As I listened to her give me her recipe for roast leg of mother-in-law.

She explained the marinade -- honey and soy sauce -- "She's getting on, after all, and fleshless, she's bound to be too tough and stringy, without a lot of preparation".

I could only agree, nodding emphatically.

"I thought," she said, "it would be nice to make it a family celebration -- call Maria and Ruth, and have them join us. We could serve her with new potatoes and fresh green beans, and baby corn. And what about the wine? Do you think a chilled chablis, or a cabernet?"

I told her I thought the white would be best, and added that she really would need something to moisten the whole thing, perhaps a rich bechamel sauce.

And then we stifled our grins, steeled ourselves, and went through to listen to today's criticisms and helpful hints about how much better things would be if I lost weight, or she kept to a strict routine for feeding the baby. We even managed to smile.

It's so reassuring to know that the old bat makes someone else's life as miserable as mine.

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