Someone told me, "Madeleine has broken the laminator." Perhaps this was a little unfair. After all, Madeleine had merely sought to preserve some material that was getting a bit tatty, by feeding it into our August and Venerable Office Laminator, just as we have all done. Only this time, it swallowed the offering, and nothing came out.

However, it could be that my informant was referring to the mess on my designated desk, which I found covered with a largely dismembered laminator lying amongst a scattering of screws. When Madeleine arrived some time later, she informed me that the plastic laminate sheets had curled around one of the rollers for some reason, but she couldn't work out how to remove some plating to get at said rollers.

I pointed out the circlips which seemed to be holding everything together, and was tasked with removing them.  My heart sank a little. Not only were we lacking Special Tool 3A Mark II for-the-Removal-of-Circlips, but the whole unit had the look of something the designers had never envisaged being deconstructed.

Lacking the non-existent tool, we settled upon two pairs of office scissors and eventually prised off the first circlip, which I heard first hit the ceiling, and then one of the walls. Remarkably, we found it!  And the second circlip. Both of them were bent well out of shape, reinforcing my sense that this machine was not meant to be repaired.

With scissors, a ruler, long finger nails, and remarkable patience, Madeleine managed to retrieve her perfectly laminated possessions, and announced that we would now put the machine back together. The first problem was that I had taken no notice of how a couple of guide plates fitted into the machine. I had simply assumed we would replace the thing.  There were at least four options, and if we got their alignment wrong, the aging, discoloured plastic lugs that held them in place, might not stand the unit being pulled apart all over again.  Then there were another set of plates which had a couple of placement options, and I hadn't even noticed them come loose! Never underestimate a woman who is determined to fix her laminator. Madeleine squinted at things from various angles, announced that she was pretty sure what went where, and set about putting stuff back together.

For about the fifth time, I hinted we should give up.  They build these things in a jig, which holds the parts perfectly in place as you build them up in the correct order. This is so you don't need four sets of hands, and three sets of eyes, to do the impossible task of getting eight or nine pieces lined up at the same time as two sets of gears need to be meshed into each other. But I'm not the boss of this office, so I sat and obediently held bits and pieces as directed, while she aligned and levered and shoved, and suddenly it all clicked into place.  We bent the circlips back into some sort of shape and snapped them back into place.  Madeleine then took over and screwed the body back on around the workings of the laminator at truly impressive speed, and there it was, all done!

There was the matter of one small screw lying on the table. Madeleine said, "That fell out when I first unscrewed the case, so I don’t think it was ever doing anything anyway."  I wasn't going to disagree with her and, apparently, neither was the laminator, because it works.

I found the experience quite moving. It's exciting to witness such obvious mechanical aptitude and observation skills, not to mention "never say die" determination. I would never have managed getting the machine back together. But I am also a little sad. I spent my life as a minister affirming and supporting the role of women in society. In fact, when I prised out of  the college faculty that the reason that they made me take a year off, was because they thought maybe I was more interested in my wife's ministry development than my own, and what did that imply about my Call, I bluntly told them they preached equality and then penalised those who practiced it, only I was less polite than this.  (It says something for their quality as people that they let me continue!) Yet here I was, after all these years, surprised by Madeleine's skill and aptitude. Our early life conditioning runs deep into the marrow of our being, despite all our efforts.  A certain subset of my colleagues blithely assure us there are no problems with the way we treat women in the church—we've solved that issue, and it's time to move on.  I hope, for their sake and for ours, that they meet a Madeleine who will delaminate their neatly packaged theology.

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