A melting pot of good people, excellent food and dancing. A festival for the soul as well as for the feet and friends. An institution for Londoners. A beacon for lovers, creatures of the capital and their plus ones. A party where no one is invited but everyone feels welcome. Two days of glitter, sequins and feathers. Hours of beats, rhythm, bass.
As a child growing up in West London, I understood Carnival better than I understood school. Sipping on juice whilst lazing in my pram as the sun went down, I would watch the women in ‘bikinis’ and party people falling over with a smile on my face. I didn’t understand it, but I knew that I liked it. My parents must have known then, as I clapped my hands wildly and danced on dad’s shoulders, that I would continue to head to Notting Hill for years to come. Ending up at school in West London meant that it was a given that me and my friends would stroll right into the thick of it. Spending time in Tavistock Gardens, getting high off the fumes of other people’s spliff and blissfully living life as a teen without laughing gas; Carnival was just about being there, seeing it and making sure that we all got out alive.
My twenties, like most things, is where I’ve learnt how to really ‘do’ carnival. A rucksack, pre-mixed booze and a whole load of glitter. A group of friends to party with and a clear plan as to where we’re headed. A strict rule never to try and meet up with friends in a crowd. In fact, just a rule never to try and meet up with anyone at any point between Portobello and Westbourne Grove between the hours of 12 and 6. It won’t happen and you’ll just waste valuable – and incredibly precious – Carnival time trying to do so. Remember, this only happens once a year. Don’t waste it.
People, of course, like to knock carnival. And rightly so it may seem: people get shot. Others get stabbed. Men and women are searched because of the colour of their skin as opposed to what’s in their pockets. Yes, people pee in peculiar places and you get the odd bloke who’s overdone it for the tenth year in a row. But what about the good stuff? The fun, the dancing and the chance to enjoy what London has become? I think that’s what’s important here, not the few who try to ruin it or stamp their mark on the west.
I could have been deterred from ever going to carnival again when, in 2007, I got stuck in the middle of a riot. Someone opened fire. Police stampeded and revellers scrambled. I ducked off down a side road towards the back streets I knew so well until everything had calmed down. Then I got the hell out of there. That was the year I realised that the advice to leave before it gets dark is, in fact, incredibly valuable. It didn’t stop me returning though and it didn’t make my mum think twice about handing me a tenner for Red Stripe and waving me off the following year because, she knows as well as I do, that the good far outweighs the bad on this weekend.
Over the years, carnival has provided me with a stream of memories. Each one as colourful as the next. I won’t bore you with the details of them because, if you’ve been, you know the drill. And if you haven’t, then I don’t want to ruin it for you. What I will say is that if it ceased to exist, I would definitely be at least 70% less happy come August bank holiday.
So, tonight, much the same as every year, I’ll get butterflies as the sound of rehearsals and the thick stench of spices fill the streets of West London in preparation for the celebrations to come. This is the biggest weekend of the year in my city and I won’t have a bad word said about it.
My brother says it’s better than Christmas. And he L O V E S Christmas. So if you haven’t been, join us. If you have, then I’ll hopefully see you on the dance floor. Or should I say, the corner of All Saints Road?
Stay safe and have a good one.
Happy Bank Holiday.