FORGET the champagne. . .forget the 18th birthday celebrations. . . even forget the 21st. Today's teenagers aren't growing up until about their thirties.

According to the Economic and Social Research Council, it's only then that they can be really classed as adults - completing their education, leaving home and being financially independent - as those of us with a couple of twentysomethings cluttering up the house know only too well.

But before we despair, let's just think back a bit.

True, in the 60s, 70s and 80s it was easy to leave home, go to university and get a job. Rented flats were reasonably easy to find and affordable.

But that was just a lucky blip. Before then, it was a very different picture. For centuries, people had lived at home until they got married. Before and after the war, most people started work at 15 and married in their early twenties - by which time they'd had seven years earning but were still subsidised by their parents.

If you had to leave home you went into digs, where you still had no responsibility for looking after yourself. A landlady cooked and cleaned and shopped for you and usually did the washing too. If she didn't, you could do as my aunt did and post it home every week, sending a bundle of dirty clothes on Monday and getting them washed, dried, ironed and returned by Thursday.

Which says a lot about my grandmother's efficiency and also about the reliability of the postal system in the 1930s.

We didn't expect people to be grown up in their teens. That's why the age of majority was 21 and why it was impossible to borrow money or get credit before then.

If only that was true now. , Young girls had "bottom drawers" to save for their married life. Wedding presents were fiercely practical as families got together to buy the young couple the basics. It really wasn't so very different from the extended "adultescence" of today.

But there was a downside. In the days when people were grown up at 21, by the time they were 50 they were old. At 70 you were ready for the fireside chair, the rug and the highlight of your day was planning your funeral.

Times change. Now other research has said that women in their fifties are in their prime, having a whale of a time, with more fun and flirtations than ever before.

And if the price we pay for that is having a couple of twentysomethings on the sofa for a few years longer, then for most of us, I reckon it's a price we're happy to pay.

IT could probably count as cruelty to children. More than half of children under five now have television sets in their bedrooms, according to research by Virgin Insurance.

So what happened to the bedtime story then? To lights out, snuggling down in the dark and going to sleep? Instead of Alfie and Annie Rose, the Very Hungry Caterpillar or Topsy and Tim, toddlers are now being lulled to sleep by Coronation Street and EastEnders and any one of a score of grisly dramas.

Instead of peaceful comforting bedtimes, the adult world is bursting into their bedrooms, into their dreams, hiding in the corner by the wardrobe, and without a parent there to translate, explain, reassure. Scary.

With less sleep and such a jittery night, is it any wonder that infants' class children now have the attention span of hyperactive gnats on speed?

Television can be wonderful and enriching, but not for toddlers watching all manner of rubbish on their own, when they and their teddy bears should be fast asleep.

THE trouble with women is that, by and large, we rarely have the time or the inclination to play power games, the sort of office politics that involves telling everyone how wonderful or important you are.

Most of us (and yes, I know there are exceptions) prefer to do our jobs as professionally as possible and then get on with the rest of our lives. It's called work-life balance and women - even super successful stratospheric women - tend to be better at it than men.

Which is also one of the reasons why so many men drop dead within a few months of retirement and why women carry on living fuller, longer lives.

But now Professor Carol Black, only the second woman to be President of the Royal College of Physicians, has said that too many women are becoming doctors. Or rather that the presence of so many women in the profession has led to a drop in status and power.

Status and power? That sounds like boy talk to me.

Most people, most of the time, don't care if their doctor is a man or a woman as long as he or she knows their stuff.

And if they spend less time worrying about status and power and more time worrying about their patients, the chances are that they will be better doctors.

Even if they never get to be President of a Royal College.

SO the Queen, famously and commendably frugal, has the remains of Sunday's roast as rissoles or cottage pie on Monday. Just like we used to when I was a child.

But I don't suppose the Queen ever eats her cottage pie at a kitchen table surrounded by racks of damp and dripping washing.

Rissoles without the steam of laundry? Definitely a better class of left over.

Published: 04/08/2004