Under new local laws, anything other than a dinner for two is illegal

Montgomeryshire is the accidental and, for the authorities, unwanted home of a veritable feast of post-hippie-alternative-community dwellers. I say "post-hippie" because those who live on the two large plots of land do recycle, but they pay their bills; play the bongos, but listen to Radio 4; and they try very hard to obey the increasingly bizarre and restrictive laws of our land. They are also canny business folk. Old food is composted, old clothes stitched, and bits of plastic, broken timber and old pottery are restyled into pieces of art and used as decoration or sold locally.

Over the 18 years my friend has owned his land, they have hosted dozens of peaceful, smallish-scale music events, where folk bands and local hopefuls play their sets. Only close friends - and friends of friends - get through the farm gates. Soon, it is Andi's 50th birthday and more than a hundred of his tribal-living mates were looking forward to a peacefully insane weekend of medlar wine, panpipes, quince vodka and jigging around in a muddy field under the stars. These are not drug-crazed teenagers, but slightly wacky, spaced-out funsters who, instead of planning to move to Spain when they retire, have taken up the eco-cause with a vengeance.

The sculptors, social workers, ex-lecturers and yurt builders living near Welshpool contribute more to their communities through drama workshops, eco- festivals and training courses than they would ever contribute by joining the local Conservative club. Paul, the teacher who owns the entire property, describes Andi and friends as "making their lives their art". An apt description for folk who live in wood and canvas structures all year round, and whose average day is as hard as, or harder than, most "traditional" farmers. All in their fifties and sixties, they have kids whose bands have been (optimistically) booked to play sets at the party and whose DJ equipment they use.

But now the whole thing looks doubtful: 160 bottles of home-made beer, dozens of lovingly crafted decorations and intricate safety measures may lie useless in the light of authority. Despite the party being held on private land and every precaution (including security guards) being taken to prevent gatecrashers, dangerous drug use or an overspill on to distant farms - the police will, it seems certain, ban the event. The police don't like Andi, and the authorities (in Edgar Griffin's constituency) don't like Andi and his "type".

Last year, an application for a very small gathering was made to the local police. This is essential under new laws that make everything but dinner for two illegal unless authorised by local government. It was refused on the grounds that "drugs may be taken at such an event".

The candles flickered over the large wooden table as we read and reread the paper reports on Edgar Griffin, who lives just a few miles away. "Our Asian friends in the town had to leave home for a week for their own safety," sighed Tom the builder. "They're only just coming back now." He was referring to the British National Party's open campaigning and partying not far from Shrewsbury and Welshpool. When the BNP had applied for permission to gather a couple of hundred members in a field nearby, the police said they were "happy for the BNP to hold their event here".

Meanwhile, a charity event to be held in the grounds of a Montgomeryshire manor house had also been banned. Thirty police with shields turned up on the day of the fundraiser to stop anyone entering the building. These community workers are so nervous about future problems with the police and local council "retribution" that they asked me not to name the charity involved (a very reputable one helping families with terminally ill children). Like Andi and his friends, the community workers want to remain anonymous. All names have therefore been changed to protect the innocent.

What country are we living in again?

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The love of a robot