George Melly

  • A Surrealist Life by John Lowe
    Collins, 262 pp, £18.00, February 1991, ISBN 0 00 217941 5

‘Am I eccentric?’ Edward James once asked me in the days before I was added to his long list of enemies both real and imaginary. ‘I suppose I am, but I don’t mean to be. I’ve always tried to behave like everyone else.’ We were sitting on the platform of one of the inevitably incomplete concrete follies he was building at enormous expense on a hillside he owned by proxy in a Mexican jungle. He was wearing a poncho, while a macaw, perched on his shoulder, was pulling hairs out of his beard, and I thought: is this how he thinks ordinary people behave? Is he mad? He probably was a bit mad – not dangerously so but mad nevertheless. But he was also rich: rich enough to fail, although he tried hard enough, to ruin himself; rich enough to buy himself out of trouble. It is very often money which transforms ‘mad’ into the less pejorative ‘eccentric’.

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[*] Quartet, 211 pp., £6.95, 18 February, 0 7093 0139 3.