I been thinking what is it I can do
All these feelings got me staring back at you
I been talking but you don’t hear me
Can I make it through somehow
—Take Me Away, Medics
Notting Hill is sunny in that innocuous way that sun shines in Babylondon, without the kick and sting that makes you imagine that the melanin in your shoulders is stretching little arms up to the sky and saying yes, yes. But it’s enough to make you smile and the familiar throb of soca reminds you that your heart is still beating, that you are living. That it is jouvay and thank Jah for Trinidad because then how would repressed white people get an opportunity to randomly wine on the streets? You watch the unbaptised, the unfamiliar with the rituals of the Carnival burn out a few streets down. They know nothing of chipping, that clever dance of energy conservation that helps you make it across the miles.
But they keep going because Carnival feels so good. Even though it’s only 13 degrees and the sun is doing a dollar wine with the clouds, coming in and out and in and out and then the rain comes down and it is not the warm sweet rain of home but an icy distant cousin that you’d rather not know. This is cleaner than oil, less smelly than natural gas. This Carnival that we have given the world. This claiming of the streets. And even the several thousand police officers that they put to line the streets, even they have to smile and look away from the sight of boomsies suddenly discovering the defiant joy of going down low, so low that the cold Babylondon asphalt is just centimetres away.
Even the police cannot escape the beat. And you catch those Bobbies trying to bop their funny round hats, that look like a mas themselves, to the beat. The sun comes out, properly. And gives you a little kick and sting and you think it can’t get better than this, then you hear a faint dudups coming up behind you and you turn around and four men are pulling a trailer of a riddim section, with the irons cleverly mounted on an ironing board. This Carnival we have given the world is sweeter than the fake mangoes you buy in Tesco, that have no smell of home.
This Carnival, if only we knew how much it meant, we would market it properly. And there isn’t a feather in sight and there are Sikhs jumping up in the band and a woman shouting to her children in Tagalog and your pardner the Wild Indian from Aranguez get so excited to see a riddim section that he play like if he want them to hear it home and so he buss the Guyanese man djembe. But it’s Carnival so they forgive him. And the rum is flowing and the love is flowing and I am thankful that Babylon’s powers that be didn’t ban the Carnival for fear of the restless natives.
The natives, you see, need the spiritual, emotional release. They need to be wutless and witless and raising their hands above their heads is just them doing yoga to increase the flow of blood to the heart, so that they remember that love is something that we all need sometimes. And you think about home, where the curfew is. Where the guns are. Where the anger is. You dread having to go home to restrictions. You dread having to control yourself. You wonder how come the people aren’t running amok on the streets during the day. You wonder if you can bear someone telling you where you can and can’t go and when.
From your position of watched freedom you wonder at why the only thing that’s being organised is curfew limes, why your friends report that Frankie’s on the Avenue is ram at 5 pm. From your position of freedom, you are thankful that you ran away when you did. So that you can walk the streets freely. With thousands of police. With CCTV cameras watching your every step. They are searching youths. Section 60 they call it. Criminal Justice and Public Order to tackle anti-social behaviour. And doesn’t mean they will charge you for not wanting to wine. The ropes are closing in. You can’t go that way. Your smartphone is suddenly stupid, the conspiracy theorists say the networks are being jammed so that youths can’t organise bacchanal.
It sours your Carnival experience. Reminds you that freedom comes with a high price, when you let somebody else define it for you. At the end of Carnival you walk the streets with your friends. And it’s like some post-Apocalyptic scene. The police blocking your way. The young people bleary-eyed from all the drugs they’ve taken for the past two days. The helicopters circle like mechanic cobos in a slate grey sky. The Carnival is over and the freedom you felt, like the warmth, is gone.
What replaces it is a kind of terror. That someone has allowed you to enjoy yourself. That this was not a joy of your own making. This is an undeclared cur-few. This is monitoring for the sake of it. Big Brother is watch-ing your every move. Like Big Tanty is now watching your news feed waiting for you to say something seditious, like Anand Ramlogan really desperately needs a hug. But the State, whether British or “Trinbagonian,” cannot control the desire for freedom. With fear or guns or cameras. The desire for freedom will win out ultimately. But it’s time to stop waiting for the next Carnival to be free.