Commons Confidential

Mata Hattie's mutiny

I for one didn't think she had it in her. But the Talibrown mutters that Harriet Harperson was the cabinet end of A Very Rubbish Coup. The word in Westminster is that Gordon Broon's disloyal deputy admitted that her long chats with Patsy Hewitt over the holidays were about more than their old days at the National Council for Civil Liberties. She was, I hear, poised to play the role of Mata Hattie, until a loss of nerve turned "the snow plot" to slush.

Weeping under the £134.50 pair of lamps he bought at our expense is Michael Gove. The Tory educashun spokesman was forced to give up his £65,000 column for the Times when David Cameron ordered frontbenchers to ditch outside earners. When Ken Clarke was asked how he got away with making his BBC jazz programme in January, the rogue chuckled that he had slipped under the wire by making it last year.

A disgruntled insurrectionist whispered that Hattie resents Premier Broon's unwillingness to pull out his finger to land Mr Harperson, Jack "the Knife" Dromey, a safe parliamentary seat. Local flak has unsettled plans to parachute the union baron into Leyton. Scurrilous MPs whisper that Tessa Jowell, a family friend, is willing to lay down Dulwich, a constituency neighbouring Hattie's Peckham patch. Lady Jowell certainly has a ring to it.

Witches feared ducking stools and politicians worry about Mumsnet. In pursuit of votes, the PM's human shield, Sarah Brown, is to endure the questions of yoghurt-knitters and political plants. Yummy Mummy Sammy Cameron was due to appear with her insignificant other until Tory spinners began to fear abuse over her £995 Smythson handbags.

Labour boasts many amateur actors but only one true thespian, the Oscar-winning Glenda Jackson. The Rada-trained MP has a Shakespearean command of the English language. Asked her view of the plotters by a whip, she was more Merry Wives of Windsor than Henry V. "They're a bunch of arseholes," was Queen Glenda's considered view.

The rarefied surroundings of the Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords made an incongruous venue for the Electoral Reform Society's New Year bash. Perhaps the all-party CND group should check whether Aldermaston is available.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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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