CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. Stephen Byers and the sad ghost of New Labour (Times)

Byers's fall from grace mirrors that of his party, writes David Aaronovitch. As New Labour was "intensely relaxed" about people getting "filthy rich", it is not surprising that Byers sought to profit himself.

2. Little has changed since the scandals of the Nineties (Independent)

Meanwhile, in the Independent, Antony Barnett recalls the first "cash for access" scandal in 1998, and says that little has changed in the murky world of political lobbying.

3. Only America can end Britain's Trident folly (Guardian)

Britain's "independent nuclear deterrent" is neither independent nor a deterrent, says George Monbiot. Yet only when the US dismantles its own Trident missiles will the UK consider doing so.

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4. Britain has bigger problems than the unions (Financial Times)

The Conservatives' recent talk of militant trade unionists is a distraction from the real challenges facing Britain, argues Philip Stephens. The number of working days lost to strike action is a fraction of those lost during the 1970s.

5. Anyone got an idea for the Labour manifesto? (Times)

Labour is struggling to think of affordable manifesto pledges and there are growing tensions over which policies to include, writes Rachel Sylvester. The party must work harder to prove it has not run out of ideas.

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6. Labour's cupboard is bare, apart from the three rattling skeletons (Daily Telegraph)

Warming to the same theme, Mary Riddell writes that Labour could be finished off by this week. The lobbying scandal, a troubled Budget and industrial unrest form the triple onslaught that could destroy the party's election hopes.

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7. Darling prepares for his ultimate test (Independent)

Turning to tomorrow's Budget, Steve Richards says that Alistair Darling faces the biggest test in his long and extraordinary ministerial career. He must deliver an authoritative economic message but also keep his desperate party in the game.

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8. Obama's bounce changes the world (Financial Times)

President Obama's success over health-care reform will undermine the cartoon image of America as a country where big business ruthlessly exploits the poor, says Gideon Rachman.

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9. If this is modernity, let me stay in the public sector cave (Guardian)

New Labour's programme of "modernisation" in the public sector has marginalised the first-hand experience of workers, argues Joe Moran.

10. You've made a fortune -- now let it go (Daily Telegraph)

The example of Albert Gubay, who has given away all but £10m of his £480m fortune, should be emulated, writes Christopher Howse. There are positive social and religious reasons for giving your wealth away.

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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