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Notting Hill Carnival

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published August 23rd 2010
If the UK hosts a street party bigger than the Notting Hill Carnival then it must be held in silence and I must be the only person not invited. 'Cause EVERYONE is invited to join in making some noise and filling the streets of Notting Hill with people and dancing during the carnival weekend, and nothing this loud and colourful could be going on in secret. Around two million people usually show up over the three days of Notting Hill Carnival, myself included.

Things always kick off with the Panorama, or battle of the steel bands, both Calypso and Soca, in Pleasance Park on the Saturday.

Sunday's events are usually more family oriented, and there's a kids sized parade, where all the performers are under 21, and the awards for best costumes are given out – it's estimated that about a million hours go into creating the carnival costumes each year. There's still a party atmosphere but this is also a chance for kids to learn about carnival's Caribbean traditions, as well as play music and parade.

On Bank Holiday Monday all the warming up is over and the main parade shakes its grove thing all over the streets of Notting Hill, from Cheapstow Road to Westbourne Grove and then Ladbroke Grove. Monday's parade has the best, and loudest, of the music and the craziest sparkle-tastic costumes. Teams from all over the word come and parade - all they need is at least 30 people willing to dance for hours, a band or a massive sound system and a theme, complete with costumes, some hip moves and potentially a gaudily decorated float. The sound systems pump beats right though the bodies of the crushing crowds of revellers, many of whom will have been up partying and dancing for most of the last three days, so this is when things can get really hectic, as well as hedonistic.

But don't lose yourself so much that you forget what the party is about. Carnival in London is a relatively new thing, the first public one was held in 1966, but the tradition goes back to the original carnivals held in Trinidad to hail the Abolition of Slavery Act 1833, so there are major freedoms being celebrated. The traditions of carnival have been happening here ever since, but after the Notting Hill riots of the 50s people had something else to make merry about, and in an attempt to celebrate London's cultural diversity carnival started happening in public where everyone could join in.

Go and have it large, but Be Prepared: If you're even a little bit agoraphobic this is not the place for you. Moving though the sea of people can be tough and if you lose your friends you might just have to be content to forsake them and make new ones. If your relationship with your ear drums is important to you you might want to bring a set of ear plugs, just in case you find yourself wedged up against a set of huge speakers – which can be a common occurrence considering the numbers of sound systems hitting the streets. Also, so much human traffic makes for grim toilet conditions and the squeamish may balk at the porta-loo situation, which usually involves hours of queuing.

Go with your mates to make the most of the party, sip your warm Red Stripe, munch on rice n' peas, wear something bright and sparkly and let your body go to those Caribbean rhythms – you have the rest of the year to recover.
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Why? The Caribbean really knows how to party
When: August Bank Holiday
Where: In and around Notting Hill - best way to arrive to avoid the biggest crowds is via Westbourne Grove or Kensal Green tube stations
Cost: Free (but you might need coins for drinks and use of the facilities)
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