Slough of Despond

I grew up with The Pilgrim’s Progress, introduced to it before I could read, not the actual book but a rather tedious card game bases on Bunyan’s book.

“This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run; and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond.”

And in the book, one of Bunyan’s excessively characterless characters tells Pilgrim how the king’s labourers have tried for 1600 years to make the slough a better and firmer place, tipping at least 20,000 carloads if not millions of materials from all over the kingdom into it to try and render the ground firm without success.

Slough has always seemed to be trying to emulate this description, most recently with a large redevelopment area called Heart of Slough, and it’s a place I find acutely depressing to visit at the best of times, though it perhaps gets better if you know it. Or perhaps not. There are some interesting places to visit not far away, and I sometimes struggle through it on my way to Burnham Beeches or Stoke Poges.

But there are some good points to Slough; for years until I was diagnosed with diabetes I was often kept alive by the sugar surge of a Mars bar on lengthy photographic outings. Mars were one of the first major companies to set up on the Slough Trading Estate, one of the first business parks in the UK, a few years after it was founded in 1925. (I did once spend several days photographing what is still the largest business park in  single private ownership in Europe.) It’s perhaps a point in Slough’s favour, though it may well have contributed to my condition.

It was the trading estate that caused John Betjeman to write a few years later “Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It isn’t fit for humans now.”  But Betjeman was a snob who looked down on the ordinary working people (though he wanted to spare them from those bombs, which were reserved for the bosses with a “double chin” and “desk of polished oak“.)  Ordinary people working in the offices and factories were beginning to earn enough to dream of and even buy cheap houses, to talk about “makes of cars In various bogus-Tudor bars” while “Their wives frizz out peroxide hair… And paint their nails.” Though he did feel it wasn’t their fault they knew no better – “and often go To Maidenhead“, not having had the benefit of his privileged upbringing in Highgate and education at Marlborough and Oxford (where his tutor thought him an ‘idle prig’ and he found better things to do than work for his courses.)

Vaisakhi procession in Slough, April 2009

But the best thing about Slough is perhaps its ethnic diversity, and the best time to go there is for Vaisakhi.

But that would not have been a popular sentiment for the rather disgruntled and disappointed group who were gathering at Slough station when I arrived there on February 1st.

I can understand many of the frustrations and lack of power that drive people to support groups like the EDL, but am appalled by their gullibility in believing the lies of the media and disappointed by they failure to lay the blame in the correct place.

As the old slogan goes: “Unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration” though perhaps now we should replace inflation by financial collapse, though it wouldn’t scan. The enemies of the workers are not immigrants, but bankers and the other greedy rich, and while the Labour Party has moved away from its traditional working class base, the left has failed to attract support (not least because it is so dominated by the middle class and mired in irrelevant factional squabbles.) Leaving empty ground for the EDL and other simplistic right wing drivellers including the saloon bar rhetoric of UKIP and the nuttier reaches of the Tory party.

I tried hard to be fair to the EDL, and to report accurately why they were protesting and what they actually did and said on the day (though I wasn’t able to stay and report on all the speeches as the police were still beating back the counter-protesters.) There are a small minority who are sincere in the belief that the EDL is not Islamophobic but is only opposed to the actions of a few Muslim extremists (and I pointed out to them that the great majority of Muslims are also opposed to these extremists), but they seem to be greatly outnumbered by those whose chanting clearly displays a more general and widespread hate of all Muslims.

The EDL walk along the High St after the riot police and horses have cleared the street

Slough was clearly something of a disaster for the EDL whose numbers were low – considerably lower than expected. Their ‘We go where we like’ turned out to mean ‘so long as several hundred police with riot shields and horses clear the path for us.’ The antifa and local youths would certainly have been more than a match for them had the police not stepped in on the EDL side.

The police get ready for a baton charge against a large group of local youths

While the EDL were clearly losers, I’m not sure there were any real winners on the day. The police didn’t manage to prevent public disorder – in fact they contributed greatly to it. I felt the decision to force a way through was wrong, amounting to the police taking sides, and creating more public disorder by doing so. They should perhaps have accepted the impass and kept the two sides apart while telling the EDL to hold their rally where they were stopped before returning to the station.

The antifa claimed a victory but didn’t manage to prevent the EDL from holding a rally – though their actions did mean (with the help of the police) they were denied a platform with the speeches being made to an otherwise empty town centre with only a few police and journalists close enough to hear what was being said – if they had been listening.

A police horse out of control on the Hight St

Many shops lost trade, with most of the High Street closed off most of the afternoon, and doubtless many Slough shoppers were inconvenienced by the closure and by some bus diversions. Some were visibly scared by what was happening, particularly those unfortunate enough to be near the out of control police horses.

And this photographer was bruised by a plastic bottle thrown by one of the Slough youths, threatened and abused by some of the EDL, and hit on the ankle when a group of EDL threw down a barrier and tried to rush out of the rally pen. I’m still limping a little two weeks later, though I think nothing is broken. Many of us also got pushed around by the police rather roughly.

My report on the event and more pictures:
EDL Saved by Police in Slough.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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