More Than Complicated Contraptions


Heath Robinson is an adjective in our language defined as ingeniously or ridiculously over-complicated in design or construction, as in a vast Heath Robinson mechanism. Our dictionaries owe this to the works of William Heath Robinson (13th May 1872 to 13th September 1944). He was the youngest of three brothers. Like their father, all became excellent illustrators.

William is best known for his humorous and ingenious drawings of complicated contraptions. He was, however, also one of the best of his generation of superb practitioners of his art. In addition to his cartoon work, he illustrated other people’s books;  those he wrote himself; posters; and magazines.

It was during the First World War that the term “Heath Robinson” entered the U.K.’s popular language ‘as a description of any unnecessarily complex and implausible contrivance, much as “Rube Goldberg machines” came to be used in the United States from the 1920s onwards as a term for similar efforts. “Heath Robinson contraption” is perhaps more often used in relation to temporary fixes using ingenuity and whatever is to hand, often string and tape, or unlikely cannibalisations. Its continuing popularity was undoubtedly linked to Britain’s shortages and the need to “make do and mend” during the Second World War.’ (Wikipedia)

As featured yesterday, along with Elizabeth, Jackie and I visited an exhibition of his work held at Mottisfont. The whole range of his oeuvre was on display.

W. Heath Robinson illustration

The final British attack of 1916’s Battle of The Somme was that of The Ancre. Heath Robinson’s drawings, such as this one featuring his idea of German listening posts, did much to sustain the spirits of English soldiers during The Great War.

W. Heath Robinson illustration

Towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries there were still very mixed feelings about blocks of flats (apartments). Some doubted their safety. This was one of our artist’s views on the subject.

W. Heath Robinson illustration

He also advocated ‘Inventing at home’.

Among others, William illustrated Hans Andersen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Song of The English, The Water Babies, and Old Time Stories (Bluebeard is featured here).

Those of his own books include Bill The Minder.

Some of the exhibits were paintings he produced for his own pleasure.

W. Heath Robinson illustration

Nash’s is an example of his magazine work. Note that, the Christmas Number for 1929 cost 1/6d which is the equivalent of just seven and a half pence today. The current issue of The New Yorker costs $8.99.

This afternoon I received an e-mail from BT announcing that they have refunded the over-payment they took last month and I am now in credit.

Jackie produced an extremely tasty meal of beef with creamy mashed potato, soft peppers and mushrooms in red wine; with crisp cauliflower; tender cabbage and leeks, for our dinner this evening. She felt, erroneously, that she had ruined the meal by forgetting carrots for colour. I thought the yellow peppers did the job. I finished the Tempranillo brought back from the pub yesterday.


Not Lost After All

Those smaller sized books that are filling the spaces at the top of the library bookshelves need bookends to keep them securely in place.

We needed a few more, which, given that their product is very robust and weighty, meant a trip to IKEA in Southampton this morning. We also went to buy a replacement for Jackie’s kitchen shelves, so generously donated yesterday.
As usual, Jackie grasped a trolley, just in case we saw anything else.  This proved to be prescient, since, in addition to the above items, we also came away with a large rug for the entrance hall, several induction hob friendly cooking pans, some gift wrapping paper, and finally, a mini sack barrow. Given that we have probably finished carting large boxes of books backwards and forwards, this latter item seemed rather like locking the stable door (after the horse has bolted).

After nearly two hours in the dry heat atmosphere of this emporium, I felt as usual, as if I were in a trance.

During the wait at checkout I was able to reflect that IKEA, on our way in, had, by virtue of a certain obfuscation of their signage, warned us what we were in for.
One box of goodies retrieved from storage is labelled ‘Contents of Desk’. Since it rattles a bit and would not have been opened for some years, I have rather put off investigating the contents. I dip into it every now and then, and attempt to make decisions about disposal or otherwise.

Today I came across a small print of a photograph taken on honeymoon with Vivien in 1963. We stayed at a bed and breakfast farmhouse in Pendeen in Cornwall, and I am reliably informed by my blogging friend, Melanie of

that this was a shot of Mousehole. I do not have the negative and thought I had lost the print, the significance of which is that it was on the first roll of colour film I ever exposed, and it was instrumental in making me serious about my photography.
It was taken with the Kodak Box Brownie, and has suffered a few blemishes over the years, but I have decided not to remove these, and to present it as I found it.

I also found further art-work I had thought gone forever. Here I reproduce two:

The mother and child was the original drawing for a Christmas card made in 1976.

The elderly lady contemplating an array of medication is my Auntie Gwen.

Gwen was not confused about her pills. The drawing was made for the in-house magazine of my Social Services Area Office in Westminster Social Services. It was called ‘Age Lines’ and was devoted to our work with elderly people. Edited by Sid Briskin, one of the Social Workers, contributions were solicited from all his colleagues. I generally provided the illustrations. This one was from 1985.

We spent the afternoon and part of the evening filling shelves, reaching Novels L.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s sausage casserole (recipe), boiled potatoes, and crisp carrots and cauliflower, followed by chocolate eclairs. She drank Hoegaarden whilst I began a bottle of excellent El Pinsapo gran seleccion rioja 2011.