Need to know: The mission - Always a keen admirer of the decorative arts, Maggie O'Farrell decides to go under the needle
Saturday 23 January 1999
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.
Life & Style blogs
Miley Cyrus' VMA outfits spark copying controversy
Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
Overly-controlling parents cause their children lifelong psychological damage, says study
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 200,000 back our campaign
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
- 1 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 2 President Obama comments on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...
£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...
£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...