Dating a confirmed bachelor

It's just that if someone is single, they now wonder why.' Yet another publicity-shy bachelor, aged 39, says: 'I suppose the aggressive line of questioning began when I was about 32.

The people asking were mostly of my parents' generation. I start blushing furiously, stuttering and dribbling, as if I had something to hide. I feel it's none of their business.' Poor old Ted Heath had to suffer magazines sending his details off to dating agencies. 'Because, actually, underneath my clothes, my entire body is covered with scales,' I reassure them. ' ought to be outlawed, now, as a very rude question.

These social attitudes are inevitably hard to pin down.

Now we get single men who want to find a relationship with a woman feeling that if they share a flat with another man - or even go shopping to a supermarket with another man - they somehow have to establish their credentials as heterosexuals.' The absurdity of this scenario is heightened by statistics: in the last decade marriage rates among men have fallen by almost a third, and single people in the 25-29 age group - who 10 years ago were outnumbered two-to-one by married men - have now come to outnumber the married.

The popularity of co- habiting out of wedlock is a major factor, but more than a quarter of British households are now single ones.

THERE was a time when Toad of Toad Hall might have seemed an eminently suitable Tory candidate for parliament - had he not been a toad, of course.

But stories this week suggest that, were he to try his hand now, eyebrows might be raised in the constituency party, and discreet attempts made to play down the friendship with Ratty, Mole and Badger and drum up a prospective Mrs Toad.

'I think single men are regarded with much more suspicion than they were 30 years ago,' reflects James Firth (not his real name) a 67-year-old unmarried (heterosexual), retired consultant surgeon.