Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Culture: Leeds festival and West Indian carnival

Monday morning I woke up in a soggy tent in a mud plastered sleeping bag. The early morning sunlight shining through the walls, giving everything a hue of blue and making the small, material room hot and humid.

Leeds Festival.

I lazily packed up my ruined belongings and trekked my ruined self across the site, through the mud that clung like treacle and felt like walking upstream through a river, to the comforting familiarity of my dad's car.

Once home, I submerged my whole body into a steaming hot bath and just lay there for a long time, appreciating the solidarity and silence. The boiling hot water felt chemically cleansing as it melted all the dirt off me and slightly burnt my skin, in a refreshing, raw way.

Leeds Festival had been a struggle for me this year in many ways. From a young age I have loved squeezing my way through tight crowds to hear the cacophonous banging of a band, the sweat on my skin, the beer in my hair and the ringing sound in my ear just being souvenirs of an experience. But this year I have been plagued with 'What if?' worries and an ever-present fear of the unpredictable people crashing into me. I also beat my self up in a pressure to 'have a good time', constantly worrying that I'm not making the most of the festival and that I should be doing certain things that are the basis of 'a good time', I can't even explain it, but basically my head was constantly whirring, wondering what a happy, normal person would be doing right now. The stupid thing is that maybe if I stopped worrying so much about being happy, I would probably be an awful lot happier...

Thanks to good friends, living close enough to go home for a bath and walk the dogs each morning and having a Guest wristband so I was able to use normal toilets there, I did manage to have a great time on the whole. But Monday all I needed to do was chill out and relax.

Me? Relax and chill out and do nothing all day?! Think again.

Leeds West-Indian Carnival

Me and my dad forced ourselves into my little Micra, which was like a Microwave from sitting in the sun for days, and I drove us across the hellish roads of Harehills (where it seems every pedestrian has a death wish) to Leeds' West-Indies carnival!

It's the longest running one in all of Europe and every year my mum works it and yet I had never gone. I was very excited.

As I entered the park, with the blazing sunshine hitting my head, I was overwhelmed by the sudden culture change. I had just left a festival populated by upper-middle-class white teenagers, who all wear a uniform of Levis hot-pants and wellies, who all seemed to be pasty ill from alcohol, drugs and bad weather, who all pushed and shoved with a sense of superiority because they are young and drunk, and entered a world of heat, health, colour, and happiness.

I don't think words can describe the feeling of being here.

But I'll give it a try.

You walk down a footpath enclosed by tall shady trees that cast patterns on the masses of people below and when you close your eyes the patterns are still there on your eyelids.

You pass people from a vast variety of backgrounds. Young families pushing their tiny toddlers past old men smoking next to local teenagers laughing and everyone is so colourful and unique and yet they all slot together so perfectly with no animosity, because this is a happy day.

You look up and through the gaps in the trees the sunlight has made a beam that looks like how heaven is pictured. The stunning light is made thick and almost touchable as the smoke from a BBQ cooking spicy chicken and corn on the cobs rises through it.

The smells of smoking food, sweet sugar cane, fluorescent watermelon and hot, busy bodies is intense and the heat on your face is glorious.

Splashes of colour hint at whats to come in the parade via stalls selling wild flags and vibrant clothing and multicoloured balloons from a religious stall offering free cake along with answers about life have escaped everywhere and are floating into the vast blue sky along with children's bubbles.

Then comes the parade itself.

Glitter and feathers shine out at you next to lots of flesh from women so confident and happy, you feel almost alien in comparison as you watch them from behind the barrier. 

Young girls dance so wildly while yelling and laughing and music blasts out of speakers on the back of the floats, so bouncy and happy your whole body starts dancing along and so everyone in the crowds feels a part of the celebrations.

Flags are waving everywhere, occasionally fanning much needed air on your face.

Gravity defying outfits bounce down the road, the extravagance and wonder of them almost making you forget that there is a person supporting them.

it must be hard being a spice rack in this heat

proof that cable ties fix everything

Random people walk alongside the dancers too, mums and grandmas and young children eager to be involved, and when the parade has ended much of the crowd joins on too, mostly local young people following the booming speakers like a traveling nightclub.

hitching a ride

When it was all over we got some food. Even as we had been driving there I had noticed lots of people who live on the parade route suddenly transforming their front patio into a makeshift bar, totally illegal, but the police just turn a blind eye and laugh along with the happy, opportunistic locals. Similarly, little food stalls, nearly all of them attached to some Caribbean woman's name, popped up everywhere. I got some amazing jerk chicken, with spicy rice and beans and coleslaw and salad.

Even after the parade has left there are plenty of rides and attractions keeping everyone entertained in the glorious bank holiday sunshine.
I look so vanilla in comparison

The whole day was just bursting with life, colour and culture, happiness and a welcoming atmosphere. It contrasted so much with where I live, where everyone is white and there's village gossip and everyone knows everyone, or at least thinks they do because they've heard rumours.

And the funny thing is, we nearly ended up living right here in this park where the carnival is, and it makes me wonder how different my life might have been, how different I might have been. But as my dad said to me, "you are who you are".

Time for a rest I think.