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.
A 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!