Friday, 23 June 2017

Last Of The Summer Whine

August 25th 2014. It’s something I look back upon as a magical day, the culmination of another fantastic long weekend. Owing to the wettest carnival I had ever experienced, my cigarettes were destroyed, reduced to a soggy state, completely unusable. But it just became a comical scene in a weekend none of us will ever forget. Keith and I knew this couldn’t go on forever, but we were both enjoying ourselves far too much to call time on the “Clency and Keith Show” just yet. He’s five years older than me and I would often tease him that when he retired from the carnival life, I’d afford myself five additional years before following him from the stage.

photograph taken the day before of us at the Mastermind Stage had three generations of carnival goers in the same picture. We had reached the ultimate peak of our carnival experience. Our little troupe that had accumulated over the years continued to grow. 2008 had been just the two of us, but every subsequent year, somebody new would join our squad. They’d initially be sceptical; having previously endured an unpleasant carnival experience without us. However, we always insisted that nobody had done a carnival properly, unless it was with us.

So it came to pass as one by one, we added more and more to our ever-growing family of carnival regulars. And like clockwork, we’d use the Mastermind Stage as the meeting point before we would head off to other sound systems such as 4Play and the rest.  As I left my Notting Hill sidekick that evening, it had been on the same terms that we had done during the six years prior to that Monday: same time, same place next year?

Just over six months later, my dad passed away and overnight everything changed. I reflected deeply on the notion that “you never truly grow-up until you lose a parent”. Added to this was the looming reminder that I would soon be turning 35 years of age- something I had long regarded as being the symbolic start of “middle age”.  Analysing all of this together, I took a decision that I would no longer be participating in any future carnivals or festivals.  As I kept insisting, ‘Peter Pan’ was finally going to grow up.

What made the wound all the more painful related to the fact that my father’s birthday would always coincide with the period around Notting Hill Carnival. As I remember commenting in August 2015, it had always been such a happy time of year for me: sun shining, my dad’s birthday, football season starting and of course my carnival weekend. Now August felt like it would always be full of sorrow.

By August 2016 I had started to learn how to live with the loss. I even managed to summon up the spirit to spend the long weekend listening to soca thanks to my favourite DJ sending me over his mix from two years earlier. Unfortunately, this triggered a series of questions- will I come back to carnival? I didn’t say goodbye, do I need to return and do things properly?

Finally in March 2017, I reached a decision: I would participate in one more “wild summer” that would incorporate multiple carnivals and a festival weekend too. And then that would be that, I would carry through on my promise to turn my back on this stage of my life. I would do what I probably should have done when I had originally suggested it ahead of my 30th birthday in 2010: call time on my partying antics and grow-up (thank you Keith!)

Unfortunately as soon as I booked my ticket for the Detonate music festival in March, the questions were stacking up from friends. Why only one more summer? Shouldn’t I see how it goes and then take a final decision in September? The answer to that is probably something I have only stumbled upon relatively recently and I still don’t know how to adequately convey it, in terms of whether it is a negative or a positive attribute in my character. Nonetheless, it does go to the heart of who I am as a person.

I think the best way to describe the quirk is that I have always been someone who embraces something completely. So during the social drink-up’s and gatherings, it would never be a case of a glass of rum. It would have to be a bottle. When I became a Chagos activist, I wasn’t a part-time supporter who would dip in and out of the cause when time allowed. I fully immersed myself within the campaign, usually taking on far too much in the process. Indeed for several years people assumed I must be Chagossian because they couldn’t comprehend that anyone could be as dedicated without having a blood connection.

When I finally got into a habit of going gym, I couldn’t just be like others and go three or four times a week, I had to go consecutively for 117 days. And after starting the Labour door-knocking, it wasn’t enough to  do a bit of local canvassing in my neighbourhood. I had to go overboard and knock on doors as far as away as Bermondsey in south London, which coupled with my activities in Nottingham North, Nottingham South, Sherwood and Newark, meant I had clocked up an awful lot of miles by the time the election was over with.

Consequently I would never be someone who would be comfortable with “passing through” Notting Hill for a couple of hours on a Monday afternoon. If I am going Notting Hill, it would be the entire fanfare (most people think of it as a two-day event, but of course experienced heads like myself know that it starts on the Saturday night with Panorama) and would absolutely involve adding other carnivals to form the now infamous “bacchanal tour”.

Therefore calling time on my wild antics is a case of saving me from myself; in addition to growing up too. My personal history of carnivals is completely entwined with my dad, right back to August 1995 when he banned my 15 year old self from leaving the house as he knew I had conspired with friends the day before to be at Notting Hill on the Monday. Every year I would always text or call my dad after I had finished my fun. This served two functions, firstly to share my enthusiasm for what had always been a golden weekend packed full of momentous memories for me. But there was a second reason too, and we both knew it because he never stopped worrying about my welfare. It became an opportunity to reassure him, that I’m safe and sound and eagerly looking ahead to the next episode.

The hardest part of facing another carnival season is that element which will no longer be present; that end of the weekend conversation. It had become an outlet to share my euphoria with someone who could relate to my enjoyment, mainly because he’d done so many carnivals himself. Indeed, while we didn’t go together, he was at that final Notting Hill Carnival, accompanying his cousin who was visiting from Switzerland for the weekend.

It is somewhat daunting to appreciate that this will be a very different season. I won’t be using Tottenham as “my base” for example. Although fresh from my final festival two weeks ago, I approach Preston Carnival this weekend with optimism that even though it will be an emotional summer, it will be a great one. That some incredible memories are waiting to be created which will inspire stories for decades to come.  When I hang up my whistle and horn for good at the end of August, I’ll do so knowing I ended this chapter of my life the right way.

It didn’t feel right to end it as I did in August 2014 because I didn’t approach that day like it had been the end. This time, I know what lies ahead and can prepare myself accordingly. So that in September, I can look back without regrets. Hence, the only thing left to say is: let's do this!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Here Comes The Door-Knocker

“You've got the gift of the gab, Clency!”

There I am, stood in what could only be described as an Arctic rain shower! I wasn’t queuing up for the turnstiles at the Emirates, nor waiting to get into a bar to watch us take on Leicester in a critical Premier League match. Oh no. I had found myself in Sherwood, east Nottingham, on my sixth door-knocking session in seven days. It’s all part of a campaign for a local candidate in a Council by-election next week. When I actually write all that down, it comes across as some kind of punishment from God. Only it has not been anything of the sort. Remarkably it’s the complete opposite and most bizarrely of all; I cannot fully comprehend how much fun it’s been!

So how did we get here? Well before my father so rudely interrupted my writing hobby a little over two years ago, I’d found myself completely gushing from an experience watching a fledgling political party break new ground 7000 miles away in Mauritius. I dreamed of an alternative vision for the UK and had become exasperated by a political consensus in Britain.  I yearned for a day where an electorate would have a clear and defining choice.

For so long as I live, I will never forget the moment I heard that Jeremy Corbyn was putting together a bid to become the leader of the Labour Party.  What followed would be something that I now look back upon as the “summer of love”, where an unstoppable force emerged from nowhere to complete the most wonderful and unimaginable political fairy-tale of my life.

I’d be here for days recounting the whirlwind of the past two years and extraordinary people I’ve met and places I’ve visited, many of which I’d never been to in my life before. One of my oldest friends even went so far as to refer to me as a ‘Corbyn groupie’, such had been my tenacity to attend various rallies around the country.

There’s no doubt in my mind that nobody else in politics today could have inspired me like this. There is only probably one other public figure who I have as much time for, and he is so suspicious of politics as a whole that my wishy-washy fantasy of him becoming the MP for the part of London where I was raised, has less chance of being realised than his own football team winning a trophy any time soon!

Of course, the history between me and Corbyn is well documented. MP for where I did all of my schooling, our paths would cross several years later as I found myself immersed in the Chagossians quest for justice. Observing his work at close quarters further inspired my own efforts while working on the cause. Succinctly, there is no other Parliamentarian today who has more integrity, compassion or strength of convictions to lead this country. No other politician can inspire as much hope behind a desire for change.

And how this country needs to change!

To where I now find myself, knocking on doors for a potential Councillor who has identical political views to me. It has been an opportunity to ‘test the lyrics’, so to speak, and ensures that when I am on the doorstep campaigning for the General Election next month, I am able to convey my arguments confidently. Why wouldn’t I? I am canvassing (albeit indirectly under the political system we have here) for a Labour leader who if he becomes Prime Minister, would be a dream come true for me.

I honestly have no idea what the next few weeks will bring. The polls tell us this election is a foregone conclusion but they have been wrong about so many things in recent years that one can never truly take anything for granted anymore. What I do know is that I am going to throw everything I can (short of putting my day job on the line!) into this canvassing and see where it goes. Maybe this is the only time in my life I am ever involved like this and if that’s the case, I may as well put my all into it. Thus, I could look back in future knowing I tried everything. This doesn’t feel like a waste of time or a futile fight against a tide. It feels like my only chance to make something unbelievable, somehow become possible. I will dare to dream because I am honest enough to know that I don’t think anything like this will ever happen in my lifetime again. To coin a phrase my boss at work has a fondness to deploy, “I got one shot at this”. And judging by the feedback from some I have been out on the rounds with so far, I might actually be quite good at it too!


NB: It was always going to take something I felt super-passionate about to end my self-imposed writing exile.  I had spent the past two years after my dad’s untimely passing utilising my talents in other ways, helping my big sister edit her Midwifery thesis and assisting my Godchildren’s mother with her university assignments.  There were several occasions I thought I had come to the point where I would pick it up again, as early as the FA Cup final of 2015 in fact.  The adventures of Corbyn, became the fairy-tale that would’ve written itself, but still I couldn’t make that leap. Then there was brexit and the theft of Mauritian democracy, both of which equally riled me more than most will ever know. And yet it took being stood in an icy-rain shower on the streets of Nottingham to finally trigger the spark to write again….