In an English city garden ..

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The Independent Online
A small war is rumbling around the sedate garden squares of Notting Hill. On my morning walk in the breathtakingly beautiful, but totally empty, Ladbroke Square, more of a park at seven acres, a notice barks:

'The use or introduction into the garden of firearms, fireworks, bonfires, musical instruments, wireless, television sets, and gramophones and the holding of barbeques and parties of more than 25 people is prohibited, save in such exceptional circumstances and subject to such conditions as the committee shall expressly permit.'

The diktat is not just to prevent midnight bohemian revelry - although undergrowth was recently cut back to stop adult games of hide and seek. It is a pre-emptive strike aimed at those who would introduce outsiders into this and 15 other locked gardens.

The fear is that a flock of 'odd bods' and Uzi-wielding drug-dealers from North Portobello will nest under the rhododendrons. Yet, personally speaking, it has always seemed potty that the public is not allowed a glimpse of these gems, which cover an area the size of Kensington Gardens. Even the Queen has open days.

But such ideas are dangerous. Passions and paranoia run wild. Last year I held my daughter's christening party in the square. Hardly a rave, as at least two of the celebrants were church-wardens and the vicar was conspicuously present. We knew something was wrong when a large American with a slightly pointy head started to bellow at us while his dog looked embarrassed.

'Disperse] You've not asked the permission of the committee . . .' he kept repeating, claiming to be on that pitiless body. His eyes rolled as someone asked if he was anti-Christian and he seemed about to go into orbit when I suggested the small park for which I dutifully pay my pounds 60 a year should be occasionally available to others. Indeed, some radicals have taken to leaving the gates ajar and encouraging the curious to enter. The man became really upset when my mother, thinking aloud, announced that all land really belonged to Jesus.

'I'm standing here until you disperse]' he shrieked, but black looks came from the vicar and a veteran actress recalled the last time she'd heard such silliness outdoors was in Auschwitz. Mr Pointy-Head fled.

Not that the garden party season is lacking in event. Once, complaining members of the committee were chased away from a serious orgy at which a local Russian artist named Igor climbed a hawthorn tree, sans culottes, and when he fell out, started clambering back up again. A fellow Muscovite died in a drinking bout during post-coup celebrations. But after all, this is Notting Hill, not some video-surveillanced prison estate in Basingstoke.

The most interesting confrontation to date happened at a party for the defunct paper Socialist, now called Red Pepper. Hell-bent radicals like Anna Ford and Paul Gambaccini nibbled vegetarian kebabs while Harold Pinter gave a spirited denunciation of American imperialism. Suddenly, out of the night and clouds of Disque Bleu, came Mr G Nutter, treasurer of the square, saying that political speeches were forbidden, even though Neil Kinnock had made one at another bash only days before. No one, however, had the intestinal fortitude to stop our greatest living playwright.

At the gate an ex-Trotskyist was trying to deliver a Portaloo. The toilet was to prevent female comrades having to use the bushes because, he reminded us, all men are rapists. 'Rapists? Where's the rapist?' demanded a resident. The delivery of a politically correct Portaloo plus the accusation of rape panicked key-holders into calling the police who forbade all 'imported sanitation' and trampled the shrubberies in search of the alleged sexual attackers.

Yet no one ever intended these spaces to be bolted private laagers for the angry rich.

Ladbroke Square formed part of the Hippodrome racecourse, an area used by many and an ancestral stopping place for Romanies and other travellers, a fact which causes some residents to start twitching.

In 1823, Thomas Allason's original plan for the whole estate was to be around shared greens or paddocks, on a New Forest model, open to all. Even gipsies. One resident told me: 'Only in the Sixties did the locks go on the gates, as I remember. But don't quote me. I don't want to be banned.'

How is this relevant outside the leafy loony bin that is Notting Hill? 'It is an early example of creeping privatisation,' said another anti-enclosure-ist. 'The individuals who run these tinpot committees are not always of the best sort. Ancient trees have been felled because they shaded nasty private gardens. And with councils strapped for cash how long is it going to be before one has to pay to go into Holland Park or even Hyde Park? We should reclaim our public spaces.'

Secret, and disarmingly Sixties, moves are apace. A rebel 'garden party' committee is being mooted to throw open the gates of the squares in a Tree-In (counting, stroking, worshipping, etc) during Carnival at the end of August.

Joe Strummer, late of The Clash, is being approached to chair, while no doubt Bel Mooney, who lives in self-denying poverty just off Ladbroke Square, will raise her now famous yurt in the name of freedom.

'I can't wait,' enthused a former girlfriend of Mick Jagger. 'Everyone likes a party . . .'

Well, up to a Pointy-Head.

(Photograph omitted)