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A Note on Robbing the Notting Hill Carnival

September 2, 2012

The following is “A Remembrance of Notting Hill Carnival, 2012, by Lord Byron, W. Raleigh, D. Greyton, D. Trinder, and R. Sabatini”

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Lord Byron

This storm of shit, he was calling it by then.  Couldn’t fly back to Miami on account of the hurricane what’s-his-name, couldn’t launch his own boat; so we took him to Notting Hill.  Wally has always been quite fond of paternal functionality, so he made like he would organise us, his mates, into a raiding party – that’d be me, Daniel and David (who have self-styled themselves the “Boys from ‘Nam”), and that Sabatini, he showed up later.  Things went to hell rather quickly, anyway.  Goddamn Carnival.

On a motherfucking BOAT

On a motherfucking BOAT.

Sir Walter Raleigh

That stint in the Midwest was the weirdest time, though.  We used to stalk around in the yards a few neighbourhoods at a time, stealing Freon from air conditioners.  Find the big whirring cubes up on their cement pedestals – not those tiny window units.  It’s best to pick ‘em off as they go on their fan cycle, as that really helps drown out the noise of the heist.  Filling up garbage bags out of the charging nozzle on the side of the box, one of us working the screwdriver, the other holding the bag so it resembles a hot air balloon or the mouth of a blow-up doll.  Up and down the rows of air conditioners in short pants, smelling like mosquito repellent.  We used to sell the garbage bags at a tenner a pop – no pun intended, you break it you bought it.  I am after all a pirate.  Not just another thief.  We used to huff a bit of it later on in the car on the way home.

Not while driving, of course, but in a passenger position.  With the windows mostly up.  And maybe the seat way back.  A Freon buzz makes whip-its seem like a wading pool in comparison.  These waves, you could get swallowed.  I remember putting gasoline on a beach towel once, and having to sit down on the curb downtown several times that night, but it’s a thick, inelegant wallop – the gentle murmur of Freon folding your vision into pulsating rings, into the theme music of Tom Baker-era Dr. Who, until you’re just walking around on some plain.  Looking at this life.  Just moments kind of strung together so.  Just like you were staring at a reflection of the sky in a bird bath.  That looks calm, doesn’t it?  Quite nice, that.  Echo.  Echo.  Yeah, I’ve lived a lot of places…

I don’t know why I’m recalling that as we rush into battle.  To my left, my lieutenant and his smash-and-grab squad are raving and lunging away, on the right side of me, a phalanx of shit is approaching in hi-viz raincoats.  Just a mile-wide brace of cops.  The weather is nice, though.  Myself, I’m viciously chopping a security goon in the neck, the blade of my hand pinching a few muscles and more importantly his windpipe, bringing him to a bit of a roll, which allows my confederates to make their egress even though heavily laden with lots of stolen goods.  We’re robbing tent stalls on Portobello Road, it’s Carnival you know, so people expect this kind of behaviour.  The cops are all probably stoned anyhow.  No big fuss.

Lord Byron

In this humming empire, domination travels through a fibre optic cable, radio waves through the air choking the very breath out of hillocks, live stock and variously brown peoples.  It’s a monster made of nothing.

So we want to kill it.  Whatever form ‘it’ assumes.  Start over, or just again but on new premises.

Obviously, the urge comes and goes for many of us.  Look at me.  Any given epoch of my life has seen me struggling towards revolution with a cutlass clenched between my hairy jaws, or sitting on my arse with a bowl of buttery popcorn, a comic book in one hand and myself in the other.  In the latter mode a lot these days.

These days, the street I live on has parking on both sides, off the pavement, so it’s impossible for two cars to pass each other.  One driver has to have the politeness to pull alongside the curb and basically park to allow the other to make way.  Also, I live in Barking and Dagenham, the poorest Borough in the city.  Why the fuck do you need to drive a Bentley, a Navigator down my fucking street?  But more importantly, why are the ones that do, inevitably also the dickheads who have to honk and curse instead of parking up for two bloody seconds?

Walter Raleigh

We all know that the vast majority of human kind has done and will do nothing of importance.  Walk down the street, count off heads.  Hardly any of us will be interesting or noteworthy, if any.  Mostly, we just take up space.

Georgie is one of them, but only on a part-time basis.  Good ol’ Jo-Go.  He’s been deep in the East End for too long, now.  Finds it hard to communicate his feelings without getting aggressive.

Not that anyone communicates that well.  The feelings that we want to explore, they’re all either incommensurable to others or so played-out, clichéd, that we are embarrassed to bring them up around polite company.  Except when you’re totally smashed and everyone are suitably strangers enough to bear some obnoxious blubbering.  Not to say it’s any less an embarrassment.  Just that its mixed together with several other embarrassing factors, kind of numbs it like.  And nobody will really know any better what the hell you were on about, so it’s back to square one.  So mostly we just keep stuff inside unless it bubbles out, you know?

Lord Byron

But really and truly, we exist to savage life itself, to maul it and mine it for the pleasure of it.

There’s an empty basement hallway in this apartment building on the corner.  Spooky, pissed-on carpets, deadly silent because every flat is empty, un-let.  Brasses take their tricks down there.  The pimps will wait in the dark end of the hall with a ball bat to roll the ones who are drunk enough.  The smell reminds me of Aberdeen.  Queen Street.  We used to piss on the carpets.  Stupid kids.

Rafael Sabatini

These two motherfuckers are hauling boxes out the backside of some tents, no, three! – and all of them pacing down the sidewalk in single file, and there’s Wally! – watching it go down.  Figures.  He would be in charge.  Fucking pirate!  What’s he still doing in town?

A quick scan of the scene confirms this: all the elements are too perfectly in place for anything other than a well-laid plan to be happening.

Cops are covered.  Wait until a bunch of those day-glo assholes are pushing up a street.  They are in herd mentality, point A to point Trample trample B.  The dicks in that phalanx don’t notice shit, don’t stop for shit.  Won’t even blink if some security goon goes down.  Must just be over-heated, that’s all.  Pick a few stalls middle of that street, quick everyone grab a box from the back of the tent, take it right through the tent, right over the table at the front of the stall, and then run right round the rear of it again.  The people running that tent won’t know what to do.  They ain’t following shit when that happens, scrambles their minds like.  Have your head-cracker standing nearby back of the tents to handle any heavies all in one go, job done.  There’s the heavy on the ground.  See what I mean?

Three fellas bobbing unpursued down the pavement with gigantic cardboard boxes of antiques, DVD’s and cigarettes, respectively, and another really calm chap following them at a small distance and watching backwards through his blue cigar smokescreen.  Ponces.  Clearly.  But only for a second.  Like a submarine going under, they all put on feathery headgear, crack open tinnies of Red Stripe, grabbing one of many large black women from western Africa, the West Indies, East Midlands.  These motherfuckers are going straight into that swirling crowd.  They are going to sell everything right in the middle of the parade.  No evidence save the loot wadded down in their shoes, the vicious bastards!  I immediately move in to join them or stop them, I haven’t yet decided.

Walter Raleigh

And a tidy little smash and grab it turned out to be.  The hardest items to sell were going to be the antiques, but of course they turn over a higher price and so would be duly worth any pains taken.  It was Rafa who thought to pawn them to the house parties spilled out onto the stoops alongside Westbourne Grove.  Smart lad, always did have a cooler head than the characters he was enamoured of writing about.  There was never any way those ruffians would hatch the plans they did in his books!  How he ever managed to bump into us remains a delicious mystery.  There’s about half a million people thronging through the area during Carnival, and it had to be this cunt what saw us.  Brilliant.

Anyway, the first stage of the heist was done.  We splashed some Hennessy about to smell convincing and then waded knee-deep into the parade.  Not floats: whole city block-sized islands of thudding dancehall, dub-step, gospel choirs and roustabout DJs, each with their own roped-in herd of sweating denizenry following behind.  Giant collection trucks with scaffolds and bleachers erected inside the frames on the back of the empty beds holding galleries of undulating, sparkling dancers.  Roly-poly black girls, tween-aged black girls, every now and again an above average lass grinding about, looking all steamy and unique.  I’ve always loved black women, so Carnival is a bit of a buffet for me.  I get teased a bit for not dancing like your typical white dude, but I know it’s the best kind of flirting, it’s like speaking a language with an accent.

Dag’nam Dan

That Sabatini is some friend of Wally’s – he knicked half of the dough I copped off of that crate of fags and spent it on an ivory paperweight, that great fucking tit!  True, he bartered me a blowjob from a tall ginger girl with gapped teeth a few porches later, but I ain’t heard no word on ever getting that six tonnes back again.  And he only bought it from hisself!  Gore!

Rafael Sabatini

I have to hand it to the lot of them, they were quite able salesmen to a point.  We had quite a blast, it did feel authentically Rio street fair.  Wally managed to talk a few of the float managers into letting the lads up into the backs of the trucks, and from five feet above the crowds along either side of the parade route, they were trading cigarette packets at two for five pounds and copies of some Brazilian porn film for the same price.  There were wads and wads of fivers everywhere.  That’s when I got the idea to create a bit of a kerbside auction house for that tatty antiques haul.

I had already mentioned it to George, or Gordon or whatever his proper first name is, just after one of the Boys from ‘Nam let go of a flaking leather-bound book for a two-pound coin.  I suggested that we take a different strategy with that third box.  Wally instructed him to let it aside for a while, if for no other reason than to have made a decision and pronounced upon it.  Always acting the part.  Fucking pirates and their egos never die.  I do love Wally, don’t misunderstand me.  It’s part of his charm.

Anyway, so once I had the premise of the con figured out and the merchandise properly sequestered, I was just waiting for a suitable staging ground for it.  I felt just like a character in one of my own stories!  At one point, one of the Boys from ‘Nam was hanging out of the side of our float, handing tall stacks of fag boxes, porn boxes to a moist-looking group of people on one of those stoops with the walkway between the pavement and the porch over the basement windows, and Wally teased him like he was going to push him out into the middle of the porch.  I thought they might catch him, like the crowd at a rock concert, you know?  Anyway, I was looking at the people on the porch there, all pissed and wearing expensive labels with beer and juice poured down their fronts.  And I thought, they look like they could afford some ‘furbed fucking antiques.

So I hauled the box down to the first porch there, and had the Boys from ‘Nam hold up each item in turn while Wally played auctioneer.  I just bought the first item in the box after a little manufactured bidding war with someone else like I was a member of the crowd, and everyone got into the swing of things rather quickly.  The middle-classes are so easy to manipulate.  The only reason we had to leave that first stoop was because a fight broke out between two of the punters.  The action on the next porch was just as hot, but we ran out of pricey junk after the gilt astrolabe sold for four hundred quid, so hostilities never had the chance to come to a head.  The knick knacks like embossed calf-skin wallets, large cameo rings and lead-crystal globes we pawned as normal naming prices in the crowds on the next few porch parties down the row, but this time the exchange was for favours.

Lord Byron

Honestly, it probably started out at as a joke.  Like, want this watch, grab hold of this first, ha ha, but let this be clear: Sea Dogs and all that we might be, there’s no excuse for hitting a woman in the belly, even if she did bite your cock.  And that’s likely ‘cause someone had run into her, anyway, so doubly difficult to defend.  Poor girl was puking up beer foam.  I knew I fucked up right away.

Dag’nam Dave

He smacked that bird a good hard one, and then stuck the two guys who first made some fuss, and then poor Georgie B. couldn’t really quit even if he’d wanted to.  I joined in, sure.  That’s some good fun to be had right there: like, fifty billion people to fight, right away, in all directions.  And you’re only on the right side because it was your mate what done someone ill, so you know you have to fight that much harder so that if you lose, you lose well and totally.  We left wigs in the street.  We kicked guys in the nuts, when they were already down.  There are lots of empty bottles lying around everywhere during the parade, each one a scar, just waiting there.

Then Wally was dragging us through some front door, over a sitting room foyer and out into a back garden, throwing these wads of fivers at whoever had brokered this timely fucking passage.  God loves Wally, truly – him and his salty fucking pluck.

Walter Raleigh

Plane was ready to go first thing the next day.  Fucking airline rang my room at six in the morning – I nearly missed the flight, I swore at the cunt on the phone for so long.  Glad to get away from those boys, though – I think they’re bad influences, them.  Not to mention the weather on the old island continues to be a joke.

The old rituals were nice.  Like laving on sunscreen at the dunes, rolling up a poster, or smoking in a convertible; just easy little motions that can move the whole world an inch in its cradle.  It’s a shame about that Georgie Boy, for certain, but we even had us a little down-home scape-goating at his expense.  Many of my friends are quite envious when I recount the orgy in the heist.  Some bits get embellished here and there, but depending on company, nothing is too perverted.

Nothing too perverted.

Rafael Sabatini

Most people consider it a success if they make it through Carnival without having their phone or wallet stolen, some are just hoping for the rare year when they are not hauled out bodily by law enforcement for sundry reasons often involving alcohol.  George Gordon Byron measures success by whether he was able to incite riotous violence, primarily against women, and with a faintly racist taint to it all.  Well done, Lord Georgie.

For a long while now I’ve been addicted to Come Dine with Me, right?  David Lamb is just hilarious, so camp.  My favourite trope is when one contestant or another says to the camera interview that they will not be calling some other guest in the future.  Because that person offended them somehow.  Some shallow reason.  But it’s always covering up the fact that the person pronouncing this judgment is all too often even crabbier of attitude, ruder and coarser than the person upon whom they pronounce.  Every time!

Nonetheless, that guy’s not getting a call to come round to any social functions not already involving electric tasers.

Lord Byron

I like this weed I got from one of the guys in that garden where we hid out.  Really nice fruity taste, almost like plum.  I was lucky that dealer was there.  After what had happened, I was in a bit of shock.  Wally said the bribe to the owner of the house come out of my cut.  I didn’t argue.

Dag’nam Dan

Massive fucking time, though – you got to admit these guys do pretty well stirring up the old beehive.  A bit of everything this year, really.  Oh, and Dave and I took a dozen phones each out of pockets in that crowd – it pays to have a diversion going on, don’t it son!

Dag’nam Dave

Georgie was a bit morose, beating hisself up for days.  It was annoying after a bit.  I think it was because he knew that he could never go back to the days where he was swabbing the high seas, or whatever, waving his sword around.  Sounds a bit gay though, don’t it?  Dunno.  Suppose he loved it, back when he could.  What time takes away, and all that.  I can’t say why he’s not happy enough with busting jaws open like we get to do once in a while like this.  He was back to work in the garage on Tuesday morning, though, complaining about old glories being gone forever, but pretending he was chastising himself.  Like I said, it just got annoying.  So I cracked his nose open and told him that I’d warned him to shut it already.  We got in a good few rounds later at pub.  Happy days.

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