I could have met Samuel Beckett

If this suits you, no need to reply. Sincerely,

Samuel Beckett. I walked back to the university. I hope you don’t mind my writing to you out of the blue. A few days later, back home in Ireland, I received another note in the same spidery handwriting. I idled in the bookshop daily and one afternoon, as I sat on a narrow stairs reading another book I couldn’t buy, Gretchen made her way past me to the small kitchenette on the next floor. Do you accept the three rules?”

I nodded my agreement and we shook hands. Try me again when you are next in Paris. I gave Malone’s accommodation as my return address and set off with my map of Paris. “Not at all,” Hervé said. Dear Mr Beckett,

I am a student of English in UCG and I am in Paris for a few weeks. At least I wrote! Jacques. Why don’t you meet him?”

“You’re joking?” I countered. “So you want to meet Samuel Beckett?”

“Yes,” I said. I arrived into Paris to meet up with my best friend, Cormac Malone. Photograph: Lesley Wingfield

“Why is it only addressed to you?” Malone asked over my shoulder as I read and re-read the note. “Would you meet him at the Hôtel PLM and give him this?” I had penned another letter, introducing Malone, and making my excuses about a family crisis back in Dublin. It had all seemed perfect. When we returned to Paris there was a letter sellotaped to Malone’s door, addressed in spidery writing to me. The following day I wrote to Samuel Beckett. I stood in the small hallway and scanned the names on the letterboxes. My belief is if you say there are two of you, then he will not reply. Gretchen, from Holland, was studying English too and worked for a few hours a day on the till in this wonderful bookshop. He’s one of the organisers of a poetry festival in Montmartre. I’m going to catch a train to Le Havre in an hour’s time.” Behind me, my barely credible rucksack and re-strung guitar leant against the wall. “Ah, Beckett,” she said with a grin. “Try to sober up before you meet him,” he said as he was leaving for class. “I’m just very disappointed that you felt you had to get drunk just to tell me the truth.”

Suddenly, and irreversibly, everything altered between us. Hervé, her grumpy colleague, was from Provence and had no interest in either sunshine or wine. But the corner of the city which kidnapped my interest that summer was Shakespeare and Company, the bookshop on the banks of the Seine, just a stale croissant’s throw away from Notre Dame. “Are you sure?” he asked with disinterest. “Because I’m the person who wrote to him.”

“Yeah, okay, but why doesn’t it mention me?”

“Perhaps he means ‘you’ plural. “In 10 days we’re going to meet the greatest living Irish writer.”

For days I agonised over what to do but eventually just got plastered one afternoon and spilled the beans at dinner. Eventually I came up with an answer. “I’ve met someone who has met him. I sat for hours, getting soaked, on the edge of a fountain on the Blvd St Michel trying to figure a way out. I filled the silence with words which did not help. Horace Winter Says Goodbye by Conor Bowman is published by Hachette Ireland, £12.99 I asked him if he’ll help you out.”

And so I found myself outside Shakespeare and Company waiting to meet a Moroccan musician called Sa’id. We’d both like to meet him.”

“You can try and tell Monsieur Beckett that in your letter,” the Moroccan warned, “but chances are he will not meet more than one person at a time. I knew that I had to choose between my opportunity and my friend. Dear Mr Bowman,

I could see you as follows; Monday July 28, 11am, Hotel PLM, 17 Blvd St. He died a couple of years later and I never did get to meet him. Bowman

Thank you for your letter received from Lt Malone. “I’ve heard of people who have had lunch with him.”

I wondered if this was just another urban legend. Conor Bowman: My only consolation is that I have two handwritten notes from Samuel Beckett. I popped it in the letterbox and left. “Of course! I stood in front of the closed bookshop, clutching a copy of Beckett’s novel, Watt, to display my bona fides. He was silent. “I’ve got to get back home, Cormac,” I said when next we met. Two, you must never contact him again if he does not reply.” So far so good I thought. “I’ve thought about that,” I replied. I wondered if you would like to meet for a pint. “It’s definitely true about Beckett, like Hervé said,” Gretchen told me breathlessly a day or two later. Anyway, some of his plays have even less words than this bloody note, so give him a break.”

“Jaysus, this is incredible,” Malone said. In exchange, she was allowed to kip upstairs at night in a sleeping bag rolled out on a window seat. “Can you help?”

He took a scrap of paper from a pocket halfway down his trouser leg. It was July 1986. The building was not difficult to find. Best wishes,


Samuel Beckett. But of course it’s up to you. “He won’t meet two of us. That’s why I never mentioned you when I wrote to him.” Malone’s face fell and rage, jealousy and upset crossed his features like futures tumbling on a stock-exchange display. Yours sincerely,

Conor Bowman. “And finally, you must never share the address with anyone.”

“I’ve got a friend, another student from Ireland, here in Paris as well. Godot didn’t turn up either. Malone was studying French and English on an army scholarship while I was reading pure English. “Yeah,” I said. That weekend Malone and I went away. “I, I didn’t really think he’d even reply.”

Malone stared me out and then drained his drink. Over the next few days the magnets which drew me were tiny places; like the coffee house on the Île St Louis, which just served hot chocolate, or the windows of antiquarian bookshops in the side streets of the Left Bank. He held it up and away from me, like he was teasing a dog. He’s Irish too. I looked at the envelope in my hands and nervously shook it to make certain I’d put the letter inside before I’d sealed it. The tall building leaned out at the river, beckoning people in. All in all, he was a good guy, a little obsessed with the army for my money, but probably an excellent soldier. He had joined the army as an officer cadet, following in the footsteps of an uncle on his mother’s side. “There are three rules,” he said, “before I can trust you with the address.”


“One; you must write to him and leave the letter in the postbox in the apartment block foyer. “I’m nearly out of money. “I’m not angry,” he said, in a fairly sanctimonious tone of voice. He wanted to write novels. On her way back down, she handed me a mug of milky coffee and examined the spine of the book I was reading. Dear Mr. There it was; “M et Mme Beckett”. “I’ve weighed everything up.”

“What about Beckett?” Malone asked. He was two years older than me and had a salary; apart from that I had always considered us to be equals. My only consolation is that I have two handwritten notes from Samuel Beckett. I didn’t have enough money for the Métro. “I bet it’s not his real address,” Malone said. That said it all. He had free campus accommodation for a month in Cité Université and I was welcome to the couch.