Monday, 25 May 2015


The fraternity of the inked: A fine brace of  'individuals' pictured here. You're in such good company with a tattoo. Loving that neck disfigurement, and the good-looking bloke in the cap showing us how much he loves  Auschwitz with his 'Arbeit Macht Frei', along with his anger that we bombed Dresden, and the curious German word for 'Betrayal'. Sieg Heil lads! See you in Tesco, Friday night?



This is guaranteed to be unpopular. In today’s skewed social climate, although I hate to admit it, I’m in danger of coming on like an embittered Mary Whitehouse. But these festering views have bubbled to the surface of a cauldron of grumpy world-weariness, and can no longer remain hidden. Picture this:
      It’s Friday night, we’re shopping in Tesco. It is cold and wet outside, but surprisingly, that does not deter a large percentage of trolley-pushing shoppers tonight, because bare-legged and naked-shouldered they are wearing either singlets or shorts, (in some cases, both) no matter what the season. There is a peculiar reason for this stubborn behaviour. They want us to see their tattoos. Indecipherable barbed Celtic swirls, wreathed skulls and daggers, intertwining roses, Chinese ‘good luck’ characters, the whole of the tattoo parlour’s expanding catalogue can be found here in green-grey bovine motion, shuffling along between the baked beans and reduced El Paso Fajita kits. For all I know, they might be nice people. But they wear a badge which makes me shudder and separates me from their incomprehensible world.   
   Feeling unease (or, in my case, revulsion) about tattoos will today render you liable to accusations of snobbery. So be it. I shall wear my bourgeois, ink-free pompous outrage with shining pride and an empty expanse of pristine flesh.
   My late father was the original illustrated man. The had the flags of the Empire on his back,  a lion and a tiger on his chest, snakes coiling around his long, muscular arms, their sinister heads always visible poking from his shirt cuffs. As an orphan, he had joined the army as a drummer boy in his teens the 1930s. During over a decade in India, like many of the lower ranks, he used his vacant skin as a pictorial souvenir album. Tattoos then were the passport stamps of the common man, men like sailors or soldiers, those more adventurous working class youths who would never have seen the exotic wider world had they not chosen to take the King’s shilling, or sign a ship’s articles. Therefore, when I was a boy, tattoos seen on a middle aged man presented an enigmatic glimpse into an outlandish existence beyond the restrictions of British social life.
Very nice. Gets a bit cold in winter, though, having to walk about like this.
   But that concept is long gone. This foul, spreading stain has crept over the nation’s flesh like some unstoppable alien spore. Even the once lithe limbs of formerly attractive (even intelligent) young women have been permanently daubed with this dumb physical graffiti, and all in the name of that most vacuous fluctuating vogue - fashion. Yet, smudged casualties, consider the following imaginary scenario.
    In my lifetime male fashions have changed with the seasons. The post war years saw the invention of fashion for the lower classes. Prior to the 1950s there was no such being as what the free market would eventually designate as the ‘teenager’. Take a look at any photograph of a football crowd up to 1950 and you will see young people in their thousands, all carbon copies of their de-mobbed fathers. Flat caps and shapeless jackets and trousers. The odd daring trilby or muffler, or a scarf poking from the lapels of a tightly-belted gabardine mac. Well-polished boots and shoes.

Once Capital had decided horny-handed youth might have its own disposable income, we became Teddy Boys. Drape jackets, suede brothel creepers, fluorescent socks, 16 inch drainpipe pants and bootlace ties. Then we discovered denim. As the hippie dream of peace and love faded in the 1970s, fashion turned into clumsy stupidity with stack heels, totally laughable loon pants and Afro perms. This clown-like sartorial ugliness reached its apogee in the tartan absurdity of the chart-topping Bay City Rollers. Yet let us imagine, therefore, if the laws of nature had decreed that those half-mast pants, orthopaedic footwear and silly jackets would remain permanently on our backs. What if you were doomed to look like that forever, as if the shoulder-padded 80s never happened, if Adam Ant’s tribal uniforms and those of punk were only a dream, and as you grew older and fatter, you were forced to stand in front of the mirror every day at a sad reflection of a 1970s  Les McKeown, muttering to yourself “God, please change this!”

Imagine having to dress like this for the rest of your life. It would be like the clothes
had been tattooed on you ...
    Thus, we’re back at the fashion disaster of tattoos. You can take your clothes off. But that green-grey smudge you paid all that money for? Better get used to it. Britain is now the most tattooed nation in Europe. Half a century ago, tattoos were a bit of a hidden low-rent joke, the province of Popeye the Sailor Man, old soldiers or distant tribes in the South Seas, where they served the primitive social purpose of showing your allegiance to your particular tribe, as with the Maoris in New Zealand. So to which ‘tribe’ does the inked estate agent or the otherwise attractive girl on the check-out at Sainsbury’s belong? What will that silly Cantonese martial arts scrawl represent on your wrinkled legs or sagging breasts when you’re 75 and propped up on your zimmer frame? What has possessed the educated, the seemingly intelligent, even the Prime Minister’s wife to allow themselves to be defaced?
Had biology selected me to have a body like David Beckham’s, would  I have chosen to ruin that Godly physique with a bloody blur of inky needlings? If, as a woman, you were blessed with a pert derriere like Cheryl Cole, would you pay thousands to have it all permanently smeared with the pages of some hideous garden catalogue?
How to make a complete arse of yourself.
Will our as yet unborn grandchildren, visiting us in our Richard Branson Virgin Care Homes gaze in puzzlement at those smudgy swallows flying up Granny’s ankles and exclaim “What were you thinking of?” Ah, so you wanted to be an ‘individual’? Then remember this quote from one of your heroes, the Prince of Dumbness, Ozzy Osborne: "If you want to be an individual, don't get a tattoo. Every bugger's got one these days."
The Prince of Dumbness displays his inkings
     As fast as this blight spreads, like a plague of blue-green cockroaches over the nation’s skin, an alternative wave of victims has seen the error of their inkings and there is now a profitable growth in tattoo removal clinics. Thankfully, this is not a ‘service’ available on the cash-strapped NHS (although once it’s been privatised, the clinics will be there, right next door to Costa Coffee and Burger King). So have your credit cards and Wonga loans ready.
Private prices for tattoo removal start from approximately £50 to £300 per session, with total cost running from a few hundred pounds for very small, blue/black tattoos, to many thousands for large multi-coloured tattoos. Multiple treatment sessions will be required, and beware - a tattoo artist might only need a GCSE in art to spread permanent graphic ruin on your pristine skin, but you’d better make sure someone in a white coat wielding a powerful laser is a bit more qualified than a trainee sign writer.

     As a young Merchant seaman, one drunken night in Valetta, Malta in 1960 I sat in the tattooist’s chair waiting to have an anchor painfully scrawled on my arm. In the second chair alongside me sat a huge US Navy sailor. He removed his shirt ready for another addition to his pictorial portfolio. I sat drop-jawed at the messy scattering of flowers, hearts, roses and crucifixes and suddenly, looking at my pale empty arm, my humanity overtook me. I rolled my sleeve down and left. I’m glad I did. I don’t have an attractive body, but still, at 72, it remains saggy but unsullied. I’m proud to have avoided the vandalism of what today is erroneously regarded by many as ‘body art’. I may not be an ‘individual’, nor am I windswept and interesting, but when my skin begins to crisp in the crematorium fire, it won’t bear any marks of what passes for ‘culture’ in 21st century Britain.  

Don't forget, chaps - I was a real 'individual' back in 2015!

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