The poem that defined a town
July 29, 2014 10:54 PM   Subscribe

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

John Betjeman's poem Slough, published in 1937, forever doomed the town to ridicule and infamy. Slough has repeatedly attempted to redress the poetic balance:
Attila the Stockbroker, 1987:
Sir John - oh, what a sense of farce!
A poet of the teacup class.

Ian McMillan, 2005:
So, children, husband, partner, wife
Dismiss the poet's rhyming knife.

Fergus Allen, 2009 [PDF of poem]:
Betjeman's was a subtle taste
But his derision was misplaced
And such disparagement outfaced
By human self-esteem.

Local children have also contributed:
Matthew Moore [PDF, poem on p27], 13, winner of the Slough Observer's 1987 "In Praise of Slough" contest :
Come, friendly bombs and fall on John
'Cause we are glad that poem's gone.

Joanna Okolotowicz, 11, winner of a 2006 contest celebrating Betjeman's centenary:
This town's much better, and how
Old poem die a death!

Slough was also infamously cast as the setting of the BBC's The Office. Brent and Betjeman collide in one episode: "I don’t think you solve town planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place, he’s embarrassed himself there."

However, Betjeman's friendly bombs live on as a gift to lazy journalists and as an occasional source of snowclones: come friendly Poles; come friendly datacenters.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (12 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I think being called "Slough" has never helped.
posted by Segundus at 11:19 PM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Indeed -- and many an entity has erased a poor reputation with a name change and time. (After two corporate name changes, the successor to Blackwater has a name I have to look up every time.)

I also wonder why the town hasn't done more to change itself to combat that dreary expectation. On the other hand, I'm sympathetic, as I live someplace that simply has no real catalyst for change and will probably trudge on this way for years as a pleasant enough but almost wholly unengaging place.
posted by dhartung at 12:13 AM on July 30, 2014

I spent a pretty miserable year working in Slough. Betjeman was dead right.
posted by Decani at 12:54 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to live near Slough.

It's pretty grim, but not nearly as awful as Stockton.
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:46 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:55 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Come friendly bombs don't fall on Slough!
Don't you think they have had enough?
Besides that poem was rather duff,
The M4 sighs.

Why not pick on something else instead,
How about that lovely Maidenhead?
You could even write the poem in bed,
With your girlfriend.

i am joe's spleen suggests Reading,
But the rhymes would be too leading,
And leave your readers' eyes bleeding,
So don't bother.

Come friendly bombs and fall on me,
And maybe also one for thee,
And end together our wretched poetry.
World rejoicing.
posted by Thing at 3:18 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


The US one too.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:31 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

A certified poet from Slough,
Whose methods of rhyming were rough,
Retorted, "I see
That the letters agree
And if that's not sufficient, I'm through."
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:35 AM on July 30, 2014 [19 favorites]

The town came before the poem.

To be serious for a microsecond: are there any large conurbations near a capital city that aren't dire? The reason they exist in the form that they do is because it's too expensive to put light industry/admin/drone work stuff in the big city, but you still want the convenience and resources of that city close at hand. Small and sparky stuff, or cultural endeavours that need to draw on a large pool of potential audience anything really that values creativity over square feet of floor space, will either be in the city from day one or move there as soon as it can.

In other words, the big city will draw the good stuff out of the satellites by ineffable cultural and fiscal osmosis. Slough can't help but be Slough. The Thames Valley will always drain into London.
posted by Devonian at 5:30 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Slough can't help but be Slough. The Thames Valley will always drain into London.

OTOH, there's Brighton.

Or, indeed, Brooklyn to Manhattan; it started out as a dumping ground for migrants, the poor and sweatshop industry, became hip, and now is rapidly becoming a dormitory suburb for financiers.
posted by acb at 6:34 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Come friendly buns and fall on Slough
Until the city rolls in dough.
It's true that dough is hard to plough,
But that's just tough.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:40 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Atilla the Stockbroker poem that the Slough Observer commissioned is really sly; it calls back to Betjeman's phrasing ("blow-dried hair and blow-dried brain") and recasts Slough as a new, capitalist hell:
Oh self-made, independent town!
The jewel in Margaret's southern crown!
No more will poets put you down
with mocking voice!

Come tourists all, and flock to Slough
as Milton Friedman takes a bow
This town is fit for heroes now -
Come, and rejoice!
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:13 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How the World Looks to Your Hubcap   |   Feminism, stereotypes, and Nicki Minaj's album... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments