"So there we were, sitting in this lap-dancing club, having a laugh about that plonker Gordon Brown, and telling this bloke from the Treasury on the next table to get a life, when – poof! – suddenly it all changes. Next day, we're in the office and they're sayin' we've been this thing called part-nationalised, Gordon's saved our ass, and we'd better sort out the lending ratio PDQ 'cos the regulator's due round tomorrow. Blimey."
Better cancel the Ferrari, Toby. And maybe get rid of those red braces. It's a different world now. No more funny-money bonuses for a while. No more buying loans you don't understand from people you've never met. It's over. We, the taxpayers, are the shareholders, now. Confusing, isn't it? I mean it's all happened so quickly. One minute you were living in a deregulated world where nothing made sense but you made a lot of money. The next, it's all turned on its head. Up is down, round is square, and pinstripes are the new sackcloth and ashes.
And you're not alone. We've all got to adjust. Turns out the things we thought were appreciating assets are only homes, and, suddenly, we're not being offered those bits of plastic that turned into cash whenever we made a wish. And imagine what it's like for Gordon Brown. He used to be able to rely on everyone hating him. These days, he's not so sure.
There are new rules now, except that some of them are very old rules – the ones we knew before untrammelled free markets became the orthodoxy. And they're going to take a lot of getting used to. The thing is: are you ready for the new realism? Or are you still stuck in the very recent past? To help, we've devised some homework, a sort of Citizens' Proficiency Test in the new reality. Before you make a decision, or order so much as a paperback online, take it, study it, learn it. And don't even leave home until you've passed.
Would you describe this as:
a) Something you've read about in history books, but you're not really sure what it means?
b) The glorious taking into public ownership of the means of production for the benefit of the down-trodden workers?
c) A piece of socialist nonsense that always leads to wasteful state monopolies that stifle free competition?
d) A sometimes necessary policy that, until very recently, electable politicians could not bring themselves to mention?
2. Gordon Brown
a) A fingernail-chewing incompetent?
b) An emotional illiterate with whom the electorate has no rapport?
c) The Man Who Saved Britain and Can Make Jokes at the Same Time?
d) A good chancellor who has been an ineffectual PM?
3. Sound economies
In a World Economic Forum survey of the soundness of national banking systems, which country ranked above Britain?
h) El Salvador?
You have £5,000 to invest. Is the wisest thing now to:
a) Stick it in the sock drawer and wait for everything to calm down?
b) Go online, find that que-sera-sera.com, a subsidiary of a small Bolivian bank, is offering the best rate, and fill your boots?
c) Spend it, because inflation is going to be so bad that it won't be long before it's worth only £43.67?
d) Head for Northern Rock?
5. Property prices
The value of your home is:
a) Something to be checked constantly by telling one estate agent after another that you are thinking of putting it on the market?
b) A prime, and fascinating, topic of conversation?
c) Falling somewhat, which is a bit worrying because you were intending to get another loan against it?
d) Nothing to do with money, but a matter of how warm, comfortable, and friendly it is?
6. Desirable offshore havens
Which country came top in a United Nations survey last year of the best country in which to live:
a) The US?
b) The Netherlands?
Who said bankers have "created and presided over a system founded in folly and greed":
a) A right-wing commentator often found on the grouse moors?
b) Dennis Skinner?
c) Barack Obama?
d) Robert Peston?
8. Saving vs borrowing
Who will be the real losers from the current crisis and its falling interest rates:
a) Slightly nervous, but prudent savers who spread their risk?
b) Bonus-laden bankers who've caused the whole bloody thing?
c) Wilful credit card addicts?
d) Financial advisers who scoffed at the "reckless caution" of their private pension clients?
Who asked last year, and might now be reassessing the question: "Why do we wish to inhibit the pollinating bees of Wall Street?"
a) Alan Greenspan
b) Warren Buffet, market player extraordinaire
c) David Attenborough
d) George W Bush
But, finally, some things never really change...
10. Corporate culture
What did some executives at the US insurer AIG do just a week after being bailed out by their government:
a) Report even earlier for work, determined to pay back the US taxpayer as soon as possible?
b) Conduct a full-scale inquiry into where it all went wrong?
d) Go to an ocean resort and spend $443,434 on a corporate jolly that included $150,000 for catered banquets, $23,000 at the hotel spa, and thousands more on hair-styling, pedicures, facials and massages?
11. Sorry and blame
Who said "We would like to apologise on behalf of the banks for the mess we've made of things. We accept full responsibility for our reckless behaviour. It was the thought of all those bonuses that made us do it"
a) Statement by Bradford & Bingley?
b) Lehman Brothers press release?
c) Notice pinned up on door of Icesave in Reykjavik?
d) Bloke in a suit interviewed by Sky TV as he hopped into his Maserati?
What kind of market are we now seeing on stock exchanges around the world?
a) Bull? b) Sheep? c) Lemming? d) Bear?
Answers: 1. d) 2. c) 3. All of them. Britain is now 44th. 4. d) 5. d) 6. d) 7. a) By the name of Max Hastings. 8. a) 9. a) Alan Greenspan in 'The Age of Turbulence' (2007) 10. d) 11. None of the above. You'd like to think that one of them might, but while a worldwide financial crisis can alter the entire political landscape, and change the foundations of what we all still, laughably, call our "personal wealth", nothing can shift today's "Not me, guv" culture. In China, they do these things differently. By this stage in the crisis, a couple of bankers would have been frog-marched into a sports arena and executed. It may seem harsh, but, on reflection, not overly so. 12. b)