It’s the 50th year of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, a Caribbean-themed street party held during August Bank Holiday each summer. Echoing the British fairs of the 18th century and adopting their symbolic ‘moments of great festivity and release’, the Carnival celebrates music, dance, jerk chicken and Red Stripe Beer.
Or, more historically, “juggling, pickpocketing, whoring, drinking, masquerade — people dressed up as the Archbishop and indulging in vulgar acts’.
Quite so, as illustrated. We wouldn’t miss it, if only for that possibility.
Sunday, however, is Family Day, the slightly more relaxed version than anything-goes-Carnival-Monday. The crowds were already thick by the time we emerged from the Bayswater tube station and pressed through to the heart of the festival.
We quickly found our place, though. Sharing a hollow pineapple filled with Pina Colada is a sentimental favorite (although it has to come from the thatched stand at Westbourne and Leadbury to be Official). It was a good year for the jerk chicken, red beans and rice in peanut sauce, beer and curry goat, sampled at food stands up and down the side streets.
The music was…loud: ‘lots of beat and minimal melodies. No matter, the trailing dancers, dressed in locally themed shirts, jumped and danced and loved it. The smell of weed was everywhere (moreso than ever present in the Netherlands) and the ground was littered with nitrous oxide canisters (later covered by drifts of general trash from the food stands).
The crowds were great, though: lots of folks enjoying the sunny day, the colourful costumes, and the pulsing rhythms.
There was a really heavy police presence to keep things settled (but mostly kept busy giving directions to lost tourists). Like Oktoberfest, I suspect that things degenerate as the day wears on, and we wandered off site around six while the vibe was still lovely.
“Carnival allowed people to dramatise their grievances against the authorities on the street...it allowed people a space to free-up but risked being was banned for moral reasons and for the antiauthoritarian behaviour that went on like stoning of constables,” notes one observer.
From the Guardian’s descriptions, not much has changed today.
Still, t’was great fun to wander while we were there.