Carnival Time at Notting Hill

 

When West London and the West Indies Meet

By Tom Aitken in London

The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the most public and spectacular products of the migration of West Indians to London during the 1950s.

It provides illustrations of the enjoyment that the elements in a carnival –– colourfully costumed processions and energetic dancing –– and the general remaking of normally fairly staid north European streets and squares as background for exuberance and the physical enjoyment of being alive.

Even staid and elderly persons like myself have been known to join in the fun.

There is, of course, some risk attached to any such loosening of the reins. Alcohol can induce aggression as well as a sense of fun. Private grudges, between individuals or racial groups may become infectious and take over groups of the celebrants.

This year the actual site of the carnival was overlooked by the blackened wreck of the Grenfell Tower, recently the site of a terrible fire and the consequent loss of at least eighty lives in its

Beyond the London bobby at the Notting Hill carnival looms the burnt out wreck of Grenfell Tower

flats and apartments.

The organisers of the carnival decided that the procession, which officially opened proceedings, would halt outside the tower and observe a minute’s silence.

The contrast between that silence and the cacophonous racked of plastic horns being blown, mixed with the shouts and screams of West Indians and the visitors of every colour known to mankind, must have inspired awe.

I never saw the procession or heard the band. Being staid and elderly, as I say, I went in for a couple of hours early on the Bank Holiday Monday afternoon. Some hours after I had come home, the event came to a noisy end.

Unsurprisingly, given the number of flowing bowls filled by the landlords of the street stalls, things got noisier and tempers occasionally became physically aggressive. Some idiots threw water mixed with acid about. Some of policemen and policewomen were among those injured (albeit not seriously on this occasion).

On the other hand, the sight of the procession of brightly clothed, be-winged and be-feathered West Indians standing in silence for a minute outside the ruined tower of flats and larger apartments will, I imagine, stay long in the memories of those who were there to see it.