Apart from Christmas, the August bank holiday weekend is the time I most hanker for home. Not for the sunshine-filled evenings spent drinking beer outside one of Soho’s many fine drinking establishments, or for long languid days sprawled on the lawns of Regents Park. But for the sweaty, beer and bassline-fuelled antics of the Notting Hill Carnival.
This year, around one million people are expected to attend the two-day event which runs from Sunday to Monday.
Unfortunately, being in Australia, I won’t be one of them. But instead, I’m flashing back to my five favourite things about carnival:
1 – Curry goat
Is there anything better than a steaming plate of succulent goat meat flaked into a spicy mess, served with rice, peas, plantain and maybe a dumpling or two? Admittedly, I probably only get to indulge my curry goat obsession at carnival, but that makes me enjoy it all the more. And the queues may be long, and the portions may get smaller each year, but still nothing is more satisfying than that first meaty bite.
2 – Jerk chicken
After a goat curry binge, how can more food make it onto the list? But come the end of the day as the exhausted revellers make their way along the dishevelled, beer can-strewn streets of West London to the nearest tube station, their appetites start to return. Or mine does at any rate. And what better snack to fill that gap than a chargrilled, smokey sweet quarter of jerk chicken – preferably at a bargain price as the vendors clear their stalls.
3 – Red Stripe
My tipple of choice each year, the Jamaican lager is on sale everywhere – in the local off-licences, in the ice-filled trash cans on the corner of each street, even in the windows of many of the houses along the main routes. Although at other times of the year it is a little more tricky to track down, the amber nectar always tastes good to me. But at carnival it enters a whole new realm of deliciousness.
4 – Following the floats
They may not have the grandeur of Rio de Janeiro, but the vast floats that make their way along the roads of Notting Hill are still pretty impressive. Add to them a crowd in sequinned costumes, enthusiastically gyrating to the crazy soca beats and you’ve got a party on wheels. And unlike the sambodrome – where you watch the antics from a distance – here you can jump straight in and get involved.
5 – Soundsystems
Usual tactic – make a beeline for Good Times, get a big bag of Red Stripes and a bottle of rum, and stay put as Norman Jay’s iconic double decker bus pumps out tune after tune drawn from several decades of musical inspiration. It never fails. The crowd heaves, people go crazy and good times are had by all. But this year – he’s not there! Shock, horror. A luxury flat development has wiped out his spot leaving the esteemed gent no choice but to pull out. Same goes for Sancho Panza, also pushed out of the party by the demolition of the Victorian school that had become its annual base.
No doubt there’s no shortage of other contenders willing to take the carnival crown, but here’s hoping that both Good Times and Sancho Panza make a return for the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2016. Make it happen Laaaandaaaan!
Happy carnival to all – have a Red Stripe for me!