Conversations with a Health Inspector

Union Cafe was built by my grandfather a few years before the country became a republic.  He did not change the name in 1960.

It was the quintessential Greek cafe. It stood on the corner of 7th Avenue, a steep sloping road, in the middle where it flattened out a bit. The double wooden framed glass doors opened onto the corner. The cafe stocked all day to day requirements, and at some stages in its life had a soda and milkshake bar.

There was a storm water drain as the road flattened out, just above the entrance. In summer I remember making little boats out of empty cigarette cartons, and after the rains letting them sail in the cascade of water from the koppies. We would release them in the gutter at the house and run down to the corner of the shop and rescue them at the storm water drain.

There was a stockroom behind the shop, and between that and the kitchen, a storeroom with all sorts of treasures in wooden chests that once stored grains and flour. We used to spend hours here searching for tools and King George coins. The kitchen was big and square, with linoleum tile floor and simple cupboards, a small 4 seater yellow table standing in the centre. It was a personal kitchen, although originally the shop was also a tea room.

The back door opened into a courtyard shaded by vines growing on tall pergola frames. Steps climbed up the slope to the courtyard of the house next door, its courtyard and kitchen.

My Uncle Piet took over from my grandfather John in running the shop eventually. While my father was at university he helped in the shop. One year, inspired no doubt by some practical marketing lecture, he set up a train display in the window, with self made buildings and trees. This was a big attraction, and Union Cafe did its best Christmas turnover ever.

There were many inspectors in those days, bureaucratic posts to employ white people.  One year a Mr Willemse came, the health inspector.  He wanted to check the toilets. Now, these were for personal use, and anyway the men generally went back to the house to use the toilet. He was persistent in pointing out dirt in the toilet, and my Uncle Piet kept asking him to show him exactly. No doubt he was trying to solicit a bribe, but my Uncle Piet would have none of it. He kept asking:

“Where it is dirty? Show me!”

Hierso, look here”, as he bent down near the rim of the toilet bowl my Uncle Piet forced his face into the (clean, I hope) water of the toilet.

He left and never came back, except as the butt of the joke for many years to come.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s