Friday, 5 October 2007

Two Problems

Two loose ends this week, neither of which really merits full-blown blog treatment.

The first is that we are finally changing a very ancient number two car for a much more recent Skoda Octavia, which is really rather nice. The Skoda story is interesting. A famous Czech car firm before the Second World War, they became infamous under Communism for creating cars that were legendary for their appalling design and quality. They were so bad that they spawned a whole library of jokes. A sample: ‘How do you double the value of a Skoda?’ Answer: ‘Fill it with petrol.’

In 1991, after the unlamented departure of the Communist government, Skoda was taken over by the Volkswagen group and subjected to a root and branch overhaul. This was stunningly effective, so that now, 16 years later, in Britain at least, Skoda are high on the league tables for innovative, reliable and desirable vehicles. Embarrassingly Skodas have proved to be more reliable vehicles than Audis and Volkswagens.

I mention this here because it seems to me that it would make a wonderful children’s talk in church. Do we not here have a very real pattern of conversion, redemption and New Birth? The worthless delinquent, the butt of endless jokes, taken over and given a brand new life of value? It’s great. But my problem is this: how on earth do I make a talk of it that doesn’t sound like an advertisement?

I have also been thinking this week about fictional characters. Without revealing too much, the reason is that this year I have found myself with a student who genuinely does merit, without any sense of hyperbole, the word genius. His history is that he is exiled from a war-torn Middle Eastern state, passes through Pakistan and ends up in Russia where he learns to play the piano and high-level chess, and masters his fourth language. With his family he somehow ends up in a tiny flat in Swansea, where despite arriving with no English, he soon passes five A-levels with stunning grades. He is now with me cruising through geology with a polite effortlessness as he waits till he can apply to university at 17. He is rarely seen without some learned tome and spends any remaining spare time helping other immigrants. The problem is this. If he were a character in a manuscript, the editor would no doubt observe ‘tone him down, too good to be true’. We must respond: despite being ‘too good to be true’, some things (grace included) are indeed true.