I cannot be the only one who starts to get goose pimples around this time of the year. You see it’s because the Nottinghill carnival season is here and for those of you, like me, who play mas, autopilot comes into motion as we start to prepare for the carnival fever. The excitement that takes over when you know your soon going on the road in all your glorious, sparkly and feathery splendor, having picked your band of choice and prized costume. That said, is there one aspect of this experience that you could do without? For me, it’s the one thing I hate the most and that is the ‘great’ costume pick up experience. I call it ‘great’ as that is exactly what it isn’t! I am not sure if anyone else can resonate with this, but I am somewhat hoping that I am a lone wolf and that I am destined for pure bad luck. Somehow the belief is that it’s not a one-off and there are many of more me out there experiencing this pure “bad luck”.
Costume pick up in London, for me, (and I stress me), has always been a chaotic roll call of persons who had responsibility for some part of the outfit delivery. In essence, it got packaged and given in the end, but it was never simple and the process could last a few hours. Furthermore, I could never quite understand why the process was so long and indeed why it felt so difficult when you had all the details in advance. It was almost like a deliberate attempt to get you not to play mas when trying to collect your costume. Would you also argue that the presentation of the costume is as equally as important as a smooth and swift collection, but is it always? I mean why not spend a little bit more, be kind to the planet and get rid of the carrier bag. I want my £400+ costume presented well when I pick it up, wrapped in gold paper, if you like. Unless there is a VIP offering (and that is questionable), it almost akin to a barbershop experience. It’s long and I don’t understand why. I provide the payment on time, I provide my measurements, more if needed, mas bands communicate the collection date and time, so why is the end result traumatic for some? All the needless waiting around and frenzied looking seamstresses and costume makers hurriedly finishing your piece. Your sitting there thinking “they best not rush mine, but they best hurry up”! Not really winning are they with me?……
You finally get your bag, costume check and take a look at the endless supply of accessories for the leg, arm, head, foot, wrist. Some bands go to great lengths to add the sparkly trinkets to the costume haul, but these little trinkets are not the best for us folk with ultra sensitive skin. Anyone like me that cannot put anything metal for too long around your neck? The jewelled edging around the feather back pack can also add to the misery which can cause rashes, cut or irritate your back if tied to tightly and worn all day. Arm band also can be an irritation, the ties are eloquently adorned with a fabulous design that is then let down by a couple of shoelaces given to tie it up. All with leg ties that you spend forever pulling and tying back up.
It also does not help if mas bands order the standard costume pieces from somewhere like China, where their standard sizes are not always fit for our voluptuous frames. We, Caribbean ladies have curvaceous bodies, hips and big booties so there are always issues with the sizing of the bodysuit, bra or pants. I have seen EE cup girls given D Cup bikini bra tops looking baffled and ready to rage, when someone tells her, “that’s the only one we have for you”. A few of my friends have personally bought their own bras as the designers can’t account for their size! International orders are also subject to customs delays and have a few times seen the issues with late shipments. A few years ago Poison did not even fulfil their costume orders and many masqueraders were forced to go on the road with bits of costume and their own wear. Mine fell apart on the road, another two for my friends did not turn up. Let’s not even talk about the mayhem or ‘mad’ camp adventures there either…..Ahem.. where are Poison now?
Anyway, lets get to the good experiences as mine were mainly in the Caribbean, the majority of carnivals I experienced had it on point. Trinidad 2015. I had not even booked a costume and contacted Ronnie & Carol Mas band as a lastminute.com. We held them over the phone and picked them up the following day. It was such a smooth process, we literally rocked up, stated our name, we had a standard box given to us (like a large cake box) with arm, leg & accessory decorations enclosed. Almost like a conveyor belt, we moved along and next given our stated bra and underwear choices, the headwear and Sunday wear and finally the payment. In and out in 15 minutes – wicked.
Barbados was the same, we played mas with Baje International in 2016, albeit it was a way to travel to get there from where we staying. It was also a smooth and quick process, no one else was there, so we were able to pick up our costumes easily. Our costumes did not even need a try on, they were perfect, presented in a box with all the accessories. Costume pick ups in St Vincent 2017 with Ahdrenalin Mas, was like how every experience should be. We get to the Mas Camp and our bags with name tags are waiting . Once we are greeted, we are asked to try on costumes to check size – thankfully they had more in stock so we could swap sizes and adjust where necessary on the spot. Done in 20 mins.
Paris carnival in 2017 with ExMyF was equally a structured experience. I did not have the benefit to pick up my costume in advance as I arrived on the day. However, once we were given our wristbands, we were then led into the carnival camp, costumes and goodie bags were tagged and ready and again the operation, fit and quality I cannot fault.
Not such a ‘great’ experience…
My friends jumped with Just4fun in St Lucia for the 2017 carnival; they are arguably one of the best bands on the road who look after their masqueraders. However, the costume pick up experience has a lot to be desired for. Be mainly prepared for two elongated hours of madness. There were at least four queues in the mas camp. The first one (supposedly) dealt with registering the fact that you were here to pick up your costume and check for any outstanding fees. Another to check ID and process ID tags, one for the VIP registration and the fourth queue was undoubtedly there for the ultimate said collection. My friends were ushered into the longest queue, the first one. Was there a point to that queue? Not really, as mates ruled here. Being a band member mate gave you privileges like, queue jumping, holding up a queue or even asking pointless questions. Make it worse if they feel they are really important. Queue one also served as an information, cuss & vent point. Two roll eyed girls looking everywhere but at not at you? Never get that. Interesting times in the mad camp though….as two hours later, it resulted in three sweaty vexed faces, carrying three bags that housed their costumes and a mound of unstuck jewels at the bottom :-(. The feather piece fared no better. Random feathers looked like they had been plucked out… this was even before we hit the road. With the added frustration that the Remedy fete tickets sold out on us in the queue, it didn’t seem like £400 was a justified cost for the just4fun costume. A few of us, including myself booked with Dynasty mas band, it a like a one stop shop experience. The presentation was different, but that was due to umpth hour costume bookings and what they had left. It then really became apparent that it was a indeed good idea for me to purchase a costume from a small band like Dynasty and avoid the chaos, my precious time, blood pressure and cost!
Back to London…
So that leaves my experiences in London to question, as I have always had issues with costume or t-shirt collection from Nottinghill mas bands. Perhaps I have just been unlucky in band choices and would welcome other persons feedback on mas costume collection. I do, on the other hand, sympathise with mas bands, as whilst I sit back and may come across as critical, I have no idea on the issues and costs surrounding running a mas band. The ‘great’ costume pick up is just one aspect of carnival that can become frustrating, but it really does not define the exhilarating experience of being with the band on the road. As despite delays, the previous frustrations fade away as we go on the road and thrill of the crowds and the expectation of whats to come, draws us.