Notting Hill Carnival Sunday August Bank Holiday 2011: Knock Knock Knockin’ on Cameron’s Door

Have I missed the float? I’m well aware its now the Friday after but here’s my summary of the tantalising sensory overload that is the utterly unique Notting Hill Carnival but a few weeks after London’s infamous riots & T-minus one year before the city’s 2012 Olympics. Most of the press attention either seemed to focus on record police presence or Monday’s singled out stabbing which I felt only served to highlight the often skewed sense of paranoia from the political and mainstream media elite with the exception of some fine Guardian articles: most notably The Importance of The NHC. For me, this beautiful chick-a-dee snapshot best sums up the spirit:

Cameraman's note to self: never take pics in post-Appleton's focus

The world’s second largest out-of-hand street party kicked off its 46th year in typically vibrant and decorative style (unlike any of the ones for the recent Royal Wedding you’d imagine). In spite of Kensington & Chelsea resident’s annual complaint that “there’s a stoned, half-naked student in a bright feather boa and headdress ahem, irrigating my front lawn” most seem to board up or temporarily abandon their home (possibly one of several) and run to the hills for their lives to paraphrase the mighty Maiden. Some seemingly even return from holiday forgetting all about the existence of a bank holiday tradition which Claudia Jones campaigned for way back when they were but a twitch in dem pappy’s nutsack – see Independent Columnist Cooper Brown’s 500 word whinge.

In fairness it’s all too easy for me to lambast apparent lack of anything approaching community spirit when over a million fired-up streetwise party-goers (who frankly bring enough of their own spirit – here’s looking at you Wray & Nephew) descend on one of the most exclusive postcodes in a West London borough. The last thing on their mind must be seeing how the privileged half live (or don’t in this case) despite the fact the rest of the year most would probably get arrested for even eyeballing the poodle shampoo shops of these poncy bunch of homeowners. After getting up to date with their tax receipts, local residents should treat the weekend more as a cultural or more accurately neighbourhood exchange whereby they continue snorting lines of caviar or shopping in their tinted Porsche’s over in Tower Hamlets or Hackney (can you tell whose side I’m on?). Come to think of it certain Hackney teens could do that themselves in their new local currency – Plasma TVs and top-line trainers.

Anyroad I digress…

Unlike the film equivalent I didn’t see a single randy Welshman in Y-fronts locked out his house although my friend Mike’s hair did turn increasingly floppy and queer as the day progressed. But then students WILL need a Hugh(e) Grant in their lives to stay a-float for the festivities. Enough with the Rom-Com film of the same name jokes already.

Upon our arrival at Westbourne Park tube we were handed flyers for legal advice along with our carnival maps as if rogue lawyers were operating at large within our area. A topless binged-up and entirely hairless man with a voice like Baron Von Greenback on an all-gravel diet kept blowing his vuvuzela or variation thereof (which were ever present) then yelling about how if we didn’t down a can of his Red Stripe every half hour then piss in it and hurl it at police on horseback we weren’t really being Caribbean and should leave immediately without our ‘Certificate of Membership into the Carnival Heritage Behavioural Club’.

The police horses hardly set a good example of public bodily waste disposal. Thus after a few hours every side/back street with a solitary overflowing urinal quadro-bank had geezers spraying onto garage doors and birds squatting in unspeakable squalor. Imagine a warzone under heavy bombardment from repeated bladder explosions. The cobbled drained did nothing but flow these frothy streams further along. Our dear lady Kate Thomas bought a she-pee which is a practical subject they should mandatorily teach in all summer schools – just not on field trips. I never thought nor dared dream I’d have to write a full paragraph on festival piss etiquette but whoop there it is.

Sadly not found in attendance this year at Good Times

Elsewhere things were barely more aesthetic but tenfold more groovy. Gaz’s Towbar of Rockin’ Blues trailer float won pride of place with a horse made from binliners and sidestage staircase leading up to a silver caravan DJ shack. The crrrazy vanilla-besuited compere declared he’d never heard rawk’n’raol so good since 1959 and the vast majority of his audience were in no position nor age bracket to disprove. Loosing the use of your arms isn’t really a problem when the whole street is shakin’ something and you jump en sync as one huge amorphous blob of rhythm. Singing “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery” as one people during a ska/R&B band’s climatic encore Redemption Song is about as close as you can get to those we-are-the-world style cornball moments which should never be captured on videophone. I sincerely doubted that any one of the young white middle-class males singing & swaying with their eyes closed had ever experienced restraint and colonial struggle but there are times when I wish I could just switch off from being so cynical and socio-politically conscious (which I’m bad at & overly reactionary anyway).

In conclusion the atmosphere is incomparable in both a slightly threatening Tripoli prison yard and sunshine vibes nothing compares to this sense. In amidst all the chaos is a transcendental form of higher sonically and socially-connected bliss. I WAS robbed but only for buying £3 uncooled Red Strip tinnies. I WAS stabbed but only in the chest & groin by frankly dinosaur-stomping tremor levels of bass from soundsystems often close enough together on street corners to collide with a heady clash of warped beats & numerous sound FX which make your nipples wince and rupture your spleen. Public Safety Announcement: those with weak heart conditions or loose flab might want to strap themselves down.

A double rainbow forming just as the downpour aided the police’s enforced earlier closing time with a constantly hovering helicopter could still not deter a mini procession from starting up again upon their exit towards Harrow Road. Kicking our way through the debris in what seemed to resemble some quarantined post-apocalyptic oppressive military landscape, that sight was surely the truest expression of the whole occasion’s thoroughly unshackled spirit.

To all who got down – big up yer bad selves & ting (this review could only have ended with that one tiny word)


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