Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Notting Hill Carnival

DSC_0107It’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.

DSC_0130Sunday, 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.

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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.

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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.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Once along Little Venice

DSC_0017This turns out to have been my week for walking the Canals.

I normally zip through Paddington Station on the way elsewhere, diving into the Tube or jumping onto the Great Western Railway out of the city.  Today, though, I found a couple of hours hanging about before linking up with my w.wezen and heading to Carnival.  Google Maps suggested several nearby galleries (all closed) and a couple of pubs (not for breakfast).  A coffee and a sit in the sun with a book sounded like better use of a Sunday morning, so I slipped out the back on Paddington onto the Grand Union Canal.

2,000 miles of working canals and rivers still criss-cross the British countryside.  DSC_0046They are owned by the Canal and River Trust, restored by the Waterway Recovery Group, and advocated by the Inland Waterway Association.  Many date back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, when wealthy landowners  and merchants would dig canals to move agricultural and mineral products to shipping and trading centers.  At it’s peak, the network embraced nearly 5000 miles of waterways, supported by associated locks, towpaths, aqueducts, and tunnels.

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The Grand Union Canal and the Regent’s Canal meet behind Paddington Station, a concrete-lined trench winding beneath viaducts and footbridges.DSC_0002  Markedly better than I’ve described, the area was named Little Venice by poet Robert Browning, and is one of the more gentrified sections of London.  On a sunny morning, with only scattered bicyclists and joggers, canal boats at placid dock, and strolling couples taking photos of one another, it’s surprisingly peaceful and colourful.

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A misty rain alternated with warm August sunlight, a few working boats chugging past.  DSC_0055One boat owner hosed off his rear deck, another set out tables and raised umbrellas for hoped-for patrons, a third shared breads and coffee with friends laughing quietly.  I never did stop myself, there always seemed to b e better pictures a bit further along, following thoughts from the week upstream.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A stop in Stroke Bruerne

DSC03076A thousand years ago, the Domesday Book took note of the outlying hamlet of Stoche, lying in the rolling hills and waterways of today’s Northamptonshire.  By 1254, its name had augmented to Stokbruer after a prominent local family, and six hundred years later the village became a transport stop along the Grand Union Canal linking London and Birmingham.  The Waterways Trust established a canal museum, one of three, in the centre of the village, along the canal between the locks and the Blisworth Tunnel.  The tunnel is over 3000 yards long and is the third longest navigable canal tunnel along the UK waterways network.

All of this makes today’s quaint and DSC03106tidy village of Stoke Bruerne a magnet for summer tourists who want to linger in the pubs, browse the history, and sail long boats through the artifacts.

Myself?  Well, I was simply lost.

I got a late start home after a long day at Colworth, and the commuter traffic was piling up along my usual route.  Maps suggested an overland alternative through Milton Keynes.  But backups at key turns forced me to amble through the back roads, eventually crossing a single-lane stone-arch bridge that edged Stoke Bruerne. I got a glimpse of shops, boats, and an idyllic shimmer of water.

The traffic could wait.  I pulled in at the Boat Inn for a pint and a walk.

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Its actually a lovely little spot.  The Inn sits alongside the locks, across from the Canal Museum.  One lick lies dry, a rusted keel filling the center.  The other was busy with a family from South Carolina, leaning how to operate the valves and gates to move their boat upstream.  A small group of locals gathered to give advice.

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A long line of coloured long boats had moored along both margins of the canal, half a mile of the tunnel mouth.  Most seemed to have settled in for the night, occupied with drinks on the fantail, strolling the towpath, or playing guitar and singing.

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I explored a quarter-mile either direction, a collection of cottages, pubs, and small shops giving way to woodland and fields.

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And more boats.  This must be a favoured stopover, or maybe a choke point at the lock and tunnel.  But it reminded me of the evenings  boating through the waterways of the Fens or the Broads, when everyone pulls in and starts cooking, then leans over to share drinks and to swap stories.

‘kind of a nice cruising lifestyle or a long late-summer weekend, watching the skies change colour and listening to the quiet settle into the evening.