So who was the mystery woman? What did I know about her? Well, lots, but little of it verifiable. There was one thing I could track down and that was the Sloane Ranger Handbook. A quick journey to Amazon gave me the names of two authors: Peter York and Ann Barr. I can be fairly sure it’s not Peter York, not unless her life was even more fascinating than she made it out to be.
I quickly Googled the name, and clicked on this article, where alas, I could see from the picture that this was not the woman who I had encountered. She was a bit younger and thinner and a glasses wearer. However, reading on I found that the book had been written with the help of three others, significantly Vicki Woods and Sue Carpenter.
Sue Carpenter now appears to live in Los Angeles, which seems to rule her out; despite the story I was told about how my train companion had once had tea with the heir to the Campbell Soup Empire, and how she had two private planes, one to transport the family, one for the pets.
Now interestingly enough, Vicki Woods seems to be based in England, and appears to write for the Daily Telegraph. I saw this article, and immediately got excited. It talked about how the writer worked for the magazine where the whole Sloane Ranger phenomenon started. It talks about Scotland, where my companion’s family lived. But then as I read on, I realised that the writer had not actually been to Scotland until the 90s, just her husband that knew the place well. Here’s a short bio here; this time too young... The stories just don’t match up.
Where to now? Reading the first article about Ann Barr further, I found another name, a sub-editor called Martina Margetts who actually coined the name in the first place. Could this be the woman? This lady is a lecturer at the Royal College of Arts, Senior Tutor in Critical & Historical Studies. There’s a bit about her here. Some international background, books published, but no picture, and no evidence to suggest she was the person involved in the whole Sloane thing. And no picture, alas.
With nowhere else to go, I went to the The Good Schools Guide website, and unsurprisingly, found rather a large list of contributors, none of which matched the name’s I had come across already. Although frustratingly there was a Sue Wood. Could I have sat next to a complete loony? A habitual liar?
Well one tiny thing makes me think that it wasn’t all complete balls. Remember her encounters with the Warner Brothers? That her father went on to be director of Playtex. Read the latter half of this page, there is a connection between the two. Rough – but could this be the nugget of info that proves that it wasn’t all made up? I cannot know for sure.
If you’ve got any further ideas or avenues for investigation, then by all means, let me know...
So having made some pretty scurrilous claims about the past two Labour leaders, we somehow got onto her trips abroad. She regaled with tales about her time at the foot of the Himalayas: “Have you ever played croquet?”, I had not. Well, apparently it’s really different on elephant back.
More risky of course if you fall off. She enjoyed it the first year, but the second year war had broken out without the rebels, so the people at the elephant croquet place couldn’t use any firearms. This meant scarring off wild elephants was very difficult, and one particular rogue kept coming into the enclosure and having his way with the females. It was hard to scare him off and he kept coming back. However, one time he came by during the day, and saw the elephants mid-croquet game. He his expressed his disgust with a mighty roar, and was never seen again.
Then we moved onto her time helping to run an African game reserve with the local tribe’s people. The nominated chief of the tribe had left many years previously and become an engineer. But he was tempted back and later went onto to enjoy 13 wives. This of course is the problem, too many of the tribe’s young people are being sent a way to get an education. They make most of their money from letting very rich people hunt there. The one thing they hated was gap year students; too much work to take care for, they didn’t really care about the land, they wouldn’t work very hard, and they just got stoned all the time. This apparently put her at odds with many charities.
I managed to get a few words in and mentioned my recent trip to India, and the conversation gradually moved towards the natural stomach problems I experienced. Apparently banana’s and Coke-A-Cola is best for diarrhoea , she was told that by the personal doctor to one of the more rebellious leader’s in Africa, who was also Glenn Close’s father.
Finally we went back to her childhood growing up in Scotland. Her father ran a few a whisky factories which boomed after prohibition ended, shipping most of their wares to America, but this boom didn’t last forever. He was partnered with a man who had strong ties to the mafia, and who also employed one of President Kennedy’s bodyguards. He frequently spoke ill of JFK, which came as a shock because he had near saint like status. Her father would eventually go on to be director of Playtex.
One of the fond memories she does have of her childhood is that of the Warner Brothers coming around for tea. The two of them would sit in front of the telly, timing the adverts. Commercial television has only just been introduced and they wanted to know how long the adverts really were.
It was at this point that the train stopped for a while and the seat opposite became free. She bought a copy of the Mail and decided to put her feet up there. This was after 3 and a half hours of solid talking. I always take long books with me when I go on long journeys, so I can really get stuck in. I think I got less than 15 pages read before the journey ended.
We eventually arrived at Edinburgh. We spoke a little while we collected our luggage, but as soon as the train was stopped, she charged off, past the shop and down the aisle past the toilet and out of sight. I went on in pursuit, hoping to catch up with her, but alas, she was gone.
I never did get her name. Who was she? I’ve already had one comment with a suggestion, but it’s unfortunately, not that easy...
I went up to Scotland the other week. I enjoyed it, I’ve never been up there, it was a nice treat.
The trip itself didn’t get off to a great start though. I had packed, only had to toss in my tooth brush, a towel and then I was ready to go. I set the alarm on my phone for 8:20, plenty of time to get down to the station before 9:30 to get my train. Unfortunately, I left my phone in the living room and only realised this in the morning, when in a state of panic I turned on the TV to discover that it was now 9:40.
I was out of the house in 7 minutes, down on the platform at East Croydon in under 20 minutes and arrived at Kings Cross only 7 minutes late for the train. I was honest with the man on the ticket counter and he validated my ticket for the train half an hour later. I managed to find an unbooked seat – my journey could now continue.
However, what I didn’t realise was that I was about to sit next to the craziest woman I’ve ever met - and in this case, enjoyed meeting. She may have talked non-stop for 3 and a half hours, but I think it was worth listening too. Certainly more interesting than any work of fiction I could’ve indulged in.
It started off quite innocuously as she told me about how she was going up to see her elderly mother who’d been having a rough time recently. She’s not been well recently, but she’s 82 so she’s still a fighter. Her mother had a fall and was ill and the doctors said her hip was fine, but she insisted on an x-ray for her, and it turned out she had. Then there was a mercenary man going around to all the injured old lady, offering them a stair lift, ready for them as soon as they got home if they signed here. She swore at the salesman, even though the doctor recommended one; she’d go down on the stairs on her bum, as she had for ten years already.
Mundane so far. But we would gradually go to more crazy places. She was a writer, she’d written for the Times, Guardian, Independent and so on. Her claim to fame is as one of the creators of a famous book from the 70s called ‘How to be a Sloane Ranger’, which although humorous, many people took to be quite serious. There were two follow-ups, but they delivered diminishing results.
She is also still an editor on the Good Schools guide and told a good anecdote about a school ranked excellent. It was a modest school, with modest resources, and it seemed like it couldn’t keep a head teacher for more than a year. This was because the school hired disgraced, highly regarded teachers, who had been dismissed from former jobs for misbehaving – sleeping with staff, even pupils. So it got the best candidates, at a reduced cost, who needed the work to bounce back.
It was at this point that the crazy claims started to seep in. “You do know that Tony Blair’s gay? Oh, yes, he had this thing going with this press officer”. Then on to Gordon Brown “Did you know that he signed the gun license for the man who went on to commit the Dunblaine massacre?”*
We would then go on to considerably stranger places including playing croquet on elephant back at the foot of the Himalayas, diarrhoea advice from Glenn’s Close’s father, game reserve management in Africa, selling bootleg whisky with the help of President Kennedy’s former bodyguard, and visits from the Warner Brothers to her Scottish childhood home.
TO BE CONTINUED....
* I haven’t found any evidence of his, well, not on Wikipedia anyway.
is a writer for better and for worse. I got in above my station writing for M&S, but was credit crunched down to writing about sex toys, Viagra and herpes meds. I’m now taking a step back towards legitimacy by writing for JML Direct. I’m awkward and don’t like much.