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A Big Day Out at... Notting Hill Carnival!

Saying goodbye to another London summer by covering its streets in piss and hanging out with reality TV stars.
August 29, 2012, 7:00am

After a summer spent beneath ashtray skies basking in the achievements of Olympians, it was time for the sun to shine on London's liver-shot mortals. These sporting events, they aren't for the likes of us, we tried to get involved but we just ended up throwing bottles at the men's 100m final and making fun of Tom Daley's voice. Which is kind of why Notting Hill Carnival has always been my favourite weekend of the year; a proletariat street party that the bastards would probably stop if people weren't so ready to riot over it.

Carnival is like a dress rehearsal for a post-coup London, a social experiment that no one's ever been sober enough to remember the results of. In 2012, it feels strangely archaic; a harking back to the days when you could piss and fuck in the streets without some CSPO coming along and issuing you with a fixed penalty notice. In some ways, it represents the distant past and the not-so-distant future of this city. It's part Medieval, part post-apocalyptic, and all London.

Seeing as Monday (traditionally the more intense of the two days) was predicted to be a bit of a wash out with the Belfast-in-October weather we've been having, it made sense to me to make Sunday the big one. I can hear the purists seething, but I had my reasons. Namely that British people respond to booze and humidity like dogs respond to hurricanes.

Stumbling midway into Carnival is like stumbling into the end of a civil war. Everybody's partying, but nobody can contact each other because the phone lines are fucked. After an hour and a half, VICE photographer Jake and I bumped into each other at King Tubby's, a place for people who want their innards to expand and contract in all sorts of weird directions like one of those Microsoft screensavers that make stoned students join cults, except taking place within your own body. Walking back onto the quiet side-roads was like stepping off a broken fairground waltzer.

Foolishly, all that walking around by myself (hi, loneliness) and the heat had made me drink my entire stash of booze before the sun's rays curdled the amber nectar into microwaved soup. As you can see from this picture, this is never a good idea at Carnival.

And, as you can see from this picture, pissing in places where there aren't at least five other people already pissing is also a bad idea, because there are more police at Carnival than at a rapper's funeral.

I'd always hoped my first arrest would be something glamorous, winking at a beautiful girl as I was led away in cuffs or something. But sadly I was pissing against a wall and I wasn't even arrested. They asked me how I'd like it if I found somebody pissing against my wall, and while I kind of wanted to say something along the lines of "Well, I'd probably take it as part and parcel of living in a six bedroom house in W11, and it's only two days a year," faced with the Hendon glare I just sort of grunted.

After my brush with the boys in blue, I decided to head for the Gaz's Rockin' Blues soundsystem, thinking that, with its clientele of Essex-to-Camden weekend taxi drunks, I'd now be the streetest person there. I breathed the free air of a free man, hoping my newfound criminality would rub off on the boutique cupcake loving crowd; I had delusions of bopping in like DMX at a village fête, I wanted to pen a deal for a true crime autobiography. But sadly, my thug dreams were ruined. It may have been "family day", but the pram carrying tipped the atmosphere over into self-parody. It was like being in an episode of Outnumbered directed by Don Letts.

Sadly all the straw hats, skiffle numbers and "shout outs to Amy" proved too much for some of the more tasteful clientele. Seeing 50-year-old men trying to "punk up" ska classics is enough to have most people baking pavement pizza.

I'm not sure who this guy was, but he spent most of the afternoon overlooking the proceedings at Gaz's like a bad vibe magnet, sucking up all negativity so that we didn't have to endure it ourselves. I could have sworn I'd seen him before somewhere though, quite possibly playing Steven Seagal's wise father in one of his environmental movies. Either way, you gotta have some respect for a man who can wear an all-black, partly leather outfit in 23-degree heat.

Think David Rodigan is the oldest skanker in town? You're wrong, because this man is in fact David Rodigan's dad. He only comes on Sunday, though.

There's nothing worse than parents who make their kids do shit like this. Morally, it's really no better than getting your child to give a cutesy speech at the Tory Party conference. They aren't old enough to understand what dancing to a crowd of guffawing Antipodeans and broody Chelsea types at Gaz's Rockin' Blues really means. Your children aren't capable of finding the right path for themselves yet; don't send them down the same path that led to you wearing yellow jeans in 2012.

It's not a particularly profound thing to say, but you gotta wonder what people with hipster sleeve tattoos are going to tell their grandkids. It's all very well grizzled old bikers and war vets explaining the stories behind the art inked across their haggard skin, but what's the guy on the left going to tell them? That he kind of wanted to look a bit like Wiz Khalifa? That they complimented his snapback collection? One day this man will have to explain to his offspring's offspring who Yelawolf was. Which is reason enough to buy his one-way ticket to Switzerland early.

Punk kids these days should really brush up on their cultural history. One of you looks like one of The Warriors, the other looks like you tour in a freegan circus. Go throw bottles at each other or something.

Now this is a look I can get with. It's The Hurt Locker meets Vybz Kartel meets the Spring/Summer Gareth Pugh collection. The perfect look for Carnival, really, as the event is basically part guerrilla war, part Tivoli Gardens yard party and part London Fashion Week show. Unless he was an actual soldier who's ended up on one hell of a detour back to Sandhurst.

A cape, on the other hand, is a step too far. Unless you're Grace Jones, Dani Filth or Rick Astley, you'll just end up looking like a horny teenage street magician or somebody who's been evacuated from Toni & Guy midway through a haircut due to a fire drill.

These garage doors had been taking a hammering all day, and by this point, the pervading scent was one of an abandoned swimming pool slept in by vagrants. I'm sorry if there's a lot of piss in this article, but there's a lot of piss at Carnival. And there's a lot of piss because there's a lot of beer and not many toilets.

See what I mean? Even the girls were getting in on the act. Eight plastic cups of watery Carnival punch will strip the ladylike veneer from even the daintiest of damsels; you get off at Ladbroke Grove as a Jane Austen character, you come back as Charlotte Church on New Year's Eve, no exceptions.

Weirdly, a big group of people had decided to stand right near the piss garages huffing laughing gas. I don't know why you'd wanna stand near an open-air toilet deeply breathing in and out for ages. I guess the stench just marked it out for them as a place of lawlessness.

The privileged locals looked down on the chaos unfolding below them like Neros in chinos, fiddling with their champagne corks while the rest of W11 began to peel from the ammonia fumes and distant basslines. They headed for their marble hills like deposed dictators to chinooks, waving at the ones they'd left behind.

The people who'd woken up early to get a headstart on the drinking began to crash as the sun set, their blue binbags flapping around them like the treasured possessions of dead, alcoholic pharaohs. Still, at least they'd be on better form for the Monday than I would. Even if they got their shoes stolen.

The thing about mass street drinking is that it justifies the actions of those who do it every day, rain or shine. You know how alcoholics always want to talk to you in the park? Well Carnival is like the whole of London has entered their metaphorical park, and now they want to talk. Thus you get the annual situation of people who would usually tell this guy they'd used up all their change quite happily sitting next to him, because for one day only, they're in the same boat. Blind drunk on the streets of London with nowhere to go.

The afterparty we ended up at was pretty much the summit of everything that people from Yorkshire hate about Londoners, and thus pretty brilliant. There were people in bands you've sort of heard of, beautiful girls, a convertible in the driveway and people in ridiculous clothes. And really, what the fuck else was I going to do? Jump on the tube home and pass out to The Football League Show safe in the knowledge that I'm "down to earth"? Fuck that.

*Anyway, glamour is not only contagious but also conducive to creativity. Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote used to do blow at Studio 54 with the Lindsey Lohans of his day.

*I have included this part only as justification for what happens next.

Yup, that is Made In Chelsea's Francis Boulle, in an Obey hat. God knows how he got there and who he was with, but it's him alright. He may look more like a student union hip-hop DJ than his suave televisual avatar, but it was good to know that, even though all the soundsystems had been put to bed for the night, there was still time to Chelsea dagger.

His MIC partner in crime "Proudlock", meanwhile, had come dressed somewhere between Jude Law and an 80s Floridian coke baron. Which needless to say, is a strong fucking look.

After a few more hours of Spotify house and wide-eyed bragging, I was beginning to echo this guy's sentiments. The day may have ended in the ludicrous Fitzgeraldian glamour of hanging out with reality TV stars, but it had started out with pure intentions.

Despite the heavy policing, carpet-bomb sponsorship from brands trying to seem more "urban", knife fights and vest-wearing, Carnival remains a surreal, baffling mirage in the emotional desert that is London. Not even the people who organise it really seem to understand it. It's a catwalk of all of life, a surprise lurking round every street corner. It's precisely the reason I'll probably always call this city home. Because for all its flaws, London can still be a uniquely exciting place.

Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive

Photos: Jake Lewis and Holly Lucas

Miss Carnival because you were at Reading? We had cameras there, too.

Previous Big Days and Nights Out:

…at Britain's Biggest Emo Club!

…with London Goths!

…at a Central London Indie Disco!

…with Moscow's Young Elite!

…with Britain's Biggest Lads?

More Carnival:

How to Conquer Notting Hill Carnival