Green shoots in the garden ... or just weeds?
It's like an allotment in April. Eager grow-your-owners rush down after school to see if the sweetcorn is up yet. "Look look, here's a shoot! Or is it a weed?".
Next day the first tiny shoots have been caught by frost or squashed by a nosy badger.
The latest badger in the business news is Brendan Barber. The TUC's General Secretary says the recession will be long, deep and cold. Colder even than the 1980s. "Beware talk of green shoots", Mr Barber warned.
But then two respected bodies have both said "the worst is over". CBI boss Richard Lambert used those exact words in a report last week. And the
National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) came to the same conclusion a few weeks before that.
Everyone has their own dipsticks for spotting the recovery. City pundits fancy the Baltic Dry Index; others count the queues at the JobCentre. What's your favourite?
Mine is inexplicable optimism on the High Street.
And on my walk to work at the BBC in Bristol there are two new delicate shoots poking through the hard soil of the retail allotment. Whiteladies Road is pockmarked with boarded up shops, restaurants, estate agents and mortgage brokers. But two down from Woolies, a new restaurant opens.
No surprise there, maybe, even in recessions new businesses open up. But Rockfish is almost a clone of the failed upmarket fish shop it has replaced. Classy, locally sourced fish dinners. A wet fish counter alongside the restaurant. Even the name on the menu is the same. Mitchell Tonks set up Fishworks in Bath in the 1990s and grew through the foodie revolution to ten outlets. He sold his own share a couple of years ago and then just before Christmas, Fishworks sank.
So what's different now? Is the recovery so strong that Bristol is once again full of posh diners seeking fancy Sea Bass and Samphire?
My resident doom-monger is Mark Dampier, of Bristol money-men Hargreaves Lansdown. He called the credit crunch a year out and refuses to be anything but gloomy still. So could the new "open for business" signs persuade him?
The second new shoot is even more surprising. At first sight, it looks like a mortgage brokers. In fact, Cartel doesn't do mortgages, at least not in the normal way. They "review your financial commitments" which is polite code for a booming industry. if you are having trouble with your mortgage, Cartel's advisers will comb the small print for a legal loophole. They do credit cards and loan agreements too. Their clients have escaped thousands of pounds of debt.
"Yes, a green shoot," says miserable Mark Dampier. "But one that grows on the dung heap of the recession, don't you think? The mountains of debt are so huge companies like this are going to do well."
Down on The Triangle I come upon a sturdy new sapling and another withered little plant.
The sapling? Waitrose. A fancy new city centre offering from the upmarket supermarket, which has been transplanted right onto the site of a posh organic shop that died in the first economic frost of 2008. And they're doing very well.
But right next to it - a shutdown furniture store. Furniture - especially top end stuff - has been walloped by the recession round here. And this is the second firm to try selling bespoke beds from the same spot.
I guess Martin Weale, of the NIESR, would shop in Waitrose and hold his Cheddar Strawberries aloft crying "Here - the good times are coming back!"
Brendan Barber will stand grimly by the "To Let" sign on the old furniture store, muttering about early frosts and green shoots.
So what do you see? Shoot or weeds? Hit the comments now ...
Seems we're not alone in shoot-spotting. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) which covers the whole country but has more members in the North, is also identifying "welcome progress" in the magic C Factor....