Drop­ping names, pick­ing teams, turn­ing the ta­bles and talk­ing dirty – now that’s pure dead bril­liant

The Herald on Sunday - - VOICES - Ron McKay

Home in the ring

MY old chum Sean Penn stars in TV sci-fi drama The First about the first (duh!) hu­mans to go to Mars, which launches with booster rock­ets on Chan­nel 4 on Thurs­day. In it, ac­cord­ing to one re­view, Penn does a lot of mus­cu­lar brood­ing while show­ing off his torso. I haven’t seen him taps aff, but I have had lunch with him and en­joyed sev­eral drinks with him and his pals in a San Fran­cisco hostelry (he paid for every­thing).

Penn’s sculpted body is surely down to the work­outs at his home gym and par­tic­u­larly spar­ring in the box­ing ring he has there. He told me a ter­rific tale, which was also a cau­tion­ary one, about never meet­ing your he­roes. Bob Dy­lan is a big box­ing fan and at the time – and prob­a­bly still to­day – owned a fight gym in Los An­ge­les. He hap­pened to be in San Fran­cisco to record the au­dio ver­sion of his Chron­i­cles and had clearly heard about Penn’s square ring. One of Dy­lan’s peo­ple phoned up Penn and asked whether the singer could come over and spar. Penn said “yes, of course” and be­gan, slightly tremu­lously, to wait. Dy­lan turned up, sim­ply nod­ded, put on kit and gloves and then the two got into the ring and went to it. This sce­nario con­tin­ued for sev­eral days, when­ever Dy­lan had a break from record­ing, turn­ing up, milling, and nary a word said.

Then, one day, af­ter they had fin­ished and Dy­lan was dressed and leav­ing, he said sim­ply: “Great.” Penn never saw or heard from him again. I haven’t seen Penn since that meet­ing ei­ther but I did in­vite him to come to Glas­gow and the drinks would be on me. He hasn’t shown yet but I re­main op­ti­mistic. (Next week, in Name­drop­ping, it’s: Gaddafi, My Part in his Down­fall)

Food for thought

THE Ital­ian Serie A foot­ball team Udi­nese have a striker with the won­der­fully tasty name of Kevin Lasagna. He has a sis­ter called Sharon and they’re al­legedly named af­ter Kevin Cost­ner and Sharon Stone. It got me won­der­ing if it was pos­si­ble to con­struct a whole team with play­ers whose names are food, stretch­ing timescales where nec­es­sary.

Ob­vi­ously Kev’s strike part­ner would have to be Mas­simo Mac­carone. In goal there’s Ip­swich’s Dean Gerken. De­fend­ers are: Na­cho, Franck Le­boeuf, Mark Fish. Yaya Ba­nana and Baba Rah­man. Mid­field, Mar­cus Bean, Sa­muele Pizza and Stephen Rice. Subs in­clude Mark Bunn, Barry Veni­son and Syl­van E-Bran Flakes. The man­ager is Pat Rice. Goal­keep­ing coach, Pita Cech.

Lady and the judge

THE judge’s copy of Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover – the Pen­guin edi­tion with an­no­ta­tions by Sir Lawrence Byrne’s wife un­der­scor­ing the dirty bits – is up for auc­tion and ex­pected to fetch up­wards of £10,000 at Sotheby’s, a record for a dog-eared pa­per­back. Ap­par­ently, be­fore the trial, Lady Dorothy read the sala­cious parts out to Byrne and, no, I don’t know if it turned him on. The jury took just three hours to bring in a not-guilty ver­dict in the 1960 trial, but this clearly didn’t find favour with the judge be­cause he re­fused to al­low the de­fen­dant’s costs, re­sult­ing in a huge le­gal bill. Not that Pen­guin minded. Lady C sold out its ini­tial 200,000 print run on day one.

Marx my words

“TH­ESE are my prin­ci­ples and if you don’t like them … well, I have oth­ers.” There surely hasn’t been such a rapid and com­pre­hen­sive scurry across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum – not since a bearded Alis­tair Dar­ling was hand­ing out Trot­sky­ist tracts to be­wil­dered rail­way­men at

Waver­ley Sta­tion en route to be­com­ing Chan­cel­lor – than that of Jeane Free­man.

Back in the day, Free­man was a lead­ing mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party, the first woman chair of the Na­tional Union of Stu­dents in Scot­land in 1979 and, in 1983, she was on the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee of the CP an­nual congress. She re­mained a Marx­ist and a mem­ber into the 1990s. But by 2001, Free­man had mi­grated to Dar­ling’s Labour Party and be­tween then and 2006 she was a spad (spe­cial ad­viser) to then first min­is­ter Jack McCon­nell.

Jack re­fused to in­ter­vene to stop her part­ner Su­san Ste­wart be­ing shunted back to the UK from her desk at the British Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton where she was Scot­land’s “am­bas­sador” – of­fi­cially, Scot­tish En­ter­prise’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive there.

A year later she had set up her own man­age­ment com­pany, Free­man As­so­ciates, and was al­most im­me­di­ately em­broiled in a bit of a stushie when she won a con­tract from Scot­tish En­ter­prise amid ac­cu­sa­tions of crony­ism. A Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest to dis­cover how many meet­ings she had with Scot­tish min­is­ters and civil ser­vants was later re­jected as too costly to dis­cover. Her com­pany was com­pul­so­rily dis­solved in March this year.

In 2014, the SNP voted in favour of al­low­ing non-mem­bers to stand as can­di­dates (eh?) and Ni­cola Stur­geon punted Free­man’s cre­den­tials. In 2016, Free­man was elected as an MSP in Ayr­shire and in June this year be­came Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary for Health and Sport, prin­ci­pal pri­or­ity the NHS.

Now, ac­cord­ing to Au­dit Scot­land, the NHS on its present course is not sus­tain­able. Wait­ing times be­yond the 12-week guar­an­tee have in­creased more than six-fold in four years.

Free­man has now pledged to re­verse a long­stand­ing SNP pol­icy and use pri­vate hos­pi­tals – or the in­de­pen­dent sec­tor, as she puts it – to try to cut wait­ing times.

There are al­ready re­fer­rals by the NHS to the pri­vate sec­tor, but this ap­pears to be a quan­tum leap, and a wel­come boost to the prof­its of pri­vate health firms.

As the el­dest of the Amer­i­can com­edy broth­ers put it: “I am a Marx­ist – of the Grou­cho ten­dency.”

Sean Penn and Bob Dy­lan were in their fight club back in the day, while Jeane Free­man seems to like keep­ing things pri­vaste

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