“Posh ladies came in to dust the bust of Lenin in the basement.” Photo: Getty
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When I worked at Marxism Today, my desire to earn a living proved to be somewhat déclassé

The left has a strange relationship with its workers. Love, not money, counts.

I had never had a job interview like it – rather, two interviews of two hours each for working part-time on a small magazine. There were four of them and just one of me and by the end of the first interview I was talking nonsense about post-structuralism, as they hadn’t even given me a cup of tea.

The magazine was Marxism Today, which never considered itself small. I wanted to work there as it was the locus of ideas that interested me. Its influence was huge not because it represented the left but because the right thought that it did.

The sticking point when it came to giving me a job seemed to be that I wasn’t in the Communist Party. “We are worried about your commitment to the project,” the interviewers said sternly. It was the first time I’d heard that word – “project” – used in this way, though it was taken up later by the ex-Communist Party people who moved straight into Tony Blair’s No 10.

“What project is that, then?” I asked. They seemed nervous.

“Revolution,” someone said, quietly.

“Oh, that. Yeah! I’m really into that.”

My not being in the party had repercussions, such as what happened when the phones were cut off after the managing editor forgot to pay the bill. Everyone was sent home and they weren’t paid, as they were “in the party” – but I was. My attitude to being paid was problematic. It was seen
as a betrayal.

Elderly trade unionists grumpily manned the reception. Posh ladies came in to dust the bust of Lenin in the basement. The actual workings of the party remained mysterious. Mostly, people shouted at me. I’d phone up someone to write a piece and they would start yelling at me about Czechoslovakia.

“Tankies?” said everyone, nodding.

We were – and I write “we” loosely – Eurocommunists. This, to me, was embodied by a stylish Italian woman who floated around smoking vigorously and who would talk about hegemony with a cashmere cardigan perched just so on her shoulders.

We never paid writers. You did it for the glory. I persuaded the likes of Angela Carter, David Hockney, Linford Christie and even Jean Baudrillard to give their time for free. When someone ordered thousands of pounds’ worth of the wrong paper for a print run, I imagined that this would close it all down – but no. Apparently lots of people had left money to the party in their wills.

My preoccupation with earning a living was somewhat déclassé. The left has a strange relationship with its workers. Love, not money, counts. They paid me £50 a week and were indeed right about my commitment to the project. Bizarrely, my personal project involved a living wage. Years later the story about Moscow gold financing the party came out. If only I had some of it!

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 22 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn

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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