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13 Dec

The old American cliche is that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube; and it is usually a metaphor used to suggest that it is impossible to turn the clock back in matters of public behaviour and morality. One of the brilliantly funny things about the TV sitcom Absolutely Fabulous was that the drunken, chain-smoking, sexually promiscuous old harridans Edina Monsoon (played by Jennifer Saunders) and her friend Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are despised by the puritanical Saffy — Eddie’s daughter.

I have not conducted a scientific survey, but my impression, based on anecdotal evidence and the lives of the children of my contemporaries, is that they are far less badly behaved, and far more sensible, than we were.

Ninety thousand human lives are thrown away because their births are considered too expensive or in some other way inconvenient.

Even the Left-leaning liberal Noel Annan, provost of King’s College, Cambridge, suggested this was nonsense.

An amusing Victorian historian, John Seeley, said the British Empire had been acquired in ‘a fit of absence of mind’.

He meant that no one sat down and planned for the British to take over large parts of Asia and Africa: it was more a case of one thing leading to another.

She looks at the presents under the tree, with no children to open them, and thinks: ‘This isn’t the way things are supposed to be.’I made myself and dozens of people extremely unhappy — including, of course, my children and other people’s children.

I am absolutely certain that my parents, by contrast, who married in 1939 and stayed together for more than 40 years until my father died, never strayed from the marriage bed.