I have had enough of this tired and vulgar carnival

The hairdressing story rumbles along. Last week I told the tale of Mrs Howe going to a salon in Brixton, south London, to have her hair done, and the stylist making it plain that they did not entertain people with "your kind of hair". The Daily Mail took up the story, followed by the South London Press and also the Hairdressers' Journal. The local authority is taking a rather dim view of the matter. And so, I learn, a trainee, who will be taught to do black hair, begins work tomorrow. A small triumph, then, for this column.

Meanwhile I made my way to Notting Hill on the bank holiday. I once chaired a carnival development committee and designed and produced a carnival band which won Band of the Year three times. It's my kind of thing.

I am constantly amazed by the self-discipline of those who attend this festival. No number of police officers can alone control such a huge crowd; most of the restraint has to be self- imposed. There is a general sense that "the carnival belongs to us". It was not set in motion by some clever impresario, a la Glastonbury - it was a spontaneous and creative outburst from below.

By 1976 the police thought the size of the crowd was getting out of hand and tried to enforce limits. They provoked one of the most violent social explosions in modern Britain. Conscious of their responsibility for its making, "the people" (a term hardly used in today's social and political vocabulary) guard the event jealously. Even Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley were eclipsed.

I finally camped on "the hill", a tiny incline that is recognisable by the Trinidad flag prominently displayed. Trinidadians from all over the globe gravitate to that point.

I sat in conversation with a relative stranger - who came to the carnival from Alberta, in Canada - for ten minutes or so, and then almost simultaneously it dawned on both of us that we had not seen each other for 50 years, since the day when his parents moved from our tiny village to another part of the island. We hugged all over the floor, like two children, much to the astonishment and joy of all around. Notting Hill is that kind of place on carnival day.

From that vantage point, I had a clear view of the parade of the bands. Almost all are funded by the Arts Council and the local authority. I have seen various adjectives used patronisingly to describe their costumes: colourful, dramatic and so on. Yet to me it is perhaps the most bedraggled procession of colourless and unattractive costumes known to man. This is cheap Christmas tree art.

I was confronted by a band named Flamboyant. There was this single, large piece - blue and grey, I think - a huge circular frame signifying nothing. Then there might have been nine or ten masqueraders in all, drifting past, with nothing to indicate what theme this confused mess related to.

The Mangrove band passed by; their glory days are clearly over. They might have been Romans or Greeks. Heaven knows what they were portraying: some 25 to 30 people dressed in costumes and stewarded by an even greater number dressed in hard hats and bright yellow vests.

Costuming has been elevated into a fine art in Brazil and in Trinidad. But in Notting Hill there has been a degeneration. The hundreds of thousands who attend know it, and they are marvellously tolerant of this vulgar, itty-bitty parade without colour, heart or soul. They deserve better.

I know there is a tendency to generosity in matters black, but public funds are involved. I really would like the London Arts Board and the Arts Council to carry out an audit of how their funds are spent. We need new blood and new spirit to transform this tired parade into something that is worthwhile.