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.




Today being Elizabeth’s birthday, we met her at Mottisfont this afternoon in order to visit the William Heath Robinson exhibition, after which we dined at The Crown Inn, Everton.

A pair of swans occupied the lawn

as we approached the house, where Jackie examined a site map in the 13th century crypt, and a bronze sculpture stood at the bottom of the stairs leading to the exhibition.

W. Heath Robinson illustration

By the time we had finished the evening, I was not up to doing justice to the exhibition, so offer ‘Luck’ as an example of what I will feature more fully tomorrow.

The meal at The Crown, with impeccable friendly service, was as first rate as ever. My main course consisted of perfectly cooked fillet steak, chips, tomato, mushrooms, and peas. Elizabeth chose salmon en croute; Jackie’s choice was belly of pork served on apple mashed potato with cream cider sauce. The ladies each enjoyed mixed vegetables in cabbage envelopes. Elizabeth and I both savoured bread and butter pudding in creme anglaise topped with sliced strawberries; Jackie’s dessert was a zestful lemon tart. Elizabeth and I both drank Espeto Tempranillo 2016, while Mrs Knight drank Peroni.



Graham Stuart Thomas

Rose garden 4This warm and changeable day turned out to be perfect for a visit to a National Trust garden.  We drove quite smoothly through Romsey, and past the Mountbatten home of Broadlands, where we would normally expect to encounter queues of traffic.  It was, however, as we neared our goal that we met the queues.  Cars formed lines in each direction at the entrance to the overflow car park.  The main one was already full at midday.  Rather harassed young men with SECURITY stamped on their jerkins waved us in one by one.  As we alighted we were told we were in the wrong place and likely to cause a bottleneck.  It wasn’t immediately clear how we could do that, but Jackie, adopting the usual placid persona she reserves for anything to do with the car, calmly and collectedly moved her Modus to the far corner of the uncut meadow  which served as a parking area.

What could possibly have brought all these vehicles to a National Trust house on a Tuesday in term-time?   Ah.  All was soon revealed.  The aged of the nation had descended en masse on Mottisfont.  We have now joined those privileged senior citizens who have done their time in their offices, factories, or whatever workplaces, and have the opportunity to litter the countryside with their presence.  I posted a previous visit to Mottisfont on 7th September.Pink climber This time, we were earlier in the season and able to enjoy the rose garden for which the house is justifiably famous.

Rose garden 2

For more than 800 years people have lived and worked on the Mottisfont estate.  The name comes from a Saxon moot, or meeting place, by a fountain. This site remains in the grounds, and is still a clear spring.

Mottisfont lawn

Crossing one of the several threads of the River Test, one sees the house across rolling lawns.  Meadow, MottisfontMeadows are retained on the edges and the area is home to many a massive tree.  Benches are dotted about and their shady situations offer places for rest or contemplation.  Motorised buggies transport those less mobile.

Jackie in walled garden, Mottisfont

We immediately made our way to the walled garden that contains many roses itself, and leads into the showpiece.

Rose garden

Rose spiralLast September there were still some roses in bloom, so I was familiar with the garden created by the Gardens Adviser to the National Trust, but I was totally unprepared for the magnificent display that greeted us as we made our way through the ancient brick walls to the gravel and stone paths laid amongst the profusion and variety of colourful flora. Rose garden 3 That the sun had chosen to light up the garden, filled with pensioners, some of whose clothing matched the horticultural hues, completed the picture.

I think Monet would have loved it. Bee in semi-double magenta rose

Whether one focussed on the whole landscape picture with the figures of those of a certain age dotted about amongst the flowers, or on the blooms themselves, there was much to delight the eye.Peony and rose, Mottisfont Iris

Rosa GallicaAmong the roses can been seen other plants such as peonies, irises, delphiniums, or allium.  All clearly benefitting from well-nurtured soil.

The aforementioned Gardens Adviser was Graham Stuart Thomas.  He moved his outstanding collection of old-fashioned shrub roses to Mottisfont’s walled garden during 1972 and 1973.Graham Stuart Thomas

A fine yellow rose bears his name.

We chose not to visit the house today, and went for a walk along the river bank.  Last September there was an exhibition in the house of E.H.Shepard’s illustrations to Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’.  Shepard’s drawings include an iron bridge much like the one you must cross to reach the riverside walk.  Indeed, to accompany the exhibition, a rowing boat such as Toad may have used, had been moored by the bridge.Bridge over River Test

Riverside walkA number of couples walked along the water’s edge.  Some ventured even further, into a vast meadow where cows lowed.

Ready for a sudden insecticidal leap to the surface, large trout lurked like U-boats among the underwater reeds that were flattened and fanned out by the swift flowing current that forced the ducks to paddle furiously just to persist in their desire to swim against it.Trout lurkingUnderwater reeds

As we made our way past an enormous sylvan structure that is two ancient plane trees in one, a troop of children that must have had very little impact on the average age of today’s visitors, fell over each other to be the first to reach the subject of their field trip. Plane tree school trip, Mottisfont Their escorts struggled to keep them to order.

Back home we learned that all the garages had been broken into overnight.  We lost nothing.  One man lost a torch, and another, two golf clubs.  It was rather difficult to see the point of the burglary.

Jackie made a juicy liver casserole as an excuse to use the giant cauliflower she had bought a couple of days ago.  This was enjoyed on my part with the last of bottle number 012919 of the Terres de Galets and the first of number 000198.


Michael and Emily drove down to join us for the day.  As they are great National Trust fans, Michael having made a superb investment by subscribing to life membership at the age of nineteen, I suggested a trip to Mottisfont, a National Trust property situated just four miles North of Romsey.  Michael drove us all there and we enjoyed a day at this establishment dating from a thirteenth century priory.  Rightly famous for its walled rose gardens, there is much more to enjoy there.

We were greeted by a small bridge over a stream, the river Test, from which a number of families were throwing bread into the swirling waters.  Upon investigation we saw that trout and ducks were vying for the offerings.  Later on we took the riverside walk which had clearly inspired Kenneth Grahame to write ‘The Wind In The Willows’, incidentally one of my favourite books of all time.  The highlight, for me, of the visit to the house was the exhibition of E.H.Shepard’s illustrations to that wonderful novel.  In an exhibition case, among other editions, was one sporting Arthur Rackham’s marvellous work.

Although the roses were clearly past their best, it was apparent that the walled gardens were a wonderful display, still featuring many different species, still blooming.  Buddleiae were attracting a range of butterflies and bees.

During the visit to the house itself, Elizabeth was being sold a raffle ticket in one of the rooms.  As I approached the desk, I realised I would be invited to buy one myself.  I don’t believe I have ever won a raffle in my life.  I hate selling tickets.  In fact, if an organisation I am involved with sends me a book of tickets to dispense, I buy them all myself.  I still never win.  So I look the other way when I am expected to buy someone else’s.  This time there was no avoiding it.  I sidled up to Elizabeth, looked as if I belonged to her, and glanced from the volunteer sales assistant to my sister, in a proprietorial way, hoping to indicate that I was with her and her ticket would cover us both.  It worked.  I was unsolicited.  Michael, who had followed minutes later, was not so fortunate.  You never know, one of them may collect the £10,000 first prize.  Then I will feel I’ve missed out.

Tree bark, Mottisfont 9.12

We really did pick a gorgeous autumn day for our visit.  The light was superb and the temperature was warm.  As we entered the building we passed a knot garden which had been planted in a most suitable arrangement in this year of the Queen’s 60th. Jubilee celebrations, the football World Cup, and the London Olympics.  Jackie was upset by the sight of one particular weed in the arrangement, and therefore pleased to see it extracted.

When we returned to The Firs I immediately began the preparation of a sausage and bacon casserole.  Jackie and Danni rendered invaluable help with the vegetables.  As is often the case, I was quizzed about ingredients.  The mention of green cardamoms took us back ten years.  It has long been a tradition that I produce a Boxing Day curry with the left over turkey or other unfortunate bird that has graced our Christmas table.  When Oliver was about five, I forgot to mention that the meal contained this particular spice.  Oliver bit into one and promptly threw a tantrum.  He rushed out of the room, to be persuaded back in by Jessica.   I had to explain and apologise.  Eventually he calmed down, the offending items were removed from his plate, and we continued to enjoy the meal.  The next year we again enjoyed Gramps’s curried turkey.  Soon after we began, Oliver asked: ‘what were those green things we had last year?’.  I told him.  ‘Can I have everybody’s?’, he asked.  Donations were readily given.  He promptly and proudly ate the lot.

This evening, the casserole was followed by Jackie’s apple crumble.  A variety of red wines were drunk, except by one of us who had Hoegaarden.