Carnival in Notting Hill is steeped in a history that goes deep into my memory, I first went in my early twenties, fresh from the sticks, a country bumpkin new to the Big City.
And back then I remember that first carnival as full of sunshine, of music and my own sense of wonder at finding myself in an unfamiliar and enthralling world. In the thirty years that have followed Carnival has continued each year, with me or without me, come rain or shine, always at that last weekend of August.
I remember so many of those years, how different each was, how different I was, there were years I avoided the Carnival, preferring to be away somewhere warm on holiday, the years when I went along, feeling like an awkward observer, the years I partied, the years I was part of a gang, and a year or two when I was the antithesis of being part of anything.
But what carnival means more to me than anything is summer, even if it’s pouring with rain, which let’s face it in England is a distinct possibility, Carnival is summer, the crescendo of summer.
The carnival begins gently with children’s day, Momentum grows it becomes louder and busier until a seething mass of people fill the streets, and in a way its almost like a primeval collective mass of people losing themselves in movement and music.
And then just when you’ve lost all sense of time and place on the second day darkness begins to creep and the floats trail away and the music fades to nothing. The crowd once a single sea of humanity disperses in streams to all points of the compass and all that is left are the traces of the crowds that have been here, the beer cans, the jerk chicken bones, the rubbish. And as darkness fills the sky the only sound you hear are the rubbish lorries and the sweepers clearing the streets.
Early the following morning there is a clear sky & a distinct chill in the air. The reminders of the day before are there if you look for them, but no more than echoes, workmen taking down boarded up shopfronts, barriers being stacked for collection, portaloos, which you couldn’t find when you needed them loaded onto lorries. And its hard to reconcile these streets now with those of yesterday. The change is profound and as cold morning air hits your nostrils you know that summer is at an end.
And you know that soon the calendar in the kitchen will be full of crosses, that September will have its swan song days of sunshine, the kids will go back to school and the leaves will turn red and brown and tumble to pavements. Summer will become a memory and autumn will flow into crisp winter. And even there in those shortest of days and longest of nights another year will draw to a close whilst on its heels another waits to be born.