Saturday, 18 June 2011

Tattoo Soup

The swimming pool is one of our favourite places. Both girls love to swim even though neither is particularly good at it.

Possibly it's best feature of the pool though is that it is an excellent place to go to reaffirm a positive body image. Oh. And to raise imponderable questions about body art.

I have no problem with tattoos. I wouldn't chose to get one but that has more to do with an aversion to even slight discomfort, let alone pain. But also I have a changing set of interests and the things (and people) I was passionate about in my 20s are not the things and people I'm passionate about now. I wore leg warmers and had floppy hair back then. I don't now because I would feel ridiculous. It's the same, for me, with tattoos.

It's hard to imagine that my feelings towards my children would ever change though. And yet the tradition of having your offspring's name tattooed onto your skin confuses me.

What used to baffle me was this: it's always men who have them and, mostly, they get the name of their first born son inked across their back. So
I thought that it was their own name and couldn't understand why they would want to do that. Evidently it is not as an aide memoir as it's it written where they can't see it. Then I settled on the theory that it must be so that they can be identified in the event of a stabbing, say, or some other violent incident. Finally, I saw a guy with a girl's name splayed over his shoulders and realised that it was the names of their kids! Hurrah! And very sweet. But then I started to noticed some unfortunate problems.

Firstly, you have the dilemma of the first-born. Imagine this: you're a tattoo kind of chap. Your partner has just delivered your first child and OMG! It's a boy! A little copy of you! A chip off the old block! My God you're proud! So proud in fact that you remove yourself to the tattoo parlour at the first opportunity to get the little chap's name emblazoned across your back like a pair of nomenclatural wings. Splendid.

But then she gets pregnant again. Great news. Number two arrives and several weeks pass before someone - her, your mate, your Dad - asks when you'll be off to the tattooist again. Uh oh: you have a problem. Little Jagger's name takes up half your upper torso. Where the hell do you fit in newly-arrived Bianca? Or is it Jerri?

You can't use your chest because that's, like, prime position. It's better than the slot you allocated to number one and primogeniture is ingrained into the British like tea-drinking and complaining. You have to go with the small of the back don't you? It's the only space left. The problem is - and you don't know this yet because you're only 25 - is that you're going to get really hairy down there like your Dad and poor little Bianca's name will start to look like a neglected park only without, one would hope, the dog fouling, whilst Jagger's name will merely be adorned with a few silvery whisps. Almost like tinsel. And what message will that give to your little girl, eh?

You have even greater problems if you've given a really creative name to your kid. My personal favourite example of this is the man I saw with the word "chase" written in massive gothic letters across his shoulder blades.

There's research to be done too. It's not good enough when you have access to the internet to assume that your tattooist knows what he's doing in terms of spelling, Chinese or Japanese characters or....Roman numerals. These are popular amongst Jagger's Dad's mates. Sadly the one who's boy has just turned 13 ought to have checked before he had the name etched above the date MDCCCXCVIIIo. Or 1898 to us ordinary folk.

L's take on this sums it up for me. On witnessing a VERY tattooed man at the pool one day she whispered to me, horrified, "Daddy, I think that man must have been sleeping with a felt tip in the bed. With the lid off."


  1. This is all funny until your daughter comes home one day to tell you that she's had 3 tatoos done. I told my daughter that if I ever see a tatoo on her then I would give her inheritance to a girl's orphanage in Tibet. I was very specific about which orphanage. And how much they needed the money. x i

  2. Actually I'm not Anonymous I'm Isabel but it wouldn't let me post with my profile for some silly reason. x i

  3. It's going to happen isn't it? Unless I can successfully inculcate my fear of pain.

  4. I quite like tattoos. I like the permanence of them. I find the certainty re-assuring. I mean, imagine being punched with a set of knuckles labelled 'LOVE' - you'd know he didn't really mean it.

    There's also the permanency of the declaration inked into the skin. Proud father, so certain that his best mate isn't slipping her one while his back is turned that he is prepared to have a child's name in a tattoo where everyone can see it. Whenever he takes his shirt off, that is. "This is my son, the Beloved, in whom I am so chuffed."

    I'm so indecisive that I could never have a permanent declaration of anything, except perhaps something about really enjoying a good cup of black coffee. I don't know how to represent that in the tattoo idiom. I could have "Medium Americano, black, no milk, please" across my weedy chest and expose it every time I went into Caffe Nero but that's hardly manly enough.

    There is a story about an evil tsar who was saved from drowning. He was torn between gratitude to the man who saved him and fear that his inability to swim would become known to the world. In the end, he ordered his soldiers to tear the man's tongue from his mouth. His soldiers did as they were ordered and were about to send him on his way but the tsar called them back. He said to the man "I shall give you a warrant which will allow you to have a drink in any tavern in the land." When his advisors pointed out that tavern keepers wouldn't be able to read the warrant, he had the man branded with the shape of a vodka glass on the side of his neck and sent him out into the world, saying to him "Now, whenever you want a drink, you need only point to the brand on your neck." That is what Russians do to this day; instead of miming lifting a glass, they flick the side of their necks.

    The point of that is that tattoos are for wimps. Real men get branded.

  5. I read this post and laughed.
    Mainly because (a) I've just taken my daughter swimming for the first time and (b) because I've just had my daughters name tattooed on the crook of my arm!

    Great to see a blog written by a bloke.
    Here's my effort, if you fancy a read.

  6. Thanks for that! I'm enjoying yours too.

    I think in terms of tattoo real estate the crook of the arm is a good choice. Plenty of you left over for the the rest of your kids.