George Melly

In bed with Susan de Muth: Things run smoothly since I lost my libido: George Melly

Monday, 16 August 1993
George Melly, 67, is a jazz singer, writer, journalist and art critic. I met up with him at the 13th-century tower in Wales where he spends the summer relaxing with his wife, Diana. He also has a home in London.

‘Until a few years ago I would finish a performance at 3am and then say ‘where’s the party’? Nowadays, when I’m working, I prefer to go straight home to my dark basement bedroom in Notting Hill.

‘In contrast to my London den, my bedroom in Wales is in the attic. It is light and airy and overlooks the valley where I fish for trout and salmon. I love the country more and more as I get older, and there I am happiest. My nightlife in Wales mostly consists of fishing, sometimes through the night.

‘Sitting by the river bank I think of Macbeth and enjoy the eerie feeling I get from those lines ‘good things of day begin to droop and drowse and night’s black agents to their preys do rouse’. Agreeably menaced by the shadows in the failing light I begin to rise and make my way back home . . . there’s a lot of groaning and repositioning and leaning on tree stumps. It’s depressing, but inevitable at my age.

‘Diana and I have been married for 31 years. We were terrifically in love with each other for eight years and then we had a period when we wandered. Nowadays things run pretty smoothly, which no doubt has to do with one of the subjects of your inquiries – my libido. It has, undeniably, all but disappeared.

‘Sex is not important to me anymore. I look, I think, but this has no connection with the genitals. I suppose that, given some strong provocation, I could resurrect myself. But I’m not on the hunt. Anyway, there is nothing more absurd than to see some wrinkled old person in pursuit of a young woman. There’s something intensely undignified about it and any young woman that might say yes would be doing so for totally the wrong reasons.

‘I settle myself for the night instead with glasses of whisky and some conversation. I watch late night television if Mariella Frostrup is on. I am somewhat in love with her. She has a voice like distilled gin and ashtrays and is amazingly decadent looking.

‘I sleep alone and rarely through the night any more. Often, in Wales, I wake up for no apparent reason, eyes wide open, at 3 or 4am. I turn on the light and write for several hours. Terribly useful if you have a deadline. My pillow has ink stains all over it because I put it on my stomach and rest the pages on it. I write by hand – about four pages a night.

‘To cure insomnia I imagine a family who all love art, and buy up the best of their times. The grandfather collects impressionists, his son, rather to his disapproval, buys Gaugin and Van Gogh . . . and so on. I seldom reach abstract expressionism before I’m asleep. It’s a compelling mixture of greed and taste.

‘Dreams are very important to me because they are the moments when the unconscious is let out of its cage. I have one recurring dream in which I discover an extra room in my house that I had been unaware of. Probably the room is unrealised potential. I do feel that I have not written as well or as much as I could have. I would actually have liked to have been a great poet and sometimes, on the edge of sleep, I see and gather a poem . . . but I never write it down. I might try when I get senile.

‘The worst nocturnal experiences I’ve had have been caused by drink. For example, I used to pee all over the place. Once I awoke in an Irish castle, and thinking I had made my way to the bathroom in the pitch dark, unburdened myself on the dove grey carpet in my room. When I realised what I’d done the next morning I deliberately knocked over a vase of roses so that the water joined up with my own puddle and wizzled it all together, but this remedy did not fool my host’s eagle-eyed butler. I regret to report that I was never invited there again.

‘I am not able to drink as much as I used to – mainly due to an ulcer. I still get through several of what the medical profession insists on calling ‘units’ – with ice and lemon – a day. This lessening of my alcoholic intake, coinciding with my libido leaving the stage, has left me, at night, with the happy sensation of having been unchained from a lunatic.’

(Photograph omitted)

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