Sun, rain and a riot of colour - once again the Carnival proves it's not a bad trip after all

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The Independent Online

Justin had had a long six months. "I love Mardi Gras," he said, swaying to the invasive beats of reggae and soca. He was coming to the end of a two-day LSD trip at the Notting Hill Carnival, but he thought he was at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in his native Sydney.

Justin had had a long six months. "I love Mardi Gras," he said, swaying to the invasive beats of reggae and soca. He was coming to the end of a two-day LSD trip at the Notting Hill Carnival, but he thought he was at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in his native Sydney.

When he was told of his location, and that the Mardi Gras in Australia had been held in March, he was delighted, believing he had dispensed with a 23-hour aircraft journey.

Justin's experience was not typical, but yesterday, under mostly blue skies and the heavy, sweet fug of cannabis smoke, it spoke volumes; once it would have taken more than a two-day acid trip to convince you that you were anywhere other than London. No longer, however, because Carnival has come of age.

Whereas once it had a reputation - partly because of unfair media coverage - for trouble, and in the Seventies for a riot, it is now regarded as the biggest multi-racial and multi-cultural event of its kind in the world, conducted in an atmosphere of bonhomie and goodwill.

Forget Sydney, Rio and New Orleans; Notting Hill, helped by the success of the Hollywood movie of the same name, is now the place to be. "We reckon it's now the biggest event of its kind in the world," said Steph Harwood, spokeswoman for the Notting Hill Trust organisers.

"On a day-by-day basis, only the Olympics comes close. We expect the figure for today [Monday] to top 1.6 million. No other event is that big. Even in Rio, they limit access in the hundreds of thousands. It's been truly fantastic this year."

The atmosphere yesterday was one of laissez-faire by the police, who appeared more concerned with crowd control than the strict application of the law; marijuana was being smoked openly, and ecstasy was on sale. But there was little or no tension - children and pensioners were as much in evidence as the majority of young adult party-goers.

There were fears before the event that it might be targeted by racist bombers but police said yesterday that there was no evidence the event had been in danger although they admitted that some organisers had been sent hate mail.

More than 7,000 officers supported by 200 route marshals and 20 stewards were on duty yesterday, but the difficulties they faced mostly related to congestion. By 7pm, there had been only eight arrests yesterday, 53 allegations of crime, and 10 people taken to hospital. Police said one man was stabbed and another glassed in the face. A third was "very seriously injured" in an attack at the junction of Westbourne Grove and Kensington Park Road at about 7.30pm. Two people were injured, one seriously, when they fell into the area at the basement of a house after its railings collapsed during a crush.

Customs and excise officers had staged a crackdown on the sale of illicit alcohol and tobacco destined for the carnival. In spite of their effort, it was still the norm yesterday to buy a beer from an ice-filled bin or a supermarket trolley.

"Its been a very trouble-free event that's passed off in a good-humoured atmosphere," said a spokeswoman for Scotland yard. "It has tended to be like this in recent years for the carnival. It has been some time since there have been any real problems there."

Sponsorship was more in evidence than in the past, with Western Union, the money transfer specialists, giving to the tune of about £200,000.

But the carnival still has its roots. More than 70 costume bands travelled the three-mile route around west London, accompanied by 12 steel bands and more than 50 sound systems, suffused with the smells of Caribbean cuisine and the whistles and horns of revellers.

"The sponsorship doesn't detract from the carnival's roots," said Ms Harwood. "It simply means we can give the bands money for appearing so they can spend it on more lavish costumes and on teaching the next generations of musicians who will keep the carnival alive."

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