Well, it started in 1959 apparently. In St Pancras Town Hall, of all places although, after sixty years this is the 53rd Carnival?
Claudia Jones started it in 1959 to recreate the Caribbean carnival experience.
Now, sixty years on, it’s the biggest street carnival in Europe and a fitting way for us children of the allegedly swinging sixties (yeh, they were…Ed) to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. To be fair, we had quite a full programme of genteel events planned, before our hotel broke the news (I.e. assumed that we knew) that it’s the NH Carnival. And we’re staying right in the middle of it, in the Portobello Hotel. Well, the mail coach bringing the Carnival news from London to Yorkshire must have been delayed, run out of fresh horses or something similar otherwise we’d have avoided it and gone to Brid. (They mean Bridlington, beloved of David Hockney…Ed).
From humble beginnings it’s grown to over three quarters of a million – so a bit bigger than Woodstock in 1969 (no, we didn’t) or the Isle of Wight 1970 (yes) – with thirty five sound installations competing with one another simultaneously. The speakers are even bigger than the two-man Marc Bolan (aka T-rex) show in Liverpool in the late 1960s, and they were REALLY big, man. Marc Bolan sitting cross legged with an acoustic guitar playing Ride a White Swan, with the ENTIRE stage filled with towering speakers. Man.
There’s a friendly police presence and you have to show proof of your hotel booking before they let you through the security cordon. Compared with last year, when it poured down, this year the weather is, well, Caribbean. Thirty degrees with great slices of sunshine. Sunday is family and children’s day, less raucous and maybe a touch safer? At 3pm Sunday and Monday there’s a 72 second silence in memory of those who died at Grenfell Tower. The tower isn’t within the cordon, but definitely part of the neighbourhood and still standing as an eerie reminder of the tragedy.
We watch the crowds, now reportedly a million on the hottest August bank holiday ever, shuffle along guarding our bags, snapping the parades, eating too much delicious street food…and having a great, genteel, time. Festivals, we realise, we love ‘em. Just wait till Deer Shed next year!
Tonight, by contrast we go to see Matthew Bourne’s latest production, Romeo and Juliet at Sadler’s Wells. Perfect for a special romantic wedding anniversary (steady now…Ed) followed by a late supper at The Wolseley. A perfect weekend. Just like it was on Saturday 24th August 1974, a time before we knew the earth was round.