Houses boarded up, a mixture of soggy bits of paper, puke and cigarette butts carpeting the streets, people in all kinds of bad states passed out in shop fronts if they were lucky, or just rolling around the very questionable floor garbling incomprehensible words. That's the sight I was met with when I arrived at the Notting Hill Carnival in the early afternoon of Bank Holiday Monday.
True, it was pissing down with rain for the most part, and true, it was the second day of the carnival, reputed to be the non-kids-friendly day. But it was far from the romanticized pictures you see on the official website or Instagram, angled and cropped strategically to cut out the ugly bits no one wants to think about.
On this Bank Holiday Monday, it has been reported that three people were stabbed, eight others suffered 'knife wounds' and two police officers were injured. This is an increase from last year, and "in some cases [the stabbings were] just centimetres from being a murder." On top of this, 157 arrests for assault, drug crime, criminal damage, sexual offences and possession of offensive weapons were made on the second day alone. A student was punched when she tried to stop a man from touching her. These things shouldn't be happening at a carnival.
Reading these reports following what I thought was a 'worth it' trip down to one of London's must-go events is chilling to say the least. In retrospect, it was only 'worth it' because of the friends I was with, and we're lucky nothing bad happened to any of us.
I guess we were also 'lucky' that it was raining, as we didn't have to experience the human crush this carnival is often associated with, and were able to move and dance freely to our leisure. Although it still took us more than an hour to work our way out of the maze that is the Carnival, but maybe that just came down to our poor navigational skills.
There certainly were good things about the day too. The jerk chicken was amazing and some of the elaborate costumes you get to see are phenomenal. People are generally very friendly and are there to have a good time.
But unfortunately, the negatives just completely outweigh the positives. From what I observed, there weren't any actual live performances, which can be excused by the rain, just groups of roped-off, costumed people bopping along after trucks blasting music. There weren't enough easily accessible bins - people just spit their chicken bones onto the ground and tossed their empty beer cans in any general direction, which made me wonder how long it takes to reinstate Notting Hill to its normal state.
People were peeing everywhere. There were portaloos, and of course there will be queues. But I suppose the combination of adrenaline, alcohol and drugs made most people lose any sense of patience and consideration, so many simply urinated all over certain Notting Hill residents' flower beds. Those were the unfortunate ones who didn't pre-plan for the mess and left their homes un-boarded up and bare to the public. I guess this is another reason to be thankful about British weather - we didn't have to suffer through a stench of urine and vomit as they were diluted by rainwater.
The piles of litter, boarded up buildings and lines of police officers made what is meant to be a beautiful part of London and a happy cultural celebration look like an alternate-universe war zone, and simply cemented the fact that year after year the streets of Notting Hill get trashed by revelers.
It's a shame that what had the potential to be a fantastic two-day carnival turned into this. There must be a shift in attitude from the general public for the Notting Hill Carnival to live up to its famous reputation as Europe's biggest street festival, come rain or shine. Sure, it's a great time to let your hair down and embrace a carnival atmosphere. But there is still a place for common decency and consideration to make everyone's experience a positive one.