High and dry in Tenbury
Living on the banks of a fast-flowing river is a way of life for the folk of Tenbury Wells, but even last summer's flooding failed to dampen their resilient spirit, reports Marsya Lennox.
If anyone had been watching a particular house, at a respectable address, in a smallish town, on one day last July, they might have noticed something unusual.
A stream of people, in wellies, were making their way to its front door then, apparently, doing business through a first floor window.
Bags were lowered with something bulky within - and, mostly, returned - raised up by female hands.
There were no owls perched on the gables and no cats watching from the nearby walls, but Harry Potter was the name on everyone's lips.
Awaiting customers in Tenbury Wells were not going to let a bit of flooding change their weekend plans for some serious, long-awaited reading.
And thanks to some brilliant precognition, local bookseller Diana Ryan, had felt strangely compelled, the day before, to wheelbarrow her precious delivery from the publishers, around the corner from her Teme Street shop to her home in Church Street, just behind.
Customers saw the note - and waded around the corner. One had arrived at the shop by canoe.
The River Teme and the neighbouring Kyre Brook had burst their banks, the deluge assisted by drains which could not cope with the record rainfall over such a short time, but there was more magic at work in this feisty little borderland town as the water levels rose to their highest once again, during the terrible summer of 2007, after many decades of relative dryness.
The town's "wizard" dentist, Marcel Mehra, had been spotted sealing up his practice door with a handy wand of silicone, and wise neighbours, including Diana pleaded with him to come and help protect their premises, as the muddy waters rose.
"It still came up through the floor and round the back," recalled Diana this week but she is now better prepared and four tubes of silicone sit in readiness, on one display bookshelf in her shop, "Books, Books, Books" - a sort of protective charm.
Tenbury Wells, set on the fast flowing Teme, is no stranger to the odd soaking, over the years.
There are some brilliant photographs from the early 20th century showing the water lapping up the walls, just above the doorsteps of the few prone areas.
And despite all that, no potential incoming buyer with an ounce of courage, or taste, could resist many of the long-lived town cottages that are known to dip their toes, from decade to decade.
Most of Tenbury was fine, but some prominent town centre businesses took a bit of a knock, particularly those who had invested in improvements, just to see them un-done.
Notably was the town's specialist Clee Hill bakery business, still selling its wonderful bread from a van instead of its smart shop, awaiting repairs and Bright's electrical business, revamped just before the series of summer floods, but now back in business.
The flooding brought its various dramas, among them the arrival of the media, some conspicious, after the first flood, by their presence on the riverside - awaiting more bad news. There were smiles when word got round that one reporter's car had been soaked.
There were no smiles when local house interiors appeared on television reports - and the owners did not even know that cameras had been pushed through their front doors.
There were pushy inverviewers who pointed to their next interviewees - and were told where to go, and there was some genuine puzzlement among locals at the total detachment of the busy press contingent. "They were very intrusive - but really unhelpful."
Tune in to one of the amateur internet films of the summer to see the bemused, detached press posse with their damp notebooks and big fat cameras, hovering, uselessly, against a backdrop of happy paddling children and stoical shoppers - to a sound-track of Handel's Water Music - and it all seems quite poignant.
However, there is little sign of worry on one of the few April Fridays this year that saw an optimistic sun warming the old walls, and the normal banter in the pleasant shops, often delivered in wonderfully unchanged rural tones.
The historic dialect is a sign that this area remains in the real world, where family roots are still in the local countryside, the hopgrowing, the orchards and the earth that is shared between Worcestershire, Shropshire and, only a mile up the hill, Herefordshire.
You will hear it in the largest supermarket in town, and the neighbouring farm shop, even the tourist information office where local ladies are selling the very last tickets for the weekend's Gilbert and Sullivan performances by the local operatic society.
Diana Ryan notes that her visiting family nearly missed out by "dithering" over their ticket purchases. "There were only four or five seats left - including one behind the drums."
The old Regal cinema in the town is an historic survivor in its own right, still up and running, astonishingly still managed by the town council and performing as a successful venue for both film and live entertainment.
A recent film event, featuring the block-buster Atonement, saw 650 cinema-goers over just three days. "For a small town that is quite a lot," remarked Diana.
There are other cultural events too, notably specialist speakers and experts on the arts. "Ludlow does it - it's known for it." Tenbury does it too, against the odds.
In the 19th century, there was the spa thing - the wholesome mineral waters that gave rise to the idiosyncratic Pump Rooms, once more a landmark, after serious renovation, and a worthy architectural attraction.
"Chinese Gothic" was the style, the water, good for bathing and drinking, was said to have an aroma of cordite about it, as if a gun had been discharged, and the poor visionaries who had scented riches struggled to make it all pay, despite hopes of being another Cheltenham.
Though, their aspirations were perhaps more modest, targeting the "working to middle classes" as their likeliest customers.
Tenbury is not exactly "posh".
A down-to -earth air is the order of the day, although the regular shoppers from the lovely surrounding areas might inject some upmarket custom into the worthy town centre with its good range of independent outlets and regular markets but they prize the independence - and the resilience of those town centre traders who hold up their heads in a country of homogenised high streets.
Some may to move back to the urban Midlands, but those from truly "foreign" parts seem to relish the small town thing. and Tenbury keeps a hold on its own people, for obvious reasons.
"Families that have been here for a while may go away - and then they come back," says Diana, who admits she remains practically a foreigner, even after 27 years in the area, but life as a trader in this town, even one that received a soaking last summer, is pretty good.
"We know a lot of the people - and what they like. They want to see independent shops in Tenbury and they are very keen to support you."
The traders have been coping well, though it has been hard for some. Diana said: "People want to support Tenbury through difficult times.
"At Christmas, I saw people who said they were doing everything they possibly could do - right here."