There was a time when where I lived and where I worked meant I was involved in the Notting Hill Carnival at grass roots level. I went to Carnival every single year for about 7 years.
Invariably, I would spend Carnival in the company of my good friend Simone. By some kind of unexplainable means of telepathic communication Simone and I would always turn up wearing the same colours or the same style of outfit. There was the time I turned up in white from head to toe because where I’m from, white is a pagan colour and Carnival does celebrate the pagan. Simone turned up in all white too that time.
Then for the last 5 years, I’ve been unable to bring myself to go to Carnival. I couldn’t bear the idea of the crowds, the din, the lack of readily available toilets, the having to rub up against the great unwashed, the palaver of getting there, the palaver about getting away from it.
This year though, it felt important to go to Carnival. After the riots at the beginning of August, and given all that was said about black/Caribbean culture, it felt important to confirm to myself that this country is all the better for having such a mix of cultures. My background is African not Caribbean. All the same, as a Londoner, it felt like I owned Carnival in some way.
I’m glad I gave Carnival a break for a few years. It meant that this year, I saw it with different eyes and noticed more detail rather than just being swept in the whole atmosphere of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Here’s some of what I noticed this time round:
Posters that made me go hmmm…..
…fantastic drumming on improvised instruments….
….boys who are camp….
There were birds of paradise….
….a handsome pirate….
….a salty old sea dog….
….and a medic.
There was mad love for Hackney….
….white folks going native….
….wining of waists and much getting your hips into into it.
Even the hardiest of dancers needed a break and a cup of tea sometimes…
….and the police couldn’t keep hold of their hats….
There were mas…
….and kids head rocking to some ‘conscious lyrics’.
“Carnival” literally means ‘put away the flesh’ but you wouldn’t have known that the way this lot carried on. Everywhere I looked there was flesh….
….and yet more flesh!
One thing I do love about Carnival is that it isn’t beholden to the usual rules that govern body image for a woman. Here, every size, shape and texture of flesh is squeezed into the skimpiest of outfits and jiggled for all its worth. But I’ve got to say that after 3 hours of an unrelenting procession of semi-naked people, my eyes felt ready to pop and I wanted the flesh to indeed be put away. So it was on to the sound systems to hang out with friends and have a little shake of my own tail feather.
Me and JR…
…and me and the girls!