Thursday, October 31, 2013

All of God's little creatures paying me a visit!

I mentioned the damage done to the local school in my blog last week - and in this I was referring to Hillcrest School - not the little school on the property. The damage is substantial, and there is a large drive on to raise funds to effectively re-roof the entire school.

La Rochelle was at the peripheral of the hailstorm - but the school was pretty much at the centre of it all. The hailstones smashed through the asbestos roof sheets, and the kids had to hide beneath their desks to avoid the falling ice and roofing...

Quite aside from the freak hailstorm, there are other indications that the weather is not quite right, and the most obvious signs are all the animals that have flown, crawled or hopped into the hotel over the past week or so since the storm. Right now we have a plague of sausage beetles, but look what else has paid us an unexpected visit:

First was a kingfisher who flew into the hotel a couple of nights ago - about three hours after sundown. Most unusual.. I managed to catch and release him before Shupa the cat ate him for supper. I only took one photo of him as he was getting pretty stressed. Note the photo in the background between the umbrella and the snooker cue - that is Sir Stephen Courtauld, the original owner of La Rochelle.

Then there are the 'bugs' - as our American friends call them. Again, the camera let me down a little, but this fellow was found wandering around in the bar four mornings ago. Commonly called a 'baboon spider' - they are also called 'rain spiders' because this time of year - at the onset of our summer rains, is when they first appear...

I took him outside so that I could get a better photo:

Then we had a visit from a rather determined little fellow a couple of nights ago. He was first spotted climbing the steps into the hotel from the garden....

He was a brown house snake, and despite the fact that he is a constrictor and not a poisoner, David the waiter was taking no chances whatsoever when he made his way to the Reception Desk...

I took him outside and released him - much to everyone's consternation!

Of course the other consequence of all the weird weather is that plants are growing like mad. Again I am not sure if this is a consequence of the hailstorm, but the daisies in the garden have grown extremely large this year.

In fact, my daughter was lucky not to injure herself when she fell off one last week....

Have a great day one and all!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

All hail the king!

Today we have loads of pictures because yesterday was an extraordinary day.

Quite remarkable.

Yesterday was hot in Zimbabwe, and at La Rochelle in particular. Windows were open, the dogs collapsed, and not too much happened for most of the afternoon. Then, as dusk began to fall, clouds gathered, the wind picked up, and rain was imminent.

As the sun started to sink below the horizon, great big fat drops of rain began to fall; blood-warm, they spat up little puffs of dust everywhere they landed. And then the hail started - small hailstones at first - bouncing and dancing over the grass...

This is about the closest I have ever come to seeing snow - so pretty cool (pardon the pun) to see.

We don't normally have hail more than a couple of times a year, so I figured I should photograph some of the larger ones for the blog..

Then larger hailstones started falling and I managed to collect a few. These were not 'round', but all different shapes. And I thought these were huge, as we don't normally get hailstones this big...


After about 15 minutes, even larger hailstones started falling, until they were landing on our roof and the concrete path with a resounding 'crack', and shattering into many particles. The ones that landed on the grass stayed in one piece.

But they sure were getting bigger...

We didn't have many large hailstones - but just imagine one of these (and they are the largest I managed to collect) hitting you on the head from a distance of 3km up in the sky. They were about the size of a baseball, I reckon...

They were, I promise, solid lumps of ice - and somehow they felt colder than normal ice. Don't ask me how, but that is the way they seemed.

And in case you might think that the hailstones were 'about the size of golf balls'... here is a golf ball for comparison:

The damage done was substantial. The local school had their asbestos roofs badly broken, and we have lost several sheets of roofing in our own Staff Quarters. In fact, I was told that the largest hailstone to land was only slightly smaller than the size of an adult human head - but unfortunately no pictures were taken of it. It was apparently made up of several dozen 'smaller' ones all melded together into one solid lump.

One Guest who is staying in the hotel, though, had quite enough trouble with hailstones of the size I have pictured above...

My Night Security Guard is called Takawira... and regular readers will remember him from the time that he was clobbered over the head by robbers (see the post of 26th November 2012) though not that many folk will have read that particular post because there were only 21 page-views as the Blog was still new.

Yesterday Takawira was on his way to work - and he got caught in the middle of the hailstorm. Fortunately for him, he managed to hide under the bridge which crosses over the Imbeza River, and so escaped relatively unscathed. However, I spotted him coming to work this evening - and he is obviously taking no chances that a second hailstorm will catch him unawares....

Don't you just love an African solution to an African problem?

Have a great day!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bloomers - and a toast!

Much appreciation to everyone who responded to, and remarked on, my last blog. Thanks also to those who passed it on - there have been 2,945 page-views to date, and much contact from old friends (and even a few enemies!), which has been great. Kind of like a mid-year Christmas card thing. Bottom line is that everyone is aware the hotel will be closing and there won't be the usual flurry of rumour.

We now have potential work for 7 of our staff, loads of places for Della and I to stay if we don't land on our feet straight away; plus a very refreshing view of humanity after all the positive thoughts, comments and wishes. Thank you all.

So onwards and upwards with life at La Rochelle.

Winter has now truly gone. The biggest indicator of this every year is the onset of 'Jacaranda season' - a phenomenon remarked upon in my book 'Sorry for that!'.

Jacaranda season is simply a massive spray of purple across the Zimbabwean landscape as the thousands of Jacaranda trees all come into bloom. I am not going to try and take photos of Mutare in her purple jacket because there are folk with better cameras, and a much better eye for a picture, than I. But this is a photo of the tree at La Rochelle - and even against our brilliant sky... it kind of stands out!

Everywhere you look, there is colour - and it is not just purple - there is a veritable kaleidoscope of every hue... like a floral smorgasbord. So here is a small selection of the flowers in the gardens at La Rochelle - all of them right here, right now. Winter is officially over, and it is time for growth and regeneration:

What this time of year does mean is that the evenings, before the onset of the rains, are brilliant for outdoor entertaining. And so it was that we laid up for a function this week - starting just after sunset....

The event we were hosting was the Hillcrest College Toastmasters Awards - and it was great to see the leaders of tomorrow finding their way in public speaking...

However the thought police will probably berate me for the sexist and exclusionist term 'Toastmasters'? Possibly. And it could be argued that there is no such thing as a 'Toastmistress', and in that you would be wholly incorrect. Because actually

a) my computer recognises that as a word, and

b) we have our very own resident Toastmistress at La Rochelle.

Well... more of a Mistress of the Toast than a Toastmistress - but the same thing in the end:

So... a toast to you all.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

La Rochelle Hotel is closing down...

La Rochelle Hotel will be closing at the end of December 2013.

This is now fairly common knowledge, and we gave all of our Staff 3-month's Notice on the 30th September. Our last day of formal trading will be 30th December, and we will spend January tying things up, helping our Staff take their belongings home, moving ourselves, etc.

I know that many folk have questions for us, so I thought it prudent to answer most of them here, saving us explaining the same thing to everybody over and over again as we have been doing for the past week. Here, then, answers to the questions we have been asked:

Why are you shutting down?
We have received Notice from David Scott, the Chairman of National Trust of Zimbabwe, that NTZ wish us to vacate their premises by 31st January 2014. We lease the property from NTZ, and they are our landlords.

What about the school?
This is the most common question from everyone, whether or not they have children at the school, or if they are just part of the local community, and I can assure you all that the school will continue to operate as it has for the past 9 years. Obviously my own involvement will cease, but there are people who will take over the administration. The success of the school, which now has a well-deserved reputation for producing academic excellence, has always been due to the commitment, professionalism and dedication of the amazing people who teach there - nothing more nor less. And that will not change. The people who teach at the Centre will still be there, and the plans to add new classrooms during the course of 2014 will go ahead. The booking lists are full until 2019, and the need for the Centre is as great as ever it was. We have agreement for a Lease covering 2014, and that will hopefully be renewed during the course of next year.

What will you and Della do?
We have no idea. At this time we do not anticipate remaining in Mutare, and we will almost certainly relocate, although we have no place to go to at the moment. We have not yet looked around, and our current concern is to close down La Rochelle with integrity, and then move on. We are sure doors will open. Unfortunately the labour laws in Zim will mean that everything we have in the business will be sold or given to the Staff as part of their retrenchment packages, and Della and I are reconciled to the fact that we will move on with absolutely nothing to our name. But this will be part of the challenges that face us
What about the stuff you are involved in?
We hope that folk will be able to take over the few things that we will no longer be able to be a part of. These include Della's prayer time with the oldies at Strickland, Soul Patrol with the youth at Lighthouse, swimming coaching at Fairbridge, and  involvement with Border Dolphins and Manicaland Swimming, and my own input at the school and assistance at galas... even if my choice of music leaves a lot to be desired! These things have all contributed so much to our enjoyment of being part of this community, and we really hope that others will put their hands up and fill any gaps.

What will happen at La Rochelle?
Again, we have no idea. National Trust have not advised us what they want the building for, and we have heard that they do not have a prospective tenant. Whatever the case, the property was left in trust for 'all the people of Zimbabwe', and I am sure will still be accessible to people who wish to visit the gardens and grounds in the future.

Will this affect your children and their schooling?
No - the girls will remain at Peterhouse for as long as Peterhouse are happy to have them. As a family, we have managed to pull the wool over the school's eyes for some time now, and hopefully this will continue for another couple of years.

Will you be doing your usual community Christmas Lunch and New Years Eve party?
Sorry - no. Not at this time. We will just be catering for the folk in the hotel, and as we don't know how many staff we will have at that time, we cannot take bookings for large functions.

Will 'The most interesting blog... in the whurld' still continue?
You betcha. From where, I have no clue, but watch this space! Not only that - a second book is in the pipeline.

So the sun will set on our time at La Rochelle...

And we have no regrets.

La Rochelle has been a wonderful home for us, and if you have been following this blog over the past year or so, you will know that it is as much a blog on La Rochelle as it is on my book. Reading back through the old posts (now numbering over 150) I am amazed at the diversity and richness of the times we have had here. From cobras to Fred the chameleon; goblins and ghosts; the school play to fruit thieves in the trees; from minor surgery in the kitchen to Mad Theresa sleeping for free in the hotel; and not forgetting my mopane-worm-chewing-and-spewing Americans, it certainly has been anything but boring.

We have made so, so many friends during our time here, and, best of all, La Rochelle has given our three children a childhood - as opposed to just an upbringing; a childhood they will remember and cherish for the rest of their lives. Della and I have watched them grow from mewling, bawling, dribbling and puking babies (Courtney was born here), to mewling, bawling, dribbling and puking teenagers.

It has been a privilege.

Apart from our own future, Della and I are concerned for our Staff, and we would very much like to try to find them jobs before we leave. Our Staff comprises eleven people - 3 Cooks, 4 Waiters, 1 Kitchen Porter, 2 Bedroom Hands and 1 Night Guard. Most of them are mentioned by name in "Sorry for that!". (Preacher, Febi, Clemence, Christinah, David, Michael and Joseph).

This staff compliment is quite apart from one slightly tatty-looking Manager, and one beautiful and charming Accountant/Buyer/and-general-kicker-of-bums.

If you are involved in an operation which may be able to take on any of these folk, please contact me on 0772-306560 or It need not be an hotel - it could be a school kitchen or dormitory or laundry, a restaurant, a hunting camp, a casino, it doesn't matter. Old Joseph, who has a sore foot, would be great if someone is looking for a really accomplished cook for their home. Anything would be appreciated. I will provide a 'technical' reference - detailing competence at work etc, as well as a 'character' reference.

We have a family who have booked to stay in the hotel for Christmas, so we intend operating until at least the 30th December. The ideal situation would be for our Staff to start new employment from early (10th) January, but if necessary we will release them before that.

Here then, the folk who have been with me, many of them since 1999, at La Rochelle.

"I smile because I employ them. They laugh because there is nothing I can do about it!"

There are some very capable people here - and I would like to be able to give them a tomorrow.

Cheers - and have a nice day!