how to get a tattoo

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The Independent Culture
Be careful. There are some tattoos you will regret. Recently, a traveller in Bath had "puppy breath" tattooed on to his young son's forehead, matching the "dog breath" already etched on to his own. Perhaps not the inheritance his son would have chosen.

But avoiding the lure of an impulse tattoo is not always easy. I once found myself the only man at a friend's hen night. The ladies had wanted to round things off with a quiet cocoa and an Abba sing-a-long, but in years to come the bride-to-be wouldn't have thanked them for it.

What was really needed were a couple of quick vodkas to ease the pain, and then tattoos all round. Nothing too garish - after all I didn't want us to do something we might regret. A snarling bulldog leaping through a love heart carrying a banner with the happy couple's name on it would do the trick. I knew it was a great idea, all I had to do was find a tattoo parlour that was open...

Most tattoo artists operate in fairly standard business hours, so should you feel a drunken urge for a moonlit tattoo you will probably find you wake up with nothing more permanent than a hangover. Lal Hardy of the Association of Professional Tattoo Artists (APTA) estimates that his members produced around one million tattoos last year. Of those going under the needle for the first time, 40 per cent were women, Ulrika Jonsson being one of the more notable.

Arnie Lovell, editor of Skin Deep magazine, points out that there are several steps you can take to ensure satisfaction. First check your tattooist is registered with APTA and the Health Department. And, crucially, be sure about what you want. Over the past couple of years improved techniques have meant that the variety of tattoos offered has increased vastly.

Tribal and Polynesian styles are particularly popular. Gym addicts are flocking to have Celtic bands put on their arms so that as their biceps expand so do their tattoos. One woman chose to have a bio-mechanical style "Alien" figure on her stomach, which grew from four to 20 inches in length when she became pregnant.

But once you know what you want, getting a tattoo is surprisingly similar to going to the dentist. Things tend to get busy on a Saturday afternoon, and you may feel slightly nervous when it's finally your turn. But there is nothing to worry about. No, it won't hurt a bit...

Having had my Scots blood stirred by Braveheart and Rob Roy, I decided I wanted a thistle on my upper arm. On most reasonably fleshy parts of the body, a tattoo feels no worse than getting into a hot bath with sunburn. Honest. However, not all parts of the body are the same.

Kate, a 25-year-old social worker, has just had a daisy-chain tattooed on to her ankle. "When I asked whether it would hurt," she recalls, "Bob, my tattooist, smiled and said that I might find it a little sharp. It sounded suspiciously understated. I was so scared, I had to go off and have a pint first. But once he actually started, I got used to the sensation very quickly and ended up quite enjoying it."

And if you do find it painful try using Annie Lovell's comforting chant, "Short is the pain, long is the ornament". Then repent at leisure.

Lal Hardy and APTA can be contacted at 157 Sydney Road, London N10 (0181-444 8779)