'What I appreciated about growing up in England was the tolerance, liberalism, everyday kindness.' ..'The way the English always stick up for the underdog.' 'You are confusing the underdog with the scrounger, Nadia. We were poor, but we were never scroungers. The English people believe in fairness. Fair play. Like cricket.' .. 'They play by the rules. They have a natural sense of discipline and order.' 'No no. They're quite anarchic. They like to see the little man stick two fingers to the world. They like to see the big shot get his come-uppance.' 'On the contrary, they have a perfectly preserved class system, in which everyone knows where they belong.' See how we grew up in the same house but lived in different countries? 'They make fun of their rulers.' 'But they like strong rulers.' If Vera mentions Mrs Thatcher, I shall put the phone down. There is a short pause, in which we both consider our options. I try an appeal to our shared past. 'Remember the woman on the bus, Vera? The woman in the fur coat?' 'What woman? What bus? What are you talking about?' Of course she remembers. She hasn't forgotten the smell of diesel, the swish of the windscreen wipers, the unsteady sway of the bus as it churned newly fallen snow into slouch; coloured lights outside the windows; Christmas Eve 1952. Vera and I, muffled against the cold, snuggling up against Mother on the back seat. and a kind woman in a fur coat who leaned across the aisle and pressed sixpence into Mother's hand:'For the kiddies at Christmas.' 'The woman who gave Mother sixpence.' Mother, our mother, did not dash the coin in her face; she mumbled,'Thank you, lady,' and slipped it into her pocket. The shame of it! 'Oh, that. I think she was a bit drunk. You mentioned it once before. I don't know why you go on about it.' 'It was that moment -- more than anything that happened to me afterwards -- that turned me into lifelong socialist.' There is silence on the other end of the telephone and for a moment I think she has hung up on me. Then:'Maybe it was what turned me into the woman in the fur coat.'