Is the Carnival a good way to spend a Bank Holiday?



By Harriet Walker

I am always stunned by the negative press that Carnival receives.

Every year, almost two million people enjoy themselves in the sun (and the rain too, of course), bringing more than £96m to London and all we ever hear about are the scuffles and kerfuffles, how many police were needed, what got nicked.

Why take this position on an event that brings people together, introduces cultures to each other (ever eaten curried goat before? No, didn't think so – it's delicious) and provides an international platform on which to celebrate the multi-coloured, multi-faceted helix that is London's genetic make-up?

That attitude speaks volumes about how the event is perceived more broadly, as does the microcosm of disdain within Notting Hill itself. The snootiness that greets Carnival is emblematic of so much more than noses wrinkled at the detritus in the streets; it's a fear culture and an unwillingness to participate. Not so the schools and community centres, who have worked for months on their floats and costumes.

Notting Hill Carnival is the biggest party in the world after Rio, so let's stop being so parochial about it and start being proud. Instead of focusing on how many policemen we need there, let's focus on the bobby who does a little reggae groove as he mans his cordon.

Let's cheer the streets that blast music from living-room windows and barbecue chicken in the garden. The noise and crowds might not be for the faint-hearted, but they're not for lily-livered detractors either.


By Tim Walker

Let me first say that I respect the Notting Hill Carnival as an important part of the capital's multicultural fabric and I'm jolly glad it wasn't called off just because some idiots stole a DVD player or six. However, there is no weekend of the year during which I'm more glad to live in east London than this one.

Plenty of my friends go every year. Some weeks beforehand, perhaps while eating falafel wraps, they'll begin discussing their arrangements for "Carnival". They won't call it "Notting Hill Carnival" or "the Carnival"; to them, it's just "Carnival". I say it'll be rubbish and they say I wouldn't know, as I haven't been in ages. (It's true; I haven't.)

Yet every year they return, saying, "Hm, it was a bit rubbish." Why? The packed crowds, the dodgy sound systems, the suspected food poisoning, the stranger's vomit on their flip-flops, the thief who snatched their wallet. And always needing the loo when there was none to be found.

A person of my acquaintance was once caught short at "Carnival" and found herself squatting on the steps outside a basement flat. When the owner emerged, interrupting her mid-wee, she realised she'd met him at a party. She hiked up her knickers and fled, and has been forced to avoid potential social encounters with the man ever since.

This is the kind of connection that defines the Carnival for me: not the coming-together of cultures in a multitudinous expression of musical joy, but two horrified pairs of eyes locked, briefly, over a puddle of urine.

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