Questionable Time. Photo: BBC screengrab
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What happened when Nigel Farage and Russell Brand were on Question Time together?

"A pound shop Enoch Powell".

Terrible scenes unfolded on Thursday night as the merry europhobic frog Nigel Farage locked horns with randy scarecrow Russell Brand in what was probably the most stressful line-up on the BBC's Question Time since that episode when a nonplussed pigeon flew in.

And in fact, this was rather a pigeonlike performance from the two populist posturers: lots of squawking, and rarely a leg to stand on.

I watched it so you didn't have to. Here are the best (or worst, depending on how at peace you are with our political life) bits:
 

Slamming our terrible "adversal" politics

The first question was about petty, adversarial British politics and what should be done about it. A treat for both Brand and Farage, who like to position themselves precariously outside the establishment, even though they represent everything that is wrong with the way politics is shaped and covered.

"We're not doing real politics anymore," Nigel Farage asserted, gravely. With Russell Brand facing him, shirt unbuttoned to dangerously sub-Tony Blair levels, this must be the truest phrase ever to be uttered on a QT panel.

 

Brand seemed uncharacteristically nervous. His voice trembled and he appeared to have forgotten his incessant inner thesaurus when answering a question he is usually so well versed in. He slammed the "petty, adversal nature of politics" before rounding on Farage for his background in the city: "That dude... had the perfect training to be a politician":

 

Brand also called Farage a "fella", and a few choice audience members "mate". A patronising "love" was reserved for Tory minister Penny Mordaunt: "Excuse the sexist language; I'm working on that."

On that subject, Labour's shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh politely suggested people don't like men interrupting women all the time, only to be interrupted by David Dimbleby, who was ostensibly chairing the debate.
 

"A pound shop Enoch Powell"

Brand did redeem himself slightly by coming out with the soundbite of the night, warning the audience that Farage is not a "cartoon character", but rather "a pound shop Enoch Powell - and we've gotta watch him".


Audience member yelling at Brand

A disabled man in the audience tore Brand to shreds, telling him he doesn't "like people preaching", nor the accusation that Farage has criticised the disabled. His question ended in him repeatedly challenging Brand to "STAND" for parliament.

"I would stand for parliament but I would be afraid I would become one of them," Brand replied limply, his Medusan curls wilting under the pressure and sadness of it all. This led to the man shouting, "RUBBISH" at him for quite some time. Dimbleby either didn't notice, or was simply enjoying the scene.

Here it is:


Audience member yelling at Farage

And then it was Farage's turn, as a woman continuously screamed at him for being "racist", before issuing the ultimate Kent-based threat: "I live in South Thanet and I'm coming for you, Farage." She was accused of being the "rudest woman I've ever met",  by a woman who was interrupted calling for immigrants to be "vetted". Which is also pretty rude.

Here's the now iconic blue-haired offender:

Dimbleby also let this go on for some time, for purposes of balance presumably.

 

Mary Creagh being sensible on immigration

Perhaps not the night's most electric moment, but shadow cabinet member Creagh had what Labour's message should be on immigration down to a tee, addressing the housing shortage, public service problems and low wages rather than giving credence to the tale of Britain being "overcrowded" with immigrants.

Another rock in a stormy televisual sea was the journalist Camilla Cavendish, who gave measured views on each subject and gently admonished the media, which shot Brand's tired old "mainstream media, vested interests, etc etc" fox.

 

"Weaponising" the NHS

"Weaponising": the strange, Brandesque fake verb Ed Miliband apparently used about the health service, according to Mordaunt. Even Creagh couldn't be bothered to display loyalty to her leader on this one, appearing as baffled as the rest of them.

More telling was Farage's answer to the question about private money in the NHS. His party has been embarrassingly all over the place about its stance on the health service in the past few months, as it attempts to take a populist stance on the subject to creep further into Labour's core vote.

Farage's revealing language about ruling out outsourcing "in the short term", and his insistence Ukip would "fight the election" on the grounds of outsourcing to private providers having "not delivered" adequate results, suggests that the party will change its stance on this after the election.


But he went to a private school

The whole sorry affair ended comfortingly with the obligatory ad hominem attacks on panel members' views on education:

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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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