Saturday, September 27, 2003

The Valley Lodge, Magaliesberg

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Service: * * * *
Food: * * * 1/2
Ambience: * * * *
Babe Count: * * *1/2

Hats off to Natasha for exceptional service! The only reason this place doesn't get five stars is because of an incident involving the inhouse restaurant, a waiter, a manager, and a pair of shorts. More on that later.

Back track a couple of days to when I was phoning around to book a place. Jacqui says, "Have you tried The Valley Lodge?" I hunt up their number. Get through to Natasha. Ask about rooms. Yup. They've got some space available. She quotes me a cost. Not massively expensive, but way over budget.

I explain the situation to her. "Natasha, it's not really a holiday. I'm taking a writing break. My writing partner and I are co-scripting a b-movie horror, and we're basically keen to get away from Johannesburg to do it. Is there any way at all we can get a lower rate?"

She takes down my details, promises to phone me back within fifteen minutes. Calls me back in about three minutes. "Okay," she says, "I've just spoken to our general manager, and this is what we can do for you. We'll give one of you the normal rate, and the other one will come in at the spouse rate. We're basically giving you a special married couple package."

"Wow!" I say. Cos the price she quotes is exactly right. "But," I say, "can you make sure there are two beds? Cos Damon and I aren't actually married! And we just writing partners!"

"I'll see what I can do about upgrading the room. But I'll only know closer to Wednesday."

So, it's Wednesday, just after lunchtime. Our room is actually a suite. Two bedrooms, a huge bathroom. And Damon and I have rearranged everything so that his bedroom is the working room. The beds are big enough for four people each. If Damon and I were typical Hollywood-scum moviemakers, we'd probably be scheming on how to make more effective use of those beds.

We immediately pin flipchart paper over the cupboard walls, flip out the laptops, and start procrastinating. "They've got a mini gym here," I say.

Damon says, "Should we take a paddle out on the river?"

Nah. We decide to work. Which sets the tone for the next ninety-six or so hours. Work for four or so hours in the afternoon. Take a two-and-a-half hour supper break. Work for three hours more. Sleep. Wake up. Morning ablutions, breakfast up in the restaurant, at work by ten for about three hours. Lunch. And so on.

And it totally works! We figured that we'd be happy to get a third of the way through the movie at the end of this short long-weekend. By the time Saturday comes along, we'll have completed 51 pages of tight horror movie script! That's just more than half of the movie, and all of the plotting. We are mightily impressed. If we'd been able to take off a week instead of a midweek, we'd have finished the film by now.


Supper. Thursday night. Damon and I took a short break to paddle up and down the river in little kayaks. Dipping the oars deposits water into the vessel. Which wets the pants. My pants are sopping wet. So they're hanging on my door. I'm wearing a pair of shorts.

We walk into the dining hall, and start pulling our chairs out. The maitre d' hotel scurries up to me and says, "I'm sorry, you have to wear long trousers."

I look around the place. There is one other table occupied. "You ARE joking," I say, and continue to pull my chair out.

He pushes my chair back in. "We have a dress code."

"Call the manager," I say. "This is ridiculous. My trousers are wet." He shows me the way to the door. I decide that I'm not really interested in pissing myself off toooooo much, so Damon and I step onto the terrace.

The manager comes, three minutes later. "Sorry," he says. "There is a dress code, and there's nothing we can do except for maybe room service, or laying a table out here in the terrace."

This is a classic case of "Sorry, Can't" thinking. I'm used to "Can Do" thinking. My first response to any challenge is to wonder how I can solve it, rather than thinking about the multitude of reasons something can't be done.

I say, "What about your second dining hall? Noone's there now."

He looks ungainly and broken, as if I've just asked him to commit a fireable offence. If this were my hotel, his original attitude would have guaranteed at least a disciplinary hearing. He bows to the pressure of my intransigence, and opens the door to the second dining hall.

The food is nothing special in this place. Very competently made, mind you. But no real variety. And the menu doesn't change from night to night. They can feed about 150 people, I'd guess, and there is a tiny bit of institution about the taste. But it's fine. The breakfast is superb though. Everything you could dream of. In abundant quantity. And fresh.


Coming back from supper at the Fat Man on Friday night (see entry above), Damon and I run into the general manager, Mike. "I'm so sorry about the incident in the restaurant last night," he says. "Please, next time, if you're in shorts, please, just take a seat. You're our guests." He's a genuinely good guy, someone who's only been there for a few months, and who passionately believes in the "Can Do" ethic that I love. He's the guy who made the Mount Grace in Magaliesberg the talked-about attraction it is today. Was there for eight years. "No," he says, when I mention this to him, "it wasn't just me. Natasha was my right-hand woman. It was both of us. And we're going to make this place just as great."

Fifty-one pages. That's great! And thanks to Natasha for giving us the space to do it.

And thanks also to the tick that bit me down near the river for giving me tick bite fever. (See Wednesday 8 October above for details.) It gave me another holiday from work.

Friday, September 26, 2003

The Fat Man Restaurant, Magaliesberg

Friday, September 26, 2003

Phone: +27 14 577 1802

Service: * * *
Food: * * *
Ambience: * * *
Babe Count: * * *

Damon and I have taken a break from the Valley Lodge, and came to town for Friday night supper. We want to get a taste of the local colour.

"Are you an artist?" says Ilze, our waitress. She's twenty-years-old, and walks like a model.

This must be the number-one most-asked question I get in restaurants when I whip my sketchbook out and start flicking ink across the page. Every time someone asks me, it flabbergasts me. Really, what does it LOOK like I'm doing? Exterminating termites?? I answer her. "Yeah," I say.

"What are you drawing?"

I'm twisted around in my seat, facing the only fat man with a moustache in the restaurant. I'm sketching. Ilze's looking at the drawing. From my angle it looks like a drawing of a fat man with a moustache. I whisper, "I'm drawing that fat man over there."

"Him?" she says, mirth erupting from her mouth. She claps a hand over her lips and squeals. "He's the owner's husband!"

"Did she name her restaurant after him?" I've just finished the quiche, which was very tasty, but a tiny portion. Not really enough for supper.

Ilze has graduated from modelling school. She occasionally models for catalogue shoots. I'm too scared to ask if she's one of the underwear babes on the Game broadsheets. I'll never sleep again knowing such intimate details.

The fat man looks up, aware of all the attention. Ilze says, "Can I show him?"

"Ya," I say, "but please ask him not to punch me."

"No, he won't punch you! He's not like that!"

She takes my sketchbook over to his table. He studies it. Nods. "Interesting," he says. "Who is it?"

I point at him, and Ilze says, "You!!!"

He looks again. Suddenly he delivers a vast bellylaugh, and the owner comes running out from the kitchen. "Swannie!" she says.

"This man drew me!" he says, still laughing. She takes a look and smiles. Swannie gets up and comes over to my table. I stand up, and we exchange handshakes. "Hey," he says, still jiggling, "are you an artist?"

He's battling to speak English, so I switch over to Afrikaans. I used to have an Afrikaans girlfriend, so I'm fully bilingual. "Yes," I say, in the vernacular.

He's so relieved to be speaking Afrikaans. He says (in his mother tongue), "So, uh... is this me?"

Jeepers. How many more fat men with moustaches can he see?? "Yeah," I say.

He laughs some more, and takes the book round to everyone in the restaurant. Seems I've become a minor celebrity.

"Ilze," I say, in Afrikaans, "is there any chance at all that I might be able to taste a tiny bit of Helena's famous bobotie? Just a taste."

She comes back with the plate heaped with bobotie. And it's delicious. And yeah, it's actually worth travelling all the way to the Magaliesberg for lunch one day to have it again.