David Beckham. Photo: Getty
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The Fan: what happened to David Beckham's silly voice?

For years, his teammates and the whole world mocked his silly, high-pitched voice, suggesting he was a bit simple, making endless jokes about his stupidity. Now, he sounds clear and low and serious.

Two mysteries have been bugging me. The first concerns David Beckham. Did you see him in the Only Fools and Horses sketch for Sport Relief? Of course you didn’t. You have much better things to do. He was excellent: he did the part of David Beckham so well and looked handsome, well dressed and fit, compared to poor old Del Boy and Rodney, who looked grey and worn, struggling to get their words out and their expressions straight. It was to do with Del Boy selling dodgy David Beckham underpants with Rodney doing the modelling and . . . Come on, you did see it, I know you lot.

The mystery was David Beckham’s voice. Not only did he speak clearly, with quite a received-English pronunciation, but deeply. His voice has gone down an octave. For years, his teammates and the whole world mocked his silly, high-pitched voice, suggesting he was a bit simple, making endless jokes about his stupidity.

In the dressing room after a victory, David Beckham hears Roy Keane asking for a cortisone injection. “Oh, that’s not fair, boss! I want a new
car as well.”

David Beckham is celebrating. “Fifty-seven days!” he shouts.

Posh asks him why he is celebrating. “I’ve done this
 jigsaw in only 57 days. It says three to five years on the box!”

Today we all know how smart, hard-working, successful and nice he is, despite being lumbered with that silly voice. Has he, like Thatcher, acquired a voice coach who has trained him to sound so much more impressive and authoritative?

The other big mystery of the week is José Mourinho – what is his game? Two minutes before the end of Chelsea stuffing Arsenal 6-0, he was seen to leave the bench and go down the tunnel. Heh up, we all thought, he doesn’t want to shake Wenger’s hand, the cheeky sod – no, nasty sod. He recently described Wenger as a “specialist in failure” and once referred to him as a voyeur, so we all know how horrible he’s been to him over the years. But he was the home manager and custom requires a certain magnanimity in victory, so he might have waited to shake Wenger’s hand.

Afterwards, he was asked why he had left early. He paused, his lips slightly curling into a smile, his eyes amused but calculating. It was his wife, he explained. He was going to ring her to tell her the score. You what? “She is waiting for me to call. She is always in doubt because she doesn’t know the result.”

Do you believe that? Nem me. He met his wife, Matilde, when they were teenagers and married her in 1989, before he became a manager. They have two children. She either has a radio or TV on and is aware of the score or doesn’t care and waits for him to tell her when he gets home. Pretending that he rings her after every game makes him look ever so uxorious, with the right family values. He was rubbing it into Wenger, showing how easy victory was.

I was so delighted by Mourinho’s return to these shores. He is just so smart and entertaining. He speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish, Catalan and Italian and is adept at language games, getting under the skin of his enemies. He has always had a nasty streak, smearing a referee some years ago who then got death threats and retired prematurely. While at Real Madrid, he seemingly attempted to gouge the eye of a Barça coach – saying afterwards that he hadn’t recognised who it was.

He is a master of posing. When he was at Porto, he used to sit on the end of the bench during vital Euro Championship games – looking the other way, knowing the cameras would catch him. That was so cool. Chelsea is currently at the top of the Prem but he still says they won’t win it. It’s a calculated response, like all of his performances.

Recently Tim Sherwood, Spurs’ novice manager, told us how honest and sincere he was, how he’d never pretend: “There are too many actors in this game.” At the time, I wondered who he meant. Step forward, Becks and José . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, NEW COLD WAR

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear