I HAVE been tattooed.
I am a sexagenarian (and believe me, that merely means I’m in my sixties) and I have my first utterly indelible, there-for-life tattoo. In my case, of course, being in my sixties, that might not be very long.
It’s dedicated to my wife, whose name is Jenni, and that’s what it spells: J-e-n-n-i in cursive italics. It has a little flame where the dot of the I should be, to indicate she’s my guiding light etc.
I’ve always thought the final I was a little pretentious but, as she said, it was her mother who first thought of it, so it’s no my wife’s fault.
If you think this was merely a bold act of commitment (and believe me, it was – tattoos are not in the worldview of your average sexagenarian) then you are overlooking what’s involved in acquiring one.
It’s not the pain. Actually it doesn’t hurt. It’s no different to having your grandchildren draw on your thigh with a biro (and no, it’s not on my thigh).
It’s not the expression of affection that makes this a noble act. It’s the sheer courage of walking into a tattoo parlour.
God knows why they call them parlours. This one was a dungeon. The dungeon masters were skulking in the shadows, with their instruments of torture.
They had studs. Not just on their belts, but in their noses, eyebrows and lips. They were hairy. Some of them had breasts, but they were still hairy. They studied me as I stood at the counter, which I think doubled as a sacrificial altar, while I held on to its edge and tried to stand up straight against the blast of the… noise. Music, possibly, in another dimension.
I was wearing a tie. My skin, what you could see of it, is sort of whitish-pink and unblemished apart from the occasional freckle. These people were so covered in patterns they looked like carpet.
One shuffled forward, on his knuckles I think. “Yeah mate?”
“I’d… er… like a tattoo.”
He sighed heavily and flicked open a book. ‘Woja fancy?”
There were skulls; empty eye sockets, dripping blood; knives and fists and snakes and women with breasts that were anatomically (and gravitationally) impossible.
“Actually,” I said, sort of laughing, “I… er… only want this.” I showed him my rough sketch.
“You’ve spelled it wrong.”
“No…. um… actually, she spells it with an I”
He looked at me. “Woss this?”
“It’s sort of a flame. Like a candle.”
“That’s not a flame,” he said. “I can do you a flame – like this.” He opened another book. A human inferno was being devoured in unspeakable anguish by the kind of conflagration that destroys continents.
“I’d… I’d rather have this…”
“What about a skull? Or I can wind a snake through it?”
He could see I was determined. What he couldn’t see was my blood, turning to water in my veins.
“Right,” he said. “No worries.”
“Can I make a booking?” I asked.
He opened a flap in the counter. “I’ll do it now.”
The door to the real world was shut, otherwise I’d have gone through that instead. I suppose a rabbit might be able to outrun a gorilla.
I won’t bore you with the personal anguish I suffered over the next hour, while I imagined his creative impulses free-ranging over my skin – permanently. In truth, I have to admit he did a good job.
He called me grandad when I left. That’s normally a killing offence, but none of this was normal.
Back home I waited till after dinner, and I said to my wife: “Hey, I’ve got as surprise for you.”
“And I’ve got one for you,” she said.
Determined to have the last word, I said; “Okay – you first.”
“Well you know how you’ve always thought Jenni with an I was pretentious. Well – I’ve decided to change it. From now on I’m Jenny.
“With a Y.”