I told you I had lots to write about. Three posts in three days! Its almost like the good old days of last year when I could find so many things to write about and annoy you with that I’d have 16, 17 posts in one month! Amazing!
When I got back from Norway on Sunday, one of the things I noticed through my jet-lag and hang-over was a poster for the Notting Hill Carnival. It had an intriguing image (a policeman pulling a giant purple feather out of a tree) and told me that I shouldn’t miss Britain’s largest carnival. And I thought, well, no, I really shouldn’t miss that, which I suspect is every advertisers’ dream response to one of their ads. Anyway, I slowly and painfully tried to focus my eyes on the dates and even in my sleep-deprived, alcohol-induced haze, I had a sense that these dates were very soon. Possibly happening right at that very time. That I was currently within the dates of the Notting Hill Carnival, which was Britain’s biggest carnival and I was missing it and I had been told explicitly by the poster not to do so.
Slightly distressed, but with jetlag winning out over anxiety, I went home and went to sleep. When I woke up I checked the internet for details. Turned out the carnival was happening Sunday and also the next day, which was a bank holiday I hadn’t heard about. And I remembered again what the poster said and thought, ‘Hmmm… yes, I really shouldn’t miss that,’ and decided to go the next day.
After a slow start on the Monday, I managed to get dressed and out of the house by around 1pm. The route to Notting Hill from Clapham Common seemed ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated and the maps of the event provided (well, not provided) on the Notting Hill Carnival website were unhelpful to say the least. But, I finally managed to find a map of the parade route via Time Out and ventured out with a vague idea of a variety of stations that I could get out at. I had originally planned to get dressed-up, put on some make-up etc. but in the end I couldn’t be bothered and went for my comfy clothes, thinking, ‘oh, its just an outdoor festival, how big a deal can it be, really?’
Well, I tell you, faithful reader, it’s a pretty big deal. The outfits people had created included glitter, feathers, wings, wigs, temporary tattoos, face painting, short-shorts, high hair, platform shoes, intricate nail decorations, bling-bling and that was just on the spectators. Having misunderstood the meaning of ‘carnival’, I had pictured markets, food stalls, maybe a ferris wheel and some cans I could try to knock over with a ball to win a teddy bear. But this was ‘Carnival’ with a capital ‘c’, more related to the Brazilian celebrations than to your local state fair.
|Now that is what I call a sash-ay!|
|I love this guy.|
When I visited Latin America in 2008/2009, I was adamant that I had no interest in Brazil, no interest in Carnival, that it would be a ridiculously expensive, debauched, loud, crowded, dangerous party with lots of boobs and booty and it was all tacky and totally not my scene. I would nobly hike the Andes in Peru and Chile, I would gape over Iguazu Falls in Argentina, but I would not, WOULD NOT be dragged into the spectacular monstrosity that was Brazilian Carnival. But, after this (and realising that Notting Hill Carnival is on a slightly smaller scale to the one in Brazil), I suddenly understand the appeal.
|He stuck his tongue out at me afterwards! And I missed it!|
It didn’t start well. The closer I got to the Central line, the more packed the underground got. People were worried about the Olympics, but my god, the traffic for the Olympics had nothing on the carnival. The tunnels to and from platforms were literally packed full from side to side with people, heads down, slowly shuffling in one direction. If anything bad had happened, anything from someone having a stroke, to a terrorist attack, there was really nothing anyone could have done. There was hardly any room for anyone to get away at any speed. I’m a little claustrophobic, so I had to force myself not to fixate on those thoughts, breathe calmly and not let loose the panic that was slowly rising in my throat. Once on the actual train, things weren’t much better, everyone was packed in like those pictures you see of Tokyo in rush hour. But as soon as I got to Queensway and got outside into the fresh air, things started to improve.
The streets had been blocked off and people wandered about happily, blowing whistles or using those horrible vuvuzelas everyone had at the South Africa World Cup. People were drinking and carousing and just generally having a great time. There was music blasting out from restaurants, cheap tat being sold on every corner and I kept getting hit by waves of barbeque smelling smoke every time I turned a corner. There was a buzz in the air that was impossible to ignore or resist.
I was disappointed when I finally found the parade route, as there was nothing to see except empty street. I hung around awkwardly for a bit, uncertain if I should wait for the parade to come to me, or if I should go to it. Eventually, I decided the latter, buying two ciders along the way so that I could fit in with the drunken comrades surrounding me.
|I think this is my favourite photo of the day. These girls are gorgeous.|
I eventually found the parade, which had been halted for unknown reasons. It was a little ridiculous really, all these amazingly-dressed performers, in sparkly underpants and headdresses and gigantic artworks strapped to their backs all kind of just hanging out, picking at their nails, snacking and for all the world trying to act has if they didn’t have the equivalent of 20 ostrich’s feathers exploding out of their shoulders. But when they finally started up again, I couldn’t keep the grin off my face, nor could I stop myself bopping around embarrassingly and knocking into the crowds on either side of me. The music was pumping so loudly I could feel it vibrating in my breast plate. Perhaps not so great for my ears, but still, I can’t help getting fired up by something so loud and visceral. People danced in the streets and the roofs with each other, with the performers, on their own. At one point an unknown man came up to me and started dancing with me, but over-balancing, he ended up falling on top of me… I landed on my tailbone in the gutter and lost the rest of my cider, but I was in such a good mood, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was like that scene in Muriel’s Wedding when Matt Day unzips the bean-bag and Toni Collette goes into hysterical screeching giggles and its all just so painful. That was me, the hysterically giggling one, lying on her backside in a Notting Hill gutter, surrounded by empty beer cans and stray feathers. I’m paying for it now, of course, massive bruise on my behind which is making sitting down at any speed rather uncomfortable.
I had only intended to go for an hour or two to ‘check it out’, but I ended up staying all afternoon. And I was just on my own. I’m sure it would have been much more fun with friends, so I intend to grab a posse next year, deck myself out in glitter and feathers and live it up.
Either that, or I’m moving to Jamaica.
|‘Oh, excuse me, I think I may have mislaid my friend amongst your feathers.’|
And, well, you know me:
I might just do it.