Alison Boulton digs beneath the city's dreaming spires
Cowley Road Carnival is a shout: a joyous multi-ethnic celebration of summer, sunshine and families – all inclusive and multi-generational.
Comb that beard, hippie man; put on your straw hat, grandma; pierce that tongue, hipster. Wear your Goth gear with pride – dog collar to match.
The carnival’s urban setting in East Oxford makes it accessible to most of Oxford’s residents but they are not alone.
Its sounds are a beacon of delight to passing tourists, language school students and visitors from outside the city – and beyond UK shores.
All are drawn to the music, the colour, the vibrancy and the overarching mood of goodwill.
It’s the mix which succeeds.
No group dominates, and everyone makes way.
It’s only your ears which can overload: a brass band playing – their instruments gleaming in the hot sun, while metres away, four ageing rockers still cast a spell on contemporary groupies. Stouter now, hair greying or gone, they knew all the words, and twirled and swirled with all the enthusiasm of Woodstock, without the nudity.
I saw rappers and rockers, reggae and ska, dancers and divers, with their own street style, moving to the music, liberated by the sun, the booze and the intoxicating rhythms struck from the sidewalks, pub forecourts, community centres and slender restaurant frontages.
Pink piglet helium balloons billowed in the hot air, tethered in bunches by silver strings.
Children fought duels with multi-coloured inflated sabres. Streams of bubbles headed skyward, disappearing above the heads of the crowds – even above the wide-eyed gaze of toddlers balanced on their fathers’ shoulders.
Floats came and went – a phantasmagoric procession of gigantic heads, shimmering costumes, dancing, theatre schools, action groups.
I stood beside the manager of Costa, who was balanced on a chair. There wasn’t room for two. Goodwill can only go so far.
The crowds loved it, cheering on the procession, siblings pointing and shouting with pleasure as they spotted a family member.
A wonderful young girl with plaits and a red ribbon joined a reggae band in front of Cowley Community Centre, to play the steel drum. As the audience danced in the street in front, the glamorous singer called out: “That’s right. That’s what this is about. Families and sunshine” and the crowd cheered its assent.
An Indian lady dressed in a green and silver sari sat listening to the reggae beat in her front garden.
“Lovely,” she said. I agreed.
Too many onion bhajis, sweet and sour chicken, rice and a mango lassi later I was full to bursting – but it wasn’t just the food.
It was the celebration of togetherness and difference. A triumph of ambition, organisation and execution. Thank you to all.