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A Sense Of Proportion

March 19, 2020
by the gentle author


In ‘Mrs Dalloway’ when an unhappy young woman takes her shell-shocked husband to a clinic, the psychiatrist declares that he is not mad, he just lacks a sense of proportion. Virginia Woolf is often considered a grim heavyweight novelist but personally I have always found her work irresistibly comic and full of exhilarating caustic irony, of which this incident I quote here is a prime example.

I bought this copper Roman coin in the Spitalfields Market in 1997 to remind me to keep a sense of proportion. It only cost £2.30 and, with the millennium approaching, I wanted a thousand-year-old item to give me a sense of chronological perspective. When I took it to the British Museum, they told me it was in fact fourth century, made here at the time of the Emperor Arcadius and of very little value. You can see Arcadius’ head on the coin in the picture above, he was among the earliest emperors to rule from Constantinople, a minor emperor. I was delighted to learn that on the reverse is Minerva, the goddess of wisdom – this suited my aspiration well.

Most interesting, was to discover that the piercing of the coin at the back of the head was original. The custom was for lovers to wear them as tokens of affection, keepsakes. Since then, I have worn it round my neck every day on a leather thong and never ceased to wonder who wore it here in Britain all those years ago and what was the story. This coin and I have now have innumerable stories that I would like to tell the original owner. I was wearing it in New York on 11th September 2001 and again in Holborn on 7th July 2005. There was the time I stepped from the ocean on a remote beach at the western end of Cuba in 1998 to discover the wallet containing my money, cards, passport and tickets was stolen. The only coin I had left was this one.

At the time I bought the coin in the market, they were excavating the Roman cemetery in Spitalfields that now lies beneath the new development. The antiquarian John Stow described how in 1576, in a brick-field near the Spital-churchyard, there were discovered Roman funeral urns, containing copper coins of Claudius, Vespasian, Antoninus Pius and Trajan. It is possible that my coin was from that cemetery.

In 2006, I added the two gold wedding rings that my mother had worn up until her death. One was her own wedding ring and the other was her mother’s. I have never worked out which is which but since my grandfather was a bank manager whereas my father was an engineer working on the shop floor, I assume that the thicker one was my grandmother’s and the other was my mother’s.

These rings are a powerful reminder of how I came to be, my personal relationship to the passage of time as I understand it, through the succession of generations in my family. Wearing the rings beside the Roman coin affords a broader perspective, setting family history against the span of history itself. The function of these keepsakes is to help me hold these thoughts in mind, to sustain me in the constant human struggle to maintain a sense of proportion.


59 Responses leave one →
  1. Su C. permalink
    March 19, 2020

    The circle of life – it must be taken in perspective. Thank you, Gentle one.

  2. mem permalink
    March 19, 2020

    yes very topical when we consider the past calamities we have survived or that our ancestors survived.

  3. March 19, 2020

    I have my grandmothers engagement ring and my great grandmothers wedding ring. They are very important to me, I had them melted down to form one band with diamonds and emeralds. When I am no longer here it will be passed on to my eldest niece. This ring means the world to me as it reminds me of how I came to be. My grandmothers family came from Yorkshire, so my roots lie there.

  4. James Harris permalink
    March 19, 2020

    A good sense of proportion.

    I believe many that require such a thing will aquire it in the near future.

    Best of health and happiness to you. Please keep writing.

    James Harris

  5. Diane Clement permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Thank you for this interesting and calming story. It is perfect as a nice slice of someone else’s life to take my mind off all the current dire news. Of course, it made me want one of those Roman coins to hold close and wonder about since I cannot fly from California to again stand outside the Museum of London gazing down at the Roman ruins, trying to will a fair number of Romans to come back and show me how they lived.

  6. Sophie Collins permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Such a good reminder, thanks

  7. Lesley permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Dear GA, what a lovely story to help us keep “a sense of proportion”. I think of my mother and grandmothers I n my mind, especially as the times they lived through living in Poplar during WW2. Keep safe and we’ll everyone.

  8. Jeanette Hollick permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Lovely story. Thanks for posting.

  9. March 19, 2020

    I hope you’ll be wearing your coin and rings for many more years. Stay safe Gentle Author.

  10. March 19, 2020

    a beautiful poignant piece of writing, thank you.

  11. Louise permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Dear GA,
    Today’s blog is perfectly timed and absolutely true. We all need to retain a sense of proportion in these troubled times, thank you once again – please – everyone be kind and considerate to one another. This is a time to show the best of human nature not the worst.

  12. March 19, 2020

    Dear GA, as we carry on at the shop, uncertain for how long, your post could not be more timely. The story of your coin and it’s journey through time from the fourth century to you has moved me and made me pause. Thank you.

  13. Jane James permalink
    March 19, 2020

    What a lovely piece of writing – very touching. Thank you!

  14. Sandra permalink
    March 19, 2020

    I always enjoy your writing, but this one has found a home with me. As we face an uncertain future, the idea of perspective is very important. I have been thinking of my parents, both born in 1920, and the hardships that they faced, and the stoicism that saw them through.

    Thank you.

    Sandra (Queensland, Australia)

  15. March 19, 2020

    A lovely piece GA.

    I wear my grandmothers wedding ring as my own. It was purchased in Autumn 1917 around the time her beloved “baby” brother was terribly wounded in Flanders and there seemed little hope of my future grandfather getting leave to come home to marry. It cost 3 guineas, a lot for a working class girl to spend, but it didn’t leave her finger between 1918 and her death in the mid ’80s.

    I’ve looked at it a lot the last few days and thought of what this small object has been part of; there when great Grans baby died in the Spanish flu, when Nan pushed her children into the world, there when she nursed and held the dying, there in the Anderson shelter, there when she stuffed the innumerable Christmas turkeys to the recipe I still use. It has been with me while I’ve done some of the things she did while wearing it, the joyful and the soul wrenching. It is a reminder to me too in hard times that like the little bit of gold that holds such history, we can endure a lot, maybe with a few more bumps and scratches and the lustre a bit dulled

    With thoughts and wishes of health and strength to you, dear GA and all readers.


  16. Ursula permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Perspective. What a beautiful post. Thank you for it. I shall wear it often metaphorically by reading it often. Comfort in the current, uncertain times.

  17. March 19, 2020

    That is such a moving and beautifully written story and a timely reminder at this time about keeping a sense of proportion.

  18. March 19, 2020

    Thank you for your very timely piece. I too wear my grandmother’s wedding ring to keep her experience and wisdom, which she learned through coping with decades of change and adversity, uppermost in my mind.

  19. Harper Fox permalink
    March 19, 2020

    That’s amazing. What a beautiful story. And a much-needed reminder of the smallness and the greatness of the passage of time and event in our lives.

    I’ve been meaning for ages to say how much I appreciate your daily blog, Gentle Author. Even on the days when I don’t get time to read it, your presence in my inbox is somehow reassuring!

  20. March 19, 2020

    Sometimes the shortest stories are the best.

  21. March 19, 2020

    Thank you for this finely attuned perspective on the wider meaning of personal symbols that reminds us of how we’re woven into a historical tissue of relationships that stretch back over time, inform the present and also point forward. I found it very moving, apt and wise.

  22. Penny Gardner permalink
    March 19, 2020

    One day at at time .

  23. Jill permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Beautifully put. I think you’re right about the rings.

  24. philip Marriage permalink
    March 19, 2020

    A lovely story.

    Would not the hallmarks on the inside of the rings reveal the date each was made?

  25. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 19, 2020

    A very timely reminder GA – thank you!

    And when you have the time please tell us more about the three major incidents you have mentioned, and how they played out in your life.

  26. March 19, 2020

    Have a good day, G. A. All my best to Shroedinger.

  27. March 19, 2020

    What a delightful tale, with some astounding coincidences. Thank you for sharing this beam of light during what is a difficult time for so many, worldwide.
    PS: I trust the universe, or at least the local police and embassy, were truly helpful after losing those vital items in Cuba

  28. March 19, 2020

    Thank you Gentle Author. A very reassuring piece which I will treasure in my mind as the effects of the pandemic deepen.

  29. March 19, 2020

    Very timely, indeed. At the moment, I am blazing away in my studio on a project that explores
    talismans, fetishes, charms, amulets and more. As I research various examples of these,
    in many cultures, I have a deeper appreciation of the meaning of such touchstones.
    Thanks for sharing the stories behind your personal talismans, worn close to your heart.
    Onward and upward.

  30. Kelly Ingird permalink
    March 19, 2020

    A beautiful piece. Thank you.

  31. Amanda permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Had l been swimming on the remote Cuban beach and returned to find the sentimental Roman coin had fallen off in the sea, that would have been a far greater jolt to my soul than the financial loss and sense of temporary inconvenience of losing my ID and tickets.
    l understand this sentiment entirely.

  32. Jen permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Beautiful. Thank you

  33. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 19, 2020

    A soothing story today and very welcome.

    I agree with the other commenter–a jeweler can give the dates of the rings (and where they were made) based on those hallmarks inside. Perhaps another story will grow out of that shop visit?!

    I love the warmth of that gold, and your memories. Thank you.

  34. David Antscherl permalink
    March 19, 2020

    You can tell which ring belonged to whom by reading the hallmarks inside. These will date the rings for you.

    It’s nice to have touchstones of this nature to keep one’s perspective.

  35. Teresa Clark permalink
    March 19, 2020

    As I try to remain calm and go about my new daily routine, it is reassuring to find your article in my inbox today. A beautiful story. Thank you.

  36. Sarah Swan permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Thank you as always, GA, for reminding us of a sense of proportion and reminding us to count our blessings.

  37. Gayle permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Such a well timed contemplation. Knowing something of history may be the best path to equanimity…in any age.

  38. paul loften permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Thank you for this personal story. It reminds us of the passing of time and all the trials that people have been through, from the very first human steps on this Earth. Survival was always a delicate balance and still is. Although we may not be aware of it at certain times.
    The gold is enhanced juxtaposed by the copper which acts as a symbol of how both metals have played an important part in our lives but perhaps copper although the base metal having less monetary value, has been more important to us over time. I made my own wedding rings over 35 years ago from small pieces of scrap 9 ct gold melted then drawn in to wire and they have stood the test of time. My wife and I still wear them although they are not hallmarked. I once lost mine I don’t know how it came off my finger as it was a perfect fit. After a month of looking, I had given up and was about to make a replacement when by chance I put my hand down the side of the sofa looking for something else that fell and amazingly, my hand came up with the ring. I am looking at it now and it has never fallen off since and I did not resize it. BTW the age of the rings can be determined by the hallmarks if you google.

  39. Helen Simpson permalink
    March 19, 2020

    A lovely post for these darkest of days, thank you! I have my mother’s and grandmother’s wedding rings, their engagement rings and both their bibles. They are amongst my post treasured possessions.

  40. Annie S permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Thank you GA for your reminder in keeping a sense of proportion, especially in this current time when we are being bombarded by the media (yes, of course we know the seriousness of the situation).
    I wear my grandmother’s wedding ring which is over 100 years old now – how different life was just that comparatively short time ago!

  41. Linda Brownlee permalink
    March 19, 2020

    I’d just like to echo all of the comments so well put by your readers in relation to your thoughtful story… help us to keep a little treasury of our own when you speak of yours.
    You infect us with hope and that’s a lovely gift to open every morning!

  42. Jeff SOfroniou permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Wow! What a fabulous story.

  43. March 19, 2020

    What a lovely story I so enjoy your reminders of London
    Greetings from Venice
    Warm wishes Fay

  44. Pickles permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Thanx….. for being you, and sharing yourself with us…. X

  45. Paul Huckett permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Thanks for sharing that personal reflection. I am unpacking in our new home , actually unpacking boxes that were never unpacked when we moved 22 years ago. I had quite a few great aunts and uncles on both sides that didn’t have children. Blame the Great Depression or blame the war and years of hardship and separation , the result was my sister and I inherited their property and belongings . The past few weeks have been a seesaw of emotions as I unpack mementos and belongings I remember from over 60 years ago . The suite of Scottish jet jewellery worn by all my mothers ancestors since 1880 , and worn by my wife many years ago. I’d forgotten we had it . I have no daughter to wear it and our son has never married . Our unpacking and the emotions have been particularly poignant given the world’s circumstances .

  46. Suzanne permalink
    March 19, 2020

    Thank you for this beautifully written reminder of what passes and what lasts.

  47. March 20, 2020

    GA, you always find the right words and sentiments especially in these unprecedented times, they touched my heart. Thank you.

  48. March 20, 2020

    Very wise words, thankyou for bringing a sense of stability and continuity during this peculiar time.

  49. Dave R permalink
    March 20, 2020

    Glancing, subtle, reassuring, gentle. Thanks, as always, for providing context.

  50. Sue permalink
    March 20, 2020

    Thank you for a simple touching tale.

  51. Stephanie Pemberton permalink
    March 20, 2020

    A wise and refreshing tale for jaded times. Virginia W now added to my library list in case house arrest calls.
    Thank you once again.

  52. June Russell permalink
    March 20, 2020

    I really love that story. It brought a smile to my face in these strange times. Stay safe x

  53. March 20, 2020

    Thank you Gentle Author. A most interesting story. Something to keep in mind especially in these troubled times.

    As in another comment, I had my late mother’s & aunts’ rings & my late father’s cuff links (which had been passed to me by each) melted down & made into two lovely rings & which serve to remind me of them all.

  54. March 20, 2020

    A nice quiet piece for terrible times

  55. Elizabeth Greene permalink
    March 20, 2020

    Thank you for this. It’s always good to think of how we are connected to other people, living and in the past. Especially now. Good health to you!

  56. Judith Haxton permalink
    March 21, 2020

    Gentle Author, please continue your words of inspiration ….they are much needed and appreciated during these difficult times !!

  57. Michael Carpenter permalink
    March 21, 2020

    Gold and copper are both created inside of stars; all the gold and copper on the Earth today formed in stars that lived and died billions of years before our own sun condensed out of the clouds of gas left behind by their deaths. So your coin and rings have a history much older than the Solar System we now inhabit. And they will continue, probably forming part of new worlds when ours has also ceased to be. We’re just along for the ride, temporarily.

    Stay safe while you’re here.

  58. Kenneth Sherwood permalink
    March 27, 2020

    Lovely story of taking some perspective on life, how generations succeed one another, that history is more than the great events of nations. Very poignant in these times.

  59. linda kincaid permalink
    April 25, 2020

    I think that is my favourite piece of writing from you. Just lovely. Thankyou.

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