Cowley Road Carnival is an annual event that takes over East Oxford’s busiest and liveliest road on the first Sunday of July. So,earlier today, I popped down to this year’s Carnival to soak up the atmosphere and maybe take a couple of photos.
As far as the photos are concerned, I came away with just under 1000, which I’ve now cut down to about 500, but there’s still a little way to go. So here are a few to keep you going. These are mainly of the opening parade which is a quintessentially East Oxford hotch potch of different groups. This year’s parade included members of the Nepali and Papuan communities, primary schools with earnest warnings about climate change, Oxford Brookes University marking its 150th anniversary, Pride (without which no parade would be complete), dance groups, bands and plenty of drums.
As for the atmosphere – that was a little harder to track down. There were groups of people gathered around the live bands and DJs dotted along the road, who were clearly enjoying themselves. Others were standing or sitting on pavements, doorsteps and roofs, alone or in small groups, drinking beer or snacking on street food. Food of every conceivable kind and of was on offer – everything from slices of melon, through fresh pizza, and crepes to curried goat and sit down meals in one of Cowley Road’s many eateries. Overall, though, atmosphere was distinctly lacking.
Another odd thing was that the crowd was overwhelmingly white. It seemed to become more mixed as you moved East towards Manzil Way. More suprisingly, in this most multi-cultural of areas, Asians, other than those selling food or balloons, were almost non-existant – the only explanation I can think of is that this year’s carnival falls in the middle of Ramadan.
It’s a bit more difficult to find an explanation for the overall lacklustre nature of the event. Indeed, it was difficult to work out what sort of event it was. Was it meant to be a community event, a commercial event or an entertainment event? It had elements of all of these, but there was no sense of occasion, cohesion or shared purpose unlike, say, May Morning or St Giles’ Fair – it just felt as if people had come along because it was something to do. No doubt many people will have felt that they had a nice afternoon out listening to a band, having a beer, having something to eat, spending time with family or friends, but with the sense that the carnival was a destination rather than an event.