Photograph courtesy of Gerry Atkinson: https://www.gerryatkinson.com/
Being a member of the carnival committee isn’t exactly what I’d planned for my retirement. I’m supposed to be writing a book. Well I still am writing a book, sort of. It’s just that no actual writing is taking place. I’ve got half a chapter, lots of notes, and a ton of books to read.
The book is about Magic. When I said that at one of the committee meetings, someone asked, “is that magic with a c or magic with a k?”
There’s no difference. “Magick” is the archaic spelling of the word. It’s how Magic is spelt in Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary, first published in 1755.
The spelling was revived by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th Century in order to distinguish his own brand of ritual magic from the Harry Houdini stage-craft variety. My favourite story about him appears in a book about Austin Spare, the London artist and Crowley contemporary, who also practised Magic.
Crowley liked to assert that he could make himself invisible. One day he was marching up and down in the Café Royal in London, in full magical gear, with no one, apparently, paying any attention. A tourist asked a waiter who that was?
“Don’t worry,” said the waiter, “that’s just Mr. Crowley being invisible.”
Anyway, the reason I changed my mind about being on the committee is that I decided that Carnival is itself a magical act.
A friend of mine recently described me as “a Master of Time and Space”. It took me a while to figure out what he meant.
All human beings are masters of time and space. By making plans, by working with others, by fixing a date and a time and a geographical location, we will be able to co-ordinate ourselves so that – hopefully – something extraordinary will appear on the streets of our town.
The Carnival. Something with its roots deep in history. Deeper, even, that the 121 years of Whitstable history it has already claimed.
“Carnival is a tradition. It’s a spectacle. It’s a living pageant… if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.”
One of the things that drew me to it was the date: the first Saturday in August. That’s Lammas, the ancient Ango-Saxon fire-festival which marks the first harvest. It’s also Lughnasadh, celebration of the Celtic god Lugh, patron of skill, crafts and the arts, as well as oaths, truth and the law.
In recent years people had started to take the Carnival for granted. It became something that stopped the traffic and got in people’s way every August, that’s all.
Well I, too, have stopped the traffic on a number of occasions. I stopped the traffic in the 90s, when we demonstrated against the new Thanet Way. I stopped the traffic again in the early 2000s when we demonstrated against the Iraq War. I also stopped the traffic twice as a postal worker, when we were demonstrating against the closure of the delivery office.
This will be the first time I’ll have stopped the traffic demonstrating for something, as opposed to against something. We will be demonstrating for fun.
To make myself feel at home I plan to march the entire route chanting “What do we want? Carnival! When do we want it? Now!”
As to why Carnival is a magical act, here’s what I think: Carnival is a tradition. It’s a spectacle. It’s a living pageant. It will bring the people of Whitstable out onto the streets. Some of us will be dressed in silly clothing.
It will also be fun. It will be a laugh. We will be actively entertaining ourselves, as opposed to being passively entertained by the media.
And if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
The Whitstable Carnival takes place on August 3rd this year. Assemble corner of Pier Avenue /Northwood Road, Tankerton 5.00 pm. Set off 5.30. Finish Belmont Road approximately 7.30pm.
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From The Whitstable Gazette 11/04/19
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