A brotherhood of bloggers...

A thin silver pencil

I was pleased to knock back some free plonk at the Orwell Prize debate on Wednesday, at which the shortlist for the inaugural blog award was announced.

The wonderful Alix Mortimer was first “dumbfounded, and a little shuffly,” in response to her shortlisting – and then irked by Nick Cohen's eccentric behavior during the subsequent debate. Ignoring the proposition (that political parties are bankrupt) he angrily rebuked the prize organisers for shortlisting right-wingers Peter Oborne and Peter Hitchens in the journalism category, describing their decision as a “fucking disgrace”. Mortimer regarded his outburst as “one of those lofty lefty assertions that, were I the left’s psychiatrist and the left ranting on my couch, I would write down thoughtfully with a thin, silver pencil”.

Also making the final cut was Iain Dale, whose old boss David Davies joined the debate. “Having convinced myself that I wouldn't be on the shortlist I found myself curiously eager to hear my name announced,” he wrote. But as he later noted, not everyone was so delighted. It seems that Chicken Yoghurt's Justin McKeating has pledged to give up blogging should Dale ultimately prevail. Which seems quite likely.

Thursday saw the much anticipated televised tussle between Derek Draper and Paul Staines ; an encounter from which more heat than light resulted. SNP supporter Jeffrey Breslin enjoyed Guido's cheeky sporting of a Berkley t-shirt, but thought it “a bit silly to mock the leader of Labour List for having Labour Ministers writing articles on their website,” while Jonathan Calder recalled that both men had previously had a rough ride from veteran journalists.

Whether the events of the week have enhanced or diminished the reputation of political blogging is debatable, but on the balance, I think the good outweighs the bad.

What have we learned this week?

Evan Harris' private members bill, which seeks to reform royal succession, attracted attention this week as it emerged that the prime minister is in discussions with the Queen over agreeing a new settlement on the hereditary principle, which will not be discriminatory towards women and Roman Catholics.

James Gray on the Republic blog welcomed the debate but felt that reform was essentially pointless, because: “when you start using the language of rights, equality and justice to talk about the monarchy, it begins to unravel”.

Damian Thompson of the Telegraph's Holy Smoke had previously boasted of slamming down the phone on Harris' office because he doesn't like his views on abortion. Thompson thinks Harris is “self-righteous” and “self-important”. Spend a few minutes reading Holy Smoke and make up your own mind which of the two that applies to.

Around the World

Iranian blogger Fariborz Shamshiri this week reported on the plight of bloggers in the Islamic Republic. “Blogging is the last resort for people to express themselves,” he wrote, noting the recent death in prison (officially suicide) of Omidreza Mirsayafi, the 28-year old blogger who had posted content considered critical of the mullahs. “Don’t you want to pray? Okay let's go prison,” he concluded.

Video of the Week

Take your pic between footage of Draper v Staines on the Daily Politics and Beau Bo D'Or's take on the battle royal.

Quote of the Week

“He may accuse Staines of being the sewer and his commenters the sewage, but Staines is right not to take morality lessons from Draper”.

Kerron Cross

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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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