Carnival Time

Notting Hill Carnival, 1991

I won’t be going to Notting Hill for Carnival this year, and I feel I’m missing something. But at the moment I’ve a splitting headache, and just can’t get in the mood for dancing on the streets and taking photographs.

Dancing to KCC and the Rocking Crew, 1998

Carnival suffered from a lot of very negative publicity in the mass media in its early years, and still comes in for it at times. It was perhaps this that kept me away from it before the 1990s, when I went and discovered what a great event it was. For the next 20 or so years I went every Sunday and Monday to take pictures, except for 2005.

That year I had injured my knee jumping down from the plinth in Trafalgar Square a couple of days earlier and was finding it difficult to walk. My doctor had examined it, and it was one occasion I felt rather let down by the NHS, as he advised me it would probably be six months before I could get the phyisotherapy it needed, by which time it would almost certainly have got better anyway, and suggested if I could afford it that I go for private treatment at a local sports centre where staff were used to handling knee injuries. As someone resolutely opposed to private medical practice I decided to grimace and bear it.

I packed a small bag – water bottle, Minolta CLE* with 28mm, films, Minolta 40mm lens – emptied my valuables from my pocket except for a few notes and coins and set out for the station, about a quarter of a mile away, determined to get to Notting Hill. When I collapsed in agony going over the footbridge to the station I finally realised it was no use and abandoned the project, crawling back up the steps, hobbling along the road clinging to fences home. It was a few weeks before I could walk without pain, but I kept true to Nye Bevan.

Since then there has been the odd year when I’ve been away from London on the last Monday of August, but otherwise I’ve been to Carnival on at least one of the two days. I missed it in 2013 as I was up in Yorkshire, and then last year I was planning to go on the Monday, but decided to stay at home with my family. I’ve photographed over 20 years of Carnival, and perhaps feel there is nothing new for me to say about it.

If it was a very short journey, I’d certainly call in for a bit and enjoy the atmosphere, maybe even take a few pictures. It isn’t a major expedition, though the sheer numbers attending sometimes makes travel something of a problem, but enough to put me off. Perhaps too, its because I’m getting older and have come to dislike the crowds and extreme volume, sound which at times vibrates the road surface and your internal organs and often left me part-deafened for several days afterwards.

But it is still an attraction, at least in theory. If you’ve never danced arm in arm drinking Red Stripe down Ladbroke Grove in a vast crowd behind a sound system you’ve never lived in London.

*The Minolta CLE, arguably the best Leica that Leica never made. And the 28mm f2.8 possibly the best ever lens for street photography, when new knocking spots off the Leica equivalent. Unfortunately over time these developed their own spots on interior glass surfaces, making them unusable and uneconomic to clean.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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