Font of wisdom

Font of wisdom

There are two key givens in employment. First, it is the employer who pays; second it is the employer who decides what is to be done. Well, that is the theory. When we employed a local engraver, things did not go exactly to plan…

During our first holidays in Tréguennec, goods, guests, and even letters had difficulty finding our house as it had neither a number nor a name. Come to that, the street had no name either. Our address was simply ‘old town’ (le Vieux Bourg), so we were just one of a dozen or so houses around the chapel. To resolve this identity crisis our first solution was to give the cottage a number, only to discover that there was no numbering scheme we could tap into. In despair I suggested to the Mairie an arbitrary figure, perhaps a ‘56’ (a number I quite liked), but this was dismissed with a hint of irritation. As yet, no numbering scheme was in place and we would need to wait.

If there could not be a number, what about a name? The search began. Friends, and even local dignitaries, became involved but nothing felt right. Then, over a summer lunch some months later, the mayor and his deputy, who were amongst the guests, presented me with a scroll tied with red ribbon. It was a copy of an 1830s map found in the Marie which showed our house, next to which was written the name ‘Ty poas’ (which in Breton means the ‘cook house’). With a broad smile, the mayor suggested that this would be a house name acceptable to the community.

Jos, a local stone carver, agreed to do the engraving and we sat down with him and his book of ‘fonts’, deciding on the form that the words and the surround would take.

He started next morning and all day chipped away at the granite lintel above the front door. We kept clear.

The work was unveiled late that afternoon. Hopes were high. We had chosen a font in keeping with that found on some of the grander houses in the area. As such the name would be elegant, upright and clear, and with a hint of my favourite calligrapher, Eric Gill. This was going to be something.

As agreed, ‘Ty poas’ was carved in relief in a round-ended ‘rectangle’ (in keeping with the local style). As for the font however, it was unrecognisable. The size and form of the letters varied, the spaces between the letters were inconsistent, capitals appeared for no logical reason and some of the letters flew high above the base line. But while it bore no resemblance to the font chosen, it was wonderful, looked the part and was soon to become the talk of the town. We paid him and he left happy. How ugly, how out of character, how patronisingly British, it would have been if he had used the font of a manor house to name a simple Breton cottage as instructed.

Luckily we had employed a craftsman who identified with Breton culture and who had a strong and independent mind, all qualities common around Trégeunnec and for which I have the highest esteem.

Thanks Jos.

One comment on “Font of wisdom
  1. A nice piece of work Joe and, may I say, a clever title too.

    A true craftsman always works with the grain of his material and Jos himself is evidently hewn out of that same Breton granite.

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