AS awkward situations go, it's one of the worst. However confident you are, meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend's parents for the first time is always awash with tension.

You are ushered in front of them like an exhibit at a flower show. And, all of a sudden, you forget how to speak, how to stand, how to behave. Or at least you feel like you've forgotten.

You could be in your twenties, thirties or even forties, (a friend of mine aged 40 plus, with a new man in tow, said the initial greeting never gets any easier), yet confronted with your boyfriend's mum and dad, you act like Harry Enfield's Kevin.

It's a minefield. Unless you've been fully briefed beforehand, you haven't a clue what they expect of you. Do you mutter "Hello", vigorously shake them by the hand, or (my mother-in-law's preferred greeting) give them a peck on both cheeks?

Either way, you're bound to do something you'll regret. Your desperate craving to make a good impression, coupled with your extreme nervousness, is a recipe for disaster.

Still, at least none of us have to go through the ridiculous formalities expected of Camilla Parker Bowles, who did a huge formal curtsey when she met the Queen for the first time since she began dating Prince Charles.

Imagine having to stoop to that level - particularly after being ignored by Her Majesty for years. I think I'd have been inclined to shuffle about and mumble something unintelligible.

My first meeting with my husband's parents didn't get off to a brilliant start when his mother opened the conver-sation with the words: "I really can't relate to anyone who hasn't lived in New York, Hong Kong and Paris." I almost retorted: "Will Middlesbrough, Hackney and Bradford do?" But, eager to be liked, I kept quiet. It didn't work, and looking back I should have fired a few shots back.

And a former boyfriend's father was so unbelievably handsome I just stood and gawped, wondering how he had spawned such a greasy, unattractive youth as the lad I was hanging around with.

One of the first things my husband did when he met my parents was spill his beer all over the dinner table. Later that distinctly unrelaxing weekend he found he had head lice (I did too and had almost certainly passed it to him), and literally cowered with shame when my mother went to the local chemist's for some nit-blasting shampoo.

The worst thing about meeting your new love's mother and father is the stream of questions you're likely to have to answer, from where you went to school, to what your parents do, to whether you eat meat.

Still, it's not quite as bad as being closely studied and assessed over a long period by his mum to find out whether you'll make a suitable partner. Under the ever-watchful eye of the Queen, Camilla has had to behave impeccably for ages to finally be accepted.

Still, now she's got the green light, she'll be able to let her hair down a bit - spend the summer clubbing in Ibiza, that sort of thing.

You can tell a lot from those first meetings with your partner's parents - they can even result in a separation, if he dotes on his mum, and you find her as friendly as a rattlesnake.

Camilla may have got over the first, sticky hurdle, but if she's anything like most women, now she's got to know her bloke's mum, she'll start every argument with the words: "Your b****y mother ..."

WHOEVER conducted the study which concluded that women are the more organised of the sexes in Yorkshire (apparently, 76 per cent of people said they were) and are better at finding things should visit my home. It's a sniffer dog's paradise. Only this morning I spent an hour searching for my daughter's shoes. And in total I've probably spent more than a year looking for lost car keys.