For years I have been wanting to go to London’s Notting Hill Carnival which takes place on the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of August. Annoyingly, however, as it is a long weekend over the summer, I always seem to be away. This year, however, not only was I in the country but I was actually living in London. This was going to be my year. I’d heard that the Monday was the day to go and I was busy on the Sunday anyway, so I made my plans to go far in advance with The Flatmate and over the next few months/weeks we found a group of friends to go with. I was so excited until the inevitable happened – it rained.
In typical England summer-fashion, it had been a rainy week leading up to the Carnival. But then it took a positive turn – the Sunday hadn’t exactly been a blisteringly hot day but it was still warm and dry. Then it turned back, there was even weather warnings in place. My friends and I had planned to meet in Notting Hill at 11am and made contingency plans to go to the pub if the weather was too bad. I awoke at about 7.30am to the sound of pounding rain and we decided to push our plans back. Instead, we’d meet at 1pm at Shepherds Bush, a couple of stops down from Notting Hill Gate, where it would be quieter and we could find a quiet pub and wait until it cleared up, which it was meant to do mid-late afternoon.
The plan started off quite well, we ended up at the The Defectors Weld, which was a great venue for a drink. Some of my party got food (the burgers looked delicious) but I was determined that we would make it to the Carnival and I wanted to find some street food there. A couple of hours later, the rain seemed to clear up. At least, we couldn’t see anyone wearing hoods or with umbrellas as we peered out the windows. It took us about 20-25 minutes to walk to Holland Park tube station, where we spotted crowds and heard music, and started to follow the sound. Eventually we found what we were looking for – the parade. There were people dancing in costumes and open back trucks driving down the road playing dance and hip hop music.
Despite the weather, people were still getting very into it, with lots of dancing. We found it harder. After a while, we started to wander down the road, in the direction of the parade. We spotted somewhere selling Red Stripe beer (which seemed to be the drink of choice at Notting Hill Carnival) for £2.50. That was a nice surprise, I had expected London prices, particularly in a place where demand for drinks was high. Then The Flatmate and I found food (we should have done it the other way round, it was difficult to hold food and a beer and eat at the same time).
I was in the mood for some fried chicken but jerk chicken seemed to be the main option. Since this was a Caribbean themed festival, I figured I should go for some classic Caribbean food and ended up with a box of jerk chicken with rice, coleslaw and salad for £6.50 (it was meant to be £6 but they didn’t have enough change) from a stand that had been set up in front of one of the houses that lined the street. I’d heard horror stories of food poisoning the year before and my chicken did look a tad pink in places but it was tasty and I was hungry, so I braved it and all turned out ok. Eating chicken off the bone whilst standing on a busy pavement was not easy but I was glad I had waited to have food at the carnival. It may have been one of the more expensive options but it was good.
Whilst The Flatmate and I were eating, we were grabbed by some random dancing down the street. This did seem to be what happened at Carnival – everyone dancing around with each other – but you do not distract a hungry girl when she’s eating and we managed to shake him off.
Once finished, we wandered alongside the parade, dancing/bobbing along as we went. The pavements were packed, people were dancing in the parade and many more spectators looked on from the houses nearby (many of whom were offering the use of their toilets for a small fee), including a dancing kid who was attracting quite an audience and looked like he was having just the best time.
I would have liked to have stopped walking and had a bit of a dance but instead we continued on, looking at everything that was going on. Although many people didn’t look like they even realised it had been raining was still very damp, it did affect the atmosphere for us – there was rubbish everywhere, everything was wet and it was very grey. Having said that, there was still a sense of fun in the air. After a while, it started to rain again. It was only light rain but we had come to a bend in the road where we could leave the parade and head towards Kensal Green, where it was quieter.
If we had kept on going, I think we would have come to the head of the parade, where we may have seem some floats (instead of just the trucks) and some bigger costumes with more feathers. instead, we went to The Paradise for a drink in the dry. The place had been entirely cleared of furniture, apart from the sofas lining room downstairs. They looked like they were getting ready for a Notting Hill Carnival afterparty. The drinks on offer were also far more limited, and far more expensive than usual. A vodka and mixer was £9(!) and seemed only to come in doubles and a Red Stripe was £5.50 -far more expensive than the stands along the parade.
The day may not have gone exactly as planned and fingers crossed I’ll get to go again next year and it will actually be sunny – but, if don’t get to, at least I have experienced Carnival, at least a little bit.