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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Lydia and the love of Ink

Of all the strange fashions and things that have changed over my moderate span on this fair earth none fascinate me quite as much as tattoos. When I was a kid (in the Seventies) tattoos were generally correlated with being a rough bugger. The sort of tattoos that you saw back then were old school blue ink ones, usually fuzzy, and with declarations of love for (i) mother (ii) salty Susan (iii) football team/ England/British Bulldogs (iv) Elvis. The final tattoo cohort was typically middle aged women who had been daft enough to try and do their own whilst bored in a maths lesson with a sharp compass and some India ink.

During my years of being a doctor my exposure to tattoos has expanded to rival that of a dedicated tattoo artist. Working in anaesthesia and theatres I tend to see plenty of exposed flesh, and indeed on ITU my referrals have their own collection of ‘ink.’ And there is still a vast variety of colour and style. The cringe worthy ‘suck here’ tattooed above the pubic bone, with a helpful arrow pointing southwards, makes an intermittent appearance. Odd Arabic/Chinese/Indian script seems to be getting more popular, much to my bewilderment, as does tribal Polynesian tattoos around biffed up biceps (which looks OK, to be fair).

And I think as Tattoos have improved in their style, colour and frequency their use as an indicator for general rough-ness has diminished. Don’t get me wrong—there is still a usage for the well-established teeth-to-tattoo ratio in judging people, but on a whole more and more younger and younger people have them now, and are perfectly decent types.

I’m trying to think when it all changed. I recall great tattoo stories as a kid being the chatter of the playground. One about a mate’s mate’s brother’s mate bumping into a half-ogre skinhead in Leeds city centre, and the skinhead saying ‘Ask me my name, go on, ask me!’ The terrified mate’s mate’s brother’s mate wisely did this, and the skinhead pulls down his lip and displays his name tattooed inside his lip. Presumably it was Bob, or Sam, or more likely Gaz/Baz/Daz rather than Tarquin or Horatio.

Facial tattoos also were a source of childhood delight—nothing displayed your general psychopathic ruffian status more than a fetching web on your neck and jaw, or a tear tattooed on your cheek, or LUFC (Leeds United Football Club) on your forehead. This notoriety was compounded by the perception that facial tattoos were illegal, that you could get arrested if you had them.... I know, we were young and also believed the student-getting-chloroformed-and-waking-up-without-kidney one as well.

Perhaps it was late Eighties to early Nineties when it flipped over. I seem to recall that average folk were beginning to get ‘inked’ then. More women were starting to have butterflies/roses/celtic patterns, often around ankles and lower backs. Celebrities too caught on, and I think as those images filled the magazines it became far less stigmatised. It slipped from the realms of alternative culture/heavy metal/goth into the mainstream. Interestingly I think the alternative fashion side reacted by becoming more extreme in the tattooing—advancing from small areas of tattoos to sleeves and whole backs.

And I don’t know whether its desensitisation, or maturity, or mid-life crisis, but I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to them. Of course, when I was 20 and full into grunge (with my parka, long hair, earrings, Mudhoney t-shirt) I went to have one done. Quite a funny story, actually. I went with my buddy, Giles, who is pretty much straight as they come. We decided to have a bit of ‘flash’ work—a yellow smiley face (we used to wear the badges as teenagers). On our backsides. So I ask for mine the size of a ten pence, and 30 mins later it’s done. Giles, looking pale, asks for his smaller. Smaller than a 10p? Like a penny? To be fair, he had to have a patch shaved off to do it.

Anyway I digress, as ever. Not content with my crap tattoo, that is, after all, only just better than having ‘Elvis’ on my arm, or Horny Devil (complete with a well endowed red imp) on my deltoid, I’ve been contemplating some major ink. This could be regarded as an atypical move by a consultant anaesthetist, but as long as it isn’t across my face like the leopard-dude I should get away with it.

But what to have? You wait until 41 to do it properly and you can’t just have any old crap. It has to represent or symbolise something. Anything circular or tribal won’t work—my physique is said to be the bastard offspring of Gandhi and Casper the Friendly Ghost. All my interests are ultra-geeky—options of daleks, spiderman or Gandalf have met with a medusa stare from the wife. I don’t like writing on tattoos—part of me worries that ‘Ross is great’ will not come across well in High-Elven, and when I think of names I always remember Jonnie Depp and ‘Winona Forever.’

I think I’ve boiled it down to a few options. A good friend had a dragon done, so I kind of feel that one’s out. I like Coy Carp ones—mainly for the colour; and I like the image of a phoenix (as it unites my comic, fantasy, and symbolic interests). Phoenix is slightly ahead—if I was really cool I’d get it done like Battle of the Planets....

So anyhow, I’ll probably be still working up the nerve in ten years time, and in the interim I’m embracing middle-age and growing a moustachio in November in aid of men’s cancer. Far less permanent if it all goes horribly wrong.

I’ll leave you with Lydia, one of the greatest proponents of body-art the Muppet world has known.





  1. Awesome! I confess - I too sport a tatt - it was my 50th birthday present. It is in a perfectly decent place (my right ankle), and is the rather commonplace crescent moon and 3 stars representing my having survived raising 3 children to adulthood as a single mother! I am content with my small bit of wasp-rebellion; after all good Lutheran Girls don't (A.) get divorced or (B.)get tattooed. Of course, I was never good at being good!

  2. Oh Connie, yours sounds great! I, too, have a tatt. I was OBSESSED with them as a teenager (in the late 80's when it still wasn't cool in our area for girls to have them). When I turned 21 I got a seahorse tattooed on my tummy. My friend was panicking (the one who was giving me the tatt as a birthday present), since I'd walked in there to get feline ink and as soon as I saw the seahorse (and I HATE the sea), that was the one I had to have :-/ Have I regretted it since - nope!