Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cars of Clay

It’s not a typing error.  It shouldn’t read “Jars of Clay”. 

I told you about the car magazine that I read the other day while waiting for Floozy to be equipped with winter tyres.  What I didn’t mention was that I asked the man behind the reception desk if I could take the magazine home with me.  He asked me if I was interested in getting a new car and couldn’t quite work out that there might be other reasons for wanting the magazine.

I don’t really know anything about cars.  I did an evening class many years ago to do with cars.  I think it was aimed at passing the driving test, but we were also encouraged to become more familiar with the car’s insides.  We didn’t look under a bonnet but were given lots of labelled diagrams.  This was in the days before powerpoint presentations.  From the diagram I knew where to look for spark plugs but not really what to do with them once I had found them.  The course didn’t do what it said it would do as I didn’t go on to pass my driving test. 

I don’t know the life cycle of a car.  I may drive a car around, but how it got to be a car is a bit of a mystery.  It would appear the computer aided designs and 3D images are only at the very start of it all. Then it gets all very interesting.

Car manufacturers are a tactile breed.  Cars provoke in people the need to stroke.  It’s not enough for a car buyer or a car collector to put their head under the bonnet and check out the intestines of the car.  They have to touch it. 

You can’t tell how it feels to stroke the bonnet of car by looking at a 3D image.  You need to make a model that you can touch.  So they make it in clay!

The article in the Spring 2012 edition of “Jaguar” explained the whole thing in detail.

It’s not entirely made of clay.  There’s a wooden frame and foam before a layer of clay is placed on top of that.  Over the next five days the clay is carefully scraped away by a machine until it matches the computer model.  What looks good on the computer image may not look so good in real life. 

The clay modeller can spend the next two weeks scraping bits off one place, adding little bits of clay somewhere else until it feels perfect.  They are dealing with fractions of millimetres and know when it’s perfect and when it’s not quite there.  Once they think they are there, they will paint the model and take it outside to see what it looks like in sunlight.  They see how light catches certain features and how the shadows fall on others.  They take it back into the garage, remove the paint and begin scraping or adding clay as necessary.

Eventually it is declared perfect and they move on to the next stage of making the car.

The modellers are so good at their job that they can look at a design for a car and they can know whether it will be a good car or not. 

By the time the finished car is at the motor show, two years have passed since the clay modellers got their hands on the clay.  They’re well into the next generation of car.

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

This verse came to mind as I read the article.  Isaiah might be speaking of jars of clay on a potter’s wheel, but I was thinking of clay cars.  I thought about how the light plays on the painted car outside in the sunlight, and where the shadows fall – how does the light play and the shadows fall on my life as God, the clay modeller, scrapes away a fraction of a millimetre of something in my life? 

The clay car is not the end result.  We don’t drive around in clay cars.  The real car may look like the painted clay car, but it can do so much more.

My life now is mere clay.  It’s not the end result.  There’s a me to come, that looks like the clay me but it will be able to do so much more also.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Garages and the Absence of Anything “Girlie” on the Coffee Table.

We all know that we should not judge a book by its cover.  I would like to add that we shouldn’t judge a garage by the limited variety of magazines on the table in the customer waiting room either!

Getting my winter tyres back on the car has been on the to-do list for the last couple of months but I finally got around to it.  I am confident that winter isn’t over.  We may have missed out on the really heavy falls so far, but it doesn’t mean to say that we will escape entirely.   And anyway, if the snow doesn’t come to Inverness, I can always drive somewhere that has snow just so Floozy can play with her tyres.

It would appear that garages, in my experience, operate like doctor’s surgeries.  One might have an appointment for a certain time but is doesn’t mean one gets seen at that time.  They were running a little late.

I lamented the absence of anything “girlie” on the coffee table.  There was a selection of car magazines – only to be expected in a garage.  I flicked through page after page of photographs of cars in different poses and locations.   If you have seen one car you have pretty much seen them all.  There was nothing in most of the magazines to hold my attention. 

Then I picked up the Jaguar magazine.   Spring 2012.  Last year’s truths still have value for today.

I can’t believe that I read a car magazine from cover to cover.  I can’t believe, either, that I dug out a pen and a bit of paper to take notes!  I know…who would have thought it possible?

The first article posed the question – “Do you ever feel that you are not quite living life to the fullest?  Time to do something about it.” 

“Aha,” thought I, “they are going to tell me that what I really need to live life to the fullest is to buy a new car – a Jaguar.”  I turned the page expecting to see a photo of the car they wanted me to buy.  I did not expect to see a double spread photo of a crowd of people covered in red dye.  Apparently if I want to appreciate Spring and new life I really ought to travel to India to witness the Festival of Colours, part of the Holi celebration for Hindus.  I could have been reading National Geographic.  The pictures were amazing and there was no mention of buying the latest jaguar to live life to the fullest.  Swimming with humpback whales, running with bulls, watching the sunset in New York and climbing rock faces without any safety equipment were among the other suggestions.

Another article quoted Lucius Annaeus Seneca.  'Slight is the portion of life we live.  All the residue is not living but passing time.”   We all have times when we feel really alive.  For most people it’s not all the time.  Too often we are just “passing time”.  It’s only characters in stories that seem to be really alive all the time.  The following paragraphs skipped through a lot of books that I haven’t read pointing out what the heroes did.  Natty Bumppo was one of the few names I recognised mainly because I watched the film “The Last of the Mohicans” many times over.  People can live vicariously through books, but being really alive is about what you do in real life.  Characters in books should stir us to do extraordinary things in our everyday lives.

It is the poets who seem to be more alive than other people according to William Cowper.  They are more sensitive to the world around them.   They are people who are alert to the moment.

It has taken a while for me to accept and embrace the poet within.   To be sensitive to the world around me, to be alert to the moment – the poet within will rise to the challenge.

I just didn’t expect to be challenged by the contents of a car magazine.   

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Just Because...Don't Presume

Just because
You have closed your eyes
And stamped on the spirit within

Just because
You have listened to the lure
Of reason and placed it on a pedestal

Just because
You believe you have evolved
Beyond the need for God

Just because
You cannot see heaven among the stars
Or hear His voice in the wind

Don’t presume
There is something wrong with me
Because I choose to pray

Don’t presume
I have laid aside all intellect
And embraced superstition

Don’t presume
My faith has built a prison and
I need to be liberated

Don’t presume
I want to be just like you
Blind and deaf to an unseen world

Know this
I choose to chase after God
And He graciously allows me the catch Him

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

PInk Window Frames

I can just imagine the conversation going on at the office after Gary put the phone down.

“Poor bloke,” says Gary, “married to a bloody dragon like her…”

“Yeah,” says his pal, “No wonder he’s never at home…”

My husband is the “poor bloke” and I am the “bloody dragon” and, yes, office hours since his promotion, are erratic.  Please be assured that he is not a poor bloke and I am not a bloody dragon – often.

You see, I don’t normally answer either the phone or the door during the morning or afternoon because I am usually at work.  Being declared not fit for work right now due to a viral infection I can answer the day time phone calls and watch afternoon TV.

The call started off not as a call at all but a cold calling doorstep visit.  He was selling something, that with a little tweaking, we were looking for.  I didn’t particularly relish a walk around to Evan Barron Road to see the finished article and took him at his word that that his company did something interesting to roofs.  It’s a coating of some sort, I think, that first cleans tiles and then protects them from mould and moss and seagull droppings.  Before they can do any coating, they repair the roof and replace broken tiles and the felt underneath.  There is more than a possibility of a broken tile or two.
The man on the door seemed to think that my husband needed to be present for any negotiations.  Big mistake!  My voice fell a few decibels – nothing to do with the sore throat, but everything to do with the onset of anger.  I asked him to explain why my husband was needed.  I know that in someone’s view of an ideal home, the husband is the breadwinner, sleeps in the entrance to the cave and slaps the mammoth on the table for the woman to cook – but I would like to think that we have moved on from there.

“Oh, so I am speaking to the boss?” said the man at the door with a nervous twitter.

We swiftly moved on to the next phase of sale – a follow-up visit from someone who could measure the roof and explain in more detail what was involved and show  me a colour sample(?) and talk money.  We agreed that 7 o’clock was a good time. 

So the man on the door went on his way.  Five minutes later, or less, there was a phone-call from the office to confirm the time and tell me who I was to expect.  Yet again, the presence of the husband was enquired about.  Could I not give them a time when the husband would be home? She asked.   I could not, said I.  I went on to assure them that I was quite a clever woman.  That I had an “ology” and that they were not dealing with an idiot.  She hummed for a while, obviously dragged out of her comfort zone.

Three hours later, another phone call, from the man I am to expect, coming at 7 o’clock, confirming that I will be there…and my husband? 

This all stinks of pink window frames.

Let me enlighten you.  This goes back years.  It was double glazing that time and coincided with a decision made by us to get double glazing. The wind wasn’t whistling though the house, but we had a small money pot and a house to improve, and bills to reduce.  It was ideal – they had the windows to sell and we had the money to buy.

Then the husband thing came into it.  They wanted to bring their samples and their sales talk and we were to bring out the check book.  The husband was travelling and it was left in my more than capable hands to negotiate the deal.

The sales person didn’t think I was capable.  I assured him that that I was quite a clever woman.  That I had an “ology” and that he was not dealing with an idiot. 

“Oh,” said he, “So I suppose your husband would be quite happy for you to opt for pink window frames?”

Well…there you have it.  This man I presume was still slapping the mammoths down on the kitchen table and sleeping in the entrance to the cave.

Going back to the most recent conversation, the man seemed to have doubts that I could adequately explain to my husband the process they were going to go through to make my roof mould proof, moss proof and seagull droppings proof.  I actually think I might be able to do that.  Communicating simple truths and even quite complicated ones is what I do in my job.  I didn’t like to ask if they thought, in my absence, that my husband would be able to explain the process to me. 

I just wish these people would stop with the stereotypes.  Do I need to burn my bra or chain myself to railings to get the message across? 

Men are just so…prehistoric!

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Argument From Design

About 3.15 this afternoon there was a beeping sound in my ear.  It was a sound that only I could hear, but unlike the sounds in my head that are not real, this was a real beep.  The battery for my hearing aid was about to die and I was being warned that I needed to replace it.

Yes, I have a hearing aid – two actually – one for each ear.

I always thought that if I could just get rid of the tinnitus my hearing would be perfect.  The volume of the buzzes, whistles and rumbles had become so loud that it was no longer a background noise, but had shifted to centre stage.  It was like the child in the school choir who cannot sing standing next to the microphone – a sound that refuses to be ignored.  However, take away the tinnitus and I am not really hearing so well at all.

I had a hearing test which revealed that I am significantly hard of hearing and was fitted for a hearing aid.  I pictured ugly pink slugs nestling in my ear drums and was pleasantly surprised to see something very discreet.  I daresay they are not the top range of hearing aids and there are better deals out there for those who wish to chase them down, but I am happy with the product for now.  Until my brain gets adjusted to filtering out the unnecessary noise, I get to hear everything…and I mean everything.  I turn my head at someone whispering, expecting them to be within touching distance only to discover they are standing at the far side of the room.  Eves-dropping is unavoidable.

Answering the telephone has become just about impossible.  My mobile phone is fine, but the typical hand set with its gentle curve is proving a challenge.  The handset doesn’t fit anymore.  The space beside the ear drum is full of stuff.  I have resorted to pulling out the hearing aid.  That’s what my mum does and she has had hearing aids for a long time.

The whole experience makes me think about William Paley’s argument from design.   He talked about watches and cameras rather than hearing aids, but hearing aids fit too.  Paley compared the complexity of man made things like watches and cameras with the complexity of living things which are far more superior.  Simply looking at watches and cameras leads a person to the conclusion that they are designed by an intelligent being. A watch, or a camera, or a hearing aid for that matter, could not exist without a designer and maker. Paley concluded that neither could living things, more complex than anything man can make, exist without an intelligent designer…God.

Darwin shot holes in Paley’s argument with his theory of evolution and the tiny, miniscule changes that take place over millions of years, but did Darwin ever wear hearing aids?  The best that man can come up with, even in this day and age of rapidly evolving technology isn’t a patch on the original.  My hearing aids amplify volume but find it hard to hear nuances that the natural ear picks up.  How my brain is adapting to the foreign material in the ear is amazing!

At best we can only mimic what God has created we cannot better it. 

Until I had a bit of plastic tubing stuffed into my ear attached to a tiny amplifier, I took my hearing for granted.  I didn’t really think about all the little bits of bone, hair and fluid that make up the ear.  The workings of the inner ear are so small, so intricately balanced, so fragile and yet so robust.

I am, as the Psalmist declared, fearfully and wonderfully made.