Tattoos. When I was small, you had to be pretty scary to have one. Preferably you’d be a pirate, or at least some sort of grizzled trucker. They would invariably be seen on real men; men who had more hair on their arms than on their head, men who can take long pulls from a bourbon bottle without grimacing afterwards. And they would have a certain novelty value. Spying someone with a real tat was like spotting a hunchback, or a punk with a full-on mohican.
Now I should say right upfront that I would never dream of getting a tattoo. I cannot think of anyone, except for possibly my own dad, who would look more ridiculous with one. The thought of volunteering – volunteering! – a part of the only body I’ll ever have to a poorly scrawl drawn by some unsteady bloke armed with a creative torture implement is entirely beyond my comprehension.
Maybe that’s partly because I have no clue what I’d have done. I don’t give two tosses about comics or ninjas or faux Indian art. I haven’t been obsessed enough by any particular band for a good ten years. And the very idea of having stars anywhere about my person on a permanent basis brings me out in a cold sweat. Maybe too, it’s because the idea of permanence and not leaving all my options open is always an unattractive one. But mostly, I think it’s because I’m just not the kind of person who should have a tattoo. I’m boring. I don’t wear singlets. I won’t work in the armed forces.
The problem with getting inked now is that everybody has one. The phenomenon isn’t restricted to no-mark boy band members and short-haired women who wear dungarees and attend poetry slams. Young girls have them. Physics teachers have them (you know who you are). Hell, even David Dimbleby has one, and he’s worked in television since the days where you had to wear a bow tie.
That’s fine with me – good luck to them all, and hats off to the self expression. But why do some people get the same default tattoo? I’m referring to those stars again, which I’ve seen at eye level on the tube at least twelve times (usually adorning a thick roll of veiny white flesh above a thong that has the dimensions of, say, a substantial piece of safety equipment you’d expect to see on a climbing expedition).
If you have to do it, do it properly. Do it with a bang. And if possible, do it hilariously badly. These are my favourite four: