by vpundir | August 26th, 2008

Billed as a celebration of African, Latin and Carribbean culture in London, the Notting Hill Festival is quite something.

The first day (Sunday) is the “family festival”, meaning that many of the floats in the parade comprise largely of schoolchildren. It is loud, colorful, and cheerful.

Of course, all around the area, there several “static sound systems” – make-shift stages for musical performances. Even though it’s the kids’ day out, booze flows free and the surprisingly heavily deployed police force decide to turn a blind eye just this once.

The atmostphere is festive, which makes sense as this is a festival, and there is a lot of dancing in the streets involved. And, well, there’s the booze and drugs, but who’s counting?

Click here to check out my pictures from the Notting Hill Festival of 24 Aug 2008.

The closing day (Monday) is the “real carnival”. Some floats from yesterday appear again in today’s parade. The parade is much, much longer though.

The people are dressed up like trees, animals and insects. It is like a celebration of spring or the mating season….the timing in august seem a little anachronistic though until you remember that large parts of Africa and Latin America are in the southern hemisphere, and the September marks the onset of spring. Then it all fits.

There are bright colors, loud music, large crowds, good cheer, people in costumes, raunch, and alcohol all around.

Many people living by the parade path have put up signs that they’d allow the revelers to use their toilet for the princely sum of £1. With the amount of alcohol flowing around, I’d say they probably are raking in the riches.

As the sun starts going down the crowd gets more and more tighly packed. Soon it gets to the point where I can’t move my fingers. The crowd is getting more and more boisterous and the manager of the trailer truck float by my side is getting more and more nervous – he is frantically barking into the megaphone, asking the crowds to stay away from the truck and the group’s performers to get on it. Suddenly, a huge wave of backwards motion overtakes the crowd, which is amazing as barely a moment ago there wasn’t even room to move. As I find my path out of the way of the stampede, I realize there has been a charge by the police.

As that is sinking in, I see some missiles flying through the sky. Some people at a safe distance are throwing bottles at the police. So the police charge again. And so it goes for 15 mts or so, with intermittent breaks of 30-40 seconds each. Interestingly, while there is a relatively huge deployment of police, none of them seem to have shields.

Anyhow, as I stand there, bemusedly contemplating this surprisingly surprising violent end to the alcohol-fuelled party, I see a guy rushing towards me, with several policemen in hot pursuit. Now, I am in a very narrow alley, and there is not enough room for both of us, and not enough time for me to move out. So I have no choice but to tackle the guy. He gets close, my hand goes up involuntarily, and he crashes to the ground. A split-second later the police is all over him. By some miracle, the police realize the happenstance for what it is, and don’t give me so much as a second glance.

A couple of minutes later, there is silence – the calm after the storm. Hopefully. Time to find the closest tube station. As I walk past a policewoman, I can’t resist asking, “Does it end like this every year?”

“Oh, usually is it worse.”

Hmm…back to my question: if a face-off was anticipated, how is it that the police didn’t have riot-shields?

Click here to check out my pictures from the Notting Hill Festival of 25 Aug 2008.

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