The faded respectability and self-righteous drabness of Kilburn: Mr Love and Justice

The London geographies in Colin MacInness’ Mr Love and Justice overlap some of my own much loved parts of London in interesting ways. I quite enjoyed the book, especially as it steadily grew more complicated and took its interesting turns. But my little urbanist heart proper stopped a couple of times as he describes architecture and place in rather brilliant ways. And wrestling.

I never lived in North London, but one of my favourite people lives in Kilburn. I’ve always loved it up there. This description of it fascinates, especially given how many new layers (pretty antithetical to coppers) have been added to these streets. Though I wonder if it isn’t returning to its middle class heyday.

Examining the area, Edward liked it. There is about Kilburn a sort of faded respectability, of self-righteous drabness, that appealed to him. For the true copper’s dominant characteristic, if the truth be known, is neither those daring nor vicious qualities that are some times attributed to him by friend or enemy, but an ingrained conservatism, an almost desperate love of the conventional. It is untidiness, disorder, the unusual, that a copper disapproves of most of all: far more, even, than of crime, which is merely a professional matter. Hence his profound dislike of people loitering in streets, dressing extravagantly, speaking with exotic accents, being strange, weak, eccentric or simply any rare minority-of their doing, in short, anything that cannot be safely predicted.

So Kilburn was reassuring: but on the other hand it had something else that equally appealed to Edward which was that, although proper, it was also in an indefinable way equivocal. As you walked through its same and peeling (though un-slummy) streets, the façades of the houses hinted, somehow, that all was not as it seemed behind those faded doors and walls. This straitlaced seediness, this primped-up exterior behind which lurks something dubious and occasionally horrifying, is the chief feature of whole chunks of mid-twentieth-century London–as, indeed, of many of its inhabitants: the particular English mixture of lunacy and violence flourishing inside persons, and a décor, of impeccable lower-middle class sedateness. This atmosphere appealed to Edward who, like all coppers, shunned clear pools (and even turbulent torrents) and preferred those whose surface, though quite still, could easily be stirred up into muddy little whirlpools. For if the copper is a worshipper of the conventional (so far as the world at large outside him is concerned), he is also in his inner person (being the arch empiricist) something of an anarch: a lover of stress and strain and conflict, wherein he himself may operate behind that outward, visible order he admires.

The flats the girl had in mind were of more recent construction one of those countless anonymous 1950 blocks which, in spite of their proliferation, have as yet entirely failed to transform London from what it still after years of bombing and re-building essentially remains a late-Victorian city. The block was tall and oblong-square and bleak and domestically adequate: perfect, in fact, for their intentions. (69-70)

MacInnes, Colin (1960) Mr Love and Justice. London: Allison & Busby.

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