For the past few months, anyone unlucky enough to share a table with me has had to listen to my 'Gardyloo!' theory on the workings of social media.
In this analogy, a 21st-century sanitary engineer is in conversation with his 16th-century Edinburgh equivalent.
'Are you telling me that for a few hundred years you just chucked the shit out the window on to the Lawnmarket?'
'Oh aye – and the Grassmarket. The Cowgate. Everywhere.'
'And the only warning was to shout 'Gardyloo' – whatever that meant?'
'Aye, it worked fine. I think it meant health and safety. In French.'
'And you never heard of pipes and drains that could take the stuff away to be cleaned up near Portobello?'
'Naw. Would never have worked.'
This week comes news, hopefully not fake, that Facebook will start flagging up instructions on how to identify the 'false news', which its users tirelessly throw over their 'friends'. Could we be at the beginning of the end of the Gardyloo era for social media? We might have to pay for pipework and no doubt somebody will get rich on the infrastructure, but at least it could stop the crap pouring down on us.
I was a student at Edinburgh University from 1968-72, and I can assure
that there was revolutionary feeling in the air in Scotland, especially if you were female. These were the years when 'the pill' became available, but when Malcolm Muggeridge resigned as rector over issues of 'student immorality'. His resignation was applauded by the usual suspects, but most of the students felt that he was a hypocrite with all the zeal of a convert. Nevertheless, the availability of contraception remained a serious issue with at least one of the university health centre doctors refusing to prescribe it, on moral grounds.
This was the tip of a very large iceberg. Edinburgh was a douce, conservative city where almost everything still closed on Sundays. But much
more seriously, this was a time when many young Scotswomen were the first in their families ever to go to university. Discrimination was systemic.
One of the few times I ever remember seeing my father lose his temper was
when my headteacher asked him if he really wanted me to go to university
since I would 'only get married.' This thinking was normal during the 60s
and only began to change as the decade progressed. At university, by that
time, we were treated as equals academically, at least on arts courses, but
there was still active discrimination in some disciplines, witness the change in medical school admissions for women after the 60s. Women could not even join the main Edinburgh University union until 1971.
I still remember the enlightenment of reading Germaine Greer's 'The Female
Eunuch' and Simone de Beauvoir's 'The Second Sex'. I had been raised to
believe that being female needn't preclude me from any career, but even so,
these books were a revelation to me and many of my friends in Scotland.
This was a time when a female colleague would still be found doing her
boyfriend's ironing because 'his degree was more important than hers' and
when the various left-wing revolutionary groups on campus still thought
women ought to be making the tea rather than making policy.
It was only when we graduated that we realised there were not just jobs
from which we were excluded, but whole companies to which we could not
apply. We were female. That was our only sin. The fact that we were not
prepared to accept it was very much down to the sense of change and freedom that had revolutionised our thinking during the late 60s and early
70s, even in sober Edinburgh. We were well-equipped to challenge such misogyny. Nothing would ever be the same again. Fortunately.
The nationalists' latest, vote-winning wheeze of providing free tampons to women demonstrates once again that there is no infantilising indignity, including appropriation of women's menstrual functioning, to which they will not sink in their efforts to capture the women's votes that could make the difference. Will it work? Well, probably yes.
Paradoxically, and in spite of this being a parliament more gender-balanced than many others, this is a government that has proposed appropriating legal powers superior to those of mothers by arguing for a 'named person' for every child. This is a government that is proposing to place two-year-old infants into remedial developmental programmes in nurseries at a time when the OECD has raised questions in relation to the skills level of the educators. No patriarchy to blame here. This is Scottish women on Scottish women 'stuff'.
One reason I fear that the SNP will be successful in their aim is that Scotland boasts no vocal sorority. The majority of Scottish women do not see themselves as the ones forming an orderly queue to pick up their tampons, just as they do not imagine that they might be the ones who fall foul of the named person. The SNP can 'sell' this ghastly collection of policy measures as being female-friendly only because middle-class women are foolish enough to think the provisions will never weasel their way into their secure lives.
We might feel close to despair as we see (yet another) photo opportunity of Nicola Sturgeon with smiling infants, children or abused women crossing our screens. Or we might feel mirth when we see her snuggled in the corner of a sofa in imitation of the famous photo of Margaret Thatcher or, more recently, Theresa May. The message is that the SNP cares about women: we'd be cynical to think that it's all part of the referendum game, wouldn't we?
Update from my homeless story of December 2015. Damien is no longer homeless – no thanks to the council but to staff of Standard Life and friends who have made a great crowd fundraising effort, raising £16k and possibly more. After a horrendous year of attacks and misery, I thought he was going to die on that pavement. Now a changed man, he has a flat and Standard Life staff are going to help him manage the money. They have also engaged him some support to manage the change.
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