Tuesday 13 June 2017

27 Years With My Rubbish Tattoo

My oldest tattoo is 27 years old. It wasn't even what I wanted when I went to get it done.

Having a Tattoo was different back then. When I got my first tattoo I was 18 and I went to the only tattooist I knew of in Derby. The windows were boarded and when you opened the door it was fairly dingy. A small, dim room with old dark brown wood on the walls and a bench full of design books.

When I walked in the tattooist was on Guinness and his mate was swigging from a can of Special Brew. It was exactly as I expected.

I knew the hard bit was opening the door and I didn't want to repeat that, so there was nothing else to do than say "hello, I want a tattoo". Probably obvious, but it was a good start.

This is not my tattoo.

He asked me where I'd like the tattoo and Mr Special Brew piped in with "2 for 1 on tits today". Clearly not the first time he'd cracked that howler. Fortunately I worked in a pub and lived amongst humans, so I'd heard far worse and didn't care less. If I'm honest I laughed along with them - one of these men was about to permanently mark me, it was a good time to laugh with him at his mate's joke. "Shoulder will do".

The tattooist, in his grimy jeans and rock band t-shirt, told me to take a look at the design books, get the number and he'd find the stencil in his drawers of ready prepared mass market tattoos. This is where my lack of age and confidence let me down. I wanted a butterfly.

I'd taken a mate for support and we scoured those books. There was no butterfly. I felt a little bit sick as I realised I was definitely too scared to ask for one.

I'd been told once that my star sign and moon and things ascending meant I was a 'Scorpio Dove'. I had no idea what that meant and I don't now, but I kind of liked the sound of it. I was political, vegetarian, peace-loving and strongly opposed to fighting to solve problems. I liked the dove and he had a dove in his book. That was good enough. I couldn't leave without doing this. I could go back and get a butterfly any time - as long as it didn't hurt too much, obviously.

I took the book over and pointed at the dove. It occurred to me that it was pale pink. I wasn't having pink. I was not a pink and fluffy kind of girl. Obviously I felt more strongly about the colour than the design, because I confidently asked if I could have it in blue please. He seemed quite surprised. Looking back this was probably because doves are white, a fact which for some reason escaped me just then.

I sat down in the special chair. I looked around and realised it was special because it had 4 legs and very few holes. His office chair was much nicer. It was completely out of place.

Now was the point I realised it really reminded me of the dentist. I had been pretty terrified beforehand, now I really just wanted it to be over. The needle sounded so much like a drill that I winced before he even put it to my skin.

Turned out it wasn't that bad. I actually didn't mind the needle pain at all, I just wanted it over with. I'd made it into the building but I wanted to leave as quickly as possible.

I have no recollection of how long it took. I may have slept, or passed out from his overly-friendly mate's breath. It was definitely somewhere between 20 minutes and a millennium. I think my tattooist enjoyed tormenting people because he definitely said he was finished and then made me wait while he touched up a bit of wing.

Then he told me it was done. "Nice one" said Special Brew with a gap-toothed grin. I trusted him, I knew it was good. We'd built a rapport, he wouldn't lie to me and he must have seen hundreds of tattoos.

My mate looked well impressed. I was proud. I started to put my jacket back on.

"Don't you want to see It?"

That hadn't occurred to me. "Of course". I jumped up and looked around the room. Hiding above the bench of design books was a 4 foot by 3 foot mirror I'd failed to notice. I walked over and spun around.

"Great" I said. "You didn't even see it" he said. That was actually true. I'd caught a mere glimpse, but I could smell freedom and I had my jacket on again already. "I did, it's really good, thank you".

Price wasn't something I'd considered beforehand. People with tattoos never seemed particularly rich, so I just assumed I could afford it. It was 1991. I could totally afford it.

Apparently price was open to negotiation. He started the bidding.

"Is five quid all right?" he said.
"Sure" I replied.

I remember joking that a fiver would buy him 4 pints in the pub I worked in. Very reasonable we both agreed.

I burst out into that street triumphant and proud. I was actually the only person I knew with a tattoo who wasn't older than my parents. This was a great day.

I couldn't wait to get to college, the bus didn't move quick enough. I ran across the grass and into the refectory, then straight through and into the ladies toilets. There were mirrors. There was no way anyone else was seeing it before I did.

I showed it to about a million people that afternoon. I had the most popular shoulder in college. Even the lecturers wanted to see it.

My tattoo had no 'meaning' to me at the time as far as I was aware, but whenever I catch a glimpse of it now, I remember the girl I once was with a smile. I was growing up. making my strides into adulthood. Frustrated and defiantly independent, and always keeping a little to the side of the pack. It was exactly where I belonged, although it never felt I belonged anywhere at the time.

What we do and what we go through makes us the people we are. Even tattoos that remind people of sad times remind us that we can get past that. We made it this far.

It wasn't what I originally wanted and I chose a stupid colour. It's a crappy mass market tattoo with very little detail. Sometimes people grin and sing 'Mr Bluebird on my shoulder', sometimes they realise it is a dove, most don't ever say anything, tattoos are so commonplace nowadays. It's only a little faded and blurry even now, I love it and I've never regretted it. It's my dove and it's part of who I am - in more ways than one...

If any of my kids read this, tattoos are awful and it hurts like heck, don't do it. Also, they're a tadge more regulated and pricey than they used to be. If anyone offers you a tattoo for 4 pints of Guinness run away swiftly...


  1. I had to giggle reading this as I was the same and also 18.
    I went on a girls holiday, my 1st holiday abroardand had a henna one done. Went home to tell my mum it was real.

    Of course she didn't fall for it but when I said I wanted one she laughed and said yeah all right...not expecting it to happen. 2 days later it did.
    A rose on my shoulder, Rose for my late Nan

    1. Awww that's a lovely story though. Good on your Mum. One of ours wants one and I really am struggling to say "great idea" :D

  2. A lovely read!
    I can almost visualise you sitting there with toothless, Special Brew man!!

  3. lol love this. I may have done something similar, but it wasn't my first one. And yes, if my kids ever ask, it's agony! Yours is very cute x

    1. Hahaha I can't believe you weren't brave with a 2nd tattoo! Tsk :D

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