The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert

Captain Morgan rum.

While it's easy to huff and puff over countless ads that portray woman as nothing more than a pretty, smiling shell hell-bent on her next Botox fix, we should spare a thought for man – who is routinely subjected to advertising stereotypes so Neanderthal that it's a wonder the menfolk of this world don't up sticks and shamble into the wilderness on all fours.

The sharp branding brains behind the rum brand Captain Morgan had a good old think about their latest ad, drawing inspiration from such modern visual masterpieces as WKD's "Missus Alert" (the gist: women are the enemy, go to ridiculous lengths to deceive them), and have come up with a particularly muddled little number.

So worn thin is this man v woman territory that the exec brainstorming session clearly got a little confused. As a result, we're left with an advert that is suffering from a massive identity crisis, the lad equivalent of bringing your best female friend down the pub on a Friday night.

A group of men are standing in a bar, smiling and congratulating each other. What could they have done? Found a cure for cancer? The brand's need to explain exactly what they're drinking by printing it in big letters on the glass – "Captain Morgan and cola" – suggests that these guys aren't concerning themselves with the knottier conundrums in life. No, they've successfully managed to slip out from under their girlfriends' watchful gazes for the evening, eluded the ol' ball and chains. So far, so predictable.

But here's where it gets a little muddy. The camera cuts to "the girlfriends", one of whom is in a bikini carrying a tray of cocktails back to a hot tub only to find that her man has gone; the next is about to cheekily slip into the shower to join her guy for soapsud frolics; finally, the last girlfriend is watching in a concerned fashion out of the window as what she presumes to be her boyfriend (but is actually a straw replica) goes round and round the garden on one of those sit-on lawnmowers, only to receive an almost heart-attack-inducing shock when "he" falls off and is mown to smithereens. As far as I can tell, all these women are beautiful, attentive and fun – yawn, get off my back with your delicious cocktails and constant desire to have sex with me.

Perhaps the message is that even if you're in an idyllic relationship, Captain Morgan will always tempt you away back into the arms of your brotherhood. It's "bros v hos" and these guys are definitely winning, the ad is telling us. So as the camera switches back to the men in their brightly lit, cheap and sterile surroundings, grinning inanely as they drink a toast – a drink so teeth-achingly sugary that it stays suspiciously still when the glasses are clinked – it's with an affectionate smile that we say to ourselves: "Ah, the male ideal." Men of this world, tune out.

A still from the Captain Morgan advert
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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