In much of Wiltshire, we’ve now entered carnival season. Hundreds, of not thousands, of people will be giving up their free time to give us some great spectacles and some marvellous events.
Our carnival processions may not be as big as those on the Bridgwater circuit and they haven’t got the flavour of Notting Hill, but they are what they are – and that’s a great celebration of local life and community spirit. And few of our carnivals are just about the procession. Pewsey goes carnival crazy with loads of indoor and outdoor events including the renowned Wheelbarrow race that has to be seen to be believed.
Devizes got underway last weekend with the Picnic in the Park. Heavy rain in the morning threatened the event but, as they say, the sun shines on the righteous and the afternoon was fine. Top quality music, good beer (courtesy of some of my CAMRA comrades) and great company really showed Hillworth Park off. It’s easy to moan about our local authorities – as I’ve shown myself and will do so again – but credit where credit’s due and Devizes Town Council has done a marvellous job in transforming what was a rather tired old park into a beautiful open space that plays host to many events.
Most Wiltshire towns and villages do a very good job in merging the old and the new and marrying tradition with innovation when it comes to their carnivals. I guess those that don’t are the ones that won’t be around for much longer but, to be fair, I can’t think of any like that.
Take Devizes Carnival, for example. The whole shebang starts off with the aforementioned picnic and ends with the procession that is exactly three weeks before Pewsey’s. You can bet your bottom dollar that even if we’re in the middle of a period of weather that would have Noah buying up all the gopher wood, it’ll be dry during the procession. It just will. It’s an immutable fact of life and nature. Before that we have a comedy night, a quiz, puppet making and the confetti battle. Yes, that is a battle with confetti. People run around, throwing little scraps of paper at each other. When I moved to Devizes and was first told about this event, I thought ‘how ridiculous!’; but the confetti battle is a classic case of don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Most of those events are fairly traditional but the International Street Festival that takes place this coming Sunday and Monday is anything but. And the ‘international’ part of the name is no idle boast. And, like most carnival activities, it’s all free!
Our carnivals aren’t like those in Rio, New Orleans or Boston. They celebrate the local area but they’re also unmistakeably and quintessentially English. And you realise how ingrained they are into our psyche when you hear people saying things like “Devizes Carnival on Saturday – the schools must be back the next week” or “Pewsey Carnival’s coming up – that’s the end of the summer then”. Sure, not everybody takes part or even watches but you don’t hear many people saying they’d like to see the end of them.
Carnivals are moving forward but that’s only due to the dedication and hard work of a relatively small group of individuals. They’re always on the lookout for more people to help them too. Even if you can only spare a couple of hours for a bit of stewarding, most carnivals would love to hear from you. Carnivals are events that draw strength and inspiration from the local community. So if you can help, give your local organisers a shout. They’ll welcome you with open arms.