J’Ouvert is one of the great mysteries of Carnival, often spoken about but rarely seen – because you have to get up seriously early to catch it.
The name comes from the French for ‘daybreak’ and in London it begins at 6am on Sunday 27 August. If you’re from outside the area, you’ll either have to set the alarm early and take a night bus, find a friend’s floor to sleep on or, if you have the stamina, spend the night at a fête – there are several that end at 3 – 4am (check socanews.com events).
Get yourself to the top end of Ladbroke Grove, by the junction with Canal Way (near Sainsbury’s), dressed in your most expendable clothing. Because this is going to get messy.
Sound policy is strictly old-school acoustic: no big trucks with stacks of speakers, but steelbands, iron bands, and bottle-and-spoon. Quite how many will turn up is the big unknown: there’s always an uneasy moment when you feel you could be there on your own. But then there’s the thrilling sound of ‘ting, ting, ting’ and a steelband starts to play. It’s relaxed at first, subdued even, and maybe you think, ‘Is that all there is to it’. But suddenly the sharp morning air erupts with colour. Thick splats of paint land all around you, powder, flour, even eggs fly and turn their targets into impressionistic walking, running, chipping, wining works of art.
The joy of J’Ouvert is that it retains an uninhibited freedom that we’ve long lost from our clean and well-ordered lives. It’s a link to our past selves, when fun was unconstrained and, well, just very messy!