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Why did Theresa May scramble to comment on the National Trust Easter Egg row?

The Prime Minister was quick to comment on this, but slow to respond to the "Muslim Ban". Was personal antipathy involved?

Theresa May has been accused of acting out of “revenge” after she condemned the National Trust and Cadbury for dropping the word “Easter” from this year’s Easter Egg Hunt.

May described the move as “absolutely ridiculous”, and an affront to a “very important festival” for Christians worldwide. But neither Cadbury nor the National Trust have dropped the word “Easter” from the Easter Egg Hunt.

Cadbury’s website promoting the occasion features the word Easter 14 times and their press release announcing this year’s quest for chocolate features the E-word seven times. They even have a website promoting it with the word “Easter” in the address. As for the National Trust, their announcement of the hunt features the word Easter a further seven times.

May’s rushed statement is in contrast to her usual methodical approach, which is to marshal the facts and then deliver a statement. May took more than 24 hours to comment on Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, and denied journalists a response three times at her press conference. But she commented in a little over an hour on the Cadbury affair.

Civil servants and former special advisers believe that May’s swift response is due to her longstanding antipathy to Helen Ghosh, the National Trust's director-general, with whom she clashed when Ghosh was permanent secretary at the Home Office and May was Home Secretary. (Ghosh left the Home Office in 2012 to take up her current role running the National Trust.)

Civil servants also believe that another Helen, Helen Bower-Easton - who was Downing Street’s official spokesperson under David Cameron and May - was ostracised by May's team due to her perceived closeness to Cameron. (Bower-Easton has since left to head up communications at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.)

One well-placed source complained that Cameron-era permanent officials had “the mark of Cain” on them in the eyes of the new administration. Another former special adviser said that May was “obsessed with revenge”. A senior figure described the new Downing Street set-up as “thin-skinned”. “The fact is she hates Helen, which is why this has happened,” another Whitehall insider claims.

Downing Street has been asked to comment. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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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