Following in the literary footsteps of George Orson Wells, who wrote Catch 1984 on the secluded island of Isla, last month the South London solipsist Will Self accepted the recently inaugurated Orwell Writer in Residency post on the island, but found the 1m2 bothy was occupied already - by a tatterdemalion figure who claimed to be Samuel Beckett himself.
Beckett, who wrote mostly in words, was reported to have died in 1989, and share a grave with his wife in the Cimetiere de Montparnasse in Paris. No so, claimed this Estragonian waif. As if his continued existence was not shock enough, the elder patesman of the Absurdist tradition had another confession to make… “I write the ChuckleBrothers…” he revealed to a startled Self. We sent our Brigadoon correspondent to unearth the truth…
“As my car drew up to the half-crumbled cottage, the fond fizz of heather smoke dizzying from its chimney, I was suddenly possessed with a sense of overwhelming melancholy, as if that distant trail of smoke prophesied change. Or unchange. I knew my life would never be the same again. Unless it was.” I mused inwardly, passing a slouching grey loch on my right.
Finally, the small rump of the house fumbled into view. Unoccupied, cold. I knock. Will Self left when he learned that the island didn’t boast a Sainsbury’s. No answer. “Out here,” a nicotine-spiced voice calls. I turn the corner of the peat-sided dwelling, revealing a small, unkempt lawn, dandelions pushing their little yellow faces through the grass, trying to catch the scant rays of the Scottish sun. The lawn untroubled, save for an old metal dustbin, an empty bottle of Bruichladdich propped against its trunk. “Mr Beckett?” I call. The tin-can rustles, and a dry corner of familiar, careworn, walnut features juts.
In the event, after his initial hostility, he produces his birth certificate, corners curled and yellow. Why did he keep quiet for so long, I ask? “In a review of Godot, a critic said that ‘nothing happens, twice,’ and you know, she was right. Locking an audience in the theatre for four hours is all well and good, but they still get to go home afterwards. But the possibility of affecting children, day after day after day. That’s something else. It seemed logical to fake my own death, find an isolated spot and bide my time. The work I began in Waiting for Godot and Endgame - the Chuckle Brothers is simply its logical conclusion. My work's crowning turd.”
“Calling them ‘Chuckle’ merely enhances the alienation effect, of course. I realised, to my regret, that Estragon and Vladimir were simply too vital. Too alive. At least with Barry and Paul we can be certain that their lives are without much enjoyment, certainly no sexual fulfilment. Unless they take it with one another. In front of the telly. ChuckleVision first graced our screens in 1987. Twenty -two bloody years and twenty straight series later - You don’t get much more desolate than that.”
A BBC spokesman for Rotherham-based Barry and Paul Chuckle vociferously denied the allegation that the ChuckleVision is in any way rehearsed or scripted. “Absolutely not. BBC licence payers must expect to be treated in a good faith, honest way. Any suggestion that Barry and Paul conduct any sort of second life or are real people is simply vicious rumour, and I reject it entirely.” Answering Beckett’s allegation of late night co-mutual masturbatory sessions, journalists were reassured:
“Nothing happens, twice,” the Brothers confirmed.