Stuck in Slough
November 15, 2005
My friend Katherine Sand loaned me the British (original) version of the TV series “The Office”: a very clever pseudodocumentary that’s very funny, very accurate, Katherine says, and ultimately depressing to watch dysfunctional players in an irrelevant small corporation alternately ass-kissing and back-stabbing their way up the stepladder. The setting for the show was, appropriately, the town of Slough, a nuance that I would have missed if I hadn’t had a personal encounter with Slough. Oh my God, Slough, I thought, a chill running through my body.It was almost 30 years ago that my daughters, Skye and Hillery, and I embarked on a three-week journey to England, Scotland and Paris. Hillery (just 13) and I flew from Dallas to Gatwick Airport and two days later at dawn were to meet Skye (a few months shy of 16), who was living with her father in Alaska and flying over the pole to Heathrow.Panicked about connecting with Skye at such an early hour, I asked my travel agent to book a room as close as possible to Heathrow, and he made reservations at a Holiday Inn in Slough for the reasonable price of $25 (this was 1978).Hillery and I survived the worst dunder and blitzen storm over Dallas that I had ever seen from the air. All the passengers applauded when we finally landed. A wild dash to Braniff, where our flight to London was delayed another hour due to the storm. Hillery fell asleep immediately, but I was too excited to close my eyes. That was a big mistake because when we arrived at Gatwick the next morning my eyes were crossed with jet lag and it turned out our bags weren’t on the plane. We had to wait for three hours in a hangar-sized holding pen at Gatwick before being “processed” and put into a car to take us to Slough, an endless ride.The Holiday Inn at Slough was more tacky than Holiday Inns in America. The lady at the desk said the rate was not $25 but 25 pounds ($50) and there was no assurance when our bags might arrive – maybe that night, maybe the next day. Meanwhile, all we had with us were our most important items: our journals, all of our travel plans (such as they were), the pertinent pages of the hardback books about England that I had excised with a razor blade to keep the weight of our baggage down, our own reading and personal grooming materials. The latter did not include shampoo and toothbrushes, which we bought in the lobby of the Holiday Inn at Slough before crashing for a nap in our clothes.After a dreadful dinner and a fitful night (I screamed in my sleep and scared the hell out of Hillery), we took a shuttle to Heathrow the next morning and from there took the Underground to London to scout a base camp. It was immediately obvious that we would have been better off getting a hotel room in London, as Heathrow was just an Underground skip away.Back to the Holiday Inn in Slough. Rhymes with cow, conjuring images of swamp, bog, quagmire and rising damp. The good news was that our bags were sitting in the lobby. The bad news was that the maid service, having seen no sign of baggage in our room, assumed that we had checked out and had dispatched our irreplaceable journals, travel information, reading material, makeup (mainly Hillery’s) and recently acquired toothbrushes and shampoo to the rubbish bin. And were very defensive about it, in a “Well, madam – what did you expect?” way.We all had a happy reunion at Heathrow and forgot all about Slough when we repaired to the stuffy restaurant in The Basil Street (“That’s BAH-sel Street, madam”) Hotel, our home camp in London, and had a laughing fit (hysteria) when Hillery and Skye laced their tea with little spoons of salt, thinking it was sugar.Su Lum is a longtime local who later managed to lose her kids on the Eiffel Tower. This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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