As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. This blog entry is very different from any other we’ve published before, in that it has seven bloggers contributing! There is a very good reason why and that is because @manosdaskalou managed to choose a book that delighted all of us, and believe me, that is a challenge for a group of bibliophiles. Without more ado, let’s see what everyone thought:
“The second book of book club was a huge success- excellent choice @manosdaskalou! The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan was delightful! Whilst fulfilling all the ‘usual stuff’ associated with a crime novel, it also adds a layer of fantasy and wonder which is usually alien to crime fiction. As I raced through the novel, falling in love with characters- Poppy is kick ass, the complete opposite of drippy Carol (The Yellow Room) and safe to say I now want a baby Elephant; I was transformed into another world, something which crime fiction has never done for me before. It brought back feelings of nostalgia and memories of reading David Eddings and Derek Landy in the summer after GCSEs, when life was simpler and full of joy! A wonderful, intriguing and mysterious crime novel with a hint of fantasy, pulling you away to a different place. An enchanting and wonderful read which blends serious social injustices and issues with mystery, suspense and humour- I cannot wait to see what Inspector Chopra and Ganesha get up to next!”@jesjames50
“The problem with writing a mere paragraph for a blog about a book that I really did enjoy is that I fear I won’t be able to do it justice. The story, well I’m sure others might tell you what the book is about but, if you want to know, really want to know, read it. Rarely can I say that I couldn’t wait to finish the book and yet didn’t want it to finish. The characters come to life, especially the elephant, in a way that makes it seem almost real, but not quite. The story moves on at a fast pace and yet has a steadiness to it. There are surprises along the way and, yet they are almost expected, it was always going to be that way. Within the narrative there is a demonstration of what we know to be good in humans and, yet it encompasses so much of what we know to be bad. How then can I have left the final page, sad that the book was finished, but uplifted by the narrative and almost salivating at the anticipation of reading the next in the series? The plaudits on the cover don’t do it justice, to answer my question, all I can reiterate is that you have to read it to understand.”@5teveh
“When I first received this book, I was a bit sceptical, as I did not know how an elephant was going to be incorporated into a detective crime novel. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The first book in the series was a delight and a much-needed escape in these uncertain times. This book captured my attention very quickly and whisked me off on a colourful, picturesque adventure to Mumbai, with the amazing inspector Chopra and of course the star of the story, Ganesh the mysterious baby elephant. The book introduces you to an interesting plot. At first you are made to think that the focus of the book will be on Inspector Chopra investigating the murder of a young man. However, you are quickly introduced to the wider issues that sit at the heart of social and economic challenges present in India. Without leaving you glum, the book has a nice balance of crime and mystery, coupled with humour, great food, wonderful scenery and lovable characters. I liked this book as it was unique to any other books that I have read. I am looking forward to continuing the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series.”@svr2727
“Vaseem’s novel had me from to get-go. Set in bustling Mumbai this novel has more depth than the usual “whodunit” scenario. This book is a criminologist’s dream, as yes, we all find out who did it in the end, and yes the case is also solved but there are also issues of poverty and corruption to contend with. The story would not be complete without Ganesha the elephant who makes solving the case possible (and survivable). Ganesha goes through a lot in the story. From being depressed and chained up outside an apartment complex, to being mistakenly left to drown during heavy rain and fed chocolate. Despite all of this, Ganesha is often the hero of the hour, so for me the book symbolises the true greatness of animals: We do not deserve them.”@haleysread
“I really enjoyed this book. It was great to lose myself in a different country and culture and to meet so many relatable characters there – even (especially?) the chocolate loving elephant! I can’t wait to find out what happens next…”@saffrongarside
As well as having the joy of reading The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, we also had the very unexpected pleasure of welcoming the author Vaseem Khan to our book club meeting today. To be able to hear about Vaseem’s motivations for creating the colourful world in which Inspector Chopra and Ganesha work and play was fascinating. The opportunity to ask questions was fantastic and we’d like to say a big thank you to Vaseem for allowing us a peak inside his world of writing. It is now easy to see where Inspector Chopra gets his generosity of spirit from. And now we’ll leave the final word to @manosdaskalou….after all he did choose the book 😉
“What does a gang of criminologists do at lockdown? We read crime books and talk about them. On this occasion The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was a welcomed distraction from reality. The book introduces the retired inspector with a very unusual sidekick! The retired inspector is a very honourable, incorruptible professional whose investigation will bring him in conflict with the criminal underbelly of Mumbai. The retired inspector is not fazed, and he is determined to carry on regardless. The investigation takes inspector Chopra around the city; which gives the reader a unique opportunity to get to know a metropolitan megapolis.”@manosdaskalou
I was inspired by @5teveh’s post about what things we may be struggling to be without, as well as what beauty we are finding in this new way of living.
I think it’s easier to start with what I don’t miss, which like many I am sure, is commuting. Some days I can commute a total of 3 hours round trip, and I am not even doing a lot of miles, but traffic is just bad. That’s 2 I guess, commuting and traffic. While I am at it, I don’t miss the things that go along with a long journey, such as trying to make up for the time I feel I’ve lost or, to be honest, thinking about my journey – that in itself can be a burden.
Me time! now, this isn’t a strictly-miss/don’t miss but rather something I have gained more of in the lockdown. Like us all, we have more time to ourselves, which for me has meant more time for reading. I tend to read every day anyway, but with the added time I’ve managed to devour 10 books in my 4 weeks of lockdown.
I am lucky that I am not in lockdown alone, I have my partner and my beautiful dog, who luckily is so small she doesn’t need frequent walks. However, this leads me on to what I miss. I miss walking freely with my partner and the dog, deep in the countryside, saying hello to other dog walkers and letting the dogs play, walking with friends and family and chatting while taking in the fresh air. This is one of my favourite things to do. It clears my mind and I miss it every day.
As mentioned above, but also like everyone, I miss my family, I do not live that close to my family, so when I visit them or they visit me, it’s a real occasion, for which we have planned what we will do, where we will eat and when the next visit will be. Not knowing when this will be is the hardest.
I think I echo others when I say that I miss the freedom and miss having (or at least the feeling of having) some control. I am aware of my privilege, I know the lockdown can bring the worst out of us sometimes, we moan about things that can seem trivial, especially when others are suffering more. I feel guilty, more than I did before I was forced to think about it every day. I miss not feeling guilty that I could be doing productive things like others, like filling every second with yoga (never done yoga before- why now?) or some other new activity.
The lockdown has made me think more simply, think of things day by day, there is joy in that, but I also take joy in picturing the moment where it all feels a bit better, I don’t think that will be the day the lockdown ends, but in months maybe, where I’ll be on a walk amongst the trees, with my favourite people and my favourite dog.
Thus far, this has been the only time someone has called the cops on me – excluding those late-night noise violations at university for my 21st birthday parties. Plus a few routine traffic stops back home, two of which involved routine racial profiling. I’m lucky. There are far too many stories when these police encounters didn’t go well.
What if Ms. Angie had notified the guard, and he’d then decided to take things into his own hands? What if the police had come in pointing guns as they are want to do? What if my mother weren’t clasping tightly to my hand – as far as they knew – a senior citizen in need of (their) protection, a long-time customer of the bank discussing the mortgage on my grandparent’s old house? I have to wonder about these possibilities, to be sensitive and aware :-(. To be Young, Gifted and Black :-).
Like Charles Ramsey, “I knew something was wrong” when I saw two cops circle the bank and enter from two different directions. They weren’t there for banking and there weren’t any other customers. This was hubby’s (then boyfriend) first visit to my hometown, so I’d explicitly warned him to sit down while we waited in the lobby for my mother to handle her business. It was a small branch, yet still, like many banks at the time, the safe sat wide open, as if for inspection. Hubby was hovering. I even gave him change so he could get a lollipop from the charity pot sitting on several teller stations. You’d think someone would come over and offer a tour.
I had entered the small office once or twice. I greeted the agent speaking with my mother, then let momma know where we waited. Meanwhile, hubby insisted on wondering around – he’s generally restless. He was looking at all the posters promoting the bank’s services. Incredibly high-interest rates! Few savings options! He’s fascinated with the levels of credit exploitation permitted in America; the average German has net assets while most all us Americans have debt! He couldn’t even understand how a nation would let its population not have access to a basic bank account – as a right. He measured everything by good German standards.
How do people in America live with such instability! At that time, all this was totally foreign to him. At least in our neighborhood most folks were homeowners, so hubby and I understood one another on that. We’d both grown up taking care of our family’s homes and helping the neighbors. We’ve mowed many a lawn and trimmed many a hedge. We still do now.
Angie Smallwood’s branch has now closed. After being heavily frisked, ID-ed and having the car license plates checked, the manager told us that Angie Smallwood had been involved in “5 or 6 armed robberies.” He explained – in that managerial tone where you know you’re being handled – that Angie had become suspicious because of hubby’s foreign accent. I found that part hilarious and yet most plausible then and there, in Louisville, KY. In spite of their constant romanticization of their European roots, they couldn’t communicate with one actual F.O.B. standing right in front of them. As a European, hubby needed this education about his own whiteness.. He even came up with his own phrase for the phenomenon “those are not my white people.”
I suppose the manager was suggesting that Angie Smallwood was trigger happy. Or, perhaps he was just trying to elicit our sympathies. It’s not as if we were going to cause a scene, the cops were still standing menacingly by. Of course, my husband blurted out why they’d placed someone so traumatized on front desk duty anyway? I am also not certain if they expected my mother to continue her business with them, or if they even cared, but the cops did ask hubby and I to leave – as if my mother was just going to go back inside. At least the manager could have apologized to my mother. He could not.
“Like I said, we just got a call about a potential crime.”
What if my mother didn’t have outstanding credit, or relationships with other banks, and therefore didn’t have other options? Angie’s antics would have just ruined that. This was the most disrespectful part – their staunch, comprehensive reminder that there’s systemic power behind their individual prejudices. Their silences. My silence.
My silence: I had already policed myself. I dressed for success, sat calmly in a visible area, not made any noise and not touched anything save for the flyer next to me on the table. I used my best diction and inside voice when I made sure to smile and greet every staffer I could see. I showed them my teen as if to announce “I’m not a threat.” If all that hadn’t disarmed them, it occurred to me – yet again- that they could not be appeased.
No level of respectability would protect me in public – we were all a part of a system, and as far as they were all concerned, everyone was just doing their job. Imagine, not only could the cops not offer any apology, they couldn’t even stand down from their hostile posture and tone. I actually felt sorry for them – as big, armed and trained as they were, they acted threatened by us!
At the time I thought they’d refused to de-escalate the situation, perhaps pride? The cops had no kind words for my mother whom they’d found out was there on legitimate business. Naw, they escorted us outside and menacingly watched us drive away. Sometimes I feel that even screwball ‘Police Academy’movies from the 80’s showed more emotional intelligence than that.
Though hubby usually drives, momma insisted that she take the wheel under the cops’ eyes, worrying they’d then challenge the foreigner’s right to drive. Yet, now I’m convinced they couldn’t have de-escalated the situation. Cops’ weeks of training doesn’t routinely include conflict resolution. They don’t know no better. They just got a call, and so they could no longer be human.
Educate cops. Arm them with de-escalation tools so that the public sees their power. Arm cops with non-violence so that they model this behavior for our society. Teach cops to be able to identify emotional distress as much as any professional would. Don’t let a weapon be their only peacemaker.
In a previous blog post, I commented how the Period Drama is my favourite genre to watch. This year, it was interesting to see two of my favourite series talk about tower blocks. As we reach the third anniversary of Grenfell , I saw both Call the Midwife and Endeavour comment on how these tower blocks were optimistic schemes. As the tower blocks multiply in the London East End, a new society rises. Meanwhile, in Endeavour a tower block collapses in Oxfordshire (quite like Ronan Point in Canning Town: London, 1968). Watching both these shows, we know how this story ends, in ashes; poor people, immigrants, refugees, Black and brown people, people with disabilities as victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
It is also tragic to see that in the stories of tower blocks in both series, there is also a Black history that goes beyond the show. In Call the Midwife’s ninth season, we encounter a patient with Sickle Cell, common in those of African descent. “The population around here is changing, I have to be prepared to deal with new things” says Dr. Turner. The arrival of the Windrush Generation, tied with the baby boom brought challenges for the state. Where would they house people? People in a society where Enoch Powell feared “the Black man would hold the whip hand over the White man.”
In Endeavour, the Cranmer House collapses, which may be inspired by the true-to-life incident of Ronan Point, a tower block in the Canning Town district in the East End of London. Ronan Point partially collapses a year and half before the events of ‘Degüello’ in the sixth season of Endeavour. In London, there were four fatalities and an additional seventeen were injured. Initially said to be a gas explosion, like at Cranmer, it was later deduced that Ronan Point’s collapse was due to structural deficiencies. Laws were eventually changed in hope of preventing incidents like this.
Though, that did not help those that died at Grenfell, where seventy-two (that were accounted for) lost their lives on June 14, 2017, including still-born Logan Gomes after his parents escaped the tragedy in the south-west of London.
However, this episode of Endeavour must be one of my favourites of any show I have seen. Not only for its sociohistorical significance, but for its ability to tell a story with excellent pacing in a way that I only really see in journalism films, such as The Post (starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks) Not at any moment is this boring to watch (nor is the entirety of the series). Each episode of Endeavour plays out almost like a film noir. Especially ‘Degüello’, which makes me think of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974).
When a librarian is murdered at Oxford’s world famous Bodleian, DS Endeavour Morse and DI Thursday have no leads but a pair of muddy boot prints. With both suspects having motives, Morse explores into their pasts, showing bribery and corruption at the highest level, including links to Cranmer and the murder of their colleague DC George Fancy. In its ninety minutes, ‘Degüello’ is pure edge-of-your-seat drama. It must be one of my favourite season finales of all-time. And that is high praise, indeed.
Early on we already begin to see the cracks in Cranmer. Quite literally. When tragedy strikes, it is up to Morse and company to find the survivors in the rubble of what was supposed to be an optimistic look at Britain of the future. Watching shows set in the 1960s, it’s eerie to know how this story ends (if it has ended at all). In this time of Coronavirus we are in a country with a 30,000+ death toll, many of which could have been prevented. The same can be said with Grenfell, where stakeholders seemingly cut corners to save money and at least seventy-two people unnecessarily lost their lives.
With these two shows set in the same time period, both with commentaries on tower blocks (CTM’s being a looser narrative), we in the present have the gift of hindsight. Yet, with Grenfell we continue to make the same mistakes. If they are mistakes at all. Did the state’s contempt for the working class begin with Grenfell? No, just look at Charles Dickens novels, or how the characters of Wuthering Heights treat Heathcliff who Mr Earnshaw brought back from Liverpool. These are works of fiction, but how fictional are they? Art imitates life, but when life starts imitating art is what scares me.
For centuries, those that have, have always treated those that don’t with disdain. Whether that’s the actions of the British Empire; or the use of child labour (see the Factory Act, didn’t do much). Or the Mines Act (1842) prohibiting girls and women working the mines. Nonetheless, today’s progress on equalities, including the Human Rights Act (1998) would also dictate that the Factory Act (1833) as not fit for purpose, with age ten as the minimum age for boys to work the mines. English common sense indeed!
How fictional are the stories of Dickens, the Bronte Sisters, or Thackeray’s Vanity Fair that comment on class? With the ongoing investigation into the Grenfell Tower tragedy, how will the history books look back on it, in say a century? What about the Windrush Scandal? In the ‘Case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce’, in Bleak House, it ends with nobody getting anything. Years of legal fees and legal jargon that nobody understands. Both Call the Midwife and Endeavour show characters at the mercy of systems. A London tower block black as coal doesn’t discriminate but institutions do, systems do.
When you run Grenfell, Ronan, Cranmer, or even the Coronavirus pandemic parallel to British history, is it really surprising that the state is cutting corners, readily throwing society’s most vulnerable, including the poor, under the bus?
My favourite TV show - Gogglebox. There is nothing I love more on a Friday night than watching others watch TV, especially if a Chinese takeaway is involved. I do have my binge tv shows too, such as Brooklyn 99 and I love a Louis Theroux documentary My favourite place to go - During term time, it's to go to the pool at the local gym and de-stress. It helps when I’m getting stressed about uni work or even work itself. I always come out refreshed, ready to take on the day. However, I can’t go to the pool for the foreseeable future, which is a downside to liking a sport you cannot do from home. At the moment, sitting in the garden is a good way to get away and have some me time My favourite city - Barcelona. It so full of culture and bright colours. It has the most beautiful architecture and a stunning beach front. I will definitely be giving it another visit after lockdown and hope to visit Barcelona many more times My favourite thing to do in my free time - be with my family, go on long dog walks and just relax My favourite athlete/sports personality - I suppose it would have to be Rebecca Adlington. I think she is an inspirational person and her passion for swimming inspired me to take it up, however I don’t think I’ll be going pro My favourite actor - This is a hard one, I love most genres of films. Robin Williams would be very top of that list. He was such an inspirational person, and Mrs Doubtfire is one of my favourite classic films. I also absolutely love Aladdin, and his part as the genie is just amazing, there was nothing that man couldn’t do My favourite author - I have been very slack with my reading in recent years. As a child, Jacqueline Wilson was my absolute favourite. They are brilliant books, even to me now, with such meaningful messages behind the story My favourite drink - If we are going with alcoholic, it has to be raspberry gin and pink lemonade. Nothing like it on a warm summers evening and a BBQ My favourite food - This is a tricky one because I love so much food. I’d probably have to go with a burger. But I also love Chinese, Indian, pizza, pasta, the list could go on and on. The only food I’m not too bothered about is sweet food. I much prefer savoury. But on special occasions a sticky toffee pudding goes down very well My favourite place to eat - The Cherry Tree in Olney. They do the best burgers around and have so many great gins. The bar area is lovely and cosy which is important because the dog goes everywhere with us. They have a biscuit tin for dogs and he loves that, its his favourite place to go to I like people who - tell it how it is and like me for who I am. These are the best kind of people I don’t like it when people - are not truthful and patronise me My favourite book - I don’t really read, but now I have quite a lot of time on my hands it is something I have started doing. I am about halfway through The Handmaid's Tail and is one of the best books I have read so far My favourite book character - Hetty Feather, a well-known character from Jacqueline Wilson, who is very defiant and strong willed. She has not come from much but is determined to make something of herself. I admire her for that My favourite film - Probably the High School Musical trilogy, they remind me of my childhood, and I will forever love Zac Efron. Although I do enjoy a true story, such as The Darkest Hour and Saving Private Ryan. I also enjoy a cheesy rom-com, I think I’ve seen the majority of them on Netflix My favourite poem - The Caged Bird by Maya Angelou. I studied Maya Angelou during A level English Literature and found her to be an inspiring woman with an extraordinary story to tell. The poem compares the lives of those who are free and those who are not, and I believe this to be an important message in our society My favourite artist/band - Def Leppard are probably my number 1, although I like so many more My favourite song - This changes on a monthly basis, at the moment its anything by Harry Styles My favourite art - Girl with a pearl earring. Its just such an iconic painting and I would love to see it one day My favourite person from history - Princess Diana. Nothing more needed to say. Such an inspirational woman with so much to give the world
As I sit in our ensuite, I gaze around with pride remembering how I built this. I built the room structure before plumbing in a toilet, sink and shower. I tiled the walls and laid the flooring. The only thing I didn’t do was plaster the walls, not really my forte and sometimes we have to recognise our own limitations. A few weeks ago though, I wasn’t admiring a job well done; the shower leaked. Nothing drastic, but nonetheless there would be a small pool of water outside of the shower after use. The problem being that the floor wasn’t level, therefore the shower tray wasn’t level, and this left a gap under the shower door. I’d tried to adjust the frame but had taken it to its limit which meant the door was wobbly. I didn’t think much of the mastic job around the shower either, uneven and already starting to lift slightly in places.
The problem is obvious, the floor is not level, I didn’t build the house so that’s someone else’s fault. There’s not enough compensation in the frame to rectify the first problem, poor shower design if you ask me. I can’t think of an excuse for the mastic debacle.
Now I can sit in the ensuite every morning for as long as I like lamenting others’ poor workmanship and poor design, and I did for a while, but it won’t solve the problem.
I decided to try to fix the issue, after all, in the current climate we do have to try to keep ourselves amused. Thinking about this, I really ought to have made a better job of levelling the shower tray in the first place. Too late now though, it’s bonded in place. I decided to move the shower frame away from the wall slightly, this adjustment was enough to stabilise the door, why I didn’t do this in the first place I can’t say, probably too focused on finishing the job, maybe a bit of laziness crept in. The adjustment also meant that the gap below the door was minimised and this solved the leak. I took all the mastic off around the shower tray and started again. A far better finish was achieved.
In deciding to do something about the problem, I stopped seeing it as a problem, stopped blaming others and stopped thinking about my misfortune. I took responsibility for my own poor workmanship, realising that I had failed to take into account the fact the floor wasn’t level.
Sometimes we spend too much time complaining about problems, finding fault in others, that we fail to see where we might have done better. When we fall short, we blame others or blame circumstances, rarely do we consider that we could have done the job better or handled the situation differently. If we start to take responsibility for our own shortcomings, then the world becomes a better place. Putting the ‘I’ back into ‘responsibility’ really is quite empowering. ‘When fate hands us a lemon, let’s try to make a lemonade’ (Carnegie, 1998:185).
Carnegie, D (1998) How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, London: Vermilion
Considering what I miss/do not miss during this time has led me to the conclusion that I am extremely privileged and fortunate. And in a sense it shames me that the things I miss or do not miss are exceptionally minor in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless…
At the beginning of lockdown I was, as I am sure many were, struggling to cope with the concept of time. What was time now I spent every day at home? What day of the week was it? After a few days of feeling quite unsettled by this, I soon accepted and believed that I did not miss time, as with time can restrictions, deadlines and an atmosphere of rushing. I enjoyed taking my time with mundane household chores, with reading in the sunshine, pottering around, playing video games, answering emails: all without having to rush. However fast forward to today and I miss time. I miss having to rush to fit things in, or making a decision about what will have to wait till another day because I do not have time today. And I really miss being able to tell (without looking at a calendar) what day it is.
Like many, I also miss my family, friends and colleagues. I have older relatives who I am facetiming often, but normally would only see once maybe twice a year (they live a fair distance away), and I am making a mental note to make more of an effort to see them when we return to whatever will constitute normalcy. But is this an empty thought? Will I actually make more of an effort? I see lots on social media about how this has made us more grateful and aware, but is this just empty reflection? When push comes to shove will we just fall back into the same problematic ways? Maybe some will, maybe some won’t: I am hopeful I won’t, but I am not making this statement with conviction. Whilst I miss seeing my family, I am thankful that we are able to keep in regular contact and in some ways I talk more regularly with my family now than before lockdown.
Rather than what I do not miss, I will share what I am enjoying whilst in lockdown (even though it is not the same as not missing something). I like how empty the roads are: I have started to run around Northampton via walkways and roads as part of my daily exercise rather than the park routes which I used to do. The roads are empty and it is lovely! I am enjoying (in my experience) how smiley people are towards supermarket workers and hope that it is genuine. I am also enjoying not driving: I rarely drive nowadays anyway, but I would drive to the gym on the occasional evening and to visit friends. As time has very little meaning to me currently, and I live close to local amenities, I am walking everywhere which is pleasant.
It is a strange time and whilst I think there are lots of things I miss, I am not sure that there actually are. I am lucky in the sense that I have (at least I feel like I have) adapted well to being in lockdown. So whilst there are a number of little things I think I miss, actually I’m getting by well enough to question if I actually miss them. Although, in all honesty, I miss being able to walk to the shop as frequently as required for chocolate! This once a week shopping is resulting in me buying lots of chocolate, and eating it within the first half of the week and leaving me all stroppy when we run out! I think if I was unable to go out daily for exercise, and ran out of coffee, then I would not feel as relaxed as I currently do.