THE CARNIVAL

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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.

The East

Last week, I met with a friend on the infamous Brick Lane. I used to enjoy the eclectic nature of this part of the city, heading there after school for a halloumi burger and giant wedges, but now I’m just not too sure.

One of my favourite things to do is people watch so a mish mash of market stall holders, quirky outfits and self-confessed attention seekers made for a great day out. But as I travelled from West to East, I felt a little overwhelmed, or perhaps maybe even a little underwhelmed. Having lived in London my whole life, loving every second of it, I have to say I felt somewhat unwelcome. It was almost as if, if you weren’t wearing a tatty woolly jumper and some form of ankle boot, you weren’t cool enough to shop in this part of town; something I didn’t appreciate.

On the other hand, the street food smelt and tasted as amazing as usual and the general vibe was comparable to a mini Notting Hill carnival with loud speakers and people dancing for no real reason, something I wish the streets of West London embraced more than once a year. I even managed to spot one particular lady in an all-in-one leopard print leotard which made for an excellent post-Halloween costume (although I’m pretty sure this wasn’t her intention). You have to wonder though, are these people truly expressing their eccentricities or are they just posing for the East? Or is it a hedonistic playground for those who wear suits all week long? Either way, it is undeniably entertaining.

When my neck of the woods used to resemble a Jack Wills catalogue, I was embarrassed to say that I favoured West over East London, now I’m proud to say that I do. Our independent coffee shops are just as great and we have an individual style of our own too. People say that it can be a little pretentious around here but when looking at the new generation of Hoxton hotties, I think there’s a little inverted snobbery being bandied about, only it’s disguised behind an effortless attitude. I don’t want us to break out into guerrilla warfare over different lifestyle choices however. As always, I love when us Londoners come together and it’s the strange and wonderful flavours of human that dwell in the city that make it so perfect. I think I’d just like us westerners to embrace a little more of the freedom you get in the East and I’d like those edgy easterners to not shy away from a stroll through Portobello every so often; you might be pleasantly surprised. Variety is the spice of life and we’ve got the opportunity to embrace it in the capital. So use that oyster, hop on a tube and discover some hidden gems at least half an hour from your natural habitat.

I’m not entirely sure what the Pet Shop Boys were getting at but I’m going to go with the notion that East end boys love West end girls. And you know what? I don’t blame them. We wear bloody great shoes.