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EDITIONS
Monday, 26 August, 2002, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
Clouds, crowds and dancing
Festival dancers
Carnival colour: Costumes prove a feast for the eyes

The first thing you notice on arriving at Notting Hill's 38th annual carnival is the noise.

Whistles, megaphones, loudspeakers, drums - you name it and it's audible.

All combine into an irresistible wave of sound seeping down the escalators and onto the Underground platforms.

"I didn't expect this," admits one slightly overwhelmed Canadian tourist as we queue together to exit Notting Hill Gate station in west London.

"I knew it was meant to be big and all - but this, well..."

Her voice trails off as orange-emblazoned London Underground staff shepherd us outside.

Inclusive

The most wonderful thing about the carnival, especially these days, is that it feels like a true "reclaiming" of the streets.

Dragon
The carnival is a showcase for some wacky designs
For most of the year, Notting Hill is one of the capital's most well-heeled districts, packed with exclusive apartments and designer stores.

However, during the carnival, the borough harks back to a more inclusive London.

It's also a popular misconception that residents flee for the countryside during the Bank Holiday festivities.

Toilet fee

Ruth Kirk, who lives only minutes from the main parade route, said the event was a wonderful bonus.

"It's great being here," she says. "At times, it feels like the house is shaking but it's an amazing atmosphere.

"We've already had about six people using our toilet - all of them girls though.

"Some people are even charging 1".

Festival spectators
Revellers soak up the carnival atmosphere

Her partner Matt Neale said they had been dancing in the street at the weekend but had been put off by Monday's cooler weather.

"We've been lucky, " he added "This road's relatively quiet. They've been told to turn it down over there."

He gestures towards a growing street party, centred around an impromptu set of DJ decks and speakers pumping music from the steps of one house.

After grabbing some jerk chicken, or perhaps a piece of barbecued corn, most people head for the parade.

This is, after all, the carnival's heartbeat as it wends its way through Westbourne Grove.

With every ornate creation - a dolphin one moment, a dragon the next - necks are craned and cameras desperately flung in the air in the hope of a memento.

'Problem' weather

Brad Davies, a visitor from Michigan, said the atmosphere had been incredible.

He had come for the first time, not knowing what to expect.

"The amount of work that has gone into some of these costumes is amazing," he said.

"The only problem is the weather - it doesn't feel too Caribbean with a sweatshirt on."

Despite the drizzle, the carnival threw up a host of wonderful images to warm the hardest of hearts - couples hugging, an inept juggler still attracting applause, a Mohican-clad punk spilling curry sauce down his top, and an 80-year-old, parked up in her wheelchair, waving a Jamaican flag at every passing float.

In the annual flood of arrest statistics and route-change discussions, these things tend to get lost.

But that would be a great shame - they are what make Europe's biggest outdoor street party what it is.


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26 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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