My first London flat was on Ladbroke Grove, a huge run down Victorian house which was converted into tiny flats and it was jam packed with media luvvies and creative types. I remember working for a PR agency and when I was doing the rounds of the glossies with a story, mentioning to a journalist that I was moving into the area. “You’ll love it in the spring,” she said, “so beautiful with all the cherry blossom.” How nice I thought, but what she had really neglected to tell me was that this was the epicentre of the Notting Hill Carnival every August bank holiday and once bitten, forever smitten.
My first carnival as a resident was extraordinary; there’s nothing like opening your bedroom window and watching the floats go by. At that time there was a lot of tension still in the area and way past 11pm on the Sunday evening, the ANC float went by and I looked down the street to see what looked like a hundred or so coppers in full riot gear. That was the flipside of the carnival, which thankfully doesn’t exist anymore. While there were a hundred or so arrests at this year’s carnival, it’s just a tiny fraction of the 1 million people who descend on the area to enjoy the sound systems, floats and live music and not forgetting the food and the heady aromatic of BBQ smoke, coconut and rum.
I’m no longer a resident of Ladbroke Grove but go back there a lot; it’s changed massively over the years. All Saints road is now really posh, the dodgy pubs are now gone gastro and the after hours drinking clubs, where you’d pop down some steps and have to say a code word to get in, have been erased. But the great thing about the carnival is with all the drums, whistles, horns and flags and the huge mix of people, is that it all becomes immaterial and gentrification seems a world away.
Sunday is the first day of carnival and it’s children’s day so I took my daughter with me, and she enjoyed it so much, we went back on Monday as well, so it’s with sore feet and a slightly sunburned nose that I write this post. London has so much to offer and it’s great to do museums and kick around London in the holidays, but carnival is the jewel in the crown for Summer in the capital. Lots of people worry about taking kids to carnival but I say take them along so they can marvel at the spectacle on show and get a true taste of London’s rich cultural mix and Notting Hill’s heritage. There are loads of young kids there on both days, some in prams and even in arms. We got caught up in the crush twice and if you’re not used to London it can be unnerving, but the crowd is friendly so you don’t feel in danger, it’s more like a rush hour tube journey.
So why the rubbish photo? Hmmm. It’s an unavoidable truth that the organisers haven’t quite got the recycling sorted quite yet – but the street food is amazing, and the whole area is miraculously cleaned up overnight so it’s business as usual in this amazing urban village the next day. We gorged on jerk chicken, usually I have goat curry and plantain.
So that’s the rubbish out the way, and this photo below is from Powis Square which was a relatively chilled oasis compared to the carnival route. We watched a few bands and hung out on the grass in the sunshine before heading out again to catch the floats.
The great thing about carnival is the music and the vibrancy of the floats and the parade. I’m always amazed at how the people can manage to wear the heavy costumes for two days without falling over, but they do and they have a great time. This photo is taken in the crowd and I didn’t manage to get too many shots of the floats but it does capture some of the great atmosphere. Camera culture was heavily in evidence this year with lots of people sporting massive DSLRs and video cameras, that would never have happened 20 years ago!
All in all we had a great time, spending the first day with friends and the second day exploring the whole event. It’s definitely worthwhile going with a group of people but it’s also good to break away and mill around for a bit to soak it all up. We saw lots of amazing street entertainers and random sights, including several people who’d overdone the partying and some very hilarious dancers. If you get a chance you should really try and experience it for yourself, I’m sad it’s over but there’s always next year!