You know a town is in trouble when there are empty store fronts and charity shops begin to multiply. I’ve spent two weeks in Derbyshire in central England, and the main street is in trouble.
The local shopping mall has one cafe that’s been closed suddenly by the sheriff, the former Marks and Spencer store is vacant, so too two other big stores in the indoor plaza.
There are four bargain basement stores all competing for the pounds in people’s pockets, and there there’s a plethora of sandwich boards on the street outside cafes offering two-for-one deals of the day.
And the weather isn’t helping either. These middle weeks of August are more like late autumn, so much rain has fallen I’m surprised some of the struggling stores haven’t started selling life-jackets or a do-it-yourself ark. But they are doing a brisk trade in wellies and rainwear, with little disposable ponchos in pouches selling like proverbial hot cakes.
In nearby Whaley Bridge, there was so much rain that the local dam, first built in 1831, showed signs of breaking. The Royal Air Force used a big twin-rotor Chinook helicopter to lift tonnes of gravel bags in to shore up the dam while the fire brigade pumped millions of litres of water to lower the level of the lake behind the dam. Now, it looks like a wide shallow river with wider muddy banks — but the danger is over and the reconstruction work will begin in earnest. And attention is now being drawn to the other 15 dams or so across the region that are as old as the Whaley Bridge structure — and might face the same potential problems from the continued rain.
The dams were built to keep water levels topped up in the canal system that was built two centuries ago the move cotton and products to and from the local mills to ports like Liverpool from where they were shipped around the world. This time last year, there was a drought, the water levels in the dams were low, and the narrowboats that are used now as homes and weekend getaways were scraping the bottom of the canals.
The annual football season has kicked off, and the weather was so poor that the first set of games looked as if they were being played in the middle of winter.
I had to pick up some friends at Manchester Airport last week who had been away in Spain for two weeks. Charter flights arrive at ungodly times and it rained all the way to the airport. When those automatic doors opened into the arrivals concourse, the smiling faces of the sun-tanned and sandalled holidaymakers turned to frowns at the bundled up and raincoated greeters. Yes, autumn has landed along with the planes.
Already, the chestnut trees are starting to show the first traces of their autumnal colours — not a good sign that this wet British summer will change in the weeks ahead. Even the 10-day weather forecast apps are showing at least 60 per cent rain every day in the range. On television, the weather forecasters are wearing increasingly darker colours with each broadcast — not one dares to wear a bright summer dress. I expect that one day soon the forecasters will appear in wellies or a disposable poncho too. While I’m here, I’m dog sitting. Stanley is normally enthusiastic about his walks and can’t wait to get out and sniff and romp through the local park. Now he just looks out at the rain, stifles a whine, and heads back to his bed. I wish those stores would sell ponchos in pouches for pooches. No such luck.