Carnival can be quite stressful. Maybe it has something to do with the excessive amount of police and potentially raw chicken, or maybe it's that if you get there and realise you don't enjoy being walled in by literally hundreds of thousands of people it's going to take you at least 45 minutes to reach anywhere you can extend your arms fully without prodding a stranger in the eye. If it's too hot or too rainy or you're not drunk enough, it can feel a bit like your first sleepover, when you desperately wanted to go home and climb quietly into your single bed, but understood you could never admit that to anyone.
However, after a few attempts, you come to realise that Carnival is actually a pretty incredible event; once you get over the likelihood of a potential groping, you can enjoy it for the wonderful two-day trashing of a central London postcode that the vast majority of guests intend it to be. It's also on a bank holiday weekend, where your only other options are either being at Reading Festival (but you're not 15, so that's not appropriate) or not drinking a bottle of rum before 4PM, which is a choice no sane human should or would make.
Here, I've broken down a cross-section of people you should prepare to encounter along your way, some of them good, some them bad, some of them the types you should avoid at absolutely all costs.
Sadly, if there's one thing you need to anticipate at Carnival, it's being touched. I mean, the basic act of human contact is unavoidable; one of the event's defining features is being thrust down dead-end roads into a horrible soup of drunk people. But if you're female, you're also pretty likely to encounter the most unwelcome of strangers: the groper.
At some point throughout the day, you will, inevitably, feel someone slide up behind you and start gyrating around – which is fine if you're dancing in a dancing area, but when you're perfectly still, holding in a wee and scrolling through your phone, trying geo-locate your ex-boyfriend through Instagram, the grinding becomes groping and then it becomes gross.
A casually yelled: "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME RIGHT NOW" tends to send the groper reeling backwards. Alternatively, or additionally, alert the police, cos mate, that shit is illegal and fully not on.
There are two main kinds of entrepreneurs at Carnival: the ones who charge you £2 to use their loo, and the drug dealers. Both are useful. Somewhere in the middle are people who sell £6 rum punch off their doorsteps, but you don't need to know about them, because if you're not rolling up pre-stocked then you don't deserve to be there at all.
PEOPLE IN THE PARADE
People who are actually in the parade are there to remind you that your outfit was never really going to be good enough, and that you brought too much stuff, and that you're quite uncomfortable.
As they glide through Carnival, not looking for a working ATM, ambivalent to the total, inexplicable lack of phone reception, shaking their headpieces and enjoying themselves, you will gaze upon them like a true outsider. And then you'll realise that's exactly how they want you to feel. But the fact is: you're more drunk than they are, and you can go for a nice sit-down in Byron in Whiteleys for two hours whenever you want.
As is so often the case with outdoor summer events, large groups of drunk, obnoxious men tend to appear in the hope of totally ruining the experience for anyone who's decided to wear a bikini top. These guys have been pounding Oasis bottles filled with tepid vodka on the District line all morning, and are ready to swap human language for the depraved screech of a red, yellow and green whistle.
They do things like shout: "OH MY GOD, YOU'RE SO FIT, YOU'RE SO FIT!" in some poor woman's face while their friends fall about laughing, and then knock her over as they barge past in a stampede for pink plastic sunglasses. They're grabbers rather than gropers, so keep a keen eye out in case they try to swoop.
More pressingly, for these two days in late August, they temporary relinquish the concept of toilets or rubbish bins, so once they've roared on by, be really, really careful where you sit down.
Unfortunately, you can't go to Carnival without occasionally feeling the eyes of poshos burning into you and your natty, front-facing rucksack from their white stucco balconies in the sky. While there's still a strong Caribbean community in Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, there is also a strong community of people who are going to inherit swathes of Zone 1.
Like everything, the spectrum of poshos is nuanced, and it's important to know what kind you're dealing with. To identify a cool posho, listen out for phrases such as: "I run a successful scrunchie business," "Cara Dm'd me and said she was coming," "See you outside BOOM Burger, I'll be in full Adidas," and, of course, "I'm just dashing back to Westbourne Grove to shower and have supper with daddy."
Word of warning: judge all you want, but these people – these people who holiday in St Barths and inexplicably still wear hi-tops – will congregate after 11PM at the best parties in the biggest houses with the most drugs, so I highly suggest getting on side. Say you know them from that summer in you spent in Deia, or something.
Alternatively, you will find yourself cold, drunk and invite-free, ringing the bells of massive houses trying to find any party you can. We've all been there; that's cool. But if you're going to get past the blue-shirted Audi owner who answers the door, you might want to act a bit more square and a bit less like you're going to nick the NutriBullet as soon as they leave you alone in the downstairs kitchen.
By about 10PM, uncool poshos will be so gakked out of their minds they may genuinely consider letting you outer-London scum into their mansions, and a bit of smooth conversation might actually swing it. Try bonding over the wicked wristbands you got after joining the Alpha course, or waving to someone in a distant room and shouting "Tilly! Hi!" Also possibly mention you've got some "MD".CHILL MUMS
If I invited my mum to Carnival, she would a) try to drive there, b) try to park, and c) try to "do a quick shop for the week" in the Tesco on Portobello Road. I'm not saying she wouldn't have a great time (she wouldn't), but I am saying it would be an utter, catastrophic clash of worlds that would plague my nightmares for years as I repeatedly imagined her wandering curiously towards a sound system and then disappearing into a crowd.
Amazingly, there are mums in the world who aren't quite so incapable of going places without scolding large groups of strangers, and you should expect to see them at Carnival, prams in tow, and not let the total insanity of that worry your little mind.
You need to be careful with police during Carnival, because though some of them are happy to "let loose" and "get crazy!" while rapturous crowds video them for Twitter, others want to know what's in the pockets of your denim shorts and what's in your sock and what's clutched in your sweaty little hand. Your best move is to avoid making eye contact or any sudden movements. Sort of like you would a lion. A lion that's 3.2 times more likely to stop-and-search a black person.
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