Covering: Notting Hill Carnival

The beauty of Notting Hill Carnival is not that it is a free public event in the centre of our economical capital, nor is it enjoyed because it features over a bank holiday weekend.

Notting Hill Carnival, The Quite Before The Storm

Instead, Notting Hill Carnival has become a gem in our social calendar because it has become our nations one stop shop for Caribbean Culture.

The Sunday has always been the family day ever since Sterling Betancourt led the unofficial children’s street party through those streets in the 1960’s and this year was no different. From the moment I stepped off the train at Westbourne Park I realised just how different Carnival was from the rather candid reports I had become accustomed to reading year on year.

You see, this was my first Notting Hill Carnival since I was a baby and quite frankly, to say I kept away because I didn’t want to go would be a lie. I was scared. Hearing year on year reports of the troubles would do that to a person.

So I decided to dabble in the ‘lite’ version of Carnival, one where trouble wasn’t traditionally on the menu but was still busy enough to get at least some of the Carnival experience.

Truth be told, I do not know why I was scared. A sunny Sunday surrounded by people having a dance with food and drink in hand is far from the nightmare of gang violence and police brutality both sides have had me to imagine over the years.
As such, the most danger I came across on the day was when a man ran out in front of a float which was traveling at the speed of moss near Kensington Road and personal danger in the form of biting my own tongue whilst eating a Pattie.

But what about boredom? The expectation of tension from step to step was only enhanced by the rather prominent electronic billboards telling me to be cautious of pickpockets, but I refuse to fault such a sign. With an estimated two million people flocking to Notting Hill over a weekend, it is only natural some seedy characters will make the trip. I mean, with such a population, Notting Hill could, in theory be a self-sufficient, fully functioning city.   

Having addressed my fears on the Sunday, I decided to make a more dedicated trip on the bank holiday Monday.

Waking up on a bank holiday in England usually means you are greeted with a number of grey clouds with puddles on the ground to make their appearance later on and this bank holiday was no different. But to mark this day a failure based on the natural occurrence of rain would be in ill service to those who work tirelessly to make it happen.

Monday was and usually is the day of more peculiar sights at the Notting Hill Carnival. I experienced this first hand with a number of impromptu street performances, my favourite of which featured a man pausing his dancing session with a young lady for his friend to come out, squirt water on his hip from a bottle which had been re-labelled as ‘WD-40’ in permanent marker. The result? His friend delivering a rather zesty performance with renewed vigour for the on looking crowd whilst his friend repeatedly explained that his friend had ‘a squeaky hip’.

On the opposite scale of things, a man stood at his rotisserie over a barbeque fire, telling stories of his times ‘back home’ to the people who went pass.

For me, these three summed up carnival. It’s the fact that people can attend to see, feel and witness Caribbean Culture first hand whilst an entirely different group can go purely to have fun. Yet despite the divide in their reasoning’s, the presence of the other is not vilified, understood and welcomed. For without one, the dancing group have no reason to be there and without the dancing group, the story tellers have nobody listening. It is a cycle of physical enjoyment with a reasonable amount of soulful satisfaction. I can say I left Notting Hill happier than when I arrived.

I can only conclude that Carnival is an enjoyable experience. Even though it rained till two and the police made it clear there was an ever-present danger at the Carnival; there are more than enough reasons to find something to enjoy. The music is vibrant and uplifting, even if you can’t quite make out the lyrics, the food is delicious albeit expensive and the crowds are respectful, even if you think that what they are doing is vulgar.