It started out as a normal family evening meal. We were all sitting around chatting as we finished our main course; I believe that Benfield was hovering in a darkened doorway, waiting to collect the plates. Master Johnny was gnawing on a lamb bone, having managed to shift most of his vegetables onto Lady BSM’s plate without her noticing.
Conversation had progressed onto to Miss Katherine’s trip to Thailand and Vietnam and the various photos we had all seen. Somehow, the subject of tattoos came up and both siblings enquired after our opinions. Being modern parents, we tried to give a balanced view.
Master Johnny looked at Miss Katherine. There was a slight pause before Miss Katherine suddenly stood up and said, “Well, I suppose I’d better tell you I’ve had a tattoo.” She lifted her top a little to show her new body art on her right hip.
I felt Lady BSM tense in her chair as I gripped my knife and fork. A huge wave of panic overtook me, followed by a deep undertow of fear. I suddenly had the urge to drop my knife and fork, run upstairs and hide in the wardrobe. Oh errr, Miss Katherine was going to get told off by her mother, ooo eerrr!…
I dropped my knife and fork and had just made it to the stairs when I realised something. I was her dad. I was supposed to be the one in charge. I returned sheepishly to the dining table. I could see Benfield’s shoulders shaking up and down in the shadows.
I dared to look at Lady BSM. She seemed calm if not a little shocked. Coming to terms with the fact that the baby you cuddled for hours that then turned into the little girl you watched Pingu and Fun Song Factory with, is now old enough to have symbols indelibly inked onto her precious body. Not only that, she’d been tattooed in the Far East, a place where you carry your own first aid kit and needles, where they have different foods, customs and fatal diseases.
I looked at Miss Katherine, who seemed to be waiting for a reaction.
“Well, it’s very subtle,” I managed.
“What is it?” enquired Lady BSM, pointing at the tattoo: a long figure of eight on its side.
“Infinity, the symbol of infinity,” said Miss Katherine, “I thought it was best to let you know before we went on holiday somewhere and you just saw it when I wore my bikini.”
Well, way to go. My daughter is officially an adult. She can have tattoos and extra ear piercings and that. She’s confident in her decisions. Whereas, when I was 20 years old, I wasn’t.
“Well, your dad had an ear ring for a little while,” said Lady BSM, still coming to terms with the tattoo news. Master Johnny found this hilarious.
I was at college. I was cutting edge, a bit alternative. I was living in a flat with three trendy students. So, I went and had my ear pierced. What’s not to like about that?
Then Janet, my big sister, came to visit me. I was a bit worried, but my shoulder length hair hid the evidence. Then I forgetfully brushed my hair back and my sister spotted my trendy ear stud. She didn’t bother with any niceties.
“Take that out. Dad will kill you.”
I looked at her defiantly, or as defiantly as a rather nervous rural spaceman to be can look at 20.
“Nah, he’ll be fine,” I tried.
“Dad will kill you,” she repeated, her eyes never leaving mine.
Now, Janet has always looked after me. At the time, my dad was a rather imposing building site foreman. These were the days when disciplinary procedures meant the foreman gave you a ‘right hander,’ as it’s called in the trade. I knew my dad well enough to know you didn’t want to displease him, and as far as he was concerned, anybody with an ear ring was a) a ‘Mary Anne’ and b) a layabout. My dad always cited David Essex as the proof of his theory.
I removed the ear ring that evening, hoping my lobe would heal up before he saw it.
“Ha, imagine dad with an ear ring now!” said Master Johnny.
“Exactly,” said Lady BSM, the inference that I would look ridiculous an obvious one.
But they’re right. Any man in their late 40s onwards should not have such an affectation. This also goes for trendy hairstyles (known within our family as a ‘Paul Weller’), Super Dry T shirts and three quarter length trousers. I push the limits by occasionally wearing a hoodie. I await legislation on such matters.
But a tattoo? That’s permanent. Before ‘the announcement,’ we’d already discussed how you could live to regret a tattoo.
For example, how would Lady BSM have any credibility in a board meeting if she was sporting an “I love David Cassidy” tattoo on her forearm?
What would people think of you when you were older?
“Oh well, once you get past fifty nobody is interested in what you look like. Nobody looks at you,” said Miss Katherine.
Great. Maybe I should just give up and die now.
Our generation never considered tattoos. They were things sailors and people who ran the dodgems had. Women certainly didn’t have them.
Then there came a change of fashion, and it seemed more women than men started to have tattoos. I remember going to a meeting some nine years ago with six women; I was the only male. One woman was sporting a visible tattoo and another woman mentioned it.
“Who has a tattoo then?” said another member of the meeting. It turned out the only person in the room who didn’t have one was me, though I did get to see all of theirs. Fortunately, nobody came in as each of them pulled down various items of clothing to show off their tat.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that tattoos have a rather wide appeal, not specific to any particular social class. At one time, it seemed everybody else shopping in Asda had a tattoo. Including the toddlers. It was as if security checked you on the door. No tat? No entrance.
Professional people have them too. My colleague at (almost voluntary) work, Lesley, a former primary school teacher, has two huge tattoos on each bicep. But I don’t think she’s worked on an air craft carrier. As far as I know, she’s never been on the back of a dodgem car chatting up teenage girls, either.
But then again, there was a friend of ours involved in social work who had to support a client in a court case.
“Dress smartly to impress the judge,” our friend advised. Her client took her advice and dressed herself in her best ‘going out’ clothes, a black dress with a daring cleavage. Almost appropriate, you may think. Except this lady had ‘lick me’ tattooed on one of her breasts and ‘bite me’ on the other, proudly jutting out in front of her. Fortunately, our friend could let her client borrow a cardigan.
And there are the horror stories. My godson, Fred, a strapping rugby player, went abroad on holiday with his friend Rocky. One night, after a few drinks, they went to a tattooist and had each other’s names tattooed on their buttocks. Fred’s mum was, as you may gather, less than impressed after seeing the tattoo on Faceache.
Then, a few months later, when Fred had taken a drink once more, he decided to take action. He added to ‘Rocky’ with the legend ‘Rocky is a ….’
Again, his mother saw the results on Faceache. Just to let you know, Fred is still alive.
So, Miss Katherine is the only person in our immediate family who has had a tattoo, which is probably not something I could use as a smug Faceache post.
To be honest, I quite like a subtle tattoo. It can sometimes be very sexy on a woman. Maybe I should consider getting one, but there are several reasons that make me slightly reticent. I’m over 50 (so nobody would see it or appreciate it); I wouldn’t know what to have indelibly marked on my body; I would still be terrified of being told off, even though my dad is no longer with us.
Perhaps ‘Lady’ on one shoulder and ‘BSM’ on the other? I’ll let you know how that one goes…