In answer to parents' many begging letters over the past 12 months, a handy cut-out-and-weep guide to spotting whether your darling boy - yes, little James, little Henry, little Willy - is not as other children:

Start me up: 1 to 13

He's two weeks overdue. Why? Because ...

a) he's fashionably late;

b) he's been modelling different looks - the nude thing is so damn tired;

c) "Oh God, I've got to go through that? There's no other way out? Hasn't anyone around here heard the word Caesarean? OK, I'll do it. But just this once."

He's born. Clocks Dad's camcorder. Instinctively displays his best side.

Doctor smacks his bottom. His first smile.

Seems oddly put out when offered the breast.

Blue isn't really his colour.

Wants his first birthday party catered. Produces list of acceptable names.

First words: "What a dump!"

You read him Snow White. He identifies with the Wicked Queen.

Bursts into tears upon finding that Action Man "isn't anatomically correct".

Meets little girl next door. Bitches about her Barbie's dress sense: "Blue and green? I don't think so."

Discovered wearing Mum's high heels, he apologises ... for not accessorising.

Vows to marry Daddy when he grows up.

Has to be dragged, high kicking and screaming, to nursery. You think he's being bullied - he's so sensitive - when he has merely noticed that his schoolmates are still wearing last term's wardrobe (he is a sensitive child).

Names his dog Divine.

Spends fifth birthday worrying that he has lost his looks.

Asked by Granny if he knows what little boys are made of, answers very firmly, "Yes."

Takes the Meccano set Dad bought him - purchased especially to straighten him out - shrieks with delight, races to the bedroom, isn't heard from for the entire afternoon, then calls everyone upstairs to show them the mammoth fan he's built (true story).

His favourite song is "Someday My Prince Will Come"- but opines that it would benefit from a hardbag dance remix.

Refuses point blank to play football while insisting that joining the teams in the showers afterwards is an officially recognised sport. Insists that the same is true of landing on the showbiz squares in Trivial Pursuit.

Told about the birds and the bees. Demands an independent inquiry.

Spends 13th birthday striking girls' names off the invitation list. Demands that Will Carling pop out of the cake, "lavishly oiled and discreetly lit".

The 'I Wonder' Years: 13 to 21

He and his chums while away the afternoons watching Joan Crawford videos and giggling about Madonna having the nerve to play Evita.

Spends inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom. Don't worry, he's not paying hand service to Onan - he's using your beauty products ... actually, worry.

Can hum the entire score of Gypsy.

His room makes Architectural Digest.

No girlfriends but plenty of girl friends.

Eighteenth birthday cake is emblazoned with the legend "Legal at last".

His best pal, Jeremy, starts staying overnight. Explains the moaning noises heard from his room in the wee small hours with "Poor Jer-Jer is a martyr to asthma". Poor Jer-Jer looks as if he could bench-press 160 pounds ... Your son weights 160 pounds.

Laughs uncontrollably when subjected to fatherly talk on contraception. Odd, because you've found condoms in the pockets of his skin-tight 501s. Brushes away questions with "Better safe than sorry."

Informs his careers officer he wants to force Mother Teresa to have dermabrasion.

Begins coming home late with shaving rash - someone else's shaving rash.

Says he has something serious to tell you, shakes his head when you guess (fantasise?) "You've got some girl pregnant!" and then says it doesn't matter really, it can keep, honest.

For Adults Only: Don't Ask A Lady Her Age

Leaves home. Says he doesn't want a job yet. Gets hysterical when you agree he "should bum around".

Moves in with Jer-Jer. You visit. The flat's fabulous. Compact, too: only one bedroom.

Jer-Jer moves out. A strange cove with shaved head, gold ear-ring and outre taste in leather clothing moves in.

Lands gainful employment in what sounds like an exciting, cutting-edge scientific enterprise called Clone Zone. He swears that the venture is indeed dedicated to the betterment of man.

Jer-Jer moves back. No one is allowed to mention the strange cove.

Your heart leaps when a root around his wardrobe uncovers frocks, bras and high heels. You don't even mind she's such a big girl (why, she's as big as a man) - at least she's a girl.

Said girl never materialises.

No girls ever materialise.

But it's all right because your son's happy, he loves Mum and Pa, and - thank heavens - at least there will never be a scheming, selfish bitch of a daughter-in-law to battle with. Unless you count Jer-Jer. Which you should.