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December 14, 2011

Rissington Inn Year End Up Date

Welcome to the December edition of The Approximately Quarterly Rissington Rag

With the latest cheerful tales of merriment and derring-do in the Lowveld and an update from the second friendliest hotel in South Africa.
Much more interesting than all those year-end summaries you get in the newspapers and includes no references whatsoever to General Gaddafi, Julius Malema or Liam Fox.
Also still featuring ‘A Day in the Life of an Hotelier’ and Huge Prizes. The biggest refurbishment in Rissington’s history

It has been a nightmare.
I will tell you why in a minute.
Firstly, an honesty pill. I think I’ve claimed to have carried out a refurbishment of some small part of Rissington in every edition of the Rag in its history – that’s marketing, I suppose – but this time it was a whole building, for real. We cleared out the trees in front, opened up and planted new flowerbeds and paths lined with macadamia shells. The view is so broad that we can see God’s Window (Let’s hope he can’t see us, ho ho! Do you know how many times I have heard that one?!). In fact the entire garden around the main house has been hugely opened out and revamped and now has an irrigation system to keep it green all through the year. (We still can’t seem to get our agapanthus to flower though. Does anybody know what we are doing wrong?). And our five original rooms have undergone a total rebuild.

There is an all-new tiled roof with a thatch layer underneath it keep the rooms cool and dry. The all-new bathrooms have spacious showers and big shiny tiles. The taps have been replaced and the baths and basins replaced or re-enamelled. We have built a wet room shower onto the back of Camelfoot and turned Saligna upside down, with a brand new bathroom and a stunning new patio.
We have bought new furniture and curtains, put up some fresh pictures and added lashings of character to the décor. All of this without changing the feel or the style of the rooms so that they retain that unique home-grown Rissington character. Every hotelier has a room he hates. Except me. I love them all now. Light, bright, cheerful and airy, this old building, once a tobacco drying-barn, has taken on yet another new look and a new life. It is often said that you don’t know how badly something is needed until it is done. Well, now it is done.

So why was it a nightmare? Because somehow, in the process, we managed to remove (temporarily) the sound-proofing between the two upstairs rooms and for a very awkward couple of weeks we had polite but coy guests pointing out that they could hear the people next door. We checked it out and you could hear everything. So until we could do something about it, we took all our honeymooner bookings out of those rooms and either kept one room empty or limited them to singles, where the worst thing that could happen would be a bad snore. We have fixed it now and it is completely sound-proof but it was very embarrassing. I used to hide at checkout time… Ongoing improvements and some tales of theft from hotel rooms

From a service point of view, we are now braving the car alarms and washing all guests’ cars on the morning of their departure. We have changed the dining room around, improved the table settings and improved the breakfast buffet, moving it out onto the verandah with a new ventilation system to keep it cool. The most noticeable improvements, however, are in the garden, where Matthew and his newly motivated team have wrought miracles, all helped as you can see in the picture at the top of the Rag, by the fact that Rissington’s jacarandas put on their best-ever show this year.

In addition, what have we done to the other rooms? We have added bed-heads to all the beds (nailed to the walls for similar reasons to the honeymoon references above), we have improved the stoep furniture where needed, we have added more reading matter by improving the books and expanding the range of magazines and we have upgraded the pool area by the hillside suites.

All the bathrooms have been spruced up with new bins and brushes and our Orange and Sandalwood smells range has been broadened to include bath salts and a hand-wash. We have also put in shower caps, in recognition of the fact that most people have much more hair than I do. We shan’t be providing one for my mother, though, when she comes out at Christmas. She is famous for stealing shower caps from hotels and has a significant collection in her Oxfordshire home.

It’s a minor crime though compared with some committed here in the past. We had a tour guide try to steal a wardrobe door – with a rather fine bevelled mirror in it – and we also almost lost an alarm clock to an Argentine lady who denied nicking it until it conveniently went off in her handbag, as she was checking out, and gave her away.

The Welcome Awards and Hotel Closures

In the last Rag I mentioned that we had been nominated for a Welcome Award and had come 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the whole country. Well, I can now tell you exactly where we came, courtesy of Marjorie Dean, a travel writer, tourism fundi and huge Rissington fan. Marjorie attended the Awards Dinner in Durban (I didn’t) and was so excited to hear Rissington’s name that she fell off her chair. We came second. The second most welcoming hotel in South Africa. As I said before, our overall score was well over 95%. Well done us.
trangely, the last couple of months have seen a number of hotels in Hazyview close their doors but Rissington is booming. We have had our best year for four years, which would suggest that we have weathered the recession with some success and that we have got the formula right.

Our little town has also been well spruced up by the Mbombela Council and is looking good. A shake-up in the local administration has led to a fall in crime and significant infrastructural improvements. We also have more to offer to our visitors than ever before – the longest canopy trail in Africa, two elephant sanctuaries, an excellent snake park, every adrenalin activity under the sun and the Kruger National Park on our doorstep. Apparently there’s a bird park opening up too. So it’s all happening in lil ol’ Hazyview and Rissington is at the heart of it, as ever, and receiving rave reviews.

Some team changes …

Rissington is probably renowned for two things above all others – its loyal returning guests and its loyal long-serving hospitable staff.
Last night at dinner I calculated that of the 32 guests staying in the hotel, 18 had stayed before. More than half! It is common for a third of our guests to be returning regulars and it is a huge part of the success of the place and the pleasure of running it. Of course, we always try to spoil our returning guests a little, too, by upgrading them or doing them a deal of some sort. It is obviously a system of bribery which works very well for both sides.

Rissington’s staff are a remarkable bunch, as everyone who has stayed here will attest, but there are two crucial people who have left us this year and they have left a mark unlike any others.
The first departure is a very sad one. Kuki Ngobe, who has been Rissington’s head chef since we opened our doors 17 years ago, died in October. It was not a surprise to us, or to Kuki. She had been sick for a while – I suspect she had cancer – but this remarkable woman worked right up to the end, training her staff and ensuring her legacy, until we forced her to go off about 3 weeks before she died.

I attended (and spoke at) Kuki’s funeral, along with most of Rissington’s staff and about 250 other friends and family. It was a fitting and moving tribute to a very diligent, special and loyal person. In January we shall be creating an entirely new menu and dedicating it to her in what will now be known as Kuki’s Kitchen. I worked with Kuki for more than 25 years, starting at Cybele, long before Rissington was even thought of, and I miss her terribly, as we all do here. And there will never be pastry like that again.

The second significant loss is less sad (in that he is still alive) but after 11 years, Anton du Toit has left us to take on new challenges. I hesitate to suggest that the biggest challenge might be Katie, a former gapper, whom he has ‘taken on’ with great enthusiasm, because I am sure a) that she is not going to be a challenge and b) that his new position in Mozambique will present interesting challenges of its own.
Like learning enough Portuguese to be able to order more than a beer. For anyone who has stayed here during Anton’s tenure which has seen him bear almost every job title the lodge can offer, it will be hard to imagine the place without him. He started here, as a barman with no training at all (and almost no English at all) on the day he left school and became an integral part of Rissington at every level. If anything went wrong, if anything needed doing urgently, if anything was lost, there would be a chorus of “Anton!!!!” from all quarters and he’d rush in and sort it out. He’s been gone since June, but still occasionally you’ll hear him called for. The difference is that he no longer responds with his typical enthusiastic groan. We wish him the very best of luck in all that he does in the future, and having worked with him for 11 years and also travelled great chunks of Africa and the world with him, I have every confidence that Anton will go on to achieve great things.

The growing Gappers Gallery. They no longer seem to leave…Apart from Katie, that is, who left with Anton …

Since the last Rag, we have had many come and only a few go. We lost a pair of Harrys in September to return to their studies, Joshua, who headed off to broaden his work experience elsewhere, and another chap who went rather suddenly because he was homesick (and left us to go to Australia, even further from his English home – go figure, as the Americans say).

Three of this year’s gappers have now become stayers and very pleased we are too, as they all try by their various different means to become legal in South Africa.
Paul Merchant joined us in June and has the distinction of being an obvious natural hotelier at the age of 19. I am delighted that he is going to stick around for a bit. We have had many accents work here over the years but Paul’s Glos “jest ’old on ’ere woil I get your key” is an absolute treat to work with, as are his professionalism, winning smile and easy blush!

Talking of accents, Kanan Sinyangwe is our first-ever African gapper and he too has adopted us semi-permanently. He is a Zambian, talks funny (on a cloudy day, he thinks its going to ‘lane’) and is firmly convinced that South Africa is The Promised Land, so by hook or by crook, he is staying. If you want a fascinating insight into the mentality of a new dynamic breed of African, become his friend on Facebook and read his testing philosophical thoughts and bons mots.

Finally, but most significantly, Matthew Howarth has been staying at Rissington as a guest for more than ten years and is one of the most competent people I have ever met. He has made himself indispensable in a very short time and I look forward to working with him for many years to come. He has also been travelling with me for part of this year, is a seasoned Africanophile and dark continent addict. Matthew and I are also setting up a new business of which more later.

And we can’t move off Gappers without telling you that Humphrey Wrey, one of last year’s rompingly successful batch, returned in August having admirably ridden the length of Africa on his motorbike for charity, dodging coups and rebellions all the way. Alex Biggs is excelling at Cardiff, Annabel is a successful (unsurprisingly) organiser of significant society bashes and Henri and Gabriel are both at the University of Pretoria, but returning to help us out in December. My, we have had some great people and we miss them all. Well, almost all.

We are looking for gappers or university leavers from March next year, so please send us your sons and daughters or your friends’ sons and daughters. They will have the time of their lives but we promise, if you really want them home, to send them back to you on the allotted date. Even if they kick and scream.

Birding at Rissington, a mammal and a magnificent snake

Our birding competition yielded ten additions to our bird list and we will continue to honour our now-permanent deal of R50 off the bill for every substantiated unlisted species identified by Rag-readers at Rissington. I added another one this morning. The African Mourning Dove. Such a lovely typical bushveld call.

And on a mammalian note, a genet walked past our window the other evening. Never seen at Rissington before, this is a lovely addition to our tally of mammals, which includes monkeys, duiker, bushbuck, various mongoose, honey badger and our famous hippos. On walks from the lodge, you can also still see the huge range of game on our neighbours’ properties, including zebra, giraffe, kudu, eland and ostrich.

For snake fans, a family of walkers saw a beautiful 4-metre python down in the valley last month. He has become something of a local celebrity. No, he’s not called Monty and yes, he probably did eat Matthew’s missing chicken, which was called Winkie (because it was a pecker …).

WiFi Wherever You Are

In a huge step for a small lodge such as ours, we now have FREE Wireless Internet, not only in the bar and restaurant but also in all our rooms and around the pool. It has become the norm, nowadays, for so many people to travel with Internet-enabled phones and iPads, so we are very glad to be ahead of the game in all this.
Now you can lie at the pool at Rissington, download Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama (by Chris Harvie) onto your iPad or Kindle and read it there and then. (Buy it on Kalahari here or on Amazon here).
Just when you thought I was going to shut up about my book, up it pops again…

Facebook and the Website

We have had numerous entirely-justified complaints that our Facebook page is pathetic so we have improved. Please LIKE us here. Apparently it is terribly important to be LIKED. I still don’t really get Facebook, but Matthew does, so keep up with the news as he posts it. And there’s a rumour we might back down and start tweeting too. We have set up the account. We just have to think of something to tweet about. The things I have to do to get a good Google rating. Also take a look at the website from time to time to see how we are progressing and for pictures of the refurb.

A Day in the Life of an Hotelier

Short and sweet, but this was a lovely moment.
She was a South African but, like many of her ilk, she has been living in Australia for many, many years, so imagine her speaking with that blend of accents, and this is how the conversation went as she wandered bemused into Rissington’s office.
AUSTRAFRICAN: “Oh, hi was looking for the gym. Whereabouts is it?”
ME (PROPRIETOR): “This is the office, not the gym. Hence all the computers and files and absolute lack of treadmills and sweaty bodies”
HER: “So where is the gym, then?”
ME: “We don’t have one. And before you ask, we don’t have a Masseuse either, or a Casino. The nearest gym is in town.”
HER: “Oh, I thought there’d be a demand here” (She obviously hasn’t had a look at our typical fun-loving guests). “How far away is it?”
ME: “Two kilometres”
HER: “On foot or in the car?”
ME: “Well, naturally it’s actually two kilometres however you get there, it just takes less time in the car …”
HER: ‘Ah, yes. Well it’s a bit too far to go.” (Giving away, that, if she couldn’t walk – or even drive – 2km, she probably wasn’t much of a gym-goer. I reckon she’d seen the inside of a few casinos though…)

I promise we will never, ever have a gym at Rissington. They attract the wrong sort; although this lady and I went on to have a delightful conversation about South African politics. Much more fun than pumping iron or riding a fake bicycle while you watch Sky News.

Where in the World

This was last month’s picture. The winner was Anne Pohl who gets 2 nights for 2 peeps, bed and breakfast, at Rissington at the time of her choosing. The answer was that it shows the Nqweba Dam in Graaff-Reinet, formerly known as the Van Ryneveld Pass Dam (and it was really just me trying to get an email from some of my old friends down there – and it worked). The dam overflowed last year for the second year running, having not previously done so for more than 25 years.
This month’s bumper Christmas ‘Where in the World’ offers 6 pictures as usual, and the winner earns 3 nights with our compliments for up to 4 people, dinner bed and breakfast in a hillside suite at Rissington. Where were these pictures taken?

Here’s a clue: Five of the pictures were taken in Southern, Central or East Africa on a recent trip that we undertook so that’s a slight tip as to what the new business I mentioned above might be about. More in the next Rag, but if you are interested in travelling around Africa, obtaining up-to-date information, meeting interesting people and staying in good campsites, send an email to and get yourself invited to the launch of the new concept at Rissington on 1st January at lunchtime. We are calling it Baobab2Baobab and it is brilliant.
Quiz answers to before the end of January to go into the hat.
Information for GPS users, Winter Rates, Future Tariffs.
If you are recommending to your clients that they use a GPS to find us, please bear in mind that the information currently used by Garmin and TomTom is correct only in where it shows the lodge to be. Unfortunately it shows the access road to be out by about 500m. Please clarify for them that the entrance is exactly 1km from the R40 turn-off to White River. We are trying to rectify this but it is a tortuous process!

Christmas seems like an apt time to tell you, what with the Star of Bethlehem and all that malarkey, that we have withdrawn from the grading scheme for the time being while they sort out all their shenanigans. However, with all our upgrades, there can be no doubt that we are still offering all the trappings of a four-star lodge.
On a more cheerful and festive note, for Christmas and New Year at Rissington, we are offering the following:
Two full Christmas menus, one on the evening of 24th December and the other at lunchtime and in the evening of 25th December. Both menus cost R250 per head. Our famous New Year’s Eve Quiz, Music, Disco Lights and Flashing Mirror Ball party will cost R280 per person and include a 6-course dinner. As always, Derrick will be here and will perform the Haka (as a tribute, no doubt, to Wales’s great showing in the Rugby World Cup) and The Coward of the County (as a tribute, no doubt, to President Jacob Zuma). Book now.
After a tumultuous year, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all. We look forward to seeing you in 2012 and keep sending your clients.

Come and see us. It’d be madness not to Chris, Matthew, Hlengiwe, Guinevere, Sipho who has driven more hire cars this year than anyone else in the world, due to our ongoing problems with the Land Rover, Shirley who is huge with child, Paul from Glawstershoire. Kanan the Zambian, Thandi the new Head Chef, Cindy who is back to help the other chefs over Christmas, Dudu, Yvonne, Gratel, Zelly, Betty, Thuli, Ntombifuthi, Gladys, Joyce, Sanny, Bridget, Joseph, Differ, Cassim, Aubrey (whose veggie garden is looking fantastic), Sbusiso, the indefatigable Patrick and Rasta. And of course JJ, who is now 7 and almost as tall as I am, and Bull and Annie, the dogs. And in memory of the late Kuki Ngobe.

[ Website: ] [ Email : ] [ Telephone: +27 13 737 7700 ] [ Fax: +27 13 737 7112 ] [ P.O. Box 650, Hazyview 1242 ]

Category: Blog

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