Need to know: The mission - Always a keen admirer of the decorative arts, Maggie O'Farrell decides to go under the needle

I have always wanted a tattoo. I know where I want it; I know how big I want it; I don't mind the pain. My only problem is what image to have.

In all other parts of my life I am decisive to the point of being reckless. But I have had, to date, three failed attempts at getting my skin indelibly marked. The first was aged 17 in a dodgy parlour with painted-out windows in Edinburgh; I nearly walked away with a permanent peace sign on my shoulder. The second was in Hong Kong where I came very close to letting a man who spoke only Cantonese draw a "good-fortune" fish on my bum. And then two years ago I found myself at a tattoo convention in Sausalito, California (don't ask), where I allowed a bloke in an unwise ginger goatee to go as far as inking a Chinese dragon onto my upper arm before I ran off to the bar.

So when I am given a mission to be tattooed, I decide that I've toyed too long with the world of body art. I must shake off my "blank" status (the trade term for the untattooed). It's time to go under the needle.

I select a piercing, scarification and tattoo parlour near my flat and venture in. It's an unpleasant hybrid of New Age and heavy metal - painted purple with mirrors, piercing rings, display cabinets and nasty fractal pictures lining the walls. The air is filled with a faint but constant humming. There's a man behind the counter with his bodyweight in metal hanging from his mouth and nose, and a scalp adorned with a spider's web. "Hi," I say, "can I get a tattoo done here?" "Where?" he says, scanning my body in the manner of a butcher sizing up a pig carcass. "Here," I repeat. He leans over the counter and stares harder. "Where?" he says again. I sigh. Am I really going to let a man with whom I am unable to communicate on a basic level decorate my body for life? "Here," I say slowly, pointing at the floor, "this shop." "Oh," he says, "yes."

We sit side by side on a leopard-skin sofa and he shows me "the books", which are the size of wedding photograph albums. They are filled with Polaroids of newly tattooed flesh - raw, reddened and slippery with sweat. On the other side of the room, a couple in matching fleeces earnestly discuss tongue-piercing with a woman in a pink wig.

"I was thinking of a flower," I begin, trying to ignore the familiar the-last-thing- I-want-is-a-tattoo feeling that always creeps up on me at this point, "an orchid or maybe a ... " "Do you know what would be really good?" he says. "A tiger. Lots of colour. Lots of animation. Across your stomach. Really, you know, animal." At this last word, I flinch, as if the power of him saying it can zap it there. He shows me a set of images that look like the kind of things Hell's Angels spray on their petrol tanks.

At that moment a man dressed only in a pair of jeans stumbles out of the back room. "Hey, hey, hey!" he yells, "whaddyathink?" He has turquoise spirals, inches thick, coiling from his wrists to his shoulders round and round his arms - the skin of which is puffed and red like unpricked sausages. The fleece couple look doubtful. "Great," the man next to me says, "fantastic." I head for the door.

Outside on the pavement, I revel in my state of blankness. Mission: failed. And I must finally admit, mission: aborted.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
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

    Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments