We're in London for a while, cat-sitting our daughter's moggies. To be more precise, we're in Catford, Lewisham, London. I love this city for all the reasons many folk hate it: its hugeness, its diversity, its dirtiness, its noise, its anonymity. Architecturally, the city displays fascinating diversity primarily because she got the bahookie bombed out of her during the second world war, and into the gaping spaces was erected all manner of eccentricities in the built environment.
Paris, on the other hand, retains its stunning beauty with her wide sweeping avenues untouched by bombardment. I was thinking about this watching Notre Dame's destruction by fire and the millions of euros donated in the immediate aftermath. Would Londoners have been so generous if St Paul's Cathedral had suffered a similar fate? Well, during the war it did and the dome was rebuilt without fanfare. Londoners are probably more sanguine about disastrous conflagrations, given its past, that goes back to the Great Fire in 1666. London fizzes like an exposed electrical wire sparking with frantic energy. I was brought up in Lewisham as a young child, so I guess I would have a close affinity with the city.
So, our Easter weekend was spent in my favourite town in glorious sunshine, pottering around in a typically English back garden containing mature trees and cordoned off from the South Circular, in the company of foxes, squirrels, birds and, of course, cats.
Easter weekend turned out not to be so glorious after all, despite the splendid sunshine. It began on Good Friday with the senseless, heart-rending murder of the talented young journalist, Lyra McKee, whose death felt deeply personal despite never having met her. It ended on Easter Sunday with the senseless, harrowing, brutal murder of hundreds of Christian worshippers in Sri Lanka. I have run out of catastrophic adjectives to describe these events that leave you emotionally numb and render you unable to derive pleasure from what should have been a joyful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus – whether you believe it or not is usually irrelevant.
Two steps forward for women, one step back
Criticised for its lack of scrutiny and assessment of the impact of planned reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, the Scottish Government has upset and angered women from many walks of life and across all political parties. We should remember, however, the advances made in other areas in the protection and promoting of women and girls. For instance: the SNP-led Glasgow City Council resolved a 12-year equal pay dispute for thousands of women council workers; the government funding committed to tackling period poverty; the new law that has come in to force this year that makes psychological domestic abuse and controlling behaviour a crime.
Last week saw a doubling down on the excellent Scottish government-led development safeguarding women and girls: cracking down on the practice of female genital mutilation. This is not a 'woke' issue, which I suppose is a great pity, as these days if it were, it would likely have received more publicity than it got. I have written many times about this shocking barbarism against girls – millions of girls – across the world. If you think it couldn't possibly happen here in Scotland, then you would be wrong.
Neneh Bojang, married to a Scot, gave agonising, courageous testimony of her gruelling mutilation as a child in Gambia, during a visit to Shakti Women's Aid centre. Christina McKelvie, the Scottish equalities minister said: 'Neneh's words will sit in my head during the process of steering this bill through parliament… Her words will inform every part of the work we do. She will be my touchstone to make sure we get it right'. Ms McKelvie's words should be widely applauded.
It is mystifying, in light of these progressive developments, why the transgender issue – a largely first world conflict – has come to such prominence for the SNP. It seems, on the face of it, out of step and inconsistent with the safeguarding of women and girls. I've come to the conclusion that lack of imagination and attention to detail at best, complacency at worst, is the likeliest explanation, because elsewhere, the progress that has been made on women's issues is admirable.
Hieroglyphics is the new visual language
A brilliant meme circulating on social media, spawned by a Dr Cameron Sepah, depicts rows of hieroglyphics below which are rows of 'emojis' (see below). An emoji, for the uninitiated, is an ideogram, usually posted on social media as a smiley face, but now includes all manner of facial expressions, familiar objects, places, flags, weather, transportation and much more. The caption accompanying Dr Sepah's tweet reads '4,000 years later and we're basically back to the same language'.
Although the meme is funny, it chimes with a truth: that we live in a predominately visual culture reminiscent of ancient Egyptian communication and the middle ages, when visual representation of life was commonplace for the illiterate. I've observed, for example, that posts on social media gain far more attention if accompanied by an image or festooned with emojis. Young people, of my acquaintance anyway, rarely read books these days unless they are undergrads forced to do so. Instead they 'read' their mobile phones. I've no idea of the long-term consequences, but they cannot be good.