The end of August was a bank holiday and we all got a three day weekend. Woop woop! The Sunday and Monday were also the 2 days of what is Europe’s largest carnival – the Notting Hill Carnival.
This annual event in a normally quiet and upmarket west London neighbourhood is a celebration of Carribean dance and music, with parades, floats, extravagant costumes and plenty of Jamaican jerk chicken around.
The party is however dogged by annual reports of trouble as night falls and many shops and residents in the area boarded up in preparation, as if in anticipation of some apocalyptical event.
The day we went, the Sunday, is said to be more family orientated and children-friendly. Whereas the second day is when people get wild, smells of weed fill the air and inhibitions are let lose.
I thought I might be put off by a kids-and-prams day, however it was nothing but and the atmosphere was great, with blocks and blocks of residential streets transformed into a series of big open-air dance clubs and street parties all linked together by a wandering stream of people, with speakers bigger than humans stacked high on every few street corners, each accompanied by its own DJ set and a big crowd of people drinking and dancing in front of it.
(Note big black speakers on the center left and food stalls on the right.)
However, the question that I kept asking for the whole time that we were there was: “Where’s the carnival?”
As published by news photos the world over, I expected to see the world famous women with skimpy costumes and peacock feathers and big headsets, a colourful parade and exciting dances.
Although I dragged Nasty up and down the streets chasing the “parade”, this is the best of the costumes I saw:
Puppets (or whatever they’re called) and people all decorated in supermarket plastic bags, championing recycling.
These are some of the other “costumes” we saw:
The parade was basically a series of giant stripped-down lorries with humongous speakers stacked on them, DJs hyping the crowd up, large advertising banners and groups of loosely gathered people dancing/walking/head-shaking behind to the music.
Stripped lorry with advertising banner. Usually a reggae record company, food or booze.
A DJ and his gear.
Giant speaker sets.
“Dancers” following behind the speaker-trucks….
…..and more random-type people following behind the trucks, which is what most of the parade was like.
It was basically a moving version of the street corner parties, with each truck blaring it’s own music, followed by it’s own group of “dancers” who aren’t necessarily dancing.
If that is Europe’s biggest carnival, I’m dully disappointed.
But if it’s called Europe’s biggest street party, then I’m very very impressed.
Less impressed though, was I of the highly overpriced food: £7.50 for a set of barbequed chicken leg, chips and salad, £3 for a can of beer, £1.50 to £2 for a corn-on-the cob. Lots and lots of food stalls and people queued 10-deep for Carribean specialities like jerk chicken, grilled fish and goat curry. People also queued 10-deep for porta-toilets.
Enterpreneurial residents also opened up their houses to charge £1 a go for their toilets and sold food and drinks on their front lawns.
The police maintained a distant but highly visible presence throughout. (Unavoidable I guess, with neon yellow jackets…)
Asis the norm with London, there were no bins because they’re afraid of bombs. But I suppose, if you really want to, you can just bury one under the trash. (Now please don’t get any ideas there….I don’t want to get into trouble for instigating…anything?!)
Towards the evening, we saw police in riot gear, and then there are these three rows of police officers, standing staggered behind each other, allowing everyone to pass, but making you weave through them first. This is apparently a method to break up groups and chill people down?
Unimpressed by the lack of a real carnival, we thought perhaps the second day is when things start happening. But my workmate went the next day and described pretty much the same thing, except that she thought she was getting high from all the weed in the air. I thought I might be biased, but she’s gone a few times before and says it really isn’t the same as it has been.
Perhaps, next time, we should go earlier in the morning. Since the parade basically does a continuous 3-mile loop around the area the whole day, I don’t suppose all the people can last wearing those costumes and dancing around and around for the entire day…
Greatest street party. Still looking for the carnival.