Magazine article The Spectator

Lords and the Ring

Magazine article The Spectator

Lords and the Ring

Article excerpt

There are many things I covet.

There are in fact, few things I don't desire except herpes, dental work sans anaesthetic, and pictures by -- or indeed of -- Rolf Harris. I want a loft apartment, an Yves Klein sponge, a signet ring and a pedigree that allows me to wear one. Some of my plummier friends were given signet rings as 18thbirthday presents as well as huge trust funds.

Sometimes these rings turned the attractive, raffish, charming adolescents into younger versions of their corduroy-and-redsocked fathers. The longer they wore these rings the more boring and boorish they became, and the better suited they seemed to their chosen profession -- real estate. Signet rings, with their rabbits and coronets and shields, are portable status symbols. They say, in that uniquely English way, that the nice man in the pink shirt trying to sell you a one-bedder in Fulham -- a borough that is signetring Nirvana -- might be somewhat lost right now but one of his ancestors was a good egg and that the then king (another bloody good egg) made him a duke.

Signet rings derive from the seals used to mark letters and documents. Their provenance derives from the heraldic banners of battlefields and desk seals and red wax -- something now consigned to ye olde tourist shops and the United States.

Cicero probably had an intaglio ring that from a distance might have passed for a signet ring. Fanny Cradock's on-air husband Johnnie would certainly have worn one, and I'm sure that Paul Burrell has one if not two. Kings always wear them in portraits, as do popes. After the death of a pope, the smashing of his signet ring is a prescribed act clearing the way for the election of a new pope -- not a tradition upheld by the grieving families of recently departed estate agents.

The truly grand wear signet rings but so do lots of people purporting to be. And these characters always seem to be the greatest snobs of all. Purists believe that whatever is on the ring should relate to one's family as opposed to one's old school, football team, Masonic lodge or preferred supermarket. It is a signet ring, not a propensity for infidelity, that leads some English men not to wear a wedding ring. 'Never trust a man with two rings' is what men say when they choose their family over their spouse. …

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