s beautiful self-catering spot in nearby Brittany. (For the benefit of Western hemisphere readers, that is, somewhat confusingly, I admit, in Brittany, France.)
Look up the website at www.lamarettegites-brittany.com. Sarah is a renowned chef – many will remember her input into the early days of the menus at Rissington and at Savanna Private Game Reserve – and she will cook for you if you twist her arm.
And, closer to home, I have just done the superb Skyways Canopy Trail again and seen yet another Narina Trogon, so if you are interested in what was called, in a recent CV I received, ‘extra-circular activities’ – his favourite extra-circular activity after watching TV and listening to music, was, unusually for a Shangaan, playing ‘Scrabbler’ (sic) – then let us book it for you next time you are in town.

Low Prices and a Telephone Line Crisis

We continue to offer fantastic value, with some specials available to returning guests in September, 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. We have now solved our telephone and Internet problems by linking to a nearby tower instead of relying on Telkom, so we again have permanent hi-speed Internet and free WiFi throughout the lodge and in all the rooms as before. We have moved all our old land line numbers to the satellite system but if you have any problems, please call us on the cellphone number 082 327 6842 instead. This will all work until someone finds a way to steal the air between Rissington and the tower. Hopefully that will take a while!

The view from Rissington just after sundown
And my Guest Quote of the Month from the Visitors Book: “My mom had A Bit too mutsch wine but we will defenetly be bach (I am dislectic)”. No, that wasn’t the Australian adult-daughter in the top story. This little girl was about nine years old and thought her mother was wonderful! And she was, in her own words, South Africken.
Come again and we will kill the fatted snake, Japanese-style, now that our formerly-resident zebra have moved on. My neighbour was threatening to shoot them (and turn them into biltong) for making his dogs bark at night and I must say I sympathised with that thought. The barking was infuriating. Anyway, they relocated down the valley just in time.
Come and see us. It'd be madness not to ...
Chris, who hasn’t been away for ages, Hlengiwe who is back from her leave and still just about to take her driver’s licence, Swirly Shirley whose new hairdo makes Snoop Dogg’s look conservative, Sipho the driver, Kanan the Barbarian, Nikiwe, Thandi the Head Chef who is thrilled with her new kitchen, Cindy who is off on another breeding programme, The Great Gertie, Yvonne, Emelda, Betty, Thuli, Gladys, Sanny, Zenzile, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Patience, Joseph, Aubrey, Sbusiso, Patrick the Machine and lastly Rasta, who laid a grand total of fifteen bricks in 8 hours yesterday. An all-time low. And of course JJ who played some fantastic soccer this season and then took me on in the Parents Match. Ask me about it in the bar. And Bull, who astounds us with his patience with the effervescent Rusty ...