For a little over 360 days a year the trendy West London suburb of Notting Hill is a tranquil leafy locale ruled by the latte and boutique beer set.
The cafés and restaurants do a roaring trade but Jamaican pasties and blackened corn on the cob rarely feature on the menu. There’s more Mozart than Marley. And in the pubs and clubs you’re more liable to spot the jilted step of a drunken city banker than the smooth soca of a Caribbean queen.
But all that changes on the August bank holiday weekend as the Notting Hill Carnival – Europe’s largest street party and second only in the world to Rio’s Carnaval – swings and sways its way into W11.
So what’s a wannabe reveller likely to expect? Well, if you’re not hard of hearing, be warned, you will be. The sharp blast from ten thousand whistles and the heavy thud of hardcore bass can be heard from as far away as Hyde Park.
But whatever you musical slant, be it ragga or reggae, soca or steelpan, laid back or lively, there’s something here for all lovers of that calypso sound.
As well as a couple of larger stages – featuring international headline acts – and a plethora of smaller ones, impromptu performers roam the streets while many locals clear the floorboards at home and pump up the volume to cater for friends or those from the outside masses who like what they hear. Even the food sellers join in the aural assault, and there’s certainly enough of them.
And if it’s food you want, it seems you can’t turn a corner without having your taste buds tempted. Blackened corn on the cob is the festival staple with jerk chicken a delicious, close run second. On top of the Caribbean fare, there’s the usual array of take away, but when in Rome…
The off-licences do a roaring trade and keep the punters moving through, but trying to get into a pub during the height of festivities is not recommended for anyone with more than the slightest sense of claustrophobia. Having said that, it is often the queue for the toilets and not the need for beer or white rum that pack the pubs to the rafters.
If ice cold beer is your poison of choice and sitting in a crowded pub doesn’t sound all that appealing, fear not, the amber nectar is sold by anyone with an ounce of initiative, a touch of entrepreneurial flair and access to ice and a container. And although prices vary, the mark-up usually isn’t too outrageous.
But it’s usually the spectacle, energy and colour of Monday’s festival parade that most visitors to Notting Hill Carnival are there to see. Dozens of floats ranging in size from the modest to the mobile party make there way along Ladbroke and Westbourne Groves. Calypso tunes blast out from speakers the size of small sedans. Colourful costumed dancers strut their stuff in time to their own floats beat. Swaying onlookers crowd ten and fifteen deep, whistles blowing and dancing in the streets.