Thursday, 19 February 2015

19/02/15 - Tattoos

Tattoos are surprisingly commonplace these days. Well, I say ‘surprisingly’ because I’m clearly rapidly becoming an old fart – I still remember a time when having a tattoo was an unusual thing; when I discovered at the age of 8ish that my uncle had a swallow inked on his upper arm, it blew my mind. I was related to someone with a tattoo! Blimey. He’s like a movie star or something.

Time, of course, moves on. It has a habit of doing that. Technology and technique have evolved rapidly, meaning that alongside the dodgy tattoo joints of yore – you know, the sort of place where you pick a design from a menu on the wall and end up with a shitty little devil or something – you’ll see high-end, upmarket tattoo parlours run by bona fide qualified artists wielding state-of-the-art equipment. If a tattoo is done well, it can be a glorious and impressive thing. If done badly, however, you’ll end up looking like a chump. As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. It’s almost a shame for the people who get proper tattoos that there are so, so many berks out there getting rubbish cheapie ones – it devalues the ‘I have a tattoo’ statement by immediately creating an assumption that it’s something you regret. I know some people with really good tattoos, and I bet it irritates them that folk don’t always realise that there are different strata within the inked community.

I have no tattoos. It’s not that I have anything against them – far from it – or that I’m particularly fearful of the pain (although I’ve never been a big fan of needles). No, it’s the knowledge of my own indecision and fickleness that stops me. I couldn’t watch somebody drawing all over me with a pulsating inky needle without thinking ‘Christ, what if I think that’s really shit in ten years’ time?’
Case in point: I quite fancied the idea of a tattoo about ten years ago, and drew up a design that was a big blue musical quaver with cartoonish crossed pistons and conrods beneath it. Thank goodness I never actually got beyond the design stage, that would have looked really terrible.

But anyway. To return to the original point, the ubiquity of tattoos these days leads us to lazily assume that they’re a modern phenomenon, but they’re anything but. It’s been going on for centuries, from the Fulani to the Saisiyat, from Yuan Dynasty China to Iron Age Britain, people have been getting words, pictures and symbols etched permanently onto their dermal tissue. So, just for funsies, here’s a selection of notable tattooed characters – some of them may surprise you:

Winston Churchill
All kinds of morons in the EDL/BNP/UKIP arena proudly sport bulldog tattoos which they probably think Churchill would have been really impressed by, but did you know that Churchill himself had a tatt? Not of a bulldog, of course – he was more old-school than that. He had an anchor on his forearm, much like countless other military servicemen of his generation.  

Thomas Edison
Edison, the brains behind the phonograph, motion picture camera, instant concrete housing, urban electricity infrastructure, and pretty much anything else you can think of, was also in the ink club. This makes sense really, as the modern tattoo gun can directly trace its lineage back to the Edison Electric Pen of 1876.
He had a quincunx on his forearm, which sounds filthy but is in fact a geometric pattern of five dots – the same as you’d find on the fifth face of a regular playing die.

George Orwell
The iconic author had a pretty colourful past, and he liked to carry a souvenir of that everywhere he went, in the form of a bunch of bright blue dots tattooed onto his knuckles. A little reminder of his days as a policeman in colonial Burma.

Samantha Cameron
Yep, another tattoo at 10 Downing Street. David Cameron’s missus has a little something etched into her ankle – and it’s not anything particularly good either. SamCam has a rubbish dolphin inexpertly slapped on down there, looking like she got it in the early hours of the morning on a girlie holiday in Crete.

Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt was an impressive figure – arguably best known as the 26th President of the United States, you could equally comfortably refer to him as an explorer, soldier, author, naturalist or historian. It’s this sort of multi-faceted swashbuckling nature that led him to have his family crest emblazoned indelibly across his chest. Raaarr!

Helen Mirren
Ah, lovely Helen Mirren. She’s a national treasure, isn’t she? Single-handedly upping the stakes of the sexagenarian tattoo genre, she’s got a pair of interlocking Vs on her left hand, which she claims denote a ‘love thy neighbour’ attitude and serve as a daily reminder of the importance of tolerance. 

King Harold II
The last Anglo-Saxon King of England, Harold Godwinson reigned for just nine months in 1066 before copping it at the Battle of Hastings. His body was identified by his enemies on the battleground by his unique body art – most notably, his wife’s name, Edith, over his heart.

Sally Bercow
Cretinous publicity tart Bercow – wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow – likes to flaunt her spurious ‘fame’ by doing things like circulating images of herself online dressed only in a bedsheet, entering Celebrity Big Brother (bloody hell, they really will take anyone, won’t they?), and releasing top secret information about paedophile suspects and abducted schoolgirls on Twitter. She also has a tattoo of her kids’ names on her arm because, oooh, she’s so zany!

Dorothy Parker
Respected American poet, author and satirist Parker was an inspiration to countless writers and artists. And, rather charmingly, she had a small blue star tattooed near her elbow – a souvenir of a drunken night out in the 1930s.

David Dimbleby
What’s most surprising about national institution Double-D Dimbleby having a tattoo is not so much the ink itself, but the fact that he was 75 years old when he had it done. He’s got a scorpion on his shoulder; his explanation at the time (in 2013) was ‘I’ve always wanted one, and you’re only old once’. Well, quite.

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