It’s Friday 5th August as I’m writing this, the last day before the carnival. The sun is out and the prospects for a wonderful event this year are looking good.
Yesterday morning I leafleted along Pier Avenue and Northwood Road asking residents not to park on the left hand side of the road, in order to allow space for the carnival to assemble on Saturday. Later, in the evening, Rick West went to collect traffic cones from Minster, where they are stored. Later today, Belinda Murray and Tara Ballard will put the cones out along the same two roads in the hope it will discourage people from parking there.
Also yesterday Emily Firmin met up with volunteers at the East Kent pub to discuss costumes for the Total Pap float. The day before that Rick West, Nick Dent and about 20 more volunteers met with Rob Holness of Invicta Marshals to discuss road closures and traffic arrangements. And on Tuesday we had the last official committee meeting of the Whitstable Carnival Association before the big day. Nick Dent, Belinda Murray, Colin Gotts, Rick West, Tara Ballard, Gary Hunter and Mandy Hanscomb-Hardy were all in attendance. We got through business is super quick time. Everyone was on the case, volunteering for jobs and working out the order of business for the day.
This is what carnival is all about: people volunteering to give up their time, to do work, for no other reason than that we all want to see a successful carnival this year.
Carnival is a community endeavour. It is for, by and of the people of Whitstable. In this age of rank commersialism and dwindling resources, the carnival stands out. It is about sharing with people, not exploiting them. We give our time for nothing, for no other reason than the sheer joy of the giving: because it is fun, because it matters, because it brings the town together, because it is a celebration of who we are, both as individuals, and as a community.
Take a look at this film from the 2019 carnival.
Look at the faces. Do you see anyone miserable? Do you see anyone unhappy? No. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is beaming. The joy on people’s faces is palpable. Whenever I feel a little down, or when the pressures of the organisation get too much for me, I take a look at this film, to remind myself why I am doing it, to remind myself what it is for.
Carnival is a magical act. I mean that literally. It is magic, as defined in the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary: something that seems to cast a spell, an enchantment. Yes, that’s what we are doing. We are casting a spell. It is a binding spell. It binds the town together. It’s an enchantment. It enchants the mind. No one who sees the carnival pass by will ever forget it. It will plant itself in the deepest part of people’s consciousness, in the recesses of the imagination, where it will live, as part of themselves, as a measure of what true joy can be. The joy of sharing. The joy of engaging. The joy of being a part of something greater than yourself.
This is real joy: the joy that shatters the illusion of separateness that divides us, and shows that we are all one in our common humanity. People say that the carnival should not be political, but it IS political. By it’s very nature it’s political. It is from the people. It’s origins lie in the festivals of reversal that used to pepper the sacred year: times when the beggar would be made king for a day, when the poorest and lowliest became elevated in status, and the lords and masters became the servants. In the case of our carnival, it is a time when people take to the streets and the cars have to wait; a time when we all travel at walking pace, even the floats that carry us along; a time to slow down and be fully aware in the moment. It is the time when leisure and pleasure rule, and all the cares of work and duty are cast aside. A time to be joyously, effervescently, thrillingly alive.
Carnival is working class in origin. It is from the people. It’s not high art. It’s not full of classical references in Latin or Greek. All the references it contains will be from popular culture: things that people will recognise instantly. It’s folk art. It’s from the folk. It’s purpose is not to elevate, but to entertain. Traditionally it was bawdy and down to earth, occasionally obscene. It’s meant to make you laugh. But it is transformative. It is creative. It is expressive. It changes the way you view yourself and the world.
In carnival you can be what you like. You can be a King or a Queen, a pirate or a smuggler, a princess or a pop star: anything you like. You can show off. You can be loud, you can be colourful, you can be crazy, you can be out there in all your glittery splendour, as the person you always knew you were meant to be.
The King of the Carnival
Take a look at this picture.
This is JJ, the ‘King of the Carnival’ for many years. You can see his costume in the museum. He represents the spirit of Whitstable in carnival form: outrageously camp, all dolled up in his costume, unafraid to be seen and acknowledged for who he was. Look at that smile on his face. It is the smile of someone who knows who he is and is unafraid to express it.
This is how we want all our carnival participants to be. You are light. You are alive. You are a sparkle on the waters of existence. You are the flower of life. You are a brief burst of incandescent energy in an ocean of unknowing. Don’t hide your light, express it. Be who you are and don’t be afraid.
Let’s all have a brilliant time at this year’s carnival. Let’s raise money for charity. Let’s have fun. Let’s stop the traffic. Let’s clog up the town. Let’s dance through the streets and make lots of noise. Let’s have a party and be outrageously happy. What other useful purpose can there be for our existence?
After that, it’s all hands on deck for Carnival 2023.
Instruction for entries
The theme of the carnival this year is pirates and smugglers, but it’s alright, we won’t make you walk the plank if you come dressed as something else.
Please approach along Northwood Road from its junction with Tower Parade (where the laundrette is). The carnival assembles along Northwood Road and Pier Avenue from 1pm. Carnival courts are to assemble on Pier Avenue, all the rest on Northwood Road. Please park in your preferred position and come to the office to register. New entries allowed till 4.30 on the day. The office is at 15 Pier Avenue. You can pick up collection buckets there. You need to register before 4.30, but if you want to take part in the prize giving, you have to be in position by 4pm. Judging starts at 4.15. The carnival leaves from Pier Avenue at 5.30 prompt. Be ready. Have a great carnival!
Instructions for onlookers
The procession starts at 5.30, passing Tankerton Circus at 5.40, Tower Parade at 5.50, the Duke of Cumberland at 6.10 and the East Kent at 6.30. These times are approximate. You should be at your vantage point early to get a good view. Please don’t let children run into the road as the procession passes.
About CJ Stone
CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.
Read more of CJ Stone’s work here, here and here.
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It was a brilliant carnival and such wonderful at a time when , for sum, life is a struggle and a bit grim. I hope everyone who participated and watched did feel that fun and was able to smile. On a historical point – did you know that in times past the carnival followed the same route but travelled l the way back so spectators could see it twice! I did it year upon year. It was a real trek especially for children. To everyone who worked so hard for many months to organise it – thank you so much. It was all worth it.
Thanks Julia, glad you enjoyed it. Glad we didn’t have to do it twice. I think there was less traffic in those days.