This baby bird will be staying on in the nest: In response to our piece on 16 December about young adults returning home, Eloise Harris describes the entertainment she gains from living with her parents

'THERE comes a time,' say my parents, 'when every baby bird must leave the nest.' They say this with increasing regularity and increasing emphasis as the years go by. But here I am, at 26, still clutching on to the twigs and bark of the family home. I have peered over the edge of the nest a few times. And I have done a little experimental fluttering. But I always clamber back inside when the temptation arises to take that decisive leap into the real world.

Clearly, this timid fledgling routine is frustrating to my parents. To be honest, however, it is a good job Baby Bird is around to supervise, for, in plain ornithological terms, the parents are becoming a touch featherbrained in their old age. The father who explained the laws of refraction and reflection to me before my O-levels has started walking into glass doors. The mother who taught me to cook is popping crumpets into the cassette deck of the kitchen stereo. And as for the interests they like to pursue . . .

I nip downstairs for a cup of coffee. My mother is sitting, surrounded by books, at the kitchen table. All at once she comes out with the memorable line: 'Two toads, totally tired, tried to trot to Tewkesbury.' She is practising for her weekly voice projection class.

While admiring the endeavours of the two toads, I hunt for two flapjacks that I am convinced I left on the sideboard. 'Have you seen them, Mum?' I ask, without much hope, since she has embarked on the enunciated works of T S Eliot. 'I ate them dear,' she confesses. My mother is supposedly on an all-fruit diet this week. 'Never mind, darling,' she says. 'Look at my tongue-

strengthening exercise.'

I head for the safety of my room, but before I reach it a deafening blast of Tchaikovsky rips out of the living room, announcing that my father has settled down to work. He is a music buff. Until recently, he had been the archetypal gramophone man. Then he read about compact discs and invested in an intricate new hi-fi. 'Obviously, without the crackling noises you used to get on LPs there is no reason not to play every symphony on volume 10, with the living room door open, is there?' I say. 'Is there?' Oh, never mind.

Dad can work out how to use a CD player or a state-of-the-art computer in minutes. And yet there is no way he will ever get to grips with the auto-timer on the video. He spent two months trying to record a single complete edition of The New Avengers. He got the date wrong, the 24-hour clock wrong, the channel wrong. He forgot to transfer information from the handset to the recorder. He unplugged the television. He chopped off the crucial first 10 minutes, and the dramatic last 10 minutes. Sunday mornings became a desperate time of reckoning. The only error he refused to consider was a human one.

Food is important in our family. In the good old days we ate fish and chips on Wednesdays and there were always chocolate biscuits in the cupboard. So why is the fridge brimming with seaweed jelly and the salad drawer withering with limp, white sprouty things? When did the chocolate biscuits get evicted by the rice cakes?

Suddenly the rules of the eating game have changed. No one will teach them to me, but - as with the all-fruit diet - I gather the goal posts are prone to shift. But I try to avoid playing the game. I prefer to make them cheat. Leave a bar of chocolate on top of the television and watch it disappear in seconds. Then listen for that inevitable line: 'Of course, I don't like sweet things, dear. I'd rather have a plate of raw root vegetables any day.'

I go down to lunch and find my father singing. He sings often and with gusto. Today it is 'Don't go out with-a him, tonight'. Fat chance of Baby Bird going out with anyone. Dad only takes messages from people called James. Says there are too many names to remember, otherwise. My mother is more helpful but will leap to conclusions. 'Jeremy? Who's Jeremy? I don't want you marrying anyone called Jeremy. I never met a good Jeremy yet.'

Lunch draws to a close with the usual debate about whether I wouldn't be better off with a mug of boiled water than my chosen instant coffee. Mum disappears to stick Hopi candles in her ears. Dad goes outside to wage war on the daisies, which he hates as much as he hates Margaret Thatcher. I have to have a little lie down. Bird watching is an exigent sport. But with this much entertainment to be had at home, it has to be said that Baby Bird is not the slightest bit interested in quitting the nest. Sorry to disappoint you, parents, but this little squawker is here to stay.

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