My February Viva Brighton column is inspired by the forthcoming Brighton Tattoo Convention, which runs from 20th – 22nd February at the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel.
“It means: ‘you can undo your mistakes,’” I say proudly to my sixth form friends as they squint at my new tattoo. We’re drinking quadruple vodkas, lime and soda – the low-budget pub drink that screams ‘seventeen!’
“It looks like the Miss Selfridge logo,” replies one, and, if I know my face, it drops. I skulk off to the damp toilet with its doors plastered in vintage Beano cartoons and I peer over my shoulder at my new back. My friend is right. It does look like the Miss Selfridge logo. Why didn’t I notice that? Maybe 12 hours ago, when I was choosing it out of the book? That tattoo has followed me around for fifteen years. People used to ask me about it but as you get older, if people espy bad taste they usually restrain from mentioning it. My tat reached a peak of unacceptability when I was at Camberwell College of Art, studying alongside tattooists like Saira Hunjan and other people whose body art genuinely expressed their creativity.
Except, perhaps my shit tattoo does too?
Getting your first tattoo can be romantic. You can sit for years dreaming up what it will be like, sketching away; listening to Green Day; saving the money. You can do what Mr did, and have your best mate carve a skull into your ankle with a scalpel and draw over it in biro. For me, however, getting a tattoo was just another thing on my ‘must do before it becomes legal’ list. My friend Andrew got one of an ankh around his bellybutton. It reminded me of the temples I visited in Egypt with my dad and torsos on Top of the Pops. So I asked him for the address of the parlour he used in Stoke Newington. The journey from Brighton was long, but not nearly long enough to decide on an image to etch permanently on a slab of my pale teenage flesh. My friend Alice came for the ride but quickly became tired and bored, leaving me with another point to prove. The parlour had none of the drama I imagined it would, but I charged in determined. I demanded the tattooist give me one that day, for less than £50. The artist was ambivalent and getting the tattoo was sore.
It’s not something I would do again in a hurry. I’ve agonised over a full sleeve but I don’t trust myself to choose something – surely, if an image chooses you, it makes for a better tattoo? Truth is, if I got another tat it would be meditated, invested in. It wouldn’t have any of the spontaneity or stupidity of my first and so surely it would make me feel old and sensible, or worse, it would be another status job. You see; the errors you make the first time you do something are forgivable, lovable, poetic, even. The next time though, they’re just mistakes.
This article was originally published in Viva Brighton #24, February 2015. The Viva Brighton cover art (as featured above) is by Ruth Herbert.