December 2018 Rissington Christmas Rag

A very Festive Welcome
to the
December 2018
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

I know it is the classic opening line of the ubiquitous Christmas round-robin newsletter before it meanders off into the crowing that resulted from Tyler's oh-so-proud-making exam results and Gran's bravery in the face of her hip operation, and then the gruesome details of the food in Turkey in the Summer and the damage it did to Dad's constitution, but there is no denying it this time: It has been an interesting year.
Before we get on with the fun - and there's lots of fun, including, as always, some tricky guests and, as not-always, some laundry to hang out very visibly to dry - let us get a tiny little bit of politics out of the way. Bear with me...
You can call it what you want. The Year of the Cyril. The Year of the Cat - our former Mpumalanga provincial premier, DD Mabuza is now South African Deputy President and he is known as The Cat, for his (way more than) nine political lives. The Year of the Collapse? The Year of Confusion?
Or The Year of the Communist. For the first time in my life, I was accused, in a response to the September Rag's views on Land in Africa, of being a Communist. So let's call it The Year of the Pragmatist, shall we? It suits all of us. African traditionalists and African radicals, Brexiteers and Remainers, Trump-supporters and Trump-haters, Teachers and Pupils, #MeToos and Misogynists.
And, of course, Guests and Hoteliers. It is Christmas. We should stick together.
Whether or not we feel that we are getting our way in the world, we would do well to remember the wise words of Bob Clegg, who runs the Lion and Elephant Motel at Bubye, on the road from Beit Bridge to Harare in Zimbabwe, and has done so since God was a boy (and who doesn't look at all like the mug shot).
Bob has probably lived through a lot more chaos than most of us and he says this:
"It is what it is. We are where we are. And we are going where we are going."
You can't argue with that.

The End of an Era - the Passing of Bull

Some readers might remember this picture (below left) which I posted of Bull and Rusty, lying in the shower in my house this time last year, escaping the heat and maybe hoping for a dousing; some of our more astute readers will also have noticed that Bull's name was not listed at the bottom of the September Rag.
Bull had been a part of Rissington for nearly fifteen years and was the same age as JJ. Losing the first dog you knew as a child is always a big trauma and a sad reminder that nothing is permanent. Bull was a big, eccentric, friendly dog. He was brave but scared of thunderstorms, and almost semi-feral in some ways. We used to find the corpses of baby duikers up trees, where he had lodged them, and it was everything we could do to stop the staff believing that someone was practising voodoo. He always kept us guessing.
Bull was clever and tough, but he was also sensitive, even if he did take the odd chunk out of a few of Rissington's nightwatchmen. With the best will in the world, he was only doing his job ... and making sure that they were doing theirs. And he loved JJ with an absolutely complete devotion.
Bull died in September. He was quite blind and totally deaf, and becoming painfully lame.
That morning, I had been woken by a scimitarbill, banging its long curved black beak on my window. Scythe-like, it was almost as if he was calling Bull home, so we made our sad decision. It was indeed time.
Sipho (the Rissington driver) and I took him to a place he had known all his life and to a vet whom he loved and who loved him. It was very peaceful, with, like his buddy Sport before him, a chunk of the finest biltong in Bull's mouth. Sipho cried.
We carried Bull's remains home in a blanket and buried him near the trail at Rissington, which we have renamed the Bull Walk, because that is what he was. A bulwark. Solid, reliable, safe.
Aubrey had dug a deep grave. We lowered Bull in and threw some soil onto him. As we did so, Aubrey shouted down to him : "Goodbye Bull. Say hello to Sport and umQombothi ...".
Then I cried.
We had left his collar on, so that they would know him when they saw him.

Bull 2004 - 2018
Taken on the morning he died.

Letting it all Hang Out

Onward and upward. Sometimes I wonder whether people read the Rag just to make sure that they are not in it. Or, in this case, their underwear. What were these people thinking, leaving this out on the stoep of their beautiful new Rissington room? We have a very reasonably-priced laundry for heaven's sake.
Whilst I accept that not everyone comes to Rissington with a blazer to hang over our very smart jacket-holders, is this strictly necessary, hanging it all out there on the verandah for everyone to behold as they drive in and out?!
Then, a week later, another couple went out for a drive and never came back. They wrote an email, later the same day, to say that they hadn't stayed because they hadn't liked the guest information book, but they didn't want a refund because they didn't want us to be out of pocket. How decent can you get? But slightly unusual, maybe?

The Price of Progress

I have just come back from a SA Tourism marketing tour of Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway. We met 160 tour operators for five minutes each, in a ten-day trip that took in six cities in four countries and included seven buses, three trains and eight flights, all of them distressingly punctual. If you have ever wondered what a tourism marketing trip is like, now you know. It is hell on earth, but wow, what extraordinary countries! Clean, efficient, safe, great food.
And the reason they are safe is probably the animals that wander their streets, just like our lions and our elephants in South Africa. So what do they do? They eat them. Here are a few shots from a market in Helsinki.
We also learned a lot about hotel rooms. For example, presumably thanks to IKEA, all the furniture is level, shiny, effective and matching, but you get the impression that, if you accidentally pressed the wrong button on your way out, it would all fold itself up, pack itself back into its box and disappear when you weren't looking, and you'd come back to an unfurnished room.

I have lost the Allen key
I was encouraged that the Nordics have all seemingly gone the same way we have in our new look at Rissington, and have done away with such un-necessities as wardrobe doors. We are ahead of them in some respects too, in that all our Rissington rooms now have built-in USB ports and international plug points, Yes, little old Rissington has USB points in all its rooms. How's that for 'with-it'?
The subtle difference, though, is that, where the road outside our hotel in Denmark was completely re-tarred over the weekend we were there, the R536 to Sabie has been under repair for more than 15 years now and Rissington's road is still un-tarred, and will stay that way. It is maintained, almost daily, and it is entirely passable in anything but a very low-slung sports car but it is not tarred.
It is common guest feedback : Have you ever thought of tarring the entrance road? We don't have a 4x4
Well, yes, we have, actually. Many times. And we have decided against it because it keeps the riff-raff out. And then, when we are feeling cruel, we add under our breath "but it does not always work..."
This is the bush, after all. And Copenhagen is not.
We have built new carports though. So now all our rooms have those. Very smart.
And the weirdest thing we saw in Scandinavia? The amenity pack at the innovatively named The Thief Hotel in Oslo. It included fresh underpants, earphones, a condom, a tie, a mask etc, but all at a cost. 'Please feel free to open and inspect the contents - note that all open packets will be charged for'.
The most mysterious item was a black bag emblazoned with a quote from Mae West : A HARD MAN IS GOOD TO FIND.
Struth. What can have been in there?!

An Award for Rissington ... and TripAdvisor again

This is for real. We often get voted this or that. With everyone wanting to get their names on the Internet for some or other award, we receive emails (more often than not, with invoices for absurd amounts of dollars or euros, the payment of which ties us into a 20-year commitment) telling us that we have been selected, by Top Hotel Choices Website or The Love Travel Club or some such, as the best 20-room lodgings in Hazyview with between 35 and 37 staff members and a Jack Russell.
It doesn't happen every day, however, that we enter a free competition, willingly and deliberately, and go on to win the Award for the Best Gold-rated Wine List in the Country! But we did this year. We don't qualify for a Diamond or a Platinum (because we don't have a sommelier) but we are the Best of Gold. Best in South Africa, that is. I am happy with that. As far as TripAdvisor is concerned, the fun continues. We have learned to love it and we continue to remain entirely calm in the face of people who simply can't operate 'old-fashioned' separate taps. They obviously fall into the 'shouldn't be allowed out on your own' category.
As do I, evidently. I found, in the Nordic Countries (where you need a hot shower), that the bathrooms were so complicated that I couldn't even work out how to change the showerhead that the water came out of, let alone regulate the temperature. But, why do I need more than one showerhead?
Of course, no-one says it better than Heath Robinson (left).
In The Thief Hotel one of our party couldn't even find his bathroom. It was hidden behind a mirror, and every time he stopped moving, the lights went off automatically in order to save power. You can take this energy-saving thing too far - and for you to have to keep waving your arms around so that your room knows that you are still in it, is taking it much much too far.

Grumpy Old Man gets Philosophical

Surely the point is that life should get easier as we get older, and not more difficult? That is why we have tumble-dryers. It spares us all that hanging out of clothes (as pictured earlier on). It is also a basic African premise that the young should look after the old, as long as it is not an excuse for giving up a job ... or worse, school ... in a country where a third of the people are unemployed.
But my point is more one of carpe diem. Travel. Go Mad. Buy a tumble-dryer.
As the Brazilian poet, Mario de Andrade, brilliantly says in My Soul has a Hat : We have two lives and the second only begins when you realise you only have one. Google it.
It is easy to be cheerful despite our hardships, when we wake up every day in a beautiful place, as we do at Rissington, where it rarely rains (but luckily sometimes it pours) and where the people are naturally friendly.
It only takes a few days in northern Europe to remind us just how wonderful it is not to be wet and cold all the time, and not have to carry umbrellas, rain-cheaters and boots. Or don and peel layers of clothes with every door we pass through, time after time. We get up in shorts here, we work in shorts, we swim after work in swimming shorts and we go to bed in short pyjamas. It is good.
Of course, we can always find something to complain about. Like the fact that Katty Kay is quite simply not on BBC World often enough, that the music on French ski-lifts is just too cheesy and, for the benefit of the South African readers, the unbearably poor quality of the ads for Mi-Way, Outsurance and Dial Direct. I mean, I would do anything not get back 'ching', whatever it is. And if I have to watch the ever-intrusive Nkosi on the phone to Bridgette one more time following her accident, I am going to have cause him to have one himself. Even Bridgette's father begs Nkosi not to phone every day, but we still have to watch it every 20 minutes. There. I know you agree with me.
On the other hand, we South Africans are the best in the world at laughing at ourselves, and if you want proof of that, watch these two chicken ads. Yes, other people on the planet, we gave you Nando's - and Nando's gives us some of the best insights into our national psyche:
But did you also know this fascinating little piece of history?
Who would have thought it?
So how did this happy 10-year-old become the cheerful almost-55-year-old above? Not by watching insurance ads, instead of getting on with life, I can tell you. Mario de Andrade was right. And there is a lot to be said for more than 300 days of sunshine a year.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

So yes, we are proud to be African. There is so much good news here, not least the fact that we have started to beat so many of you at rugby again. OK. Maybe not always, but often, so that is where you will know our national anthem from. Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. (No, not that Nkosi again.) God Bless Africa.
Think back to the bad old days when the minimum wage was R200/month. When employers expected to be called Master and Madam, when they rang bells for servants, when part of the monthly payment was called rations, and consisted of a packet of mieliemeal, 20 teabags, a bag of salt ... What did we have to celebrate then? But that is all gone now, and with it, so much of the awfulness.
It is still sad though, when Africans are so filled with joy, that African lives still seemingly matter less to the media. Compare the way the world covers disasters in Africa and elsewhere...
In the September week that the extreme weather catastrophe, Hurricane Florence, killed 53 people in the US, floods in Nigeria killed several hundred people. One made the international news, the other didn't. Where many of the Americans simply failed to follow advice, the Nigerians were failed by poverty and a lack of infrastructure. Hurricane Michael killed a couple of dozen people and was 'one of the worst such events on record'. On the same day a landslide in Uganda killed more than 500 people without anyone outside Africa even hearing about it.
But then just look how much bigger we are than everyone else. And look at the joy that rises out of Africa, regardless of the fact that the world doesn't seem to think African lives count as much. If you want goose-bumps, watch this video of the Kearsney school choir from KwaZulu-Natal as they celebrate the sunset:

The "Where in the World" Competition

This was an interesting one, in which, to win September's prize, you were asked to name the buildings in the background above the horse. Quite a few people tried to name the horse, but that wasn't really the point. The buildings are Charterhouse School, in Godalming, Surrey, England (formerly Europe). The winner was Eric Silk, who got the school right but the horse wrong. The horse's name is Graham (according to my sister-in-law, who knows). Not Ebony, Eric, but you win anyway, for being so creative.
So, now it is time for the mega Christmas competition...
Where were these six pictures taken? Entries to by 15th January 2019 to go into the hat for the Gigantic Christmas Prize Draw, which will earn the winner three nights for two couples (or a family) on a dinner, bed and breakfast, in one of Rissington's wonderful hillside suites, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting room and a private swimming pool. It is quite tricky, but give it a go. The prize is worth having. As usual, the more detail the better.

Anti-Social Media and the Rissington Gallery

If these Rags are not quite long enough (!) for you, more of my ramblings may be found on my writing website which has been redesigned for simpler navigation and now also includes access to past Rags and to my most recent blogs for Portfolio. As always, you can download Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama (by me), cheap-cheap, onto your iPad or Kindle from Takealot HERE or Amazon HERE.
We would also love for you to join the 'Inn Crowd' and follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter. Facebook followers will benefit from our occasional extraordinarily generous Facebook specials including the current one with a superb offer for the many people who often say that they wished they could stay at Rissington for a week. Or two. Well you can. At great prices.
Facebook followers also get to read the Rag before everyone else and the Portfolio Blogs now appear there too. We promise not to use private information for anything other than Rissington reasons!
Tour operators and website operators please note: you can also update your photos at any time from the website by clicking on 'Introduction' and following the drop-down to 'Downloads'. We urge you to do that. There is nothing worse than having stale and out-of-date images lurking on the Internet. Photos of the new rooms are available on the site.

On Yer Bike : Our Travels

I think we have had enough about travelling in Scandinavia for one Rag, so let's move on to the Kruger National Park and our annual two-week December birding trip to the very north. What a joy ... and another privilege of living in the most beautiful part of the world ... until, of course, we come to the sting in the tail ....

The Guest Quote of the Month

Arguably, the eye-roll emoji was invented to signify First World Problems. Well, goodness knows that the First World has its problems - we have discussed them above - but aren't so many of our lives blighted by our own unrealistic expectations and our determination to measure everything against them?
Why do we have to mark everything out of ten all the time?
How was your service experience on a scale of 1 to 10? Where '1' is just as awful as I thought it was going to be, if not a little worse (which I never thought was possible doing something as simple as making a phone call) and '10' is quite unbelievably mind-blowingly good; I would not have conceived that I could ever have had so much fun, correctly disputing the balance on my cell phone account statement.
At no point on Rissington's guest feedback form does it ever ask you to rate us out of ten. It asks you tell us whether you have any handy tip-offs for us "like small maintenance issues that may have escaped our attention ..." but that doesn't stop people ...
Now, I always start this section with a careful reminder that 99% of our feedback forms are filled with compliments for the staff, the food, the service, the hospitality - yes WE DO HOSPITALITY - but there is always one idiot who complains about the road (yes, as I said before, we know it is gravel, but an average of 4000 guest vehicles drive in and out on it every year, most of them way more than once, and no-one has ever got stuck) or the shower bottles (yes, they are slippery when wet; please tell me something that isn't!). And then they mark us out of 10. Maybe, for the really miserable ones: 7/10. What? We lose 30% for having wet water? Are you mad?
Expedia came to visit us this morning - yes Expedia, not that annoying Hotel? Trivago! woman. Expedia is the company that is actually trying to carry out a total character-ectomy on the tourism industry. And they come to see us, in person. Which is ironic. But can you imagine anything worse?
Anyway, they have persuaded our very own Internet guru and friendly front-of-house person, Wise Shabangu, that he should download an app onto his phone allowing guests to rate their check-in immediately they check in. So instead of talking to the person that they are talking to about it, they press a button on their phone, to tell that person that they are happy with the way they are (not?) talking to them. It also contains the useful feature, Wise tells me, that if they don't have enough towels in their room (after all, is there such a thing as enough towels for mopping up snowflakes?), they get onto their app and send a message to our app, telling us they would like more towels and informing us as to when it would be most convenient for us to deliver them.
Gosh! So much easier than all that picking-up-the-phone-in-the-room nonsense, dialling 9 and speaking to a real person. I do hope that no-one needs another towel, or wants some special 'dry' water, when Wise is on leave, because no-one is going to get their message. We are de-activating the system. How stupid can things get?
OK, Mr Scrooge. It is Christmas time. Let us put this all behind us.

Merry Christmas ...

JJ last Christmas, at Leopard Rock, Zimbabwe
We are very excited about next year and especially about growing tourism to our beautiful region of our beautiful country (now that Cape Town's drought is over). We have kept the rates for our two budget rooms and our two hillside suites unchanged for another two years. Yes, it is true. There has been and will be no increase at all, leaving the budget rooms at only R580 per person per night, and thus keeping Rissington affordable for the local, emerging and family markets as well as wonderful for everyone else. To read why Rissington is one of Getaway's Ten Really Affordable Summer Stays Close to Joburg, click HERE
And, as we head into the last year of Rissington's first quarter-century - can you believe it? - we wish you all a very very Merry Christmas and a fantastically Happy 2019.
And come and see us soon. It would be madness not to ...
Chris 7/10, World-Class GM Hlengiwe who is finally taking some leave over Christmas, Ever-cheerful be-doeked Assistant Manager Shirley, FOH Manager Nonhlanhla, Genius Eugenia (who is heroically helping me with my admin), Sydney Australia, Wise #BeWise Shabangu, Marvellous (sometimes), Mbuso the Bodybuilder, Desmond the Sleepful, Sipho the Driver, Head Chef Thandi, Cindy, The Great Gertie, Emelda, Zenzile, Betty, Lily, Sanny, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Nicklet (known to her colleagues as Necklace), Zodwa, Angel, Danisile, Patience, Yvonne, Able Aubrey, Sbusiso and Lucky (indeed). Plus JJ, who so far is a delightful teenager, and his Jack Russell, Rusty. Of course.

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