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The Notting Hill Carnival
It was a real accolade when, on 25 August 1998, the British Post Office issued a set of four brightly coloured stamps celebrating the Notting Hill Carnival. The Post Office doesn't select its subjects lightly: events are carefully chosen to reflect only those aspects of contemporary British life which have become well established over time and well respected, too. When you view the stamps - denominations 20,26,43 and 63 pence - you might think there's something wrong with your vision, but worry not! The four brilliantly costumed Carnival dancers are shown moving, to give the one-dimensional images a feeling of energy and rhythm.

On a weekend every August, the Carnival, which rivals Rio de Janeiro for colour and spectacle, illuminates the streets of Notting Hill, an otherwise sedate suburb of London, with the sheer joyousness of Caribbean festivals. Attended by some 2 million people from around the world, the Carnival is in itself an act of faith by London's black community. Forty years ago, Notting Hill was the scene of Britain's first-ever racial riot and the first serious sign that some native British weren't too pleased to have the blacks living among them. Major immigration from the Caribbean had started only six years previously, in 1952, when blacks were invited to come to Britain to help solve a labour shortage. The difficulties of blacks living among a majority of whites have continued to this day, even though most British aren't involved in the racial baiting which still goes on and which has recently produced two sensational headline murders of blacks by whites.

The Carnival, today the major celebration of its type in Britain and Europe, was conceived as an antidote to all this, demonstrating the fascinations of Caribbean life, cuisine, dancing, costume and celebration. The event was the subject of disturbances early on, but today, it is meticulously organised and the British police are always there to keep an eye on potential troublemakers. Sometimes, the police get so caught up in the jolly atmosphere that they take part in the dancing, taste the delicious Caribbean food on offer and generally join in the spirit of carnival. That's as much of a good sign as the Carnival's appearance on British stamps.

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