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Published: August 29th 2008
It's just you, some friends and about 500,000 other people packed into a few miles of London to see amazing costumes, hear (very loud) music, smell the illegal substances in the air and stuff yourself silly with wonderful Caribbean food - welcome to a true London experience - the Notting Hill Carnival!
The Carnival started in the 60s as a way of overcoming racial tension by showcasing the diversity of the Caribbean lifestyle. OK it wasn't always successful, with a fair amount of violence and rioting in early years - it's much better now, they leave the little showdown to the end of the Carnival. Miss Jane's carnival tip #1 - leave a couple of hours before the end to avoid a bottle in the head. I must admit that one of the first thing I noticed when wandering the parade route was that every business was closed and boarded up. At ground level there was not a window to be seen and in some of the posh houses they even had their shutters closed on the second floor (just in case!).
I found the overall atmosphere fab. I met up with a group of friends at a pub
slightly away from the area and we (after waiting an hour or so for the organiser) eventually made our way to the parade area. I expected it all to be closed off, but rather the crowds just parted for each of the floats and then followed along or waited for the next one. We, of course, had phaffed about so much that by the time we arrived we were at the end of the carnival parade (nice). Not wanting a repeat of Cheese Chasing in the Cotswalds
Astrid and I did a bolt and left the larger group behind. We made our way along the road, catching up with each float to see what it had to offer. Luckily they were moving pretty slowly so it wasn't that hard, although it did take some serious crowd dodging and weaving through the occassional pedestrian traffic jam at intersections. Miss Jane's carnival tip #2 - be bold to achieve your objective.
The floats were a mix of promotional and cultural and most operated as mobile soundstages. Whether it was the narrow(ish) streets or the high buildings or just the person with their finger on the volume control, but I did wonder if there weren't eardrums
One happy Kiwi
Sancho Panza stage - a couple of hours of heavy duty funky house music
bleeding at some stage over the weekend. Miss Jane's carnival tip #3 - take ear plugs to bring the beats down to a level that will ensure you can hear again.
Accompanying the floats are people in costumes (feathers and sequins aplenty!) shaking what they have and basically celebrating carnival! You have to admire those who got dressed down to dress up and have a good day as there was proud flesh on show everywhere, I know I couldn't do it with such confidence. I did however work on adding to my own flesh by scoffing down some nice Jerk Chicken rice and peas, the odd fritter and a bit of beer. Didn't quite get around to the goat curry, but there's always next year.
I did however end up at the Sancho Panza fixed sound stage to enjoy a little funky house music. I'm no clubber, but for a couple of hours and to keep a certain kiwi happy I made the most of the afternoon. It actually had a nice relaxed vibe, plus it was fun to watch the police station watch the crowd. Eventually went home through a sea of police for a long walk
back to the nearest tube to find my way home absolutely shattered, but with happy memories!
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