By mutual agreement Sunday for me is "family day", and the two most recent members of my family like nothing more than to spend it sprawled on the settee watching the television, or doing something similarly unadventurous. So when I travelled to Gunnersbury Park for the London Mela I did so alone, and on the understanding that my visitation would be a short one.
Organisers of the London Mela describe the event as "the biggest festival of South Asian music and culture to take place outside of the Indian sub-continent". The London Evening Standard takes the view that it is "a secret to be shared with the wider community". However it is described, each summer 75,000 people converge on Brentford for an afternoon of festivity, food and fun.
The Hospitality Tent is always a mixed blessing. It is very rude to turn down free food, however having consumed an appropriately sociable quantity of it one is invariably less disposed to sample the various dishes on sale around the field, notwithstanding the lure of the aggressively aromatic spices which make them rather difficult not to notice.
Some of my (non-ICG) colleagues on the council are a little cooler about the Mela than I am. The naked cynicism of the old council administration which lauded the Mela yet refused to recognise St. George's Day on the grounds that it was "racist" - a stance which, insultingly, it believed would impress the Asian community and thereby lock in its votes - has left scars which will take time to heal. There are some people, people whose commitment to cohesion and integration is no less than mine, who see the Mela in that context and with that memory in mind, as an expression of cultural triumphalism.
Speaking personally I take a much more optimistic view. For the Mela, in fact, places South Asian culture within the context of a Western environment. The layout of the stalls, which purveyed a welcome mixture of ethnic and indigenous wares, was more akin to that of a London market than an Eastern bazaar. Even the music which blared out rather too loudly from the huge stage under the direction of the DJ "Crash" (last year's Master of Ceremonies, the hilariously named "Abdul Cool", obviously had a prior engagement) came across as a curious blend of traditional bhangra and that repetitive rapping stuff that the kids seem to go for today.
On the bus going home it struck me, from a Community Cohesion perspective, what an opportunity we had missed a couple of years back with all that pernicious St. George's Day nonsense. Imagine 75,000 people attending a St. George's Day festival, bedecked with English flags and populated by British people of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, with food, music and dance from South Asia, China, the Caribbean, as well as from the UK. A festival which would flaunt the proud Englishness of the diverse society which we enjoy today. What better way could there possibly be of putting across the message that we are an integrated community, contemptuous of prejudice and disharmony, diverse yet cohesive, brought together by the common values that unite us in a society in which Everybody Matters?
It isn't rocket science, but sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness railing unheard against the powerful but ultimately false dichotomy of diversity and integration.
A St. George's Day festival to celebrate multi-cultural Englishness in the 21st century. I wonder whether anybody will have the courage to suggest it?