When I was a young fellow, the only people who had tattoos were old blokes who had been in the armed services, particularly the navy. Sailors apparently being contractually required to get a good inking in every port. You could see smudgy blue outlines of anchors, hula dancers, hearts, and dedications to Mother.
You may have noticed that things have changed, and many people are now prepared to present their bodies as blank canvases for a complete stranger to draw on them with ink that’ll never wash off. You may have formed the opinion that I am unconvinced by the craze for tattoos, and you’d be right. However, I am prepared to accept that many would disagree, although it is also clearly a generational thing. In the pro-camp, the youth of today. Forming the majority of the anti’s, old farts like me.
I was in one of Bath’s finest hostelries, The Huntsman, enjoying a pint of their most excellent London Pride when I overheard one of the bar staff, Alice, talking about her birthday and the gift she’d received of tattoo vouchers.
“Tattoo vouchers?” I asked, my interest piqued because I’d never heard of such a thing.
“Yep,” said Alice, "I’m going to get an Art Nouveau lady up my leg.”
Who was I to doubt the artistic Alice? She who chalked a large and clever picture of all of the young staff which hangs on the wall. Each identifiable by some small and well-observed feature. Mind you, the variety of exotic hairstyles and fancy dyes on view make the identification process a bit easier than it might have been in more prosaic times.
When I was in The Huntsman, and Alice was working, I would check on her progress. Yes, she’d chosen a design and was going in for Stage I in a few days.
“Stage I?” I spluttered, “how long does Stage I take?”
“About 4 hours.”
Alice confessed to being nervous, and I wasn’t surprised. I was nervous.
A couple of weeks later, and she had undergone Stage I. I cringed when I heard about Alice’s 4 intensely bloody painful hours under the needle, interspersed with numbing cream. Like tattoo vouchers a few weeks previously, I hadn’t heard of numbing cream, but if it had been me on the table I expect I would have offered my grandmother in exchange for a rub of it.
I repeated my bafflement at the whole process, and she had told me that I wouldn’t understand tattoos until I got one myself. Which isn’t going to happen. Apart from anything else, something might go wrong.
“Thank God that’s over,” I said in sympathy.
That’s when Alice told me she was going back. To get the thing finished. Another 4 hours.
I still don’t really get it, but I do admire her courage.