Notting Hill Carnival 26-27th August 2007

For many of the eager, carniival-virgins who packed the streets of London last weekend to celebrate this year’s event in Notting Hill, the experience surely lived up to its reputation for being a multicultural hotchpotch of celebration and excitement. With the theme “Set All Free” commemorating the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago, the occasion attracted new comers and veterans from all walks of life. For me, also heading into the blur for the first time, the experience was exhilarating, if not slightly unnerving.
aaThe event, which has been held every August Bank Holiday since 1966, is the world's second largest street party, after the Rio Carnival in Brazil. Drenched in colour, music and some much needed sunshine, the London district watched on as over 1.5 million revellers marched from Ladbroke Grove to Westbourne Park. They were following elaborate floats and wildly orchestrated processions. Barbecued aromas of jerk chicken and feijoada, a Brazilian meat and bean stew, mixed with the crunching and cracking of empty beer cups underfoot as massive sound systems provided beats from Hip Hop to progressive Techno. The Drum‘n'Bass stages were keen to encourage passers by to take the stand to deliver aggressive yet impressive MC performances, and children as young as 3 were cheered as they danced furiously on stage. As a brief taster of the type of gastronomic dimensions involved in the weekend, reports estimate that the crowds consumed in total:
30,000 corn on the cobs : 15,000 deep-fried plantains : 1 tonne of rice and peas
1 tonne of Jamaican patties : 2,000 mangoes : 16,000 coconuts :
5 million hot and cold drinks
10,000 litres of Jamaican stout : 25,000 bottles of rum : 70,000 litres of carrot juice
aaThe carnival has had an unfortunate degree of bad publicity in the past, for its procreation of crime, including pick-pocketing, assault and, in the worst cases, fatal shootings and stabbings. In the last few year's there has be a marked improvement, a refreshing change to the previous negativity, with only 213 carnival-related arrests being made over the two days. Despite the fact that over 400 ecstasy tablets and 100 wraps of cocaine we confiscated by officers working a collective 11,000 shifts, such figures mark a notable decline against previous years.
aaPolice intelligence and security clearly excelled themselves. I myself saw no serious violent incidents, although there were several times when large gangs of about 20 predominantly males of afro-caribean origin, rampaged through the crowds throwing bottles and pushing people aside. On speaking to a local carnival-goer, I learned this kind of sight was perfectly normal. The only slightly daunting thing were the presence of the policemen on horseback.
aaDisorders and disturbances aside though, the carnival generated close to £100 million from corporate investment, sponsorship and tourist activity, giving a terrific boost to London’s economy. As well as such perceivable mercenary benefits reaped, one cannot help but admire what the event adds to the certain "je ne sei quoi" of London life. As Professor Chris Mullard, chairman of Notting Hill Carnival Board Ltd observed, the carnival “is an expression of identity but also of belonging, culturally enriching to the rest of British society.”
aaIt was so cool the way the carnival mounlded itself around Notting Hill itself - people were leaning over the wall of their gardens to watch the procession, which had been fenced off by 6 foot wooden boards to act as protection. Other more entrepeneurial residents were selling beer and corn on the cob on their doorsteps. Where else in Western Hemisphere can you jam pack nearly 2 million global party fans into an area the size of 150 football pitches, and watch as racism, wealth inequity and class wars dissolve to the sound of steel drums and clapping hands?
aaIt was just the sheer weight of people moving through the streets. It was impossible to do more than just shuffle from street to street, turning your neck to see the big floats passing by. Because everyones wearing such flamboyant clothing and colourful costumes its hard to stick together if youre in a group, so either you tie a line of red string around each others wrists or resort to dropping breadcrumbs behind you lest you get lost straight away! For a more personal touch, I was impressed at how the carnival appealed to people, as I first said, from all walks of life.
aaSunday was the family day, so there were a lot more children. But even on the monday, watching a knee high sized kid stomping around to drum n bass was really cool as undercut the cliche that the only people that listen to that kind of music are either taking drugs or in a dingy rave in a warehouse somewhere. Seeing it live on a sunny afternoon with everyone there seemed to just create a really nice friendly atmophere, despite the deafening noise and jabbing elbows. I would certainly return to the Carnival in 2009, and avidly urge other individuals to do the same.

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