Why I'm troubled by Berlusconi's departure

If what happened in Italy were repeated here, Peter Mandelson would be prime minister by the end of

This may seem surprising. I'm surprised myself. But I heard the news that Silvio Berlusconi had resigned with more sadness than good cheer.

Why so, when Europe's fourth largest economy finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy, brought there by the leadership of a man seemingly more concerned with his libido than sorting out some fairly fundamental issues with the nation's finances? Shouldn't we all be delighted to be saying farewell to "The Great Seducer"?

Well, I'm not wasting tears on the billionaire media mogul. But his departure does mark yet another nail in the coffin of the democratic rights that we all seem to take for granted and yet wave goodbye to with such abandon when it suits us.

Berlusconi hasn't gone because the Italian people have decided that it would be better if he was given the chance to spend more time with his party organiser. Indeed, constitutionally, he didn't need to resign even now.

He's stepped down because the markets thought that it would probably be for the best if one of their own was given the chance to run things for a while. Given the markets are made up of the same bankers who got the world economy into this mess in the first place, I am not entirely convinced they are the best placed group to be making leadership decisions on behalf of the Italian people.

Also, the new leader doesn't exactly have a democratic mandate, does he? Selected mainly because he would be seen as acceptable to the Group de Frankfurt, Signor Monti is an unelected lifetime Senator, a former European Commissioner and a member of that shadowy cabal, the Bilderberg group.

If what's happened in Italy were repeated in the UK, Peter Mandelson would be kissing the Sovereign's hands by the end of the month. Now, there's a thought.

And so we find two of Southern Europe's democracies being run by unelected technocrats -- Greece's new Prime Minister appears to be the Hellenic equivalent of Sir Mervyn King -- with no set date for when either country's people may get asked the question of who they would like to be in charge.

With contagion very much on the cards, how many more of our European partners will be being run by technocrats by the end of the year?

I guess it at least demonstrates that voting does change things. So they've abolished it.

 

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Getty
Show Hide image

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