Winter Moorings


We have relocated to Union Wharf, Market Harborough, for the winter. Here is ‘Froth’ lying in her new mooring, and taking on water. As you can see, we have the advantage of a quayside running the length of the boat, which is great because we can get on and off at the front as well as the back if necessary. It’s also good for washing and painting the hull.

We love Market Harborough. Lots of great shops and restaurants, a good park for Rosie, and the basin has a well-kept towpath and its own restaurant and gin/fizz bar. Even so, we were sorry to leave Yelvertoft. It’s a great marina in a fabulous setting with lovely people. No doubt we’ll be back one day. But, for various reasons, Harborough is the best place for us this winter.

Union Wharf is also home to a hire fleet. It can get very festive when there are stag/hen parties setting out on the little day boats:


The larger boats are moored in front of the restaurant:


But all the hiring has stopped now for the winter, so it will be relatively quiet until March.

Froth has had some work done on the cratch covers at the front, because they were leaking when the wind got up and drove the rain in hard. To prevent that, Kinver Canopies have fitted this rather stylish scalloping, which is mounted on a rail that acts as a gutter. A perfect marriage of form and function.


We had been noticing that the propellor was not turning very well, so Andy got his long sleeved rubber gloves on and lifted the weed hatch to investigate. This is what he found:


Old mooring rope, wrapped tightly around the shaft. It took a lot of sawing with a blade to get it off. Still, at least it was proper rope and not a plastic bag – those things are a nightmare!




Harborough Nights

Market Harborough in beautiful sunny weather has a continental feel and there is a terrific restaurant where we can sit outside and enjoy gin cocktails and good food.


We have made two trips there recently, so this blog entry has some pictures of those journeys. It takes a day to go from Yelvertoft to the top of Foxton Locks, then a morning (or more if you are unlucky with the lock queues) to go down Foxton locks and along the Harborough Arm to Union Wharf. The trip from Yelvertoft to Market Harborough can be done in 30 minutes by car! Canal travel is slow, especially when the canals follow the landscape as the Grand Union does. It takes us a couple of hours just to leave the village of Yelvertoft.

The trip involves going down Foxton Locks. This amazing 10-lock flight has been covered before in this blog, so here are just a few videos from these particular trips:

On the second trip, the Foxton Festival was in full flow. We have now got our trader’s licence for ‘Froth on the Daydream’, so one day we will probably join in with these trading boats that sell a range of wares to the passers-by. In the meantime, Louise continues to sell her leather roses across the world.

Going through Foxton Locks turns Froth into an instant tourist attraction!

IMG_6525 2

These “gongoozlers” did everything except climb aboard! They peered through the windows, taking photos of the interior (quite what they expected to see is anyone’s guess) and peppered both Louise and I with endless questions. These ranged from: “is this boat really your home?” to “when is your wife going to get on board?” People sometimes find it hard to accept that Louise operates the paddles. They see sexism in the division of labour, as Andy does the ‘easy’ business of steering the boat into the locks.

The Harborough Arm is a very beautiful and winding stretch. There are a few houses along the way, including this peculiar one which is apparently something to do with the Scottish Clan Kerr. The motto translates as: “late, but in earnest”.


There are also two swing bridges to navigate. This one involves actually stopping the road traffic.

The prize for all this is to arrive at the moorings at Harborough Basin or Union Wharf. It costs £10 per night, but it is well worth it for the electricity hook-up, free water, facilities, and the general ambience, which is fabulous…

…even at night!



The Winds are complete

After five days in the studio, and quite a lot of advance preparation on the boat, the winds for Movement 1 have been completed. Each wind comprises a collection of sound files which add up to its character. The sounds include natural/environmental recordings, instrumental and synthetic timbres. All of them are treated in some way, at the very least embedding directionality as described in previous posts, but in some cases spectrally treated and processed.

The bass clarinettist behaves like a kind of weather vane in the performance. He will face a given wind and play from a menu (yet to be composed) of material in response to the sounds that emanate from that direction. When he tires of a particular wind, he will turn to face another direction.

Meanwhile, the computer will trigger anything between one and the maximum number of sound files available in a given wind folder. The triggering will occur randomly within a 30 second window. Since some of the sound files last more than a minute, it is likely that the ‘tail’ of one wind will still be playing when a new one is faced. This should add richness to the musical experience.

The material in the wind folders is unified according to the timbral map given in a previous post, i.e. by shape, timbres, pitch centre (where appropriate), gesture, envelope, etc. Even so, there is a lot of diversity. It will be a blowy and slightly chaotic piece, just like the experience of standing on Kelston Round Hill!

The Movement will begin with the North West wind, which consists entirely of unpitched sounds from the computer and from the bass clarinet, who makes various air noises and clicks. After that, the shape of the composition is determined on the fly by the performers  (Roger Heaton and myself, in this case).

Watford Flight


The Watford Flight is located near to the Watford Gap services on the M1 motorway. The road can be heard here and occasionally glimpsed through the trees. The whole flight is seven locks, consisting of two single locks, a staircase of four locks, and a final top lock. A ‘staircase’ is a sequence where you emerge from one lock directly into the next, whereas single locks have a pound between them.

Traffic through the flight is strictly controlled by a CRT volunteer lock-keeper, because these are single boat locks and the staircase can only accommodate boats going in the same direction. On the day we went through, there were three boats coming down, so we had to wait a while at the bottom before being allowed to enter.

Here is a video record of the ascent through the staircase.

And here is the familiar view that greets you as you emerge from the top lock. You do get a great sense of achievement when you come through. We stopped at the services on the left before heading on to moor up for lunch after the second bridge, and then the final journey back to the marina described in the previous post.


Return journey

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” (The Wind in the Willows).

We’ve dawdled. It’s been a very relaxing trip. Some days we did not travel at all. Louise made some roses. Andy did some composing. There was quite a lot of sitting about.

The outward journey was consequently not a great distance: a matter of 18 miles or so to Gayton Junction. The return journey took us slightly less time because we decided to come back a day sooner than predicted. The weather is closing in and a cold snap is forecast. But for most of our trip, the weather has been very good, with some days of brilliant sunshine, even if it was a bit chilly.

Gayton Junction, our half-way turning point, is a busy place, with boats coming from three directions.


We stopped at the neat and well maintained service station to fill up with water and empty the toilet cassettes. It took quite a long time, and we enjoyed chatting with a gentleman who was doing the same thing.


The other junction on our trip was Norton, where the Grand Union canal turns south towards Brentford and London (our direction) or west towards Braunston.


This is a very pretty junction, with a lovely house on the corner and good services round the bend.


We had a nice meal and a pint or two at the nearby New Inn. But the best meal out was on our 18th wedding anniversary, last Sunday, when we dined at the Narrow boat Inn, Weedon Bec. The food there is very good.

Most days, though, Louise cooked meals on board. This was a particularly delicious one: Italian Veggie Cottage Pie

For a few miles north of Norton Junction, the M1 motorway and the main railway line to London flank the canal on either side. Three historical transport routes in close proximity. The railway finished off the canals, and the roads rendered large parts of the railway network obsolete. I know which I prefer! I shot this video to capture that experience.

And here are a couple of stills of trains (these are the ones I take to Euston station when I go to work).

Rosie has really enjoyed the whole trip, and is getting very grown up. She behaves well at locks and really does not need to be put on a lead any more, but watches everything with keen interest. She also does not bother passers-by (unless they are on bikes, unfortunately) if they do not pay her any attention. More often than not, though, they cannot resist giving her a cuddle.

We have seen lots of widlife, including this pied wagtail (a relatively rare sight these days, sadly) and a rather handsome mandarin duck, who seems to be mixing with the mallards with no problem.

But mostly, it has been slow cruising through beatiful countryside and occasional villages. Here are a few pictures to give the flavour:

Hanging out washing on the back deck was a happy experience, after the long winter.


We also see some peculiar boats, like this one made from a shipping container:


On the return journey, Louise was pleased to stop at Anchor Cottage canal shop, near the top of the Long Buckby locks. It’s full of wonderful stuff, but the lady was camera shy so we took these pictures from the boat. We bought a couple of lovely planters for the roof. More pictures will follow when they have been planted up.

The last big adventure on the way home was acending the Watford Flight. I shot a video record of that, which will be a separate blog post.

After the flight, we cruised the last few miles back to the marina. The entrance is now a familiar sight, but getting throgh the narrow opening is always a bit of a challenge in a 67 foot boat!


Holiday Dawdle


Spring has sprung and it is time to set forth once more. Andy has two weeks’ annual leave (well almost – minus the one day the university chose to have a Very Important Meeting) and both of us could do with a break!  So, we resolved to dawdle down the Grand Union Canal to nowhere in particular and back again. Gone are the destination timings and anxieties of last summer’s trip round the Leicester ring. Instead, the emphasis is on relaxation and slow travel, with some creative work too (roses, music).

We set off yesterday, after taking down the pram cover, checking the engine, filling the water tank, etc. etc. As you can see from the splendid photo above, the blossom is out and weather is not bad at all, although there is a chilly wind. That picture was taken at the bottom of the Watford flight. The one below shows us waiting at the top, with the M1 barely visible in the background.toplock

The locking crew were waiting too. It took 40 minutes for the boat at the bottom to come up. Since these are single locks, this was necessary before we could descend


Everything is controlled by the Canal and River Trust volunteer lock-keeper, who has a little office by the top lock.


Next door is this useful facility:infobookswap

And here is Peter the volunteer, talking to Cap’n Andy as the boat goes down…volunteer

Rosie oversees the procedure, watching concernedly as her home descends into the hole:rosiewatching

Rosie does have her uses. Here she is carrying the walkie-talkie, a proper comms-dog!commsdog

Before we reached the Watford Flight, we had to pass yet again through Crick tunnel. Here’s a photo showing that you can see all the way through to the end before you enter:


There were some pataphysical moments during the trip past Crick marina too…ubique

So now we are moored up in a lovely spot in the middle of nowhere (somewhere north of Long Buckby and Norton Junction) and have enjoyed a day of doing not very much. Last night, Louise cooked this recipe for cheesy spinach bake. The comes highly recommended. Here is what it looked like before serving:


We had some for lunch today too. All gone now…


Timbral Map

Planning of Movement 1 continues by trying to map the hill timbrally. I have devised the table below, showing how the various winds are translated into timbres for clarinet and the loudspeaker orchestra. Some of the latter sounds are electronic, some natural recordings, some instrumental samples. Pretty soon now the real work of actually making the sounds will begin!


Wind: N
Pitch: A
Character: compressing – stretching
Time delimited? yes
Phrase 1: Compressing: discontinuous and erratic.
Phrase 2: Stretching out: globally uniform
Semantics: First there is a feeling of compression (as if we strongly pressed on an obstacle) then the barrier is suddenly overcome, suppressing all resistance and releasing the power. It is a sudden change from localized energy to scattered energy.
Timbres: Aeolian sounds, wind and brass instruments, plus electronic compression
Bass Clarinet: rapid staccatissimo, then tenuto

Wind: NE
Pitch: E
Character: moving forward, propulsion
Time delimited? yes
Phrase 1: first phase is quite a sustained fulcrum: a prolonged or homogeneous sound or slow iteration, globally uniform
Phrase 2: a brief acceleration of intensity, pitch, or any other morphological trait
Phrase 3: a typical resonance or silence
Semantics: We feel the application of a force to a steady state, resulting in an accelerated movement. Projection from a starting point.
Timbres: bowed tam-tam, bowed gamelan, bowed vibes, piano clusters, drone sound, resonance is spatial
Bass Clarinet: sustain – acceleration – resonance

Wind: E
Pitch: B
Character: waves, braking
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: slow repetition of an increasing then decreasing sound motif. The shape of the profile can concern different morphological criteria (mass, dynamics, grain, etc.)
Semantics: Each cycle conveys the feeling of being pushed forward, and then driven back until the end. We get the impression that we are stagnating through this unit although we feel motion within each cycle.
Timbres: wind in trees, granular synthesis, additive/subtractive synthesis, filtering
Bass Clarinet: rhythmic articulations, vibrato

Wind: SE
Pitch: F
Character: divergent, chaotic
Time delimited? no
Phrases: ad lib.
Semantics: No description required. The title is self-explanatory.
Timbres: birdsong, natural rustling, strings
Bass Clarinet: multiphonics, microtones, extended techniques, slap tongue

Wind: S
Pitch: C
Character: endless trajectory, heaviness, in suspension
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: a linear and usually slow evolution of a sound parameter
Semantics: The process must be oriented in a direction (for example, upwards or downwards) and however, it seems to never finish. The sound phenomenon must be long enough to be perceived as a process and not an ephemeral event.
Timbres: spectral processing, time stretching, Shepard tone, distant aeroplane
Bass Clarinet: circular breathing, glissando, crescendo

Wind: SW
Pitch: G
Character: spinning, stationary, obsessive
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: a parameter (pitch, timbre) is driven by a quick cyclic repetition along with a thrust in each cycle, or with a quick and possibly varied repetition of a pulsed element.
Semantics: We feel constrained by a mechanical process in which we cannot seem to act. We have the feeling of an object spinning on itself or in space.
Timbres: mechanical sounds, throbbing, music box, piano
Bass Clarinet: Double/triple tonguing

Wind: W
Pitch: D
Character: floating, falling, fading away
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: a sound parameter (pitch, dynamic, etc) floats and then falls away.
Semantics: We feel sustained for a considerable period of time before drifting away, either falling or fading.
Timbres: decay instruments (prepared piano, harp, celesta, vibraphone, gong, etc.) that decay at wrong or unusual rates, or have pitch shift
Bass Clarinet: glissandi, decrescendi

Wind: NW
Pitch: always unpitched
Character: suspending-questioning, wanting to start
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: ad lib.
Phrase 2: ad lib.
Phrase 3: ad lib.
Semantics: no description necessary
Timbres: unpitched percussion, acoustic effects, wind sounds
Bass Clarinet: Breath sounds, key clicks, etc.


An invitation to contribute to the Kelston Roundhill Symphony!

Movement 4 of the Kelston Roundhill Symphony is to be called “People and Buildings”. People can upload sounds to a website, like some kind of aural patchwork quilt. Any sounds may be used, but obviously it would be good to link them to themes of the symphony and the round hill. I will then put together a piece using these sounds, to create what will hopefully be a vigorous and rousing end to the symphony. During the composition process, people can comment and make suggestions via the message board on the site.

If you wish to take part, please do make a contribution here

The Mother’s Day Cruise


Froth has been lying in her moorings all winter long. But narrowboats are meant to travel. So it was with great excitement that we seized the fine weather over the past weekend and prepared for the maiden voyage of 2017! Rosie was certainly keen to get going..


First things first: we had to take down the pram cover. It’s quite a clever arrangement. A zip joins the two halves in the middle, and when undone they part like a clam shell. It really did not take too long. Here is the back deck in all its glory. You can see the supports for the cover lying flat fore and aft.

There is plenty of room to move the tiller, but the struts also remain within the line of the boat, so no problem in tight situations. For a longer cruise, we would remove them altogether, but Sunday’s trip was to be just one day. Our plan was to go down to the top of the Watford Flight, then turn around and come back again. The trip should take about 4 hours and would involve two trips through Crick tunnel, there and back.

Since it was Mothering Sunday, we had invited all the generations of Louise’s family. This meant a boatload of seven people and a dog. Louise, as usual, cooked a fantastic buffet lunch.

Before we set off, though, here’s a quick peek into the back cabin, where you can see Peter Warden’s fabulous painting of Looe Island now hung on one of the few vertical surfaces on board.


And so to a photo montage of the day’s trip. All these pictures were taken by Graham, Louise’s Dad, with his super camera.

Boats in the marina
Leaving the marina
Andy at the tiller, catching the sun
Jack and Toby went ahead in an inflatable kayak
One of the many Canada geese that are now starting to nest
Cute lambs everywhere!
Leanne and Toby, ready for action.
The buffet!
Barbie and Rosie contemplate the scenery
Moored at Watford flight, the family set off for a walk under the M1
Leaving Crick Tunnel

As you can see, it was a lovely day, with loads of wonderful sights and sounds. There were three mothers on board and we hope each was given a special day to remember.

The Old Barn

Here are some pictures of the venue for the Kelston Roundhill Symphony. The Old Barn is about half way up the side of the hill. It’s a lovely space inside, with a good acoustic. The rafters offer opportunities for suspending loudspeakers (tweeters mainly). There is a kitchen and toilet facilities that are not shown in these pictures. It should be a great and intimate location for the performance.