Sitting in a hairdressing salon in London’s Surrey Quays last week, I overheard a conversation between two young girls (mid twenties – one the coiffista, the other the client) on the subject of families, and getting away from them. It went like this.

Yer need yer own space doncha?
Yeh, but yer need to get back an’ see yer mum.
Yeh. But yer own space is nice.
Oh yeh, yeh.
You got a partner?
Yeh, my Dean- ‘e’s lovely. Cooks an’ that ‘e does.
You got any kids?
Not wiv Dean, nah. I ‘ad a likkle girl though, wiv me ex.
Oh right. Is she wiv you?
Nah, she’s wiv ‘er Dad in Leeds. Lovely bloke. Just dint work out, yer know?
Yeh, course. You see ‘er much?
Nah. Issashame an’ that, but she’s got annuva life now.
Yeh, s;pose so.

Last Christmas, we stayed with friends in Sussex. Mutual friends came to lunch on Boxing Day. Their neighbours had split up, it seemed. Dad had gone off with somebody half his age. They’ve got three children at public school, and the deserted mum is frantic because the caring hubby’s closing words as he slammed the front door on Christmas Eve were “You’ll have to fight me for every penny”.

We have another chum who’s been through three partners in seven years. The kids dread going home, in case another stranger’s arrived while they were away at University.

Our wood supplier has just split up with his partner. They have two children under five. They both say it’s amicable. I wonder what the kids think.

Another friend has four children by two women. He’s passionate about his business, and thus spends three weeks in four globetrotting. Of the four kids, one is a member of a hard-line feminist revolutionary Group, one a control-freak incapable of dealing with colleagues, one a drug addict, and one anorexic. His wife asked me last year what I thought was wrong with our children these days.

These apparently small-scale examples are entirely valid for two reasons. First, because if I added all such similar experiences up since (say) 2005, I would have a robust quantitative sample…certainly big enough to satisfy an old-fashioned market researcher like me. And second, because they were all brought up and discussed not as horrific, one-off exceptions, but as further examples of ‘life today’.

What the examples validate is the existence at all levels of society of a thoughtless preference for personal gratification above the crucially important task of all parents: to provide a settled and loving home environment for their children, and – if serendipity and being human means that isn’t possible – then at the very least to put the kids first, and remain in charge of them. I have to say that, when childless people show irritation in the presence of ghastly children and their pathetically indulgent parents, even as a parent myself I identify with the childless folks completely.

One of the conscious deceits of New Labour is that we must not allow personal observation to ‘cloud’ our judgement of ‘the bigger picture’. But the bigger picture is to be found in the aggregation of the smaller snapshots. Society is made up of millions of loving family units and gratuitously abandoned responsibilities. Our personal observations are invaluable, and should not be dismissed as bigotry. We are all individual monitors of cultural decline, and should stop apologising for it.