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  • Philip Bryer

Tattoo You

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

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.

Sailor Tattoo

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; 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 all the way up my leg.”

Who was I to doubt the artistic Alice? She who chalked the large and clever picture of all of the young staff which hangs on the pub wall. Each one 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 a colouring in a few days.

“How long will it take?” I asked.

“About four hours.”

Alice confessed to being nervous, and I wasn’t surprised. I was nervous.

A couple of weeks later, she had undergone the process. I cringed when I heard about Alice’s four intense and bloody painful hours under the needle, which were interspersed with applications of numbing cream. Like tattoo vouchers a few weeks previously, I hadn’t heard of numbing cream, but if it had been me on the receiving end of the dye I expect I would have offered my own 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. There was a time, after all, when childhood's like mine were marked by frequent warnings about the risk of blood poisoning.

“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 four hours.

I still don’t get it (and won't get one), but I do admire her courage.

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