Saturday, 10 December 2016

Notting Hill Carnival and house sit: Hot Town, Samba In the City

Notting Hill, London, United Kingdom
Having heard of Notting Hill only in reference to Portobello Road Market, we jumped at the opportunity to accept a ten-day house sit there. 
We were to look after two Tonkinese cats - a mix between Siamese and Burmese. They weren't related, but were very good friends and would groom each other. The female cat, Roxy, was fully grown, but tiny! She was the size of a kitten and the Siamese in her meant she had very fine bones - the most delicate cat I've met. Despite her small figure, she was something of a wild one and would leap about outside in the garden and disappear over the fence to explore nearby yards. Memphis, on the other hand, was a bit more of a homebody and would follow us around the house.

It was typical for Memphis to hang out near you on the sofa or the bed, but Roxy often kept her distance. Once she got used to us she did sometimes approach us, but she never stayed put for long. The photo above was taken during a rare moment of her lounging on my legs. Fun fact: at the time, I was editing my first ever paid writing work - a short story in the genre 'gay paranormal romance' (not my preference, but good practice nonetheless). I got ten dollars! It's not so much the money that excited me, but the fact that I can now call myself a professional writer. Hashtag profesh.

Aside from visiting the Portobello Road Market (a post for another time perhaps), we didn't explore much of Notting Hill while we were there. The area definitely had a more affluent feel, and many of the houses were grand and painted beautifully, but we alas didn't make use of our time in the area to explore. Shortly afterward leaving our house sit, we visited the Notting Hill Carnival - an annual event celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture. A large area had been cordoned off to traffic for the carnival, meaning that some parts of Portobello Road were nearly deserted! This was a mind-blowing sight as we had previously only seen it during the busy market when the whole road teems with people hunting for antiques and nibbles.

Vendors were out in full force, selling flags, flower head bands, whistles (parents were giving them to their children to use freely - so annoying), shirts, comedic hats, leis and more. We also spotted that some residents in the area had put out signs stating that their loo could be used, which is a great way to make a few extra pounds. The most expensive on offer that I found was for £2. For that price I'd save up to do a poo - no wee is worth that.

Before attending the carnival, we were a little confused as the website states that the parade goes from 8am into the evening. But how can a parade go that long? Do the floats repeat the circuit for hours upon hours? Surely they would need breaks.

So we asked an attendant in a high-visibility vest and she told us that throughout the day various floats would drift past with around 15 minutes between each one. The first group that we saw was Batala, who pounded rhythmically on large drums and were followed by samba dancers in swishy skirts. At a particularly dramatic part in the music, the strongest members of the group held their drums aloft in one hand and carried on beating it with the other! They were the ones with big muscles.

Many of the groups had impressive costumes, though this was one of the best I saw that day. The most souped-up dancers had fake feathers fanning out all over the place, the highest heels imaginable and bright colours. Many reminded me of photos I've seen of Rio Carnival.

Samba groups were common, with men and women swaying and leaping to the music their speakers broadcast. Yannick managed to catch this dancer in mid-flourish.

While some performers stayed silent, preferring to perfect their enthusiastic smile, some sang along to the music.

The carnival has been going since 1966 and unfortunately, rowdy behaviour has only been increasing.  As we walked around the carnival, I saw more police than I ever had in my life. It was easy to tell that they were doing all they could to try and stymie dangerous activities by being a large presence. This year, the carnival saw over 450 arrests and 5 stabbings, leading the police force to strongly reconsider allowing the event to take place in the future. This is understandable, but sad as with around a million spectators at the event each year, the Notting Hill Carnival is one of the largest street parties in the world. Apparently most of the rowdiness occurred on the Saturday, whereas we visited on the Sunday and saw no untoward behaviour whatsoever. This could be due to the parade taking place on Sunday and therefore being a more family-friendly day in general.

This guy was amazing - how did he not overheat in that get-up?! To me he resembled an Aztec god like Huitzilopochtli.

One of the most bizarre performers I saw was a man dressed in an outrageous opera-type costume complete with giant puffy dress, two-tiered hairdo with tiaras (his friend behind him had three), metallic eyebrows, crimson fan, and full beard. As soon as I saw him I was at a loss for words and just stared as he swished past. I think he was my favourite. He was just so fascinating.
As Yannick and Fabienne ate some Caribbean food for lunch, I went off down the road to visit a couple of poke-stops and catch a Krabby (yes, I have taken up Pokemon GO) as I wasn't yet hungry. We managed to walk through the Carnival to a tube stop and board a train back to our flat without getting stabbed, so that's a plus. 

Today's post was almost called: 'Entrepreneurs In Loo of Public Facilities'