Looking through the photographs I took in Tewkesbury in May, I found two pictures of Chuck Pavey and his floodwater hand. There's Pavey, a 66-year-old retired electrician in a Manchester United hooded top, a wispy white pageboy haircut and dark glasses, standing by a wall on the bank of the River Avon. He's holding his right hand horizontally in the air, about thirty centimetres above the top of the wall, which comes up to his waist. The olive-coloured Avon ripples away, three or four metres further below. In the background is an arched pedestrian bridge, a willow tree with its lower fronds stroking the water, and the massive red brick wall of a derelict flour mill. In the next picture, Pavey is standing next to the freshly whitewashed wall of the White Bear pub, looking more agitated, as if he's afraid I still haven't got the point. It's the same stance, except that this time the hand has risen above his head. It hovers about two metres above the level of the road; it comes three-quarters of the way up the casement of the pub window. I got the point. If you'd tried to stand where Pavey was standing on Monday, 23 July 2007 - the day water levels peaked in Tewkesbury - you'd have been treading water.
LRB 31 July 2008 | PDF Download