2012: a dismal year to be a republican

It has been a slam-dunk year of success for the House of Windsor.

If some Machiavellian palace official is working off a strategic grid, making carefully-crafted announcements designed to maximise support for Britain’s ancien regime they couldn’t have planned yesterday's developments any better.

The news that a royal child is on the way tops out a dismal year for po-faced republicans. 2012 has unquestionably become the year of enforced patriotism and a firebreak for declining support for the monarchy, with four out of five of us now supporting its retention.

A strained insistence to join in and be part of it all has come in waves this year. First it was the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Next it was the European Football Championships. Then the London Olympics. Now it’s the royal baby. Even stalwart republicans have to concede they are on the wrong side of public opinion and in mortal danger of sounding like mean-spirited elitists. Precisely the criticism we usually level against the monarchy.

So what is a republican to do? Some of this phenomenon is quickly explainable. The jubilee was an extension of the Royal Wedding fever from last year, while admiration of the Queen as dedicated public official transcends the divide between those who take a 16th century view that kings and queens are best placed to rule us and those us who hold to the new-fangled 18th century view that they are not.

Meanwhile this summer’s twin sporting leviathans: the European Football Championships and the Olympics are golden calves for our post-religious, post-political society to worship over. The lure of tribal sports-spectating (clearly not actually playing given our problems with obesity) is now our national religion. It makes offering fealty to monarchs look positively modern.

So here we are at the end of 2012, a slam-dunk year of success for the House of Windsor, with grateful subjects falling over themselves to embrace a neo-patriotism of public-emoting, vicariousness, tribalism and sentimentality.

All we cynical republicans can hope is that surly anti-celebrity Bradley Wiggins can win Sports Personality of the Year.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge try cookies as they visit a night shelter in Cambridge. Photograph: Getty Images.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

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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