Sunday, 12 December 2010

Inking Aloud

Talking of tattoos, I once dated a journalist who, when he was a Cub Reporter, had the misfortune to be put on Magistrate Court duty for months on end. Only one case stuck in his mind: Watergate.

Sorry, that wasn't it at all and if it had been it would have been petty theft in the Watergate Shopping Centre. No, the one case which the then (short-lived) innamorata remembered involved a man charged with breaking the Obscene Publications Act. My (but not for very long) chap turned up with his notebook. The defendant was slumped in the dock, a woolly hat pulled low over his brow. It was a hot summer's day and the man looked in danger of overheating. The Magistrate listened to the evidence of the Police and mulled over the charges. Eventually he looked solemnly at the defendant.

"Well, Mr. Shearer*, it is clear to me that every time you take off your hat, you run the risk of arrest. Either keep your hat on or grow a fringe. I am imposing a fine of -".

And so on.

Mr. Shearer - who was from Newcastle, by the way - in a fit of - what? Anarchy? Idiocy? Naked aggression? - had been tattooed across his forehead. Capital letters in blue ink announced :


I've remembered this for reasons which will become clear. For one, I've just read a short story which toys with a tattoo. It's in Polly Samson's latest collection which I've put down somewhere and now can't find. Anyway, it's very good. Then, of course, there's Parker's Back by Flannery O'Connor which is funny yet utterly, utterly heartbreaking. The Background by Saki is cleverer than a clever thing should be. It might even be the genesis of another short: Skin by Roald Dahl. And there are more tattoos than you could shake a dagger-pierced rose at in John Irving's novel Until I Find You. The tattooists mentioned therein are real people, as I discovered when I read Taschen's 1000 Tattoos.

Anyway, I haven't got a tattoo. I wouldn't dare. My mother glared at my pierced ears for decades.

"If God had intended you to have holes in your ears, you'd have been born with holes in your ears."

After fifteen years she didn't even need to make this statement aloud. I could hear her thinking it.

She extends this logic to body art. "You'll never get buried in a Jewish Cemetery if you get a tattoo."

The fact that we're not actually Jewish would be more of a hindrance to burial in The Mount of Olives, I suspect, than a tasteful butterfly on my ankle ...

Last week, I was talking to a man in his mid-eighties. I asked him about the tattoo on his forearm. He'd had it done at the Seaman's Mission in The Dingle. He pointed at a smudged and faded name. "I was knockin' about with a tart called Vera," he said. "And then I married Dolly and it caused me no end of trouble."

This morning was spent revolting again. (The Cuts, dear, must I remind you?) I have an antipathy to being addressed as Brother or Sister (even by close relations) but Comrade was a moniker too far. It propelled me towards a short spree of capitalist consumerism - and an eyebrow wax.

Alana, a purple-haired beautician whom I'd never previously met but am now intimately acquainted with, showed me - and I must stress that I had not mentioned tattoos at all at this point despite your impression that I'm obsessed with the things - her bum. A crown with Grandma inked above it. She then suggested I had my eyebrows tattooed. I declined (in more ways than one). After witnessing Grandma, I'd have been left with an expression of permanent surprise.

*Not his real name


  1. A tattoo is one of those things I've always wanted to be able to brave enough to get, but I know I never will. Such a wuss.

  2. Have a crown and Grandma tattooed on your bum, Fran. It's very fashionable, I believe.

  3. The main thing that puts me off is not knowing what to choose... but eyebrows is a great idea! Where would you have them applied? On your bum too?

    You might be interested in this post about literary tattoos

  4. How would you arrange your eyebrows, Bébé? Permanently surprised? Cross? Bewildered? Perhaps one eyebrow could be shocked and one cross? Then you could turn slightly to one side to express the appropriate emotion.