Two weeks ago, when the hot weather was just getting established here in the south-west, I found myself with a couple of hours to kill, in Upton-upon-Severn. That’s only a little way over the county-border, but somehow we generally pass-through, rather than visit.
It’s a two street town. A woman in a hurry could walk along both and be out on the other side in about five minutes, but I drifted, peering through windows in a dream of book-titles, turning over pages.
As well as charity stores there were plenty of other shops. I could have bought a horse-drawn funeral or a Chinese massage; pots of herbs, a bicycle, a flower arrangement, a fishing rod, an ice-cream or kitted out a kitchen.
I drifted along the narrow pavement. There was just room for two people to pass, and the town was busy with cars and lorries going west. Squinting into the sun I saw that I’d reached the church spire. Beyond it were the trees and fields of the flood-plain. I swopped to the shops on the other side of the road.
Half an hour later I was back at my starting point, facing The White Lion Hotel. Maybe I was two-hundred and seventy-two years (plus a few months) too late to bump into Tom Jones, Sophia Western and Benjamin Partridge, but I thought I ought, really should, go for a cooling beverage in ‘that Inn which in their eyes presented the fairest appearance in the street’.
From the outside, it looked pretty much like an illustration I remembered seeing. ‘Yes,’ the receptionist confirmed, ‘this is the Tom Jones Hotel.’ Then she flitted through a door to become the barmaid. Was I expecting to step back through time? That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?
After I’d settled in the lounge a man came in. ‘Beer, please, Anna,’ he said. ‘ You’re looking a bit harassed, what’s up?’
‘We’re out of laminating pockets,’ she said, ‘and I need to finish these menus. You don’t have any at your place, do you?’
He hadn’t. As poor Anna began phoning round, I sat back, looking through my new books. Portraits of Tom, Sophia, Henry Fielding and Prince Rupert looked down on me. I wondered what they would have made of the leather arm chairs and wall-to-wall carpet. There were plenty of doors for a confusion of entrances and exits, but I couldn’t imagine any of my hoped-for companions using them.
Back in the street I spotted ‘Cromwell’ and couldn’t resist a closer look. The six-foot high grass-dog was sitting at the base of ‘The Pepperpot’ – an ancient tower that houses the tourist centre. I kid you not, and to prove I was not hallucinating, here’s a photo.
I think he might be a labradoodle, in need of grooming. I patted his rough hide, and felt recompensed for the absences of Henry and his cast of characters. Funny how I never find what I’m looking for on a second-hand book hunt, but always find something worth thinking about.