Books for Women #5 Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

I bought, or perhaps stole, because I am  sorry to say I used to steal quite a few books from shops and libraries in those days,  my copy of Beckett’s Happy Days in 1971. This was a great time to live down the road from Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre and  I joined the Youth Theatre Workshop there when we lived in the pub in Parliament Place. Do I owe that  to my old school friend Lorna Tanklovtich? I think I do.

I  saw Waiting for Godot at the Everyman  there at about age 14 but cannot remember if that is what led me to Happy Days, a book I  became almost obsessed with during the  summer of 1971. I was a pretentious 15-year-old.  I carried it everywhere with me, and would read or recite long monologues to myself or preferably to others whenever I got the chance. Like all Beckett, it is very serious and very funny.  It made me laugh my head off and I  can recall  sitting in the upstairs bar at the Liverpool playhouse one  saturday afternoon, reading and laughing to myself…

Why is it a book to make a woman?

Well, there’s Winnie, stuck up to her neck in sand, and useless Willie, free but  no good to her at all, just round the back. Something about that situation  struck me as true. I loved Winnie’s mad brave attempts to keep going.  To keep herself together. Oh,  in the pub where we lived things were going crazy.  My mum was beautiful and very witty but beginning to drink  too much. She had a boyfriend with whom she fought when drunk.  Nights were hard,  trying to  calm them both down, and then… my girl’s grammar school by day. Odd disjunctions. I  recognised Winnie’s self-delusion, but I loved her. Winnie was my mum.  And me. I was laughing but I was looking to the future.  Happy Days.

Winnie: (turning back to front, joyful). Oh you  are going to talk to me today, this is going to be a happy day! (Pause. Joy off.) Another Happy day.

2 thoughts on “Books for Women #5 Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

  1. Vic May 1, 2012 / 12:09 am

    Reading this post took me right back to “liberating” The Literature Of The Spanish People by Gerald Brenan from my old school library. No one had ever taken the book out and I remember thinking it was my duty at the time. I also feel bad about it now. Especially as I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books.
    It also makes me think about a conversation I had in one of my library groups last week. I had just finished reading a chapter from Dahl’s Matilda and as one of the children I was reading to seemed to really enjoy the book, I suggested she check the book out of the library. I was told she wasn’t allowed to take books out. Mum wouldn’t let her anymore.
    I can only presume that the child had forgotten to take books back at some time and cost mum fines. And if you’re struggling financially, I guess books are not the top priority. But not having access to books is a problem.
    My mum used to work as a school secretary and I remember her telling me the following tale from school. She said she overheard a member of the teaching staff ‘kicking off’ because she had set some homework that involved finding the meaning of words and a number of the kids had not completed the homework. In fact one of the parents had contacted the school to complain about the task saying we haven’t got a dictionary in the house, how does she think my kid can do this? The teacher had been aggrieved and had said, “As if! Have you ever heard the likes? No dictionary in the house, indeed!” Apparently, the same teacher had been angry the week before with a child who told her she possessed no craft scissors at home.
    During my own teaching I recall overhearing a member of staff complain about a recent class discussion in which the topic of “what I want to do when I leave school” had caused one child to say, “I want to work in Sayers, you get a staff discount.” The member of staff in question seemed to think this was hilarious. Fancy having such low expectations of yourself, was their general feeling on the child’s career choice. But this child was well known for having regularly been found round the bins at the back of the canteen, scavenging for food to take home that night. Her home life was chaotic.
    I guess I’m just reflecting on how out of touch some people are with regards to how other people’s lives are lived. And I guess that, in reading, you get a chance to try on these other lives. And sometimes I just forget how lucky I’ve been to have had experiences of early reading at home.

    Anyway, was just thinking on. Thanks Jane, Vic

  2. Fong May 1, 2012 / 10:08 pm

    Hello Jane, I enjoyed reading what you wrote about Beckett. It made me think of when I was a teenager – I also came across his stuff and was blown away. I lived in Nottingham and as a teenager I used to get into the university library there (couldn’t take books out but could get in unquestioned, and the city library was rubbish back then) and read all kind of stuff. But particularly loved Beckett, I think because it is just so wild! It’s obsessive, weird, full of characters who don’t DO much but talk of doing all kinds of things ( which is pretty much the lot of teenagers with big ideas but no money or wherewithal) and peopled by folk who act bizarrely but within that little word very understandably. I remember reading a story called Dante and the Lobster and there was this bit where the main character is making toast…but it has to be burnt, it has to be this, it has to be that, mustard, no butter, sharp in the mouth until its painful to eat etc. – all done in these very precise and proscribed ways. Just making toast is so torturous and mad but very funny as well. I have no idea why reading that story made me feel better at the time, but it definitely did!

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