December 2017

A Festive Warm Welcome
to the

December 2017
Rissington Christmas Rag

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

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A Day in the Life of an Hotelier

As it is the end of the year, I am going to start where I usually finish - with some guest quotes. This is where the reader gets the best idea of what it is actually like to be an Hotelier. Training staff is one thing, but training guests is a whole lot more complicated. The staff stick around and they just get it - sometimes eventually, sometimes quickly, especially the current superb Rissington team. But we have to train new guests every single day...
All of these quotes are true and verbatim, all of them are taken from various different guest feedback forms handed in over the past three months and all of them left me thinking - and I have put in brackets, a sometimes toned-down version of exactly what they left me thinking ...
Dear Chris. We enjoyed our stay very much at Rissington Inn but we would have one proposal for improvement: Our bed was too small, so I changed to the extra single bed provided, but for sure it would have been nice to sleep at the side of my boyfriend - *smiley face*.
(Imagined management response: Dear Stephanie*. You are both under 30. A queen-size bed, far from being too small, should open up all sorts of exciting opportunities. Especially now that there is air-conditioning. Next time you come, try out the new rooms, as they will have a super king-size bed. And, if you like, in order to promote some more interesting thoughts and intimate possibilities when sleeping at the side of your boyfriend, we can put some mirrors on the ceiling and hang a trapeze or two - *sad face*.)
"Disappointing that WiFi was not working on first day, otherwise wonderful"
(Management response: Dear Pete*. How about "Thank you for your helpful explanation, when we arrived, that the WiFi would be down for a couple of hours while it was being upgraded and thanks for making it twenty times faster on the second, third and fourth days"? In other words, Pete: "Absolutely wonderful, especially the new high-speed Internet.")
"Our family was worried not to hear from us for a day"
(Oh diddums - A whole day without hearing from you must have been torture for them. Or maybe not?)
The "Shouldn't be Allowed Out on his Own Award" : "The shower floor was very wet".
(What? A wet shower? Gosh, no wonder you thought that was important feedback, I will have it seen to, right away! You should have called us immediately and we could have sent 10-Ton Thuli down with a mop to keep the floor dry while you hopped up and down.)
If possible, please provide clear guidance for departure trip. Maps didn't cover our destination.
(Who is organising this holiday? You or us? We provide meals, accommodation, alcohol, water, electricity, WiFi, hospitality, advice on activities, local maps. In fact, just about everything that applies to your well-being between check-in and check-out. The catch is that you have to get yourself here - and then on to your next destination. We have maps to most places, as it happens. Perhaps we should get everyone to send a map, on booking, showing us where they live, in case they can't remember the way home after the holiday? Oh - and maybe clearer guidance for the ‘departure trip' would be: You pay; you leave; you are on your own after that until you come again!)
We needed a safe to keep our cash.
(We are not a bank and you are not safe carrying cash, anywhere, full stop. Get in touch with the real world, carry a credit card or a debit card. We do not have safes in our rooms because they invite problems - and because most people can't operate them anyway. I certainly can't.)
There was a small pothole in the parking.
(Oh dear. It must have rained. Drive around it. Lucky it wasn't a big one. You might have got stuck.)
Please put the menu in more languages Dutch/German.
(Why? I have been to Holland and Germany - and I have never seen a Zulu menu!)
To improve guest numbers, you should build up the road so that it can be used without driving a 4x4
(We can't improve our guest numbers because we are already full for almost the entire year ... and more than 95% of our guests don't drive here in a 4x4. In fact, some of them come in those tiny little Group A hire cars, often not much bigger than a toaster. Yes, our road is a little bumpy in places, but it is completely passable in all weathers in any vehicle. If we thought it wasn't, we would obviously do something about it. As I often say, it keeps the riff-raff out, but it doesn't always work...)
*some names have been changed to protect the idiotic.
As many readers will have realised, I actually secretly write this Rag for the benefit of my aunt (as well as the 30,000 other people who read it). She wrote to me after the September Rag, to ask me if I was suffering from depression. Dearly-loved Aunt - the answer is a happy ‘No'. Far from it! Every day presents its challenges but almost all our feedback is full of compliments, especially for the staff. The odd trickier comment - sometimes very odd like those above (and the two stories at the end of this edition) - makes it all worthwhile. We read them; we shout "WHAT?!" and we laugh. But thanks for your concern. I am fine. Honestly ...

Christmas wouldn't Christmas without Snowflakes

Because everyone is different ...
So we have stuck to our word and we are still not taking on any more millennial snowflake gap year students. And nor will we ever do so again. But never has a topic stirred up more support in the Rag than this one.
I look back on the youths we have had here in the role - and there have been more than 100 of them - and I think what a treat it was to have some of them around, and then I look back at some of the other nightmares and ask myself why, when a real person is awake for at least 16 active hours in a day, and a shave takes three minutes, many of the boys couldn't even be bothered to spend just 0.3% of their waking hours making themselves vaguely tolerable for the rest of the world to look at.
And the ‘Snowflake Generation' stories go on and on in the media. Sensitive souls... Quiet spaces... Trigger warnings... One British University was even talking about putting bracelets on this year's intake of Snowflakes, marked with their names and addresses, in case they got into an accident.
Sure, in our day, the bracelet would have been useful for the times when we woke up so hungover that we couldn't remember our own names, let alone where we lived, but this lot don't even party because they are so stressed about saving up to get on the housing ladder ... so the biggest risk is that, wearing bright colours and reflective strips, sober as judges and walking carefully along a clearly marked pavement lined with railings, they might be tragically mown down by some high-speed alcoholic old-timer, and nobody would know who they are. I am sure the bracelet would help.
Some advice? Get a life, throw a party, have a few drinks after work. Yes, you have to work. Or go back to school. In fact, the promotion on the left, from a local bottle store, seems to recommend doing both. Anyway, just wait until you have tried working 18 hours a day in the hospitality industry for 35 years - then you will know, not only what it is to work, but how rewarding it can be. Because yes, to reassure my aunt again, I absolutely love my job.
Towards the end of our gap year programme, most of the little treasures were so exhausted after three months of nine hours a day, with two days off per week, that they simply gave up and stayed in bed when they weren't working. And all that, despite being in one for the most beautiful places in the world. Rissington Inn.

Not for sale at the Rissington shop!
And going back to Christmas and real snowflakes, it can get pretty hot here in summer. The gappers were always complaining about the heat - what were they expecting from Africa? Arctic conditions? It is 35 degrees as I write this and we just found the dogs ...
... hiding from the heat in the shower in my house. Perhaps they were hoping we would turn on the cold tap.

On Yer Bike - Mugabe Falls

A clear view of the Victoria Falls
I always hesitate to get into politics in the Rag, as it is not in any way a political tool and I have no strong political allegiance but I think the departure of Robert Mugabe does merit a mention, if only because it opens up the most fantastic opportunities for tourism to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and the one with undoubtedly its finest people. I spent much of the evening of 21st November watching the television news through welling eyes and with a huge lump in my throat. The WhatsApps and the memes went back and forth as Zimbabweans wished one another a ‘Happy New Era', but, best of all, a good Zimbabwean friend, living in South Africa, summed it up perfectly when she sent me a simple message that said: "Home is back!"
Welcome back, Zimbabwe! I lived there briefly for a couple of months in the early 1980s and I have visited at least once a year since then, including three trips this year. We are already booked for Christmas there, we are planning an Easter camping trip to its national parks and maybe a longer one in July. It is God's own country. And the Zimbabweans are God's people. Good luck to them.

"Are you going anywhere terrifying this year?"
And good luck to all of us, as South Africa also faces some interesting challenges over the next few months. As one Zimbabwean commentator recently said: "Don't worry about us, Jacob Zuma. We are fine. You stay at home and ask yourself whether you really want your (ex-)wife to succeed you!"
Anyway, it has made for fascinating news as the era of the ‘Old Man', the last of the colonial liberators, draws to a close. And it has made a refreshing change from the dull discussions surrounding Brexit, the rise of Trump and the decline of Mutti Merkel.
I have recommended it before, but if you are not already doing so, I strongly suggest reading the Daily Maverick for an incisive, irreverent and entertaining slant on South African and world news. Have a look, by clicking on the logo above, and maybe sign up for their daily emails.

TripAdvisor Nonsense

We all love a bit of TripAdvisor hyperbole, don't we? You know the sort of stuff you see on other people's pages (obviously not on ours) ...
"Quite possibly the worst meal/stew/piece of fish I have ever had." ,
"Definitely the most uncomfortable bed/chair/pillow I have ever had the misfortune to lie/sit/rest my head on."
"Call that a room? - more like a cupboard!!!!"
"My wife had the chicken, which she professed to taste like rubbery cardboard and it gave her a dicky tummy. I personally, myself, ordered the mushroom soup which was little better than carpet cleaner thickened with flour..."
And so on and so on, and often very dull. And we have all read about the guy who fooled TripAdvisor and turned his garden shed into the Number 1 Restaurant in London. (If you haven't, Google it.) I particularly enjoyed the Rissington comment, of a few months ago, when the woman complained that her porter was too small. But every now and then a gem pops up:

The Great Wall of China

"If bricks are your thing you may or may not enjoy this (I didn't), if bricks and walls are not your thing best to avoid, if you can, too big."
"So, it took nearly 2000 years to make, did the Mongols not figure out a way around it during the process? At what point did the Chinese realise it was a total waste of time!?? SO WHY IS IT SO GREAT? The views are lovely, the wall is a waste of time other than crossing it off your list of things to do."

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

"Shoddily maintained and poorly organised — do not see!!! Apparently Rome has not yet discovered building maintenance. The colosseum was very run down and did not have any refreshment stands or cleaning crew of any kind."
Lovely stuff.
One comment that we do get about Rissington - in amongst an obvious flood of positive comments and compliments and the puzzling one where the man never found his television (quite right, there wasn't one) or his fridge (which was definitely there) - is that our bathrooms are becoming dated. I have said this before. I just don't get it. They have showers and baths and loos and taps and towels and loo-roll holders like any other bathroom. The ball-and-claw baths are supposed to be charming but the rest of the fittings are perfectly modern enough. It is not as if you have to yank on a chain to flush the loo (see picture of dated bathroom, not at Rissington) - and the showers have some of the best water pressure of any hotel in the world. What is to complain about?
Anyway, to counter this absurdity, we are building four new rooms with modern state-of-the-art bathrooms. And watch this space for the first complaint that a guest couldn't understand how to work the new-fangled mixer-taps.

Alleluia. Four New Rooms

So yes. Here they come. Frangipani, Kiaat, Marula and Matumi. Four new rooms in the larger/superior category and - in keeping with our style of inn-keeping - this year we are holding the tariff for that room type at R880 per person, bed and breakfast, with no increase on last year's rate. That is just under fifty quid, fifty-three euros or sixty-three dollars. And if that is still too much for you, the two budget rooms are only R580 per person, bed and breakfast. In some cities, you can't even get a decent breakfast for that and ours is a far more than decent breakfast.
Here are the buildings, as of 15th December. They open on 1st March. They have stupendous views and all the facilities of the existing rooms, such as aircon, ceiling fans etc - with very stylish sliding doors leading out onto a stoep with a daybed. There will be modern spacious bathrooms, but, in a departure from our usual (dated...!) style, they will have double washbasins and ‘romantic' double showers, but not baths.
They are located on the left as you go into Rissington, next to the old vegetable garden, which is to be redesigned and revamped as a(n) herb garden, and a suitable arbour for enjoying some peace and quiet. I think it is all going to be rather lovely.

The "Where in the World" Competition

Another difficult competition last time around, but we are giving away such generous prizes, especially in December, that they can't all be easy. The winner of the September prize was John Francis, a regular competition entrant, who most accurately described this view of the Rundu River at Chipinda Pools in Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park, one of the last great unspoilt wildernesses of southern Africa. Don't tell anyone. That would spoil it.
Now for this year's bumper six-photo Christmas competition...
Where were these six pictures of African scenes taken? Entries to by 15th January 2018 to go into the hat for the Gigantic Christmas Prize Draw, which consists of three nights for two couples on a dinner, bed and breakfast, in two of Rissington's wonderful new rooms. You see. Good prizes.

Rules, rules, rules

As this photo (taken in an anonymous South African town) shows, we are learning to take Health and Safety very seriously.
One of the best aspects of Rissington, however, is its almost total lack of rules. There are no fixed mealtimes - breakfast goes on all day, allowing early trips into the Kruger, returning for the full eggs and bacon (or scrambled tofu and beans for the vegans who are also absolutely loving our special weirdo menu). The restaurant and bar are open all day and there is no dress code. You can basically do what you like, except three things. You may not feed the dogs (we do that for you), you may not chew gum (because it is disgusting) and you may not use your cellphone/mobile in public (because it is rude and because you are on holiday without the person you are contacting - it is called taking a break).

I hear the streets are paved with gum

Rules, rules, rules

And you may therefore not Skype in public. In this wired-up and wonderful world, we still manage to hate social media at Rissington but we also obviously take part. Is it only me, though, that thinks that everything takes ten times as long, now that we have to book on the Internet? Be it accommodation (through the dreaded, which, from the number of corrections and alterations to bookings we have to deal with, is completely beyond the ability of the average person and wastes so much time), or booking theatre tickets, or flights. It is so tiresome - and there is so much security. Never has it been more important to know your mother's maiden name, or the name of your first pet. I was even asked which was my favourite beach the other day - and I don't even like beaches. I guess I must have filled something in once, telling my bank that I loved West Wittering or Ballito or heaven-help-us, for a laugh, probably the nudist beach at Clifton or Studland Bay or Pampelonne. I simply couldn't remember, so I wasn't allowed to query an item on my own bank statement.

"Ah, good. Am I through to a real person?"

Reading and Writing

We forget, with the joys of email and WhatsApp, how we used to rely on the post. South Africa's postal system has almost completely disintegrated, but somehow it doesn't seem to matter much. As an example, I sent a postcard from Egypt to JJ in Hazyview at Easter and it arrived at the end of November. I worked out that it took 138 days to travel 3800 miles, which is an average speed of a smidgeon over one mile per hour. It seems that we insult snails by calling it Snail Mail.
Back to basics, though. Once again, my writing website has been completely reinvented and updated and it also now includes my most recent blogs for Portfolio under ‘My Travels'. 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.
And Rissington also features in the latest Tony Park novel, The Cull, our second appearance in the works of this great Australio-African author. Have a look for it in your local bookstore. Aficionados say it his best book yet.
I would urge you to join the Inn crowd and follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter. Only there will you get to read the Rag before everyone else - and benefit from occasional specials which are offered only to our Facebook Followers ...
If you haven't had a look at the new website, please do. There are some great views and some wonderful smiling faces. Tour operators and website operators please note: you can also update your photos any time from a new OneDrive Gallery which can accessed from Click on ‘Introduction' and then choose ‘Downloads' from the dropdown. We urge you to do that. There is nothing worse than having stale and out-of-date images lurking on the Internet.

On Yer Bike : Our Travels

So we are now off to Zim, as I said, and we can't wait. Recently, in the dud patch just before Christmas when nobody seems to go away, we went into the Kruger for ten days, yielding 137 distinct bird species and 37 different mammals. People are often surprised when we say that our ideal holiday is to travel ten minutes down the road and go camping, but frankly, with such a magnificent opportunity right on your doorstep, why wouldn't you?
And we also take part in Hazyview's own activities. We frequently go on the Skyways Trail, we do mountain biking in some of the most amazing scenery in the world, we kayak, we hike and we bird-watch. Not in a dweeb sort of way, but purely to celebrate living in such a fabulous place. We were talking about obesity in the last newsletter, and about couch potatoes, but to give you an idea of how wonderful it is to live and grow up in the Lowveld of South Africa, I have the privilege of coaching cycling at JJ's prep school and, of approximately 100 children in the primary and senior primary phases, over 40 come cycling with us every week. And we are not talking about road cycling in the Surrey Hills, irritating the residents of Abinger Hammer. We are mountain biking on bush tracks through orchards and forests. We see rare red duikers and bushbuck. Last week, we saw a narina trogon. Only a birder will know how exciting that is, but take it from me, these are lucky, happy, healthy energetic kids. And they don't eat McDonalds. (Well, most of them, anyway!).
And talking of birds, our first sighting of a yellow-bellied eremomela took the number of bird species that can be seen at Rissington up to 191. Plus, we saw a civet and another red duiker the other day and JJ found a porcupine quill on our walk with the dogs yesterday evening.

Guest Quote of the Month

Now, for the quote ... Many of our challenges actually arise before the arrival of the client, at the time of booking. It is fascinating, some of the information people feel we need to know about them before they get here. I obviously understand that we need to know about vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free needs and allergies (bless them) and we can deal with those. Also big birthdays to be spent here, so that we can ritually humiliate them with candles and drums and loud singing, but this one I don't get ...
"Geraldine* has had 2 knee replacements"
What do they want us to do for her? Nothing is specified. Hopefully they were not both on the same knee? Does she want a wheelchair? Should we send grapes? A ‘Get Well Soon' card or a ‘Congratulations' card?
And sometimes we have difficulty explaining the most suitable room types, say for a family. We had one particularly persistent woman on the phone who bluntly wanted to know .... "Will my children hear me having relations with my husband?" How do you deal with that one? There are so many factors which might influence the answer, but let's not go there.
All of which reminds me of one of my favourite Rissington stories, which occurred just after we opened the new garden suites in 2004. (Forgive me if you have heard it before).
The phone rang in the office. I answered. A South African woman.
Mrs Mnisi* : Hello, how are you?
Me (charming) : I am fine thanks and you.
Mrs Mnisi : I am fine. Please may I have a fruit salad delivered to my room?
Me : Of course. I will send it now. With ice cream?
Mrs Mnisi : Yes, please. Thanks. (Puts phone down).
A couple of minutes later the same woman calls room service again. I answer.
Mrs Mnisi : Hello. Do you have any condoms?
Me (still charming) : Er, no. I am afraid we don't.
Mrs Mnisi : What? None at all?
Me : No. I am afraid we have absolutely none at all.
Mrs Mnisi : OK. Thanks. You can cancel the fruit salad, then.
WHAT?! I know. Confusing, isn't it?
And that is the other side of a Day in the Life of an Hotelier!

Merry Christmas ...

We are very excited about next year and especially about our new rooms. We look forward to showing them to you.
Come and see us soon. It would be madness not to - and a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2018 to one and all.
Chris the happy host, GM Hlengiwe with the Himba haircut, Ever-cheerful Assistant Manager Shirley with a yet another new woolly hairstyle, FOH Manager Nonhlanhla, Genius Euginia, Sydney Australia, Wise #BeWise Shabangu, Danisile, Marvellous (yes, the jury is still out, but we think we are getting there!), 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 (who is mourning the demise of Mugabe) and Ezekiel, the Weekend Man, now going permanent (and, in his spare time, JJ's cousin). And of course JJ, who heads off to boarding school in January amid much excitement - what a hero! Plus German(ish) Shepherd Bull, who is still going (fairly) strong, and Rusty, with the charming Jack Russell smile (but not in this photo with JJ). And NO GAPPERS!