On paper, Notting Hill Carnival is an unlikely proposition. In reality, it’s totally insane: a lawless lollapalooza of getting loose that squeezes every class and creed and culture of London local into the hyper-aristocratic streets of the city’s west and lights a fire of rum punch and randy August sun under its collective arse.
Since 1966, Carnival has been a coming-together of the Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their culture and traditions, and perhaps what’s most surprising is that it’s retained the spirit of its roots after all these years. I mean yes, it gets a bit stabby (five non-fatal stabbings this year, and many previous). But considering the premise—the direct affront to order and control and police and conservatism and everything that goes along with that—those stats start to look pretty good. Somehow for this one weekend at the end of the summer, every type of person in the capital gets packed into a condensed maze next to every other type of person, and they all get really pissed and high and, generally, just love each other and have the best time ever.
One of the worst things about Carnival is also one of the best things about Carnival: you are guaranteed to lose everyone you know and find yourself with a new crew—perhaps in some metaphorical (or very real) bongo circle taking pills with the offspring of a great British rock star or damaged has-been fashion designer who’s just discovered Jah (and laughing gas)—perhaps hanging off the side of a sound system bunning zoots with some beautiful Carnival dancers wearing nothing but diamanté-studded string panties. But if you’re free and easy and up for a bit of a ropey ride, this is all very much part of the fun. It’s important just to go with the horn-blowing flow of Notting Hill Carnival and see where it takes you.
They say your identity is never more pronounced than when it’s under threat and I do think the different tribes at Carnival shine bright. This year we went thirty-strong. Hit West at Royal Oak station and crabbed down the towpath in twos to Meanwhile Gardens, with a bottle (or five) of communal prosecco between us. Once there, we dispersed onto a green slope next to the skatepark and set up camp.
Two kids in superhero outfits were sliding down the transition on their bums and being helped back up again by two topless skaters with jumpers wrapped around their heads like turbans. This park was built on derelict land by the local community some forty years ago and the local community were out in force this year. Everybody got drunk and danced and chatted shit and got wave—rastas, dutty winers, hippies, hipsters, stallholders, skaters, bums, mums. The kids just kept climbing up to the coping, with the help of the sleepless Soca sultans, and sliding down on their bums. On and on and on and on until the sun dipped below the top of the Trellick Tower—and all the families stacked inside fell asleep to the sound of the steel drums.