In praise of contraptions

What is the difference between a contraption, a gadget, a device, an apparatus, an invention…?

To me a contraption needs an element of eccentricity, a fair amount of ingenuity and a sprinkling of creative overkill.

This morning on the news there featured a gentleman in Bristol – like Banksy – not Banksy, presumably – disguised in an all-enveloping jacket with the hood up, his voice muffled: the anonymous Grammar Vigilante. He goes around in the dead of night, often in fear and trembling lest he be discovered, inserting apostrophes into words on shop and business signs where apostrophes have been sinfully omitted and removing apostrophes from words into which they have been equally sinfully inserted. But people might say, says the news reporter, that what you are doing is illegal. You don’t have permission to correct stuff.

It’s not right, he says simply. Someone has to put it right. I’m proud that it’s me. And good on him. I’d do the same myself if I had the nerve.

What struck my eye, though, was his special gadget. His contraption. He called it “The Apostrophiser” and it was a wonderful thing – with one end he could apply, at some height above his head, the apostrophe, carefully matched to the original sign for colour and font. The apostrophe started off as a blob and was carefully, expertly, smeared into the proper shape by a small wheel. On the other end was a gadget for blanking out superfluous apostrophes. The Apostrophiser worked a treat but was so big he had to carry it openly about the night-time streets of Bristol. I did wonder as to the necessity of the hoodie etc for a man with a giant wooden Apostrophiser dangling from his right arm, but…

Life is so much more interesting for contraptions, isn’t it? Nan and Grandad didn’t have a fridge, which was a problem on Sundays when they bought a block of Raspberry Ripple ice cream (my favourite) to go with our Sunday Lunch. Grandad dug a deep, square hole under the bathroom washbasin – it must have taken him at least a day – and made a kind of dumb waiter to lower the ice cream into. It seemed to work. It don’t remember it melty. He also made what he referred to as a dibber out of the handle of an old garden fork. Sawed it off and sharpened it. I think the idea of a dibber was to make a nice neat hole to settle seedlings into.

I recently spent ages combing the internet, trying to find a contraption I had imagined, in my head (sorry, it would have been in my head, wouldn’t it?). I could see the thing but nobody seemed to be selling it. Ridiculous. There’s somebody selling everything. It was a thing for squeezing every last drop of meat out of the cats’ Felix sachets. I’m a vegetarian. I hate getting gravy all over my hands and I hate waste. Some poor old horse or chicken or whatever has perished that my moggies might eat and it just feels iniquitous to waste its precious little chunks of flesh.

The thing I had in mind had two prongs, or two somethings – like hair-straighteners? For flattening the pouch. At last I found one, and a very good one. In fact I bought two in case one of the precious items should go missing. Why can’t they call things by sensible names? Like, the sort of description you might type into Amazon when searching?

Dad did try with contraptions, but he didn’t have Grandad’s flair. He once made me a T-shaped thing for reaching down into the hole that the water-meter is in, outside the house, and kind of twisting the handle. Actually, an arm with a hand on the end works rather better, but I keep Dad’s gadget anyway, like the walking stick he bought me and which I am not yet incapacitated enough to use, the rusty screw-driver and the ancient ruler, because he gave them to me.

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