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.