Thirty years ago a thin young lass stepped into one of those red phone-boxes of the type you don't see any more except in museums and, possibly, next to the odd outdoor pool in places like Texas. She dialled a number, and asked the lady who answered, one question. The lady carefully read out three letters of the alphabet and, after a brief further chat, the call was over.
The lass stepped out into the morning sun and danced down the street singing her head off. I wonder if anyone in Lamorna, where we were on holiday at the time, remembers my 18th birthday? It was a coming-of-age that had everything: a sense of achievement (those letters being my A-level results), a memorable moment, and a step through to a new life.
Except, of course, that students aren't real adults, any more than is the newly-confirmed 16 year old, or the 14 year old Bat Mitvah, or indeed anyone who emerges from any of the long-established, but now no longer all-inclusive, coming-of-age markers in life. You grew up faster in the Iron Age: shorter life expectancy meant you couldn't hang about. So, all the best and most meaningful coming-of-age rites are completely out-of-phase with modern life. And we haven't bothered to come up with anything nearly as good.
This has always struck me as rather remiss of us. At no point in present-day life are we handed, unambiguously and in full view of all the people we care about, the responsibilities of an adult life, with the underlying message "You're one of us now. You know your stuff, and we trust you".
Sometimes, you step out into a wide new space and there are absolutely no landmarks. At what point can you be said to be grown-up?