The Rayburn Saga


Day One:  Morning

The builders arrive but the only briefs they have are under their trousers!!

A glorious day dawned when the workmen arrived to start the preparation for the installation of the Rayburn. For those of you who are uninitiated, the Rayburn is a jolly expensive heap of cast iron that is capable of doing the cooking AND running of a central heating system at the same time! Their first task was to cut through the only decent wooden flooring our house possessed in order to install a concrete floor for the beast to sit on. Fortunately, the flooring adjacent to the Rayburn was lower than the surrounding flooring and required a new deck and new floor boards to level it up. This meant that the boards that were sawn out could be re-used. Much grinding with an electric circular saw soon had the timbers up to reveal a concrete floor underneath! Well, that saved a job. Then the new decking went down and the studding was erected against the walls for the new panelling. The project seemed to be going extremely well!

Then gradually I began to have doubts. It was clear that following the studding, up would go the panelling, and that once that was in place, where would the central heating pipes go? Where would the electrical cables go? Where had the foul drain inspection hatch cover gone? I had told the plumbers at a previous site meeting, that this drain would be the best candidate to take the waste from the sink unit, which we had agreed would go opposite the Rayburn. This information had not been conveyed to the builders. I decided that I had to face the builders with the prospect that if the job continued on their present course, it would spell disaster!

Their reaction was understandable, a marked reluctance to continue work without further and clearer instructions. I can't say I blamed them. I was confused myself, so it was a very easy matter for me to confuse them. It was quite clear that they had no idea that the Rayburn was going to do anything other than cook. The concept of central heating, pipes and plumbers threw them into a catatonic trance. When I did get through to them, it was clear that they had not been briefed by their boss as to the true nature of the abominable undertaking! They left site in a very uneasy state of mind matched only by my own.

Day One: Evening 

Night-time falls and the ghost of Banquo arrives. 

Just when I thought things couldn't be that bad, Andy, my highly regarded general factotum, shellfish purveyor, personal confidant, and fixer up of all things wooden at reasonable rates, arrived. Under the influence of nothing stronger than a cup of coffee, he assured me that things were worse than I could possibly have imagined. The person who owned this money pit before us had not, in his benevolence, left a legacy of concrete in case someone should wish to fit a Rayburn in the house, he had simply filled the floor with concrete for reasons best known to himself.

The house does sit on its own pier and in the past it had a reputation for water rising up from below. I can only surmise that this particularly stubborn Orcadian had attempted to go one better than King Canute and had decided to keep the tide out of the house for good and all! The darker alternative was that he had been determined at all costs to ensure that if the ubiquitous Stromness Rats had been planning midnight raids on his Stockans Oatcakes then then they would have to come up through the pier armed with jack-hammers and high explosives!

"So what", I said. "How does that affect the price of spoots in Jolly's?" Andy said: "How do you propose to get rid of your dirty water from your sink?" Suddenly it dawned on me that between the sink and any form of drain stood at least 6 inches of heavy-duty reinforced ready mixed concrete.

I had a very sleepless night complicated by nighmares involving complex negotiations with the Stromness rats for a loan of their mining equipment. In the cool light of day, things only seem worse. 

Day 2: Morning

In the cool light of day things only seem worse!

At 9.00am, I grasped the bull by the horns and phoned the Chief Plumber. I explained that the builders had not a clue what was going on in the minds of the plumbers (which in fact may not be a bad idea after all, as the plumbers' innermost thoughts would most likely induce panic), and could we perhaps have some co-ordination on the project. He promised to "race down" to sort things out. I made a mental note that this meant I would see him some time after lunch! I had just put the phone down when Andy arrived to tell me he too had had a sleepless night.

The builders must have had a sleepless night as well because they hadn't turned up at all!

Andy tried to cheer us up by carrying out a thorough survey of all our pipe-work. He told us that most of it would rot away because it was set into concrete. He also discovered and surveyed a cellar under the house we did not know we had and found some pipe-work that was NOT set in concrete which made us feel better. Perhaps one day we might find out what it does. Andy then left, wishing us the best of luck with the plumbers and builders! I already feel as if I am on death row.

Day 2: Afternoon.

King Harry gives a speech but the troops remain unimpressed!

1.45pm and wonder of wonders out of an Orcadian downpour came not only the Chief Plumber but a host of builders, well okay, the same three we had yesterday but most welcome they were. Surely now our problems were behind us, we would learn the innermost secrets of the Rayburn, worship at its temple, roll up our trouser leg, learn where to knock the holes in the wall, where the pipes had to go, and other mystic rituals to be performed before its arrival! Sadly I learnt that the two groups have arrived separately without previous knowledge that the other would be there. In other words, situation normal!

Unfortunately as a High Priest the Chief Plumber was rather unconvincing. Actually that is rather unfair as he TOTALLY convinced the builders to stop any of the work on which they were engaged! Any magic rituals to be carried out in the presence of the Rayburn now appeared to require the presence of a plumber as well as a builder. In addition the High Priest also indicated that he did not know when the Rayburn would arrive or what signs to look for in the sky (or anywhere else for that matter)! He then departed into the Orcadian rain having postponed the proposed bathroom suite job to phase II after Christmas. Privately I was hoping that Phase I would not OVERLAP with Phase II!

So the builders turned aside from the work on the Rayburn and said "Shall we continue with our work on the sink unit instead?", to which I said: "Possibly, after you have prised up the foul pipe inspection hatch from under the floor decking that you laid down yesterday". And the builders looked at what they had done and saw that it was not so good after all. Still five seconds later the problem was solved with an eight inch cold chisel. And lo the previous occupant afeared, that he might lack places to defecate in, had placed a contingency foul pipe in just the right line for the kitchen waste.

The builders spend an otherwise fruitless afternoon chipping out Canute's Concrete and chiselling up the remaining floorboards around the proposed kitchen sink. Finally they found where the foul drain went round the bend. Apparently just in the right place. When I go round the bend perhaps I might also do it in the right place. But I doubt it.

The builders then departed, knowing not when they would be back. We were left with the legacy of a mound of concrete and earth upon our scullery floor, an open foul pipe run, an inspection hole and some studding on the wall. I hope these remains would not be our epitaph!

Day Three: Morning

Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well................ 

The following morning I gloomily surveyed the pitiful scene in the scullery, a large mound of earth and stone lay heaped upon the floor. The grave-diggers had long since departed, leaving behind the corpse of the foul drain bend and an unmistakable stench. I stared intently at the hole that the builders had chiselled out of the concrete, I then stared at the square hole in the boards that marked where the Rayburn was to stand. Now there was a square piece of concrete missing from one corner! Oh yes, in order to dig out enough of the foul drain to clear the bend, the builders had undermined the area where the Rayburn was going to stand!

It is crystal clear that the Rayburn cannot be installed until the builders and plumbers return to site and fix up the soil pipe to the presently non-existent kitchen unit. Perhaps now would be a good time to choose one. I debated pouring myself a whisky but decided that the sun was hardly over the horizon let alone over the yard-arm! I settled for a can of "Irn Bru", a soft drink of Scottish origin, which is supposed to act as a "pick me up". I then faxed the Chief Plumber with my glad tidings.

Day 4: Morning

The Stromness Circular Saw Massacre. 

Oh happy days! Jim the plumber arrived with news that the builders would be on site, fully briefed about the installation in the morning. He also brought a range of items normally associated with the serious side of the art of burglary! Five minutes later and the whine of the circular saw on the floorboards, the hammering of metal on metal, and the sickening crunch of floorboards being jemmied up, caused me to retreat to the relative safety of the conservatory. The crunching sounds ceased, only to be replaced by the sound of a heavy-duty drill vibrating its way through the 18th century joists. As they are made of hardwood, I hoped he had remembered to bring plenty of drill bits! 

All was going well apart from the fact that Jim had now exposed the electrical wiring. I could see straight away why the previous owner had nailed down the boards so securely and then glued the carpet onto them. A clear cut case of out of sight out of mind. The problem was that one would have to be out of ones mind to leave the wiring in its present condition. The electrician would installed it appeared to have been given his training in electrical safety by bodies such as Railtrack or British Nuclear Fuels (Dounreay Plant). If the Rayburn hotplate ever fails I could probably have cook a three course meal on the top of all the junction boxes crammed into the gaps between the boards! Jim suggested that it might be an idea not to nail down the boards but to get the whole system inspected. One could not disagree with that sage advice.

Day 4: Afternoon and Evening

Jim calls the tune but Barthorpe brings the house down! 

I knew it was too good to last. Jim had begun working out the routes for his pipe-work, which must wind a devious course up three storeys to the newly formed tank-room. He decided to follow the route used by the cold water feed and dodgy immersion heater electrical wiring. It was also decided to open up one of the old shutters beside the window in the first floor lounge in order to run pipe-work up the inside. The shutter opened up easily enough and a hole was knocked to accommodate the pipes. It was getting late so Jim knocked off. Unfortunately, I did not.

I decided that if a bit more stonework and conduit were removed, the pipes could be placed more evenly on the wall. I took a hammer and crowbar and levered the edge of the pipe conduit. It came away easily taking with it a hundred weight of wet plaster, twenty five pounds of soggy wood shavings and ten feet of wooden lining boards. As I sat there amongst the debris, the strangest thought entered my head. I said to myself, "Perhaps I should have put a dust-sheet on the computer before I started this."

After spending the rest of the evening clearing the mess and hacking off the remaining 10% of the plaster, we now had a 90% plain stone covering on the seaward wall of the lounge. It seemed an irony indeed that our web site already included in its musical offerings an extract from a song called "Four Stone Walls". The way I was going it would soon be all that was left of the house!

Just then Andy arrived and cheered us up by suggesting we erect a new piece of boarding in the dining room stuck to the wall with a substance known as "liquid nails". At last our activities entered a constructive phase. Andy sawed the timber, Jenny held the boards and I applied the glue. An hour later we had instant panelling in the dining room ready to take the new radiator.

Day 5: Morning

Jim arrives, but where are the builders? 

Jim arrived bright and early and began to thread what appeared to be plastic hose-pipe through the holes in the joists. Apparently this stuff was high category Hep2O piping with a twenty-five year guarantee! I was impressed. There was no need to solder this stuff, it bent easily and could even be rodded into place! I had been expecting copper pipes, butane soldering kits and at least one conflagration before we were through! Jim was pleased with how easy it now was to get his pipes across the fire-place after the previous evening's avalanche. 

I was not pleased when he removed by hand the cement bags on the main building joist that were holding up the seaward wall under the window. They were supposed to support the joist not provide decoration. Closer examination revealed the problem. The bags turned out to be used bread bags filled with very inferior concrete. This had shrunk away from the joists leaving the stones at each end doing all the work. The previous owner might have done better to leave the bags full of Orcadian wholemeal bread, which would certainly have given all the necessary support the joists required! I made a mental note to ask the builders to fill the gaps with decent concrete once the pipes were in place. I also decided to inspect the boarding where the pipes came up from the ground floor.

A silly mistake. Jim's crowbar did not have to work hard to lift the boards. In fact not only did the boards come up, so did the joists, the last of the panelling on the far wall of the lounge, the lower window frame, all of the lower window sill and the bottom half of the other shutter panelling. There was now a 100% stone covering on the seaward wall of the lounge! Jim was the only party who was really happy about all this, but this was hardly surprising as it was getting easier and easier to put his pipes in place!

We decided to knock off for a cup of tea and ponder the whereabouts of the builders who were now required to repair and finish the concrete base for the Rayburn. Jim had cleared out a space around the foul drain and had stabbed in and glued into place the waste pipe that would lead eventually back to the sink. I decided to fax the builders and enquire after their health. It turned out they were expecting to be required the following morning. Jim made it clear their presence was expected within the next few hours.

Sure enough out of the heat haze (I jest) of a sunny Orcadian afternoon, came the builders. They went off to mix concrete for the base, rather hurt by Jim having told them to be sure that the base was level. This did no gone down well. Apparently their experience over the years had taught them that the Rayburn seldom had a level base itself! Having made extra especially certain the concrete base was level, they went outside and begun building the plinth for the oil tank to stand on.

Day 6:

I became worried when nothing went wrong! 

Amazingly the day went extremely well. I began to worry that I had been kept in ignorance of some disaster, but I put this down to my healthy sense of paranoia. Jim brought his colleague Stuart into the project to fit the copper tails and valves to all the radiators. Jim busied himself installing the hot water tank and all the services required. The builders finished the oil tank plinth and then, just on cue, the 1098 litre oil-tank arrived.

Day 7: Morning

Jim is confident about his orders, but the troops are nowhere to be seen!

The day dawned bright and clear and I spent a few minutes idly chatting to the Masons about another job that needed attention in the house. At Jim's request they were about to embark on the task of digging a trench for the oil pipe from the plinth by the garage across the boatyard to the house. I left them to it and retreated to the conservatory for a cup of tea. Jim came through to ask whether I had seen the masons lately. I had just explained that I was unaware that they had disappeared, as I had just left them leaning on their shovels in our boatyard, when it seemed as if the heavens had caved in. There was an almighty crash from above in our bedroom and an enormous shower of dust and debris shot out through the gaps in the joists in the roof where the conservatory and the kitchen joined. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea to designate the conservatory a mandatory hard hat area. As the dust settled I suggested to Jim that the masons were in our bedroom, but God alone knew what the hell they had done in there!

As I hared up the stairs I groped blindly through the dust filled haze in the bedroom and made out the forms of the two masons surrounded by debris, consigning one of the two window lintels into a bucket. The remaining lintel stood propped up with much of the stonework removed. My mind went into reverse mode as I recalled mentioning that the lintel appeared to have begun to move. With the help of the builders, the lintel had now fast forwarded itself into oblivion! The builders took up the job with great relish and replaced BOTH the lintels by lunchtime, having crated havoc for the other trades with petrol driven stone cutting implements which the whole of the area into a moonscape of rock dust. Besides replacing the lintels they had also managed to dig out the fuel line in the meantime as well, which was very useful and indicated a very high work rate!

Then, wonder of wonders, all adversities were forgotten as THE RAYBURN ARRIVED surrounded by a crowd of attendants in its large brown sarcophagus. The scene was reminiscent of the Valley of the Kings s the Pharaohs began their journey into the afterlife. The image strenghthened as the 2,400KG Rayburn was lowered from a forklift truck onto a series of wooden rollers for the final journey to its resting-place in the kitchen.

The Rayburn was carefully eased through the door of the conservatory through to the kitchen where it was moved onto its concrete base using a system of carefully placed crowbars. Again, this was a technique that was probably used to place the stones of the pyramids into their final positions. The electrician began the task of wiring power to the control systems, and Jim began to install the pumps and fit fire valves, electrical systems and other accoutrements to the Rayburn. The masons spent the afternoon knocking holes through the wall for the main vent and oven vent pipes which were to be connected up inside.

Days 8 and 9:

The electrics are connected and the loose ends are tied up.

Although it was a Saturday, Jim came in and spent the morning completing the main wiring to the Rayburn and fitting the vents and associated pipe-work. On the following Monday, the masons finished cutting a channel in the stonework between the boatyard and the kitchen wall for the fuel pipe. They also drilled a hole in the wall and passed the fuel pipe in for connection to the Rayburn. and made good the holes around the vent pipes. Meanwhile Jim and Stuart carried out the works in the tank room setting up the hot water cylinder and thermostat, installing connections for the flow and return pipe-work, re-routed the pipe-work for the washing machine and installed a new sink trap. Jim and Stuart then installed service valves to the pipe-work where radiators were not yet installed, and filled up the system with water. Just after they left that evening, the first delivery of oil arrived!

Day 10:

The Grand Finale.

Jim and the electrician made the final adjustments to the electrical systems and burners of the Rayburn, Stuart put in the final radiator (for the time being) in the conservatory. The Rayburn was ready for lighting at high noon. After three attempts, requiring some minute adjustments, the electrical systems cut in, the burners fired, the pumps circulated hot water and the radiators all over the house began to warm up. We now had central heating! At the same time the hot plate on the Rayburn began to heat. It gave off a strong oily smell. This is quite usual and takes a few days to wear off. Water also began to ooze out of the joints of the Rayburn. I was told also this is quite usual, because the insulation actually absorbs water from the surrounding air while the unit is in transit. This effect also wears off in a few days. We now only require an official Rayburn certified engineer to officially commission the Rayburn so we could return the necessary paperwork to the company. The project was complete.

In spite of a number of hiccups, the Rayburn Project was completed within ten working days and within our budget. Our thanks go the plumbers, masons and joiners of Orkney who worked on this project and made it such a success!