Sarah and Tom planned the day for us and I suddenly remembered what it was like to have friends. Sarah texted us that we should pop by at one for drinks and nibbles, then we’d all head over to the Carnival together, to the secret spot new The Cow pub where the frantic crowds wouldn’t smoosh us, where we’d get a good look at the dancers and floats.
At the parade, I did what I always do: made myself small and got a spot right up the front. Sarah, Kate, Colin, Tom and Georgina and the others stood at the back, on the curb, and looked over the heads. I can’t see over heads, so I regress into child-status and make my own way to the front.
The wall-less semis turned the corner, speakers stacks aimed at us. The bass vibrated in our chests. Participants, on the other side of the barricade, walked, chatted, danced. They went by. Most everyone on my side of the cattle gates just stood and stared, watched. No one interacted. Only one DJ or two said “Let me hear you scream,” then a half-hearted “Ahh!” would drift upwards. No one waved or called to us. No one ran close and slapped our hands or threw candy. The semis and the strings of dancers just went by as if we weren’t there at all.
One lorry after another went by, packed to the ceilings with hi-fi equipment more fit for stadiums than street corners. The little girl next to me plugged her ears and watched as a truck passed by: a man lolled on top of a speaker, looking out at all the people, unsmiling.
One truck growled toward us, its grill covered by a huge yellow banner “sponsored by Western Union.” Dancers chased after it and swarmed around it. A few girls wore carnival costumes, but most dancers were just covered in yellow bandanas and red t-shirts, everything wrapped, tied and torn around them. Everywhere the fabric read: Western Union. And I wondered as the dancers chased the moving speaker wall and we stared at them going by: whose Carnival is this?
After a little while, we retreated away from the frontline and camped out on a curb, closer to The Cow. We formed a circle in the sunshine and gabbed, people-watched and drank expensive beers. Buying £3.50 Red Stripe from The Cow gave us loo privileges.
It was Carnival, written about and touted the world over, one of the largest street festivals anywhere. A celebration of Caribbean culture and alternative lifestyles. Tom passed around a joint. The cops on horses nearby called out to us: not to stop the use of illegal substances, but to mind ourselves as a truck needed to turn around.
Sarah scratched the horses’ upper lips and they loved it. We all seemed to enjoy their company more than the corporate mob—all sound and the fury, signifying nothing—turning the corner nearby. The horses rolled their eyes and they clicked their teeth. One mad man walked right up to the white mare and licked its face all over, until the horse licked his mouth back.
Children reached their hands up, then squealed and jumped when the horse used its nose to look for a snack in their tiny hands. Orientals and Caucasians and Blacks, in all kinds of clothes, stopped and stood with the animals, for a photo. The horses peed and defecated on the cobbled street and we just watched, minding the stream didn’t come our way. In way, it was soothing to have them near. We weren’t worried for our safety. We didn’t care whether we had police protecting us. It was just the lovely sight of gleaming horseflesh, and the sound of wet snorts in the crowd and noise: it was comforting.
The glorious creatures, you never realize until you stand next to horses just how enormous they are, or how well made for man they are.