Before embarking on my voyage to Notting Hill for the day I received a warning from a dear friend of mine in the upmost pressing manner: “You will definitely get shoved and grinded on and you’re short so you may also get trampled on.”
Call me naïve but at this point I had an image in my head of an extravagant village fete. Lone and behold the annual street party happens to be the biggest street-based event in Europe, echoing every element of the sublime Caribbean culture through a combination of salsa and reggae dancing hosting a hastier beat, exotic food and a spirited yet asphyxiating atmosphere.
Exiting High Street Kensington station I thought HAH this isn’t too shoddy, the crowds have not come out in full force today (expecting to see swarms of people instantaneously). The 10 minute walk to Notting Hill seemed to gather a horde of rowdy people, collectively grouping everyone up the road where the festivities started to begin. I was first taken aback by the number of police officers lined up in the streets. At this stage I got the impression that crowd control was their central focus, little did I know I would witness multiple brawls and several arrests being made throughout the day. I also think it’s worth mentioning that these service men and women had to clear their bank holiday calendars in order to protect and serve US. Their duty, yes, but after witnessing the sheer number of police interventions that occurred on this day I can only commend them.
SO, things started kicking off. It seemed that the thousands of budding attendants had arrived and the party was in full swing. The aromas of marijuana, red stripe lager and jerk chicken surrounded the day– every now and then interrupted by the eye-wrenching stench seeping from the oddly planted toilets. One of the first triumphs of the day was my jerk chicken lunch. DELISH. Accompanied by brown rice and salad, the chicken marinated in a spicy sauce was as tender as Bob Marley’s mellifluous vocals.
I perched myself at a bus stop backing onto the front garden of one of the residents. The majority of local homeowners boarded up their houses ahead of the Carnival to “keep the mess off” and to remain detached from the whole shebang. Other residents however chose to embrace the festivities! One occupier set up a sound system blasting out reggae music, with one occupant chanting along with the songs and creating a semi-party in the middle of the street! It was a superb watch as I tucked into my jerk chicken lunch. This house also let out its toilet and sold drinks to people in the streets, toting up the community essence of the day!
During the course of the day the streets were stormed by bright colours, steel drums and a parade of animated bodies. Around eight different floats were exhibited by clusters of dance groups. Each had their own float whether it was a big open back lorry blaring out music or a massive decorated float. Samba dance schools flooded the streets, alongside an array of themed dancers. Washes of colour engulfed the parade with feathers and colossal headdresses – I honestly don’t know how they pirouetted as they did in a straight line… At one point hundreds of drummers marched up the streets, all dressed in incredible red, white and black outfits. Generally the outfits were little to non-existent anddd some people chose to go half naked but the effort and complete excellence that had gone behind these outfits was insaaaaaane! It was all brightly coloured and REALLY loud, you could almost hear the drum beat go through you as it came up the road. The crowds were all dancing and singing along – lager in hand of course.
Naturally I stopped for some pictures down a half-empty road so I could insta to my social world and say ‘look I am here’. My friend wasn’t as keen but I wanted to SUCK UP DE VIBES of the day because I was feelin groovy – is there a better excuse? Probs not bruh. Here I am:
The carnival in its entirety was a spectacular experience. It was a burst of colour, a delightful taste and amongst some of the public brawls it had a very warm and all-for-one feel, leaving me with a great lasting impression of the Carnival.
The area continues to be a special place to me. I find a rare fascination in the clumps of painted houses, from bright crimson red to pale lavenders with no real logical order to them. If I saw multi-coloured houses lined up like a box of crayons anywhere else I would immediately address them as ‘tacky’, but there’s something about the slightly dodgy looking pastel insignias that I find so appealing.
On an average day Notting Hill is home to market holders, dedicated to second hand oddments, old antiques, jewellery, street food and tourist merch including Union Jack mugs. Notting Hill may adopt a ‘dodgy side’, but it also is home to several middle-classes. The ‘posher’ shops are hidden in the centre where Westbourne Grove intersects Portobello Road, a well-known spot in the area. Strolling through Notts Hill once my Mum thought she saw Tony Blair, proceeding to follow him half a mile down the road and only realising it wasn’t him when face-to-face with the total stranger. I didn’t bother chasing her. Lesson Learnt.
Amongst chasing Prime Minister’s we also visited one of my favourite places in Notting Hill; GAIL’s Artisan Bakery, just down the road from Notting Hill Gate Station. They offer more than 30 types of bread, as well as breakfast and lunch. I’m a huge bread fan so that right there is my inspiration. It’s also positioned in the centre so everything is within walking distance, especially useful if you’re on the hunt for Hugh Grant and need a coffee.
After all these years i’m still hoping to bump into him in a book shop… i may be more successful if i start to read books…or not… we can dream.
For now i’ll continue to love the place and this great city that is London!