After a full military career, and a successful spell in industry, I became a full time television presenter and author in 2003. Interestingly, people who come up and chat to me see me as lots of different things. To some I'm Colonel Dick from 'Scrapheap Challenge' to others I'm the eco-engineer from 'Its not easy being green' or 'Planet Mechanics', but, depending on what television you watch and enjoy, I could be the chap on 'Coast', or that bloke with a moustache that invents things/blows things up, more recently I tend to be the one from 'Celebrity Master Chef' or the 'Hungry Sailor' that sails around cooking and having fun with his son. To be fair, I am all these things, and I believe life is for living and enjoying; if you are not smiling you are doing something wrong!
When I was given the opportunity to be an ambassador for Rayburn I didn't hesitate, I have always been proud of being British, and our heritage, and, not surprisingly, as an engineer I know the value of owning and using quality tools. Having a Rayburn just makes sense to me; who wouldn't choose British engineering that is designed and built to last?
Rayburn in a league of its own
Crafted by hand, built for life
Scallops with Rocket Pesto
Pheasant with Crab Apple Jelly
Amaretto Apricot Tart
Dick Strawbridge Reunited with a Rayburn at last
Nowadays, I spend a lot of my time in London with my wife Angela and new baby boy, Arthur. We have a flat in East London, which, to be honest, is about as far away as you can get from the rural idyll. But nevertheless, it's very convenient when life is as busy, as it certainly is at the moment.
Yet, after spending some time at the famous Coalbrookdale Foundry, I got thinking about the lack of a Rayburn in my life! To be fair, a flat situated in an old school house in Bethnal Green is not the quintessential home for a Rayburn, but it's homely and we do a lot of cooking, which made the Rayburn a great choice. So, I decided to make the investment, and a couple of phone calls later I'd secured a visit from Colin Beynon - a Rayburn Service Engineer - who could confirm whether or not an urban Rayburn was a possibility.
I suppose there are a couple of things you need to know about our flat to fully understand Colin's - and my own - concerns. Firstly, the kitchen was on a mezzanine level accessed by some rather steep stairs, and a cast iron Rayburn is not exactly the lightest of stoves. However, more worrying was the tightness of the doorway, which curiously has an 'S' bend where you enter the flat. This could cause problems for any large item, as proven when I recently had to cut a Victorian canary cage into three pieces just to get it inside!
All the same, Colin, Angela and I spent a couple of hours looking at dimensions, specifications, gas routes and even colours, and the good news was that Colin reckoned we "should get it in through the door". Although the first floor was not going to be a feasible location, as the engineers needed access to the flue to monitor emissions to confirm the efficient running of the system. Fortunately, we had a redundant cat flap that a previous owner had randomly cut into the middle of the wall downstairs, and this would handily provide an outlet for the flue, while effectively dictating the location of the stove.
So, after a bit of re-jigging with the kitchen - i.e. moving it downstairs with the sitting room moving up, we ended up with a lovely large cooking/dining space, ready for the new Rayburn to take centre stage.
A couple of weeks later, the Rayburn installation team turned up with our gleaming black 400 series cooker. Father and son, Bryan and Jamie Duff, along with their colleague Daniel Wells, arrived first thing in the morning and we all had a brew while assessing the challenges of the installation. The team were still confident, though they did finally admit the door was going to be tight! Before I got outside to join them, the Rayburn was off the back of the van and ready to transfer to the kitchen. I was delighted to see the team using several very simple rollers and a couple of boards to move the cooker as it was expertly trundled towards the door in a way that would have made any pyramid building Egyptian engineer happy. Bryan was hoping for ½" clearance, but in the end it was much less. When I questioned him on why he didn't appear that concerned with challenge of getting the cooker in, he admitted that he could have actually taken off the top and front to make it much smaller if needed be - obviously, it was going in no matter what!
After that, the flat was a blur of activity; Dan routing the gas, Jamie and Bryan sorting the re-assembly, levelling and venting. After three hours of pipe bending, soldering, testing, drilling, cementing and then a final tidy up, it was the moment of truth: the Rayburn was ready for its first test run. I had mentioned to the team that I was expecting a full cookery demonstration as the final part of my installation. Bryan and Dan smiled, but Jamie looked a bit worried (apparently he doesn't do a lot of cooking). But it's important to pick on the young, so obviously Jamie had to be the first to use it!
So the question was: what is first thing we should produce on the classic cast iron range cooker? Well, with British workmen and British workmanship, the choice was obvious: it had to be a great British cuppa of course!
And as for Jamie, he did a cracking job and has certainly got a long and fruitful future in the kitchen - much like my new Rayburn.