Harman in sense of humour shock

The verdict on the Labour deputy leadership candidates' Question Time performances - and bloggers un

As the Labour deputy leadership race gains pace, the display of aptitude by the contestants on Question Time, as on Newsnight the week before last, gripped the blogosphere.

Iain Dale thinks Harriet Harman has had her time in the spotlight during this contest and will be eating humble pie come June 27.

He said: “I do enjoy the sight of Harriet Harman dissing the very government she has been a fairly prominent member of for 10 years. She is, however, developing a long overdue sense of humour. I suspect it will disappear from whence it came after 27 June.”

Another deputy leader candidate, Peter Hain, has reversed his thinking behind a possible coalition with Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly Government, as Alun Cairns AM said here. Mr Cairns said Mr Hain was at his poorest on Question Time on Thursday night.

But it was news of a 22-year-old graduate who “blogged to shock” which drew my attention most sharply this week, featured on the Laban Tall blog. According to this BBC report, the supermarket worker was told he could be jailed for his posts by a Falkirk court.

Once again we see bloggers come under fire from the legal system. But the last time I wrote about one of our blogosphere colleagues being scrutinised for their musings, was when an Egyptian blogger had been jailed. You can read it here. It is particularly poignant after a week when Newsnight again talked up the political repression of the Egyptian state.

Ed Husain’s book, The Islamist, was discussed over at Pickled Politics this week, as I found myself agreeing with Melanie Philips – a rare occasion. I too would suggest this book to be read as widely as possible by the ruling class.

She said: “‘The Islamist’ should be sent to every politician at Westminster, put on the desk of every counter-intelligence officer and thrust under the supercilious nose of every journalist who maunders on about ‘Islamophobia’.

And this I just loved. As a student in Birmingham I often wondered where the word Brummie came from. The Prague Tory has dug this one out, saying: “I'm pretty sure most Brummies don't mind being called Brummies by outsiders and even if some do they should lighten up.

“The word Brummie derives from Brummagem which according to this Wikipedia entry vied over Birmingham during the 18th century.” Fascinating indeed.

But I leave you with notes from one of the most prolific figures in 20th century broadcast journalism, Kate Adie of the BBC. At the Multimedia Meets Radio blog, Mike Mullane has an interesting dialogue with Kate in which she airs her views on blogging.

She said: “You are blogging to a peer group - that's all right - I can understand there is a demand for that. But journalists shouldn't have any time to blog - there are too many stories waiting to be told!”

Perhaps she’s right. But this was topped by a dig at her BBC management colleagues. She said their blogs were proof they have nothing better to do during their working day.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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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