“Bollocks!”, I thought, waking up rather later than I’d planned. It was Monday, you see, and the last possible opportunity for me to attend the Notting Hill Carnival in the Year of Things (as it shall now be known). P, one of my learned colleagues, had been advising me about Carnival a few days before.
“If you’re going there on the Monday,” she said, probably nursing a latte, “get there early. Before about two o’clock, because the police sometimes start closing it off if it gets packed.” She also helpfully suggested going up towards the big Sainsbury’s (where the 295 normally terminates, bus fact fans) where things are a bit more family orientated and less prone to getting tasty. Simple logistics required us to cast this particular bit of information aside. I say ‘us’, for this was a Thing to do with Man In Shorts. He’s my muscle and, in this capacity, had recently accompanied me to darkest Dagenham to buy some second hand turntables. In other capacities, he’s my housemate, an excellent drinking partner and a worthy addition to any pub quiz team. He also makes the best Bolognese sauce you’ve yet to taste.
Those simple logistics, then. We live south-west of Notting Hill, the Sainsbury’s is at the north-east end of it all. There’s no buses running through the area and the Hammersmith & City line was somewhat constrained by station closures. Add to this a complete lack of geographic knowledge surrounding W11 and the solution is clear: go to Westbourne Park and follow the crowds. And, wow, were there a lot of crowds. And a lot of policemen. And lady policemen, too.
Having neglected to bring any beer with us, the first task was Operation Red Stripe. Thankfully, the good people at the local Best One were operating a beer-selling operation of magnificent — almost military — efficiency. A commissionaire granted access to small groups of people at a time. Once inside, chest freezers and open-fronted fridges were filled with the promised bounty of tins: Heineken, Red Stripe, Kestrel, Red Stripe, Fosters, Red Stripe. For the motorist, Old Jamaican and Rubicon were also available. Three lads were constantly replenishing the stock. Six similar lads, behind the tills, were taking hundreds of pounds a minute.
In and out in no time, cold booze in hand, and time to explore with our new-found props. Wasn’t long until we happened upon a sound system:
Loudspeaker geeks will be interested in the following:
Discuss the combing effect.
We then walked past a guy who was dancing to Frank Sinatra. On the top of some bay windows. Two floors up:
On the way back down to Ladbroke Grove, a gentleman with a Flip camcorder stopped me and asked me for my thoughts on Carnival. There was an incentive:
Continuing on, a rare chance to see some acoustic/unplugged/live entertainment:
And then we happened upon the Rampage sound system. This was unique at Carnival, simply because it was the only think I’d heard of. And that’s really only because my friend Ian (@iandeeley) works at the same radio station as them. Anyway, it’s very much where the crowds were (and, if you’re getting bored with Ken Bruce or Woman’s Hour, Rampage are on 1Xtra at the same time):
After having a good old wander, we settled down on Ladbroke Grove to watch some floats go past. Once you’re accustomed to the incredible outfits, dancing, and general bonhomie, take a look at the trucks themselves. Most had a generator big enough for a large town, trailers replete with concert speaker systems of every shape, size, make and vintage. Booming times. Noise exposure limit for the day exceeded, time to head for the barbecue. The man-sized barbecue:
It was very tasty (as it should have been for £6). Just look at Shorts’ face of delight!
A repeat trip to the Best One, and some portable toilets that would make Michael Eavis blush, and we were back in business. The booze had clearly tripped a fuse somewhere because, once back on The Grove, I decided it’d be a good idea to dance. Now, let me put this very plainly: dancing is not a way I like to travel. It’s not a way I can travel. A gentleman of my stature and co-ordination simply cannot be graceful in rhythmic motion, no matter how much Red Stripe has been imbibed to assist. Good job nobody seemed to mind, even though I was blowing a plastic horn and undoubtedly stamping on toes, accompanied by a man who was trying to assail floats at every opportunity. If you woke up with tinnitus and a fractured metatarsal on Tuesday, it was quite possibly my fault. Sorry.
Slipstreaming a float along the eponymous street brought us to Ladbroke Grove station, beneath the Westway and railway bridges. I then chose to remember a bit more of the conversation I’d had with P a week earlier. She said something about avoiding that place because “that’s where it all kicks off”. And, indeed, it seemed to feel a little bit edgy. Whoops. Time to beat a hasty retreat to Holland Park Avenue, working against the flow of both float and human traffic. Needless to say, with Red Stripe and survival instinct operating in harmonious unison, it wasn’t long before Shorts and I parted company. Helpfully, he phoned and woke me up just seconds my bus home had left the stop outside our flat. Timing’s never been his strong point. He did make me a super bacon sandwich for supper, though.