My mum was on the phone. She's 85 and became a widow last year.
"Ooh, the shares have gone down today!" she said. "Over a hundred points."
She checks them on Teletext. Dad used to do that. Now Mum does it, and frets.
"I did tell you to sell them all," I tease her. "Squander the money! Go mad!"
"Oh no, I mustn't do that!"
She and Dad had only a small investment portfolio, but they were rather proud of it. Now Mum is anxious about it. She depends on the dividend income to make ends meet.
She said, "Do you think they'll come up again?"
"No idea," I said. Then, "Probably, but maybe not for a while."
I've no idea if that is true. She said, "What's caused this, David?"
"No idea," I said again. And that time I had nothing to add. That's because I simply don't understand. Does anyone?
The BBC's Robert Peston seems to. "The most powerful economic force in the world right now is what bankers call 'deleveraging,'" he writes.
When I first read that I felt a headache coming on. I persevered though.
"In many ways," Robert explains, "deleveraging is a good thing. It's time we learned not to borrow more than we can afford."
Now there's a sentiment my mother would agree with: one held in common with almost everyone of her generation. She may not understand why the shares are going down, any more than I do. But maybe the big players of the global economy - maybe all of us - could learn a thing or two from her.
A friend told me a lovely tale the other day. Her mother was a farmer's daughter for whom maintaining some mainstream social appearances was not a priority. Her father was from the respectable working-class. They used to bicker about milk. When the family took tea or sat to breakfast my friend's mother would plonk the milk bottle on the table. Her father always poured it into a jug first. Their differences over this generated a metaphor for other points of tension. When she thought him inhibited or prim, she would upbraid him for his milk-in-a-jug mentality. When he thought her slobbish he bemoaned her milk-in-a-bottle attitudes. Ah, the English! I wonder where that couple stood on toast racks and butter dishes?
These are the sweets my five year-old daughter chose as her treat for doing well in her swimming lesson on Saturday. The shop is in Deepest Hackney, the shopkeeper a Muslim man with a considerable beard. Most of these items weren't available when I was my daughter's age and, like her, was allowed a selection of cheap goodies as my reward for good behaviour, in my case at the barbershop in the west country coalfield town where I grew up. Love Hearts were, though; and mini-chews and lollipops and sherbet. True, the Fashion Candy Necklace had yet to be invented. But it still seems the case that while Britain changes, its confectionary remains much the same.
Gordon Brown seems to be reverting to Plan A now that the embarrassments of the Bank That Sank and the Election That Never Was are behind him. He's begun humming his "Britishness" tune again, with all the clunky opportunism that implies. At least, that was my first response to his comments about senior officers at RAF Wittering advising base personnel not to wear uniform when visiting Peterbrough because doing so has attracted abuse from anti-war elements in the town. He said:
"All our armed forces should be able to, and encouraged to, wear their uniform in public and have the respect and gratitude of the British people for the huge commitment to public service they show. We will back up the police in their efforts to show that at RAF Wittering or anywhere else it's possible for the armed forces not only to wear their uniform, but to have the thanks of the British public."
Am I being unfair to the PM? A little. He mentions "public service," which is good: the reason I'm unhappy about military personnel being insulted in the streets by is that, for me, they fall into the same category as nurses and fire fighters. Would it be OK to insult them because we're displeased with the direction of health policy or the provision of fire stations?
Yet why should members of the armed forces be "encouraged" to wear uniform in civilian streets? I'd prefer a Labour prime minister to restrict himself to emphasising that it's a choice they should feel able to freely exercise. Instead, he's used the issue as a pretext for flag-flying. I wish he'd stop peddling that stuff. And does he really think the voters buy it?