A marked man for life

THEODORE DALRYMPLE, a prison doctor, explains why tattoos say you're trouble

Most British criminals are tattooed. It is as if burglary and assault were infectious diseases transmitted by the tattooing needle. Employers fear men with tattoos; so do many employees. That is why the Government last week proposed that financial help should be given to those who want to have unsightly tattoos removed.

There are two main kinds of tattoos: the professional and the amateur. The former are elaborate, usually multicoloured and "artistic"; the latter are crude, monochromatic in India ink, and inexpertly performed. Apart from the surprising number of cannabis dealers who have bright green cannabis leaves professionally tattooed on their cheeks or hands, it is mainly the amateur tattoos on exposed parts of the skin that cause problems.

Last week, for example, in the course of my work as a prison doctor, I saw a man with "f--- off" tattooed on his hand in large letters; one with "f--- it"; and one with "FTW", which stands for f--- the world. All three men bitterly regretted their youthful stupidity in having had themselves thus maimed. They did it, they said, to be like everyone else.

I recall a man who had "f--- off" tattooed on his forehead in mirror writing. The message tended to wake him up in the mornings, he said, when he looked in the mirror.

Young graduates of our youth offenders' institutions tattoo a small blue spot on one of their cheeks, the equivalent of the old school tie: Old Borstalians recognise one another instantly. Unfortunately, just as confidence- tricksters are inclined to wear the ties of guards' regiments of which they were never members, so increasing numbers of youths are donning the blue spot without ever having been in custody. They merely wish to look as if they have.

The practical effects on the lives of those with India ink tattoos is not confined to difficulty in finding employment. A substantial number of people have a dotted line tattooed round their necks or wrists, bearing the inscription "cut here". On a number of occasions, people have been only too willing to oblige: one man had had his neck slashed twice with a Stanley knife (a much loved weapon).

Small men quite often have "no fear" tattooed on the sides of their neck. In a culture of inflamed egotism such as ours, in which many people are anxious to prove how bad they are, it is hardly surprising that this message is often seen as a challenge. One man told me that his skull had been fractured four times as a result of fights provoked by his tattoo.

Tattoos can also be used by men to woo women. We are all acquainted with the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on the knuckles of two hands: but a growing number of men have the letters "LTFC" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and "ESUK" on the other. These appear enigmatic until the two hands are joined together, to spell "lets f---". Men who are tattooed in this fashion approach a woman in a pub and put their hands together in front of her.

"Does it work?" I have asked several of them.

They all reply to the effect that it works often enough to have made it worthwhile. Further research is needed into the question of whether they're telling the truth or not.

Also frequently tattooed on the knuckles of the hand are little blue dots. These stand for the letters "ACAB" (which sometimes also appear on knuckles), which translates as "all coppers are bastards". This tattoo probably does not stand the bearer in very good stead down the station (neither does the tattoo of a policeman hanging from a lamp-post which I have seen on several occasions), but once in the clutches of the law he who has this common tattoo claims it means "always carry a Bible".

Swastikas are not uncommon, and though the grasp of history of those who bear them is rather shaky (they may not, for example, be able to give the dates of the Second World War), they understand that the swastika does represent in decent people's eyes everything that is evil and antisocial, and is therefore desirable in their own eyes.

Many a nipple and umbilicus is surrounded by the words "made in England", a message which is, alas, rendered all too redundant by the rest of the person's appearance and expression of concentrated malignity such as is found only infrequently elsewhere in the world. The Government's proposal is therefore a decent and civilised one. If only prevention were as easy as cure.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform