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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 26 Aug 2008

Location: Southampton & Notting Hill, England

MapSo it was over two weeks that I didn’t leave the island, and then managed a flurry the following week, catching up with people that I hadn’t seen in a while night after night for dinner. The Friday night (15th August) was an interesting one at Dan’s (home made gnocchi) with Stef, Meg and Sue. Somehow after dinner we ended up at the gay pub up the road from Dan’s (well it is his local and he is of that persuasion…). I ended up crashing the night at Stef’s place and after a late breakfast of a traditional English cook up, headed home slowly.

The following weekend was the long weekend and in typical English fashion it was pretty miserable weather, though better than advertised. I headed in late Saturday and caught up with friends for the first part of the weekend. I spent most of Sunday night at Mark and Katrina’s playing Sing Star – man I was good! The game must be broken! Hahaha. Anyway, on Monday I headed to Notting Hill Carnival after catching a train from Mark and Katrina’s across London, showering and heading back into town. I managed to convince Stroudy to come in and left him waiting at the station for 40 minutes while I battled crowds, and closed tube lines trying to meet him. I could tell he was skeptical about the whole thing. Much like my initial thoughts, it would be a bunch of fairy floss and a few rides. That’s a carnival yeah? This was Europe’s biggest street parade with 50,000 performers wearing over 3,000,000 sequins. Second only in the world to Rio Carnival. And the atmosphere is insane.

It is not the carnival parade that keeps me coming back, but the sound systems. It is the towers of speakers on street corners sucking more juice out of the national grid than you could imagine, and blasting an amazing array of tunes. Everything from reggae, R&B, hip-hop, blues, Latin, salsa, garage, grime, 2-step, big beat, dance, commercial and trance is being played. If you don’t like what you hear, walk away and in 2 minute you will pass something else, which may take your fancy.

Plus, it is another great English event in which drinking on the street is widely permitted, even encouraged. People are cooking BBQ’s and selling beer in the front gardens of their terrace houses. Other will let you use their bathroom for a pound or two, definitely a booming business for the weekend. Each year though, the festival seems marred by violence, usually right at the end after the sound systems have shut down – around 7 pm on the Monday evening. This year there was a massive riot at Ladbroke Grove tube station around 9 pm, thankfully I'd passed through there about an hour beforehand. Next year, aside from hoping for a sunnier day, the only thing I would do differently would be to take the Tuesday off work and spend the evening in London.