Little Prisons – Ilona Bannister

There was a time before and there will be a time after. I cannot imagine it, Mother, but there will be a time after this one. 

Four women who seemingly have nothing in common all live in the new building on Bedford Road. 

Penny in 1B remembers a time when leaving her home didn’t feel impossible. Penny has agoraphobia.

In 1A, on the other side of Penny’s wall, Carla is doing her best to raise fourteen year old Mary Rose and twelve year old Daniel while experiencing coercive control.

Frequently knocking on both of their doors is the building’s resident Jehovah’s Witness, Mable from 3B. 

Then there’s Woman, who resides with the building’s owner and his family in 2A-2B. Woman hasn’t had an identity since she left Home Country. The promise of Better Life was a lie. Woman has been trafficked and is now a slave.

Told from the perspectives of the four central women and a few others whose lives intercept one or more of them, this story primarily takes place over the course of a year, beginning in January 2020. Written during lockdown, Little Prisons explores the lives of these four women both before and during lockdown, and how acts of kindness, some that don’t cost much and some that cost much more, change their lives.

Some really difficult life experiences are explored in this book and at times I really felt the weight of that. The perseverance and courage of the women gave me hope though and I quickly became invested in their lives. 

Initially I had trouble believing that the four women dealing with all of these monumental problems were all living in a building that only had space for nine residences. Then I stepped back and thought about it. I realised that you don’t know what you don’t know and that’s the point. 

We rarely know what’s happening behind the closed doors of people’s lives. People experiencing what the women in this book are are silenced, their traumas invisible.

I loved that these strangers, who just so happen to live in the same building, became important to one another. Sure, they don’t necessarily like one another initially and, let’s face it, have no reason to place their trust in anyone, but gradually they let themselves be seen. That’s so powerful.

There was a little ugly cry that took me unawares but my takeaway from this book is hope. I love found family stories and find strength in reading about people who have every reason to give up but keep getting out of bed every day and trying again. 

While I understood that this wasn’t their story, a part of me really wants to know more about the man in 1C, the young couple in 3A and the three girls in 3C. What were their stories and how much of what was happening in their building were they aware of?

Content warnings include domestic abuse, human trafficking, mental health, physical abuse, racism, sexual assault and slavery. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Two Roads, an imprint of John Murray Press, for the opportunity to read this book. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When you can’t get out, let kindness in.

In a non-descript building in a gentrifying corner of London, Penny is doing daily battle with her mind. She is convinced that the world beyond her door is too dangerous for her, though her heart knows it isn’t. Penny’s neighbour, Carla, an American expat and single mother of two teens, has lived in a coercive relationship for many years, too worn down by her controlling husband to escape her situation. Mable, Penny’s upstairs neighbour, an elderly Jamaican pensioner and devout Jehovah’s Witness, has sacrificed everything for her faith, including her relationship with her family. And Woman, the housekeeper and nanny on the second floor, has been trafficked. When she is not cleaning and cooking, she works in the laundrette the landlord owns on the ground floor, a hidden slave in full view of the public.

Through grocery deliveries, glimpses through windows, and overheard conversations in the stairwell, the women come to know each other. Their small acts of compassion help them each find a way to mend the broken paths in their lives.

Windswept & Interesting – Billy Connolly

I grew up watching Billy, first on VHS and then on DVD. I laughed along before I was even old enough to understand what was so funny. I was in the audience for three of his concerts, one of which was during his final tour of Australia. I met him twice and have the photos to prove it, including the one where my camera unexpectedly decided it needed a flash. Billy’s surprised expression is just as awesome as you’d expect. I even managed to get some Billy autographs and a Billy hug.

I’ve laughed so much my body has gotten confused and morphed into ugly crying. I’ve learned to be wary of beige people and to appreciate the freedom of naked dancing (vicariously, not personally). I’ve identified as windswept and interesting for as long as I can remember.

It was just as wonderful as I’d hoped. You can hear Billy in your head as you read his story. I’m going to hear him in my head for real when I listen to the audiobook version. Naturally I needed a copy in every format I could find but the audiobook is going to be an absolute treat; I can’t wait to hear his laughter.

You’ll learn “wee interesting things” about Billy here, some you’ll already know as if it’s your own autobiography, but you won’t care because it’s Billy. The new things may build on things you already knew; they’ll give you an even greater appreciation of the man he is and the things he’s overcome in order to delight you with his worldview.

I highlighted too many quotes to share with you here but I need you to read some of them.

On fashion: 

I once wore a pair of black patent brogues with furry black and white spotted panels on a plane. A flight attendant said, ‘I like your shoes.’ I said, ‘Thanks – I had them made abroad. The shoemaker had a big box of Dalmatian puppies, and you could pick your own …’ It was the only time in my life I was smacked by a flight crew member. 

On weight: 

I can’t control my weight and eat the things I like, so I eat the things I like.

On libraries: 

Everything I’ve achieved in my life has been because of the library. 

On Australian wildlife: 

I’m warning you. Australia is a dangerous place! Australians must be the bravest buggers on the face of the earth. Imminent danger every fucking day. 

On snorkelling: 

I was a bit nervous because I’d just seen Jaws for the first time – you know that movie about a shark that plays the cello? It put me off being in the sea. Every time I put my head underwater, I heard, ’dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun …’

On scuba diving: 

My favourite underwater trick is to get my buoyancy bang on and stand still vertically. Just stand there looking bored when people swim past. Nod to them as if you’re waiting at a bus stop. Look at your watch. You get the most extraordinary looks from people. 

This is the Billy you already know and love, but in book form. If anything, it made me love him more. 

‘I’m William F. B. Connolly the Third. Here’s some parting advice for you: “Lie on your back and you won’t squash your nose.”’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In his first full-length autobiography, comedy legend and national treasure Billy Connolly reveals the truth behind his windswept and interesting life.

Born in a tenement flat in Glasgow in 1942, orphaned by the age of 4, and a survivor of appalling abuse at the hands of his own family, Billy’s life is a remarkable story of success against all the odds.

Billy found his escape first as an apprentice welder in the shipyards of the River Clyde. Later he became a folk musician – a ‘rambling man’ – with a genuine talent for playing the banjo. But it was his ability to spin stories, tell jokes and hold an audience in the palm of his hand that truly set him apart. 

As a young comedian Billy broke all the rules. He was fearless and outspoken – willing to call out hypocrisy wherever he saw it. But his stand-up was full of warmth, humility and silliness too. His startling, hairy ‘glam-rock’ stage appearance – wearing leotards, scissor suits and banana boots – only added to his appeal.

It was an appearance on Michael Parkinson’s chat show in 1975 – and one outrageous story in particular – that catapulted Billy from cult hero to national star. TV shows, documentaries, international fame and award-winning Hollywood movies followed. Billy’s pitch-perfect stand-up comedy kept coming too – for over 50 years, in fact – until a double diagnosis of cancer and Parkinson’s Disease brought his remarkable live performances to an end. Since then he has continued making TV shows, creating extraordinary drawings … and writing.

Windswept and Interesting is Billy’s story in his own words. It is joyfully funny – stuffed full of hard-earned wisdom as well as countless digressions on fishing, farting and the joys of dancing naked. It is an unforgettable, life-affirming story of a true comedy legend.