Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

I Have Had Enough of This Tired and Vulgar Carnival

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

I Have Had Enough of This Tired and Vulgar Carnival

Article excerpt

The hairdressing story rumbles along. Last week I told the tale of Mrs Howe going to a salon in Brixton, south London, to have her hair done, and the stylist making it plain that they did not entertain people with "your kind of hair". The Daily Mail took up the story, followed by the South London Press and also the Hairdressers 'Journal. The local authority is taking a rather dim view of the matter. And so, I learn, a trainee, who will be taught to do black hair, begins work tomorrow. A small triumph, then, for this column.

Meanwhile I made my way to Notting Hill on the bank holiday. I once chaired a carnival development committee and designed and produced a carnival band which won Band of the Year three times. It's my kind of thing.

I am constantly amazed by the self-discipline of those who attend this festival. No number of police officers can alone control such a huge crowd; most of the restraint has to be self-imposed. There is a general sense that "the carnival belongs to us". It was not set in motion by some clever impresario, a la Glastonbury - it was a spontaneous and creative outburst from below.

By 1976 the police thought the size of the crowd was getting out of hand and tried to enforce limits. They provoked one of the most violent social explosions in modern Britain. Conscious of their responsibility for its making, "the people" (a term hardly used in today's social and political vocabulary) guard the event jealously. Even Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley were eclipsed.

I finally camped on "the hill", a tiny incline that is recognisable by the Trinidad flag prominently displayed. Trinidadians from all over the globe gravitate to that point.

I sat in conversation with a relative stranger- who came to the carnival from Alberta, in Canada- for ten minutes or so, and then almost simultaneously it dawned on both of us that we had not seen each other for 50 years, since the day when his parents moved from our tiny village to another part of the island. …

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