The Weasal Under The Cocktail Cabinet

Retrpspective Analysis – ‘Pomegranate Seed’ (1931) – by Edith Wharton


Dark house, by which once more I stand

Here in the long unlovely street,

Doors, where my heart was used to beat

So quickly, waiting for a hand,

A hand that can be clasped no more –

Behold me, for I cannot sleep,

And like a guilty thing I creep

At earliest morning to the door…

 –  Alfred Lord Tennyson


A short ghost-story might not be the medium through which a serious writer chooses to work. This might be due to the ghost-story being somewhat too popular for the ‘critic’ and ‘serious’ reader, but it remains a way in which serious themes can be discussed, and with a writer of skill – be it Wharton’s great friend, Henry James, M.R. James, or Wharton herself – the medium can be used to great and interesting effect, or even a downright scary one.

Wharton published fifteen ghost-stories and therefore the ghost-story represents a medium she only touched on as a writer. What I will explain is that Wharton can sometimes trick the reader into thinking a story is one thing, when it is quite another; and she might have used the ghost story to act as cover for a tale of infidelity which could well be the creepiest thing she wrote. Continue reading

The Lonely Londoner

Retrospective review: Natives: race and class in the ruins of empire (2019) – by Akala


Virtue! a fig! ‘tis in ourselves that we are thus, or thus..

– Othello


You labelled me – I’ll label you!

So I dub thee “unforgiven”

– Metallica


There is a particular scene in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather where the Don instructs his son, Michael, telling him:

“There are men in this world,” he said, “who go about demanding to be killed. You must have noticed them. They quarrel in gambling games, they jump out of their automobiles in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender, they humiliate and bully people whose capabilities they do not know…”

The Don continues, explaining to Michael how he made a loyal weapon out of the brutal baby-burner Luca Brasi. An interesting thing about that passage, aside from its obvious truth about the stupidity of many, is that Puzo cannot use the expression ‘road rage’ because – in the early 1970s when the novel came on the scene – the expression hadn’t been invented. However the behaviour which later became known as ‘road rage’ was and is a real phenomenon of human behaviour.

Not all expressions minted to describe human behaviour describe something new. Sometimes the expression is new while the behaviour it describes is old. ‘Binge-drinking’ is an example. ‘Binge-drinking’ means ‘getting drunk’ – a behaviour almost as old as the human race, and is a sub-set of ‘anti-social behaviour’. But if one gives an old problem a new name, then – as if by magic – there is a new ‘problem’ for mouthpieces of ‘authority’ to complain about, while demanding new legal powers from the government of the day. Continue reading

Medicine versus Faith

Please choose to sign the above petition.

An American couple have been accused of denying their child medical treatment for religious reasons. The child is now dead. There is an online video of the child’s father’s mouth falling open when the judge reads out the charges. I’m not surprised he was surprised.

The Washington Post has a quote from the child’s alleged father:

‘“It didn’t seem smart to me that you would be saving people who weren’t the fittest. If evolution believes in survival of the fittest, well then why are we vaccinating everybody? Shouldn’t we just let the weak die off and let the strong survive?”

This is a perfectly reasonable position to take if you have managed to believe that after a person is dead they will continue to be alive – and if you also have no idea what you’re talking about. The problem is that ‘survival of the fittest’ has nothing to do with strength versus weakness. In this context ‘fittest’ means ‘best fit’ or ‘best suited to reproduce’. It is another way of saying ‘natural selection’ and has nothing to do with physical strength or weakness.

The child’s alleged father is also said to have little faith in doctors:

‘I’m not opposed to medicine or doctors, I’m opposed to bad medicine and doctors that are just, well, aren’t really doctors — they’re priesthoods of the medical cult. They have a certificate from some training camp somewhere that says they got this test score, but that doesn’t mean they know about the human body and stuff like that.’

It would probably have been bettere for the innocent child if this human had more faith in medicine and less in his god of choice.

I hope these terrible humans are given one of those proper American prison sentences; you know the sort of thing:

210 years in prison without possibility of parole – or something like that.

It’s time for a law stripping parents of the right to refuse their child treatment on religious grounds. If a child is ill all parents should be forced to seek medical attention and charged with violence against their child if they don’t or if they refuse to allow treatment for religious reasons.

I hope the pair of them are eaten from the inside by guilt and shame into old-age and death.

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Gender Jerks

I had no idea until yesterday the gender pronoun argument was a global phenomenon. I was reading a comment on a blog thread and the person mentioned a piece by Douglas Murray in the The Spectator about an interrogation a young teaching assistant was subjected to by faculty-staff at her university. The young lady recorded the Stasi Staff and sent the content around the world. I had thought it was a minor question, the reserve of attention-seekers.

It’s a global psychotic episode. Continue reading

A Jagged Edge

My mother told the A and E receptionist ‘He’s sustained a bad a cut.’ I leant in to the window and corrected her. ‘Actually, I’ve been stabbed,’ I said. It’s possible I sounded irritated, but I was speaking the truth. My sister had stabbed me in the upper left arm with a long, white-handled kitchen-knife. I had a small towel wrapped around the wound to soak up the blood.

Continue reading

The Strangest of the Strange

What does it actually mean when a person says that so and so was ‘born into the wrong body’? I’ve heard the expression several times and, strangely, always on the topic of sex-change surgery, never any other topic.

I’ve never heard a fat person say they were ‘born into the wrong body’, or the parents of a child racked with cancer.

Is it possible to be ‘born into the wrong body’?

I think it is impossible.

The expression presupposes that consciousness can exist independent of the brain. There is no reason to think this is true, though there are many reasons to hope it is true.

The topic of sex-change surgery is not a religious or spiritual topic, yet the idea a person could be born into the wrong body probably reveals more about the person who says it than it does about the person who wants the surgery.

Society is where the problem is. Every person who has ever been born, whether transgender, or disabled – or anything else – was born exactly as they were ‘meant’ to be born; which is to say they are a product of their genes, their DNA, and not everyone born will fit into a little societal box, ready for labelling.

A teenage boy who says he’d be happier being a girl might well be right. He could easily be much happier after all the surgery and the rest, and I would hope he was. But a simple point needs to be made. That the boy would be happier as a girl doesn’t mean he is biologically faulty. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with him; the reason he might feel different is that society creates boxes for people and somebody who doesn’t fit is said to be ‘different’ but this is really a euphemism for ‘faulty’. The only thing ‘faulty’ in this context is the logic behind the idea.

Children should not be given this surgery. Let them wait until they are adults. Some men don’t realise they are gay until their thirties, for example. All through their teens and twenties they think they’re heterosexual, then realise they were wrong about that.

Imagine the teenage boy who thinks he shoud be a girl, has the surgery in his teens, then realises in his thirties he was wrong about that, and realises nature had things right all along.

The idea of being ‘born’ into the correct body is garbage; the idea of the ‘wrong’ body assumes more than the God-created soul-making machinery in the soul-packing factory exists, it assumes that equipment is malfunctioning.

Think about it.

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NOTE: ‘The right to be ourselves’ means something other than what it says. Being ourselves isn’t a right. We have no choice but to be ourselves, because we cannot ‘be’ anyone else. I wonder what Theroux really means? We all have the ‘right’ to demand surgery to make us happier? I can’t read his mind, alas.

With One Look

Fair is my Love and cruel as she is fair;
Her brow-shades frown, although her eyes are sunny.
Her smiles are lightning, though her pride despair,
And her disdains are gall, her favours honey:
A modest maid, deck’d with a blush of honour,
Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;
The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,
Sacred on earth, design’d a Saint above.
Chastity and Beauty, which were deadly foes,
Live reconcilèd friends within her brow;
And had she Pity to conjoin with those,
Then who had heard the plaints I utter now?
For had she not been fair, and thus unkind,
My Muse had slept, and none had known my mind.
– Samuel Daniel


Recently, I wrote a little retrospective appreciation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, It. I thought it timely since it had been thirty years since the book was published, and it’s a “fan favourite” as some people say. When I was re-reading the piece I stopped and stared at this short passage:

Many of us enjoy regressing to childhood. We look at pictures and video from when we were kids and indulge our sadomasochistic side by going to the “school reunion”. Childhood is idealised in our memory and children, especially babies, are cooed at and fawned over. This might be why so many of us are wet and feeble weaklings when we grow up. The Romans, not fond of children, thinking them rather gross and needy creatures, used childhood as the time to train and prepare for adulthood, without the cooing and fawning. Who would argue Roman men weren’t made of “sterner stuff” than us males are today?

The problem was that, seven days prior to forwarding the piece, I had myself attended a “school reunion”. I had seen the advertisement on a popular “social media” site and thought it was something I wouldn’t be going to. I did think a lot about this, changing my mind each day, depending on my mood. I saw a school-friend in the supermarket and asked him about it. Would he be going? Phil barely thought before answering.

‘No mate, I’m not going to that. Why would anyone want to go back to all those feelings of inferiority?’

I knew this was just what I wanted to hear, so I jumped on it, not really remembering what I’d written about It (the book) but probably having it in mind somewhere.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that’s it exactly. It’s like regression. Who’d want to go back to that? All the cliques, and the social complexes…no thanks.’

I was pleased to have found a kindred spirit, someone about whom I could think and whose name I could use when telling my subconscious mind that no, it wasn’t only me, I wasn’t a pathetic wimp, I was an intelligent adult who didn’t need to “do” reunions. I even managed to tell myself that it wasn’t a “reunion” to begin with because there had been no “union” in the first place; therefore – and goodness me! – what a lot of low-brow nonsense it all was.

My inner snob timed its rescue perfectly.

I didn’t want to go because I was scared of what others thought of me while I was school, and scared of what they might think of me now. There was nothing concrete to this fear, it was just a fear, sat in the gut, spinning and twisting.

I first thought it was a “guy thing” and that these fears had their root in the not only hair-raising, but terrifying things many teenage boys are duly terrified by:

Teenage girls.

But I didn’t think that was precise enough. I fiddled with the idea an all-boys school would have been an easier place to be, then realised that such were the joys of being a teenage boy, a single-sex school would have made nothing easier, then or later. It remains my unshakeable belief that the greatest joy to be had from being a teenage boy comes from knowing it has to be done only once.

It seems to me teenage girls realise the power they have over teenage boys too late to make the best use of it. This is lucky for the boys. I wonder what school would be like for thirteen, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year-old boys if the girls realised the power they have, and what they can do to those boys, with one look.

(And what can they do? Imagine the mind of a forty year-old woman in the head of a fifteen year-old girl and you’ll get the idea. One actually shudders at the thought.)

The girls have an opportunity, narrow in time, to assert their natural dominance, and they should take it, because it doesn’t take us boys long to catch up. When we’re fifteen or sixteen, we might inwardly howl that we like girls, we just wish we could talk to one; by the time we’re eighteen or nineteen, we’re complaining that although we like girls, we could never eat a whole one.

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“Hot is my Bird” – or

“A Translation Flowing to the Estuary”

By JDA aged 42 years and 3 months.

The bird I fancy is hot, but she’s a bitch in equal measure;

She scowls a lot, but she’s got nice eyes;

Her smiles are thrilling, but her snobbery fucks me off;

She dogs me up, but not all the time;

Not a showy bird – butter wouldn’t melt!

She’d never shag about cuz she’s totes too young and innocent;

All my mates want to bang her;

She’s hot right now – she’ll get promoted when she croaks!

Frigid, yet fuckable – a problem for most birds –

Is something of which she aint bovvered;

She’s got no sympathy for her position,

But if she did – why bother moaning about her?

Y’see, if she was a minger, and therefore a bit nicer,

I wouldn’t have given a shit and written this!!




Fighting the Inevitable

Many of us thinks that the ‘I’ they use to refer to themselves is separate from their physical self, and perhaps takes the form of a little person who sits inside our head, looking through our eyes the way Captain Kirk looks through the screens of the Enterprise. Those who think this way are likely to be mistaken, but the mistake is a common one, and many people make it without knowing they’re doing so.

Many persons are more religious than they realise.

A person said to me recently, on the topic of what some call ‘gender reassignment’, that some of us are ‘born into the wrong body’. This is a common expression, used by persons to explain what causes a person to want to change their gender.

The idea that a person can be ‘born into the wrong body’ is physically, chemically, biologically, and philosophically illiterate. What makes the expression an interesting one has nothing to do with the ‘truth’ it contains, but rather what the expression presupposes.

The following isn’t perfect, but it will do. Imagine a factory, in which bodies are on a conveyor belt: robot arms insert the conscious mind into each head. Now imagine a fault in the celestial software which makes the belt lurch forward, throwing the bodies out of synch to their mind-inserting arms, and what is presupposed becomes clear.

Persons are not ‘born into’ their bodies at all. It is impossible, therefore, for a person to have been born into the wrong body. Every person is as nature ‘intended’.

(I marked the word out because I’m aware that ‘intention’ presupposes agency – which is obviously nonsense – but the expression is another good example of how our thoughts are saturated with the idea that consciousness can exist without the brain.)

Under ‘born into the wrong body’ is that very idea – that consciousness can exist without the brain.

What is under that idea?

Under that is the belief that we survive death.

And what is under that?

Under that, motivating everything else, is the fear of death.

Could it be that, a person can make a ‘throwaway’ remark on a topic about gender surgery, and what motivates it is a fear of death – something we weren’t talking about?

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Priests versus Nurses

The news review magazine, The Week, once had a front cover depicting a nurse running through a hospital ward, obviously in a terrible hurry and clutching an armful of books and university diplomas. She was ignoring the patients, and who could blame her? She had degrees to earn. The point was to suggest that making nursing a profession which required additional academic excellence might dissolve a basic human element from that profession: Caring for others. That cover caught my eye and pulled certain memories from my psychological hard-drive.

When I was nine years of age, my GP diagnosed me with appendicitis and told me that I needed to go to hospital where ‘they’ might need to ‘operate’. I had been to hospital for different things – even by nine – so had no fear of hospital, but I had never been ‘under the knife’. Sat in the GP surgery with my mum, I fought the urge to cry and won. Just.

The hospital was only a five minute walk from the GP and we walked there. I was in agony, bent-double, wondering how a mild stomach-ache could become something quite so red, sharp and nasty.

The casualty department was stuffed with humans, all rushing about, going about whatever their business was. The doctors wore white coats, the nurses wore proper tunics with those paper hats pinned into their hair, and the porters were dressed like prison officers; wearing those thick, military style jumpers with patches on the elbows and shoulders. There was chaos, certainly, but underscored with efficiency, and the efficiency came before compassion and being ‘nice’. Some of the nurses – those in dark-blue uniforms – seemed quite strict and unable to suffer fools. Somehow, I was processed into the system and found myself lying on a bed in a cubicle with my mum next to me on a plastic chair. A man came and took some blood. He needed to do this to ‘count the cells’. A little later I was wheeled up to the ward – a ward for children – and settled into a bed to wait to be wheeled to the operating theatre.

After I awoke, perhaps still a little confused, I asked a nurse if I had had my operation. She said I had. I touched the area on my stomach and a small white plaster covered the area. All done.

The nurses were the opposite of the one from the magazine cover. Not once did I get the sense I was being looked after in an icy, academic environment. The nurses had plenty of personal warmth. They would come and take my temperature and slip a small glass thermometer into my mouth. ‘Under the tongue, Poppett,’ they would say. I’d watch as they held my wrist and stared at their strange upside-down watches which they all had pinned to their tunics. I didn’t know what they were doing. After this was done they would take the thermometer out of my mouth and flick their wrists – I supposed, to re-set it, then dropped it back in the plastic holder above the bed. This seemed to happen time and again. It broke up the day.

Waiting for a visit was never pleasant. I would ask a nurse (as if they would know) when my mum was coming, and they’d say ‘It won’t be long, angel’ or ‘she’ll be here soon’. They always reassured and smiled when they did it.  I’d hate watching the doors onto the ward, though. When they opened my eyes would flick up from a comic or open from a doze to see if the person coming in was visiting me. When the person coming to see me – either my mum or dad – had managed to get through the doors and a little way toward my bed without me seeing, and then I looked up, that was always the best way to notice them. That way made it a surprise. It was better somehow.

The care was excellent: straightforward with no fancy procedures or obsessions. I was looked after in a compassionate, yet ‘no nonsense’ way. It worked.

One afternoon, the local Catholic Priest visited the ward. My mum and dad were both visiting. Fr. O’Sullivan. He was Irish. He placed one of his hands on my head and spoke some words. I cannot remember the words but they were some kind of blessing, a request for a full recovery. My dad shook his hand and thanked him. (My dad is a baptised Catholic. Though a none confessing and significantly lapsed one.) I made a full recovery and left hospital. A week or so later I was visited at home by the district Nurse who removed the stitches. (This is an entirely separate story. The procedure was very painful and this woman, I hope, is still burning in hell.) That, I thought, would be the end of the matter.

My dad, however, had other ideas. I was listening to him talk to my mum and he said “I owe him, I owe him” several times over. I put it together he was talking about the Irish Priest who had blessed me and asked God for a full recovery. Well, a full recovery was what I got, so why not? Sensible if you’re a catholic, I suppose. His attitude seemed to me, however, rather dismissive of the efforts of the medical persons who sorted the problem. These include the GP, Dr Preston, who sent me to hospital; the surgeon – a Polish fellow called Dr Spit – who performed the operation, and a ward full of nurses who made sure I was fed, watered, cleaned and, generally speaking, looked after, while I was their guest. There must have been others who helped without me being all that aware of it or them. (The anaesthetist who calculated the correct level of anaesthetic to knock me out and managed to get it right so I am here to type these words twenty-six years later comes to mind.)

My mum took care of this point, however. On my last day on the ward, when I was dressed and ready to leave, she gave me a thank you card to take to the ward Sister, a friendly blonde lady. I gave it to her and her words to me were: “thank you, sausage.”

To date, I have not been Baptised and remain significantly unCatholic. I have, however, a healthy interest in nurses with blonde hair.

The Single’s Singularity

When I separated from my children’s mother and left the family home in June 2011, several well-meaning friends suggested I could now live ‘the single life’ because I was now a ‘single man’. This phrase – single man – still has the ability to irritate me. I have always been a single man, I would tell them.

There has only ever been one of me.

I took a strange enjoyment from the look of confusion and mild-hurt which usually followed. The idea of rejecting a simple attempt at a kindness from a friend has, more than once, made me wonder whether I might be insane. Another occasion of this ‘kindness rejection’ happened recently.

I had been seeing a woman for some weeks when she (on March 20th, to be precise) cancelled our relationship for reasons which are still unclear to me. I was telling a friend about it at work, and the brief conversation ended like this:

‘Well, it’s her loss, Johnny,’ Yvonne said.

‘I think you’ll find it’s my loss, Yvonne. Not hers.’

‘Well, yeah – I know what you mean, like – but it’s her loss too.’

‘She hasn’t lost anything, she’s gained something. She’s gained the thing she wanted – a life without me in it.’

The look of confusion at my rejection of her kindness crept over Yvonne’s expression. In about two or three seconds, I guessed, confusion would be followed by mild hurt. It was then I realised I didn’t want her to feel that hurt because I have too much affection for her.

‘I’m just trying to…’

‘I know you are,’ I said, cutting in quickly, ‘and thank you. But logic wins every time.’

Indeed it does.

(I once was asked to read an account of a funeral procession, written by a person in the crowd. This account was said to be a ‘moving account’ and a ‘heartfelt piece’ and so on. I remember the first words of this account of the soldier’s funeral:

“Silence descended as a bell tolled…”

That was as far as I got.

If a bell is clanging, I wondered, what sort of bloody silence is that? Like I said, I have questioned my sanity more than once.)

And never more so than on the evening when I – and another ‘single man’ – walked into the sealed-off function room of a waterfront wine-bar in central Bristol, for a ‘singles night.’

I have been brought up to believe that cutting one’s own throat in despair is not to be done in public. So I knew I would have to endure several hours of utterly absurd, contrived, false conversation; where the best opening line – ‘hiya, what’s your name?’ – couldn’t be used because the women who had ‘organised’ this exercise in humiliation had given us all little white stickers with our names written on them. Adam – the fellow who had sold the idea to me the day before at work – seemed oblivious to my pain, and was looking to become (his words) ‘knee-deep in clunge.’

The problem with ‘singles nights’ is obvious – at least to me. There are actually two problems. First, there is nothing on offer at a ‘singles night’ that isn’t on offer on a normal night out (If that is not true, then why do persons have affairs?) and second, personal relationships could be described as an upside down pyramid. In other words, a relationship needs to start somewhere in order to branch-out and widen later on. What is that ‘singularity for singles’ which moves them from one state into a relationship?

It is sex. I mean to say, how many persons start a relationship because of a shared love of flower-arranging or a mutual respect for Nelson Mandela? When you build a house you don’t start with the roof.

Personal relationships start with sex, so it would be less contrived, and therefore more honest, if the organisers of these events lined all the men up in a smart row, lined all the women up opposite them, and collated who would be prepared to have sex with who, and then the conversations could start. The setting for this travesty didn’t help, either.

The wine bar was the epitome of the over-priced, city-centre social scene: neon and chrome along with bare-wood floors and leather sofas; with a cold, technical – almost laboratory-like feel to the place which did nothing to draw-out the correct mood, based on personal warmth and closeness, which is required for me to relax.

In short, just after arrival, I hated it. Could things get any worse, I wondered? I thought probably not, and that allows for a certain relaxation, actually. Then things got worse.

I was stood in a loose-group, just listening to conversations and dropping in the odd word here, the odd line there, though paying attention to the door which I could see out of the corner of my eye, wondering who might be coming in next. I noticed a group come in and walk over to us, on the way across the room to find a corner of their own. I turned to have a look and was face to face with my mother.

Now, what were the odds of that? She offered a quick ‘hello’ and told me the names of the two women she was with. (She needn’t have bothered, I could read their names on the white sticker-labels.)

That did it for me. I now had lots of question from my little group asking if it was true, was my mother really here as well? Yep, I confirmed, it was certainly true. Lots of jolly, cocktail party laughter ensued. Marvellous, darling.

Adam saved me and introduced me to a woman he’d met at the previous week’s ‘speed dating’ event – a French lady, multi-lingual, who worked as an interpreter and would have been extremely interesting to talk to, but she was monopolised by Adam (who probably wanted her sodomised, not monopolised) and decided to have a conversation with Tanya – a nurse, Jewish and half Greek – who was stimulating company and extremely pleasant. She began by telling me what my name in Greek was and how to pronounce it, and I got her a drink and we moved to a sofa for a conversation which involved the degree she holds, the degree I’m studying for, the compromise of relationships, the tranquillity of solitude, God, The Cosmological Argument, demons in fiction, Kant, how an atom’s volume means solid matter is mostly empty space, and then her mate, Debbie, asked to join our conversation because the one she just left was about ‘dogging’ and ‘fingers up arses.’ It was good to know there was a healthy mix of topics up for discussion if the philosophy and science ran dry.

I had to question why I had agreed to go to a function which every fizzing atom in my body told me to avoid; though it was, perhaps, worth it for the realisation that wanting to be wanted is a different proposition from wanting a relationship, though the difference doesn’t make the realisation any easier to cope with. The proposition affects one in the gut; it acts like a form of shock, solidifying the gut, causing tightness, tension. It’s the moment one realises there forever remains a part of us which needs that skin on skin cuddle which our mothers first gave us. Perhaps wanting to be wanted is rooted in a desire for safety and security? In any case, my mother was sat over in the corner so I should have gone and asked her for one.

As time progressed the numbers thinned out and it became obvious I could drag Adam away without too much complaint. It was arranged that I would sleep on his sofa so it would have been counter-productive to drown him in the harbour. We walked across the city and I have never wanted to be at home, in bed, tucked-up and warm quite so much.

I was once so utterly drunk, vomiting in a toilet cubicle in a bar in Brussels, my vision black and white as the cubicle rapidly span, that I would have given a million pounds to have been transported home at that moment. (That feels pretty awful at any time of the day, but it’s worse somehow at 8:30am.) But the singles night was worse even than that horror; and to spend the night shivering under a rizla-thin sleeping bag, in the coldest flat I’ve ever been in, was not the most agreeable end to an evening’s socialising.

I’ve vowed never to go to another of these events. Adam, however, swears by them and no doubt will be back again in the hope of meeting a lady with whom he can form a meaningful relationship. I’ll stay as I am, a single man. In fact, I’ve always been single.

There has only ever been one of me.