Carnival 2016 – photo courtesy Time Out
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet and this August Bank Holiday Sunday our dancing feet are on the streets of London W11. The Notting Hill Carnival with its steel bands, calypso and reggae sounds, costumes, dance and masquerade all to the accompaniment of a little bit of menace from the black youth of the city. The gangs and posses from north, south, east and west turn up and act mean in front of each other, the law-abiding public and, most of all, Babylon; the police.
Yet on a Sunday before the sun falls it is a splash of colour, a mass of humanity swaying to and fro with a can of brew in one hand and a piece of jerk chicken in the other. The girls are wearing too few clothes throwing incredible moves in front of boys in string vests and baggy tracksuit pants. Food and rum punch is served from residents’ front gardens whilst the pubs and off-licenses make a killing. Then under the Westway the sound systems rev up and this year’s killer tunes get an airing. The MC cranking up the atmosphere with each track he drops as the black girls whoop and whistles are blown. Then the killer tune that everybody is waiting for gets played and the roof almost comes off the Westway. Kids from everywhere dancing away, whooping and hollering as the parade passes by. A hundred thousand people on the streets of Ladbroke Grove celebrating the Caribbean tradition of carnival. This carnival was born out of the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 starting off as a small event at St Pancras Town Hall a year later. A place for the people of that area to show Caribbean pride and culture and most of all to put on a show.
It is still that now but us four white boys – me and John from the north and Trev and Graham from north London – slip slowly away as evening falls. Take the tube for a few quiet pints in the white middle-class enclave of Muswell Hill. A wholly different Bank Holiday Sunday in The John Baird public house…