Rachel Johnson's Diary: On Bank Holidays, May's dancing, and Cameron's converse
PUBLISHED: 13:30 31 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:02 31 August 2018
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I hate Bank Holidays – why, oh why, does Jeremy Corbyn think we want more? – but the last one in August is a real bastard.
It always rains over the weekend, and it’s always the Notting Hill Carnival. As a teenager I’d refuse to go on family villa holidays if they clashed, such was my fervid commitment to the fiesta, but now in the deep, deep peace of middle age I have become the person not who sneaks out of my house to go to parties but the one who sneaks out of parties to go to my house.
We live right in the middle of it. If you’re one of the million out-of-areas who come to drink Red Stripe, throw chicken bones in the gutter, dance to drum and bass, shake your goods in strips of Lurex, bust some moves in dental floss bikinis and use my front steps as a combined bin and urinal, it’s all good. One love.
If you live here, not so much. One year our sitting room ceiling fell in. I blamed the sound systems on all street corners that blared ‘music’ so loud it scrambled the brain in your skull.
One rare resident who stayed throughout (you have to carry ID and proof of address to get in and out of your own house) said to me: “I close my eyes and think of the Paris Commune, put in ear plugs and try to enjoy the siege mentality.”
All the residents who can, get out of town – to their second and third homes in favoured locations they refer to simply as ‘the country’, (usually colour-supplement-ready piles in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Suffolk, Devon/Somerset) or abroad.
There is minimal grumbling, oddly. This is because we know it’s payback. For in W11 live the Notting Hill Tories who brought you austerity, the bankers who brought you the financial crash, property owners, rich people, white people, you name it, and we know that the sort of groovers and shakers who made the area groovy and shaky have all sold up and moved to Acton, Kensal Rise, or the Bush decades ago. Not to mention the
Afro-Caribbean community that
were once the heart and soul of this ’hood.
And yet you can still spot David Cameron – who brought you Brexit – strolling in Converse in the Portobello Market.
Normal life stops. Shops are shored up with graffitied boards. Ladbroke Grove Tube closes and the buses stop running. Cars have to be moved.
And yet, by the Tuesday morning – apart from the rank stench in the air and dreadful stains on the pavements – it’s almost as if nothing happened.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has not had a gala year in brand terms, but credit must be paid. Given the epic ‘challenges’ of Carnival, they do a proper job.
Hundreds of street cleaners in hi-vis orange hazmat suits work all night on Sunday and Monday clearing the stinking drifts of litter and broken glass. Short of pressure-washing the actual pavements, they could hardly do more to try to make sure the mass celebration (the biggest community-led street party in the world) goes
with a swing while “reducing disruption to those who don’t attend”. It takes a year of preparation, and planning for the next one starts immediately (led by the incredible
The truth is, Notting Hill banksters may be smug and spoilt but do know how lucky they are. Forking out £500,000 for a party for a million strangers is a small cheque to pay for the privilege of living here. Call it payback, giving back – or revenge, depending on where you’re coming from (the Carnival this year
honoured Windrush and Grenfell).
But I still resent those thousands of pounds spent on the sitting room ceiling.
Maybe I’m being dim, but what exactly do the cheerleaders for the Chuck Chequers movement have in mind? Do they want the prime minister to come out with another exercise in magical thinking in which somehow the UK can continue to trade goods and agri-foods with the EU yet not be a rule taker? Do they want a hard Brexit and to crash out – an outcome of which the best that Theresa May can say is it “won’t be the worst thing in the world?” Do they want a general election? Or do they want us to chuck Chequers by having a People’s Vote on the deal as well as a parliamentary one, which would be something I could get behind?
Does anyone know anyone who could help me answer this perilous question?
PS, all those sniggering at TM’s Maybot dance, on a visit to a Cape Town school earlier this week, don’t get it at all. One, she was bad but not that bad. And two, everyone is terrified of people laughing at their ‘moves’. This is the most human she’s been in years. Her dad dancing has united the country.
Rachel Johnson is a columnist on the Mail on Sunday