Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Finger Again

On special occasions, such as the recent publication of The Finger: A Handbook, or A Brief History of the Smile, I wear this ring, which was made for me some years ago by the distinguished Australian silversmith Marcus Foley. By coincidence, Marcus and his partner Dore Stockhausen live with their family at Nungurner, on the Gippsland Lakes, quite close to the spot where we spent our summer holidays growing up at Metung. But I first met Marcus in Adelaide. I want to say it was through my colleague Christopher Menz, who was then curator of decorative arts, or maybe it was through our mutual friend the jeweler Nele Schmidt-Teuteberg. I cannot now recall. Anyhow, to this ring attaches a story. In the Upper Pleisticine era, when in Melbourne I worked as a civilian aide to the Governor, Davis McCaughey, someone broke one of the shapely Minton cream jugs from the enormous Government House service, and Mr. Young the butler, formerly of the Coldstream Guards, tossed it in the rubbish. Now mark this: I did not break it, someone else did. But prudently I retrieved the pieces, and in due course had them invisibly mended. The only problem: there is no such thing as invisible mending. For years it sat in a cupboard, the mends gradually becoming more and more visible. Then I had the bright idea of commissioning Marcus to harvest the vice-regal badge on the shoulder and the pale blue stripe around the rim and turn them into a ring and matching cufflinks. The badge is slightly off-center because that is where the break ran. It is the perfect souvenir of those happy, happy days at Government House, Melbourne—that and my photograph of the late and much lamented Cocky McGrath. The badge itself consists of part of the personal cypher of Queen Victoria, surrounded by the garter and motto HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, the whole surmounted by the crown of St. Edward, in other words a suitably pompous emblem for a young and ambitious colony of settlers that was for a while awash with gold.

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