News, Culture & Society

ROBERT HARDMAN joins Notting Hill Carnival 

With an annual attendance of around a million people generating more noise than an international airport, the Notting Hill Carnival had never attempted silence – until yesterday.

Results were mixed. The idea had been that yesterday’s opening parade would pause respectfully to mark a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of June’s horrific inferno at Grenfell Tower, the charred remains of which peer down on Europe’s biggest street party.

While the silence was recorded in front of the television cameras, I am afraid there was precious little where I was standing on Ladbroke Grove – on the very part of the carnival route designated as a ‘respect’ zone due to its proximity to the tower.

With an annual attendance of around a million people generating more noise than an international airport, the Notting Hill Carnival had never attempted silence – until yesterday

The idea had been that yesterday¿s opening parade would pause respectfully to mark a minute¿s silence in memory of the victims of June¿s horrific inferno at Grenfell Tower, the charred remains of which peer down on Europe¿s biggest street party

The idea had been that yesterday’s opening parade would pause respectfully to mark a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of June’s horrific inferno at Grenfell Tower, the charred remains of which peer down on Europe’s biggest street party

Some carnival-goers suspended their gyrations and blowing of whistles or vuvuzelas. But many did not

Some carnival-goers suspended their gyrations and blowing of whistles or vuvuzelas. But many did not

Some carnival-goers suspended their gyrations and blowing of whistles or vuvuzelas. But many did not. A juggernaut carrying dancers and a huge speaker system on the back continued to pump out a head-thumping soundtrack.

The dancers were not being disrespectful. Many wore ‘Grenfell’ badges and had followed the organisers’ request to wear something green in honour of the dead. This was not a snub, but nor was it a historic moment of solidarity either. In the mayhem, some had simply not got the message to shut up at the allotted moment on the stroke of 3pm.

The myth and the reality of the Notting Hill Carnival come to blows every August Bank Holiday weekend. To its legion of devoted followers, carnival (never ‘the’ carnival – use of the definite article is strictly forbidden) remains a vibrant, joyful and unique celebration of Caribbean culture.

To its critics, many of them local residents, it is an irksome festival of litter and crime which should be avoided at all costs.

They do have a point about the litter. I have never seen so many people (of all ages and backgrounds) nonchalantly throwing so much rubbish on to the ground. By mid-afternoon, a large part of London W10 was carpeted with plastic, cans and paper plates.

The dancers were not being disrespectful. Many wore ¿Grenfell¿ badges and had followed the organisers¿ request to wear something green in honour of the dead

The dancers were not being disrespectful. Many wore ‘Grenfell’ badges and had followed the organisers’ request to wear something green in honour of the dead

This was not a snub, but nor was it a historic moment of solidarity either. In the mayhem, some had simply not got the message to shut up at the allotted moment on the stroke of 3pm

This was not a snub, but nor was it a historic moment of solidarity either. In the mayhem, some had simply not got the message to shut up at the allotted moment on the stroke of 3pm

This summer¿s run of terrorist attacks across Europe, together with simmering local fury about the Grenfell tragedy and an alarming rise in acid attacks, had left the police making no apologies about a very visible presence

This summer’s run of terrorist attacks across Europe, together with simmering local fury about the Grenfell tragedy and an alarming rise in acid attacks, had left the police making no apologies about a very visible presence

But any would-be criminals would have found that this was not the year to turn up looking for trouble. This summer’s run of terrorist attacks across Europe, together with simmering local fury about the Grenfell tragedy and an alarming rise in acid attacks, had left the police making no apologies about a very visible presence. 

Though the frontline police were all in shirtsleeves and regular headgear, many sealed-off side streets – labelled as ‘safety zones’ on the carnival map – were full of vans and reinforcements with heavy-duty kit.

The atmosphere was unquestionably friendly. But it might have been improved if great chunks of the route, and the surrounding area, were not boarded up.

The view down Westbourne Grove yesterday morning was of a war zone, entire blocks entombed in chipboard. I found three graffiti artists hard at work on the panels protecting the Daylesford Organic Cafe. Normally, this place would be packed with a Sunday morning crowd of Euro-bankers and celebs leafing through the weekend papers over a pain au chocolat and a soya latte. Yesterday, it was closed for business while a rather ambitious beach scene was being spray-painted across its facade.

Some places, to their credit, were maintaining business as usual – like the Walmer Castle pub on Ledbury Road. Others were partially open. The Vinyl Cafe on Portobello Road had a large sign welcoming anyone prepared to pay £2 to use the loo.

Yesterday¿s two-mile, eight-hour, stop-start procession was preceded by a short opening ceremony commemorating the Grenfell disaster and attended by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

Yesterday’s two-mile, eight-hour, stop-start procession was preceded by a short opening ceremony commemorating the Grenfell disaster and attended by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

The view down Westbourne Grove yesterday morning was of a war zone, entire blocks entombed in chipboard. I found three graffiti artists hard at work on the panels protecting the Daylesford Organic Cafe

The view down Westbourne Grove yesterday morning was of a war zone, entire blocks entombed in chipboard. I found three graffiti artists hard at work on the panels protecting the Daylesford Organic Cafe

Over at the Grenfell Tower itself, police had sealed off all approach roads. The yellowing messages and decaying wreaths accumulated through the summer were still there and seem likely to remain, given the attached signs labelled: ¿Memorial Protection¿

Over at the Grenfell Tower itself, police had sealed off all approach roads. The yellowing messages and decaying wreaths accumulated through the summer were still there and seem likely to remain, given the attached signs labelled: ‘Memorial Protection’

But most resident businesses were happy to go into lockdown and leave the field wide open to the vast lines of makeshift restaurants erected for miles around.

They smelled magnificent, though some were hardly a bargain. ‘Mr T’ on Powis Square was charging £10 for a portion of ‘free-range, halal jerk chicken’.

Yesterday’s two-mile, eight-hour, stop-start procession was preceded by a short opening ceremony commemorating the Grenfell disaster and attended by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Announcing a ‘pledge to redouble our efforts to support this community’, he then joined in the symbolic release of white doves. While his minders refused to let him talk to the media, Mr Khan toured the area for an hour posing for selfies with all-comers.

It was certainly a kinder reception than the one I witnessed the day after the Grenfell fire when he was pursued down these streets by angry residents and heckled by a seven-year-old boy.

Over at the Grenfell Tower itself, police had sealed off all approach roads. The yellowing messages and decaying wreaths accumulated through the summer were still there and seem likely to remain, given the attached signs labelled: ‘Memorial Protection’.

Yesterday¿s two-mile, eight-hour, stop-start procession was preceded by a short opening ceremony commemorating the Grenfell disaster and attended by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

Yesterday’s two-mile, eight-hour, stop-start procession was preceded by a short opening ceremony commemorating the Grenfell disaster and attended by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

Announcing a ¿pledge to redouble our efforts to support this community¿, he then joined in the symbolic release of white doves 

Announcing a ‘pledge to redouble our efforts to support this community’, he then joined in the symbolic release of white doves 

On the main route, the truck-mounted bands with their sound systems and scantily-dressed dancers continued to meander and twerk their way around Notting Hill at a snail¿s pace

On the main route, the truck-mounted bands with their sound systems and scantily-dressed dancers continued to meander and twerk their way around Notting Hill at a snail’s pace

‘Grenfell’s fire was ethnic and social cleansing,’ declared a letter from someone calling herself ‘Sister Ruth, Missionary Nun’. Many messages insist that there has been a monstrous cover-up over the official death toll, currently in the region of 80.

Signs warned passers-by not to take selfies in front of the ruined tower on the grounds that the locals – understandably – find such voyeurism offensive. Passengers arriving at Latimer Road Tube station received an uncompromising recorded message saying the same thing.

With a handful of exceptions, everyone I saw yesterday complied. The only threat to the peace came not from gawpers but from two groups of aggressive young men claiming to represent ‘The Children of the Slave Trade’.

Through loudspeakers, they denounced any passing women who were not covered from head to toe as a ‘harlot’ or ‘porn star’ – or worse – until the police told them to tone it down or face arrest for public order offences.

On the main route, the truck-mounted bands with their sound systems and scantily-dressed dancers continued to meander and twerk their way around Notting Hill at a snail’s pace.

Today, they will do it all again with another minute’s silence this afternoon. Perhaps, this time, it will be observed.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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