My first – and possibly only – searing insight into the world of skin ink is as follows:
You’re either a tattoo person or you’re not.
That’s my profound insight into this topic: there is no one on the fence about skin ink.
I love it – but that’s probably because my dad was covered: chest, arms, hands, ear lobes, legs. He had ’em all over. He got them from tattooists all over the world – from Singapore to Cramlington. My dad, shy, never show-offy, was silently expressing something with his tattoos and his ear-ring, as he dressed in his overalls every day to head off to the factory where he made Formica laminates.
The best was the viking that went from half way up his ribcage on the right-hand side to down below his navel. Legend has it that, as he was about to be wheeled into surgery to have gall stones removed, he insisted that the surgeon would promise to line up his viking when he stitched him up. Whatever was said, no one followed through on his promises, and dad spent the rest of his life with a viking who had one foot roughly two inches to the right of where his ankle ended.
I got my first tattoo in my mid-twenties. It was just a tester, so I picked a yin-yang straight off the menu on the wall, and they had the trainee do it while the owner worked on a shoulder-down-the-arm masterwork on the next seat along. I remember how each line on that guy’s shoulder was followed with a wipe away of the blood: ink, wipe, ink, wipe, ink, wipe…new tissue please.
My yin-yang, high on my left arm, is a little disappointing, but as a trial of how I felt about tattoos, it was illuminating. I sat in the pub that night, taking my friends through every minute, and knew that I had to have another one. And another. And another.
But life stepped in. A low-paying editorial job kept me with a roof over my head and food in the mouths of my children, but didn’t leave much room for elaborate skin art.
And so, twenty years passed.
And I have a file with all my ideas. Some from the Internet, some I’ve designed myself. I haven’t forgotten the rush of the tattoo. I’m going back for more – as soon as I stop spending money on gadgets, vacations, and saving for a house, like a grown-up.
But there’s always something that stops me getting a tattoo, and it’s always financial.
We’re saving to buy a house – or at least move into a rental house in a goodish area. I decide I want a new computer. John Henry needs treatment for his eye; Jordan needs a deep teeth clean. All these things stop me inking my arms with art.
But I still have my file of ideas. One day…