Having listened to ‘mixed reviews’ on the Notting Hill Carnival since arriving in London (these fluctuate between an aggressively traumatic war zone or the best street party of your life, nothing in between), I felt a tickle of compulsion to see it for myself this year.
I shoved my proper camera into my bag, always an act of faith that I am about to bear witness to raw brilliance, and set off on the twenty minute walk towards Notting Hill. On the way I passed a few stray souls who were struggling to stay vertical. Usually dodging eye contact with the dangerously pissed might be unnerving but when on the way to a festival it seems to have the opposite effect - a preview of upcoming attractions. My anticipation buzzed for those electric pushy crowds, belly-vibrating music, and sun-sparkling costumes.
I arrived to find street sweepers, confused tourists, graffitied wooden panels being pulled from shop windows, and nothing else. Kerbside plastic cups and cans marked the empty shell of a party long over. It transpires Carnival is a day event. It was now almost eight in the deep evening. I put my camera back in my bag.
As I trundled towards home I passed a Mediterranean family who were not sure of where they were going and were very tired of not getting there. The father took charge as he asked me in hard-fought english if there was a ‘typical’ street nearby. ‘Typical’ was a key word he’d learned and so kept repeating it in a variety of tones. ‘Typical? Typical… Typical!… a TYPICAL street?’
I directed them to Portobello road and tried to explain it was the one from the film - which I had presumed was what led them to this part of town. But their faces remained clouded. I ploughed on. ’Hugh Grant? Julia Roberts?’
‘Ah Julia Roberts!’ the father’s face leap from question mark to exclamation and he checked the directions again - ‘The second road on right? The second!! Ok we go!’ He lead the kids and wife away, now strengthened by his mission. It was only when they disappeared from view that I realised I was not the only one who would be sorely disappointed by Notting Hill that day. All they would find there were street sweepers, weary shopkeepers, and equally confused tourists - perhaps ones who had also been sent on a misguided hunt for toothy Hollywood royalty.
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