For the carnival-lover, the last Monday in August is not the ‘August Bank Holiday’; it is Carnival Day, the climax of the 2023 season. It’s essentially a repeat, on a bigger, louder, brasher scale, of Children’s Day. The route and arrangements are the same, but the mas bands are much bigger, with many hundreds of participants in the largest groups.
However chaotic and wild they may appear, though, it’s not a free-for-all, because everyone has paid for their place – hence the ropes and security. A frontline costume can cost £400-£1000, inclusive of food, drink and goody bag, perhaps an afterparty too. The big party bands are commercial operations using imported costumes, but others stay true to the culture and traditions of Caribbean carnival, creating costumes by hand to illustrate, through mas, the chosen theme. It can be a social commentary, similar to a calypso, on injustice, politics or the environment. It could be historical, or may simply be ‘pretty mas’, expressed in quantities of sequins, beads and glittery fabrics.
As costumes have become skimpier, the behaviour on the road has become wilder. But don’t be fooled: this is licensed rudeness; no one should take what is not freely given. And, as they say, what happens at Carnival, stays at Carnival!
Despite the hyped hysteria, Carnival is as safe as Oxford Street, but a lot more fun, with nicer people and infinitely better dance moves and music. It does get very crowded, so arrive early, buy your food, choose a spot, settle down and enjoy. Avoid the mad jam of Ladbroke Grove after 5.30pm (unless you actually enjoy the ambience of the Tube in rush-hour). Above all, pace yourself: Carnival is a marathon not a sprint. And wear comfortable shoes!
But what to do on Tuesday? Make a resolution that in 2024 you’ll sign up with a steel or mas band. Because that, my friend, is the BEST way to enjoy Carnival!