There are plenty of people who tut and shake their heads, who point to the violence and the high costs associated with policing of the event (Indeed the righteous opprobrium, such as I overheard between two office workers the other lunchtime - "two stabbings... Well, I’m sorry, but.." - fuelled by the very thinly veiled racism in the Sun and the Daily Mail, could be said to have watered down the spirit of the thing over the years. For at each Carnival, there seem to be more police involved, fewer freedoms as a result of the strict marshalling, and of course the ever-present curse of the modern world - surveillance everywhere. I feel less in danger than when I first started going - though that could just as easily be about my own maturity as it is about the protection of PC Plod...) but I'll have none of that.
Carnival is a glorious shout of self expression from London’s black communities; a splendid and magnificent display of pride and vigour of which anyone who lives in this metropolis should be hugely proud, and in which everyone should participate for as long as they feel able. This year, as last, I felt able, and I don’t regret a moment of it.
I’m not sure they would either) but I am especially heartened by the sight of older people throwing themselves into the spirit of the thing.
Perhaps it makes me feel a little less guilty about indulging when I have reached such a responsible age.
A young girl in full costume sits on the side of a float lorry, her eyes half-lidded and an almost empty bottle of E&J in her hands. Her large breasts are pushing out of the top of her feather-adorned bra top. Someone tells her to adjust herself, but she only succeeds in making things worse. An old man wearing a cannabis leaf scarf with a long greying dread snaking down his back rolls and smokes a spliff, smiling coolly, beatifically, as he walks slowly alongside the truck which blasts out a chest vibrating beat while the followers bob or thrust inside the ropes behind.
People sitting on balconies or squatting on pillar boxes with a million plastic cartons, chicken bones, corn cobs, brandy bottles, Rizla card and beer cans strewn on the ground beneath them. A middle-aged woman - undoubtedly a mother, but perhaps also a civil servant - grinds in the middle of the road. Against the odds, people meet in the throng, throwing their arms around each other and exchanging a few words. Groups of pensioners sit in doorways sipping Red Stripe, suddenly rising to their feet as a particular beat catches them.
Professional photographers are intent only on their shots, stepping into the road before an extra vibrant, or extra sexy dancer and then moving on, their cargo of images intact, and immune to the swirl of music and human joy and grass and alcohol all around them. A teenage boy in only shorts and a t shirt lies foetal behind the low wall of a church, his hair dripping with bits of twig and soil.
Long roads lined with their expensive white houses and black balconies carry vast numbers of revellers while clouds of smoke from all the little barbies form a single heavy heat haze overhead. The smoke seems to be feeding into the clouds above and carries the aromas of chili sauce ‘on its breath’. Severe faced armoured coppers sporting blue corded earpieces suddenly emerge walking purposefully, staring everyone down as they move towards their target. Impossibly dense crowds gather around a sound stage and watch a man dressed as a giant pineapple bobbing on a scaffold outside a cafe. The police are nervous, and for a moment the MC teases with the threat or promise of an encore, before dissolving the crowd in its own whistling by turning off the speakers.
Yet how quickly the smell of smoke fades, how the horns and whistles are left behind, and how easily ‘normal’ London returns. The Carnival signals the end of summer of course. A last hurrah before the long and enervating slide to Christmas.
A walk to Paddington, a tube journey, and then it’s almost as if you weren’t there. Testament to the city’s resilience that such an enormous public event as the Notting Hill Carnival can so easily be folded into its skin.