by Jonathan Petre
AS EUROPE'S biggest street party got underway — with an estimated 200,000 people crammed into Notting Hill, West London, — weeks of behing-the-scenes planning at St Mary's of the Angels church, Bayswater, came to a frenetic fruition.
A crowd of gyrating, clapping children — dressed in bright clown costumes — danced through the streets behind the Catholic parish's own steel band, Cariba, the 20 or so members of which were transported in style on the back of a magnificently bedecked articulated lorry.
It was a bit like a scene from the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
The children, all from the parish where Fr Michael Hollings is priest, were part of the carnival procession which snaked its way through the throng on Monday afternoon, past All Saint's Road, the scene of violence in previous years.
On the streets, a multitude of costumes were on display. One man was entirely covered in a cloak of orange feathers; another posed as Queen Victoria. Dozens of bands created a cacophony of sound, from reggae to rock. On every corner stood a bank of loudspeakers in competition.
The theme adopted by Sr Monica, the moving force behind St Mary's carnival efforts, was "Clowns of God". Not everyone was entirely happy; one visitant to the church read the slogan above the altar, crossed himself, and walked out in horror. But the general atmosphere was of co-operation and goodwill.
Particularly significant was the inclusion in the Fiesta of Praise, the ecumenical gathering which traditionally gets the Carnival going on Sunday morning, of the Metropolitan Police Band.
The band was invited to play after much soul-searching by the Notting Hill Council of Churches, but they were received with delight. After playing, they lunched at St Mary's with Fr Hollings.
The police presence on the streets was kept to a minimum, although thousands of reser.,es were positioned out of sight in case of any large scale disturbance.
In the event there were, as one organiser put it "no problems". One of the enduring memories of the carnival will be the sight of Sr Monica performing a sprightly jig with a young police constable who had accompanied the steel band along the processional route.
But, for the Catholics anyway, the most important aspect of the Carnival was the ecumenical atmosphere that permeated the proceedings.
Particularly in evidence was Bishop Mark Santer, Anglican bishop of Kensington, who was involved in most of the events, including the Catholic Mass on Saturday night.