August/September 2021: Letters to the Editor

Samuel Beckett is at his best when he’s being brief


This article is taken from the August/September 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Waiting for action

I was pleased to read J S Barnes pointing out (The Critic July 2021) the anomaly of Samuel Beckett’s colossal reputation. The tedious novels, Malone Dies and Molloy, are shameless stream-of-consciousness outpourings of directionless logorrhoea.

He’s at his best when he’s being brief. The aphoristic one-act scenes, like Not I, can be quite poignant. It’s odd, though, that critics haven’t tumbled to the fact that the longer plays are really one act scenes gratuitously extended.

The second act of Waiting for Godot is a redundant addition to the first, with irrelevant characters that contribute nothing — there’s (by definition) no story so the main point having been made, it would have been best just to stop.

The same goes for Happy Days, which sets up a memorable (if silly) situation and then adds a second act that has no more to say on the subject. I suggest that Beckett should be remembered for his brief, pungent short works. His otiose longer ones, especially the supposedly major plays, can be consigned to oblivion.

Andrew Wilton


Shunting yard of shame

Jonathan Glancey (The Critic July 2021) rightly commends FirstGroup’s GWR for a sober and sensible livery in contrast to many of the privatised railways operators who appear to have taken their design inspiration from “sports shoes or the packaging of sweets”.

The white and yellow livery made the carriages resemble fried eggs on wheels

Some of the operators, such as Virgin and Stagecoach, already had colour schemes for their other operations (planes; fizzy drinks; buses) which they — with minimal adaptation — inflicted on their trains in a misguided exercise in brand alignment. It was like forcing a young son to wear pink because that’s what his elder sister is already kitted out in.

But closest to the buffers in the shunting yard of shame should surely be Connex, which operated the Southeastern (and South Central) franchise between 1996 and 2003. Perhaps the design brief called for something cheery to brighten travellers on their early morning commute. How else to explain the white and yellow livery which made the carriages resemble fried eggs on wheels?

Beyond a desire to avoid association with so brash a colour, there is a good reason why few car owners opt for yellow: they don’t want to spend every evening with their hands in a bucket of soap and water wiping away every spot of dirt that yellow shows up.

Did nobody in Connex’s commissioning process foresee that yellow livery would prove no less inconvenient on train carriages? Far from a cheery commute to work on a mobile egg, travelling by Connex was an invitation to journey in a mud cart.

Whilst commending British Railways in 1948 for initially choosing black livery instead of “the railway equivalent of children’s pyjamas,” Glancey thinks black would not be right for today’s eel-shaped trains. Perhaps so, although Grand Central, with its American art deco inspired livery, suggests that black can still elegantly drape modern forms. The dark blue of the East Coast mainline’s first post-privatisation operator, GNER, also showed that sober hues naturally command more respect.

With the national railway infrastructure again to be unified by a state entity, Great British Railways, from 2023, the question is whether a serious, professional design that combines a nod to locomotive heritage with modern chic can win through at the expense of “creatives” who think the purpose of corporate branding is to cheer up children, or to take the Great British design brief so literally that it will just be three parallel lines of red, white and blue?

Peter Swinton


Save the green belt

Your cartoon (The Critic July 2021) about the fungus taking over the office during lockdown reminds me of the actual catastrophe that hit a Malaysian leather goods retailer during a lockdown in the Summer of 2020. The mall was unattended for weeks, and the air conditioning was turned off, with predictable results in the hot humid climate for all the leather goods left on the shelves.

Dr Hillary J. Shaw

Newport, Shropshire

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