Tim Key: I am getting something engraved for a special lady. This is a big, big commitment


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The Independent Online

I went to get some engraving done this week on a metal box thing that I've bought for a special lady. I'd not been engraving for a while so I experienced a real frisson of excitement. That feeling of anticipation you get when you're clutching a metal box thing in Timpson, and waiting for a man to carve your sentiments on to its base.

It goes without saying, if you decide to have something engraved, that's a big, big commitment. It's not like writing a Post-it, a text or a column, where it's forgotten in the next moment and disappears into the ether. By deciding to engrave, you are placing these words indelibly into the universe and, as such, it takes some thought.

I arrived in Timpson with my metal box thing and found myself a little corner next to a weird machine that I imagine was used to cut keys and/or shoes. And there I sat on an upturned stool thinking what I would like to impress upon my box thing. I wanted to get this right. I knew I had to, in fact. I don't know much about engraving machines, but I'm guessing they don't have a delete function, and no matter how much I gazed around the tiny, bustling workshop, I didn't spot any Tipp-Ex.

I wrote my text, and I wrote it with care. Each word was chosen specially, to commemorate my relationship with this wonderful woman. I was using gems like 'wondrous' and 'without' and 'lost' and 'always' and 'nice': anything to impress upon her the height of the esteem I held her in. Once my message was worthy, I hit the counter.

The man told me the price.

I looked at him, and I looked at his machine, and I looked at the text, and scrunched my eyes closed as his words clanged about inside my head. The headline news was that, after the start-up fee, we were looking at paying "per letter". I opened my eyes. It was still the same price. I retreated to my upturned stool.

It's in situations like this that you find out just how good an editor you are. I squatted out of sight and combed my script for over-embroidery. Looking at it again, it did feel clumsily over-written. Clarity and brevity: these would now be my masters.

I immediately lost 'dear'. The lass is a ball-breaking agent – she doesn't need to hear crap like 'dear'. It's implied, surely. 'Victoria' also started looking a bit unwieldy. I'd always called her Victoria, sure – it's a professional relationship – but this felt like a good time to get 'Vicky' going. Or, for that matter, Vic. Other words also started getting shorter, or leaving the box thing altogether. Of course, I think Vic's 'fantastic', but not at £9. 'Ace' does the job for a third of the price.

It's amazing which letters you can dispense with when you're paying through the teeth for them. The whole process was more or less the reverse of writing a column. In this job, I'm paid per word, so it's in my interest to reach 700 any which way I can. But in Timpson, the idea is to get across the broad gist of how you feel about someone as quickly as possible.

I'd got rid of most of it and totted up what was left. Admittedly, much of the heart had been ripped out of my message, but it was coming in at less than 20 quid, and, gun to the head, Vic would probably guess it was largely favourable.

I went to the counter, and did last-minute tweaks to the end. 'Lots of love, Tim' became 'all my love, Tim' and then 'love, Tim' and then just 'Tim'. Though by the time we actually zapped it on to the box thing, I was just 'T', in the same way she had become 'V'.

I think V'll like her box thing. Because it is engraved, and therefore special. Even though the box thing itself was fairly cheap, and not as nice as another one I looked at in John Lewis.