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Going South: My tattoo hell

March 22nd 2013 / Imogen Edwards-Jones

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Imogen Edwards-Jones has learned the hard and painful way that tattoos soon turn into tat

Regrets? I have a few. Well, actually, three to be precise. And they are shaped like a swallow, a butterfly and the most appallingly drawn daisy that grows like a meandering weed from a gap between my toes. I don’t know what came over me. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. But about twenty years ago now, I went through what can only be described as my ‘tattoo phase.’

The swallow was first. I remember traipsing the slightly less posh streets of Bristol, while I was at university there, trying to find a small, grubby parlour where a bloke with more tats than teeth scribbled something vaguely avian on my ankle. I am not sure why I chose a swallow. I am sure it had some tremendous significance at the time. All I remember is, along with smoking copious amounts of marijuana and flunking my first year exams, this was my final act of rebellion. And it was as achingly cool as it was goddamn painful.

My mother was predictably appalled. “With ankles as fat as yours darling, why highlight them with a tattoo?” came her rather cutting, but witheringly accurate, reply. Yet I was undeterred. I needed more! At the time tattoos were the preserve of prisoners and pirates and only the terminally groovy had the guts to get themselves a pretty daisy on their foot, and a fluro butterfly on their hip that changed colour under UV light.

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Or at least it did. Change colour that is. For what no one tells you about tattoos is that no matter how funky they look when they are first done, they fade and bleed and shift over time. So that the pretty pink flower you had when you were prancing around on a podium in Pacha aged twenty, will inevitably turn into a dull sailor-blue smudge by the time it’s been stretched to Calais and back by pregnancy and you’re now a not-so-yummy mummy on the school run.

What I also didn’t realise was quite how banal my anarchic statement would become. Simply everyone has tattoos now. A flower on their thigh, a musical note on their wrist, a great big fat tramp stamp just above their backside. They’re as ubiquitous as Primark with just as much cache. Any girl worth her lobster tan, neon thong and tongue stud is now covered with a proliferation of little doodles and motifs - the like of which you’d normally find on a handy jotter you leave by the phone.

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Personally I blame celebrities. There is a not a pop, rock or reality star who hasn’t been inked. And it seems the more famous they get, the more they tat. Somewhere in the ether, there must be some sort of ink/fame index. Robbie Williams, David Beckham, Russell Brand, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell are perhaps the most obvious examples with everyone’s favourite bit of Cougar-bait, Harry Styles, coming swiftly up the rear. The ladies are also not immune. Angelina Jolie is an ordnance survey map of international adoption agencies, Kelly Osbourne is a sticker book and Cheryl Cole’s back tattoos look like a bus shelter in Moss Side.

But worst of all, I‘m stuck with my pointless bits of tat. Or indeed my old pointless tats. Most of the time I prefer to forget I have them. I can pretend I never went to that salubrious salon just off the Wells Road. But just when I’m off my guard or trying to be glamorous, or sophisticated, they rear their smudgy head. It’s almost like they can sense me trying to grow up, move on. It’s the look on the shop assistant’s face as she spots my poorly drawn daisy, or my pirate’s swallow poke out over the top of the Prada mules I’m squeezing my fat feet into, that makes my heart sink. I can tell she thinks I’m a little bit trashy. I can sense her watching me just that little bit more closely as I wander around the shop. She is clearly living in fear that I might try and snaffle half her stock. Many’s the time I’ve bought an ill-fitting designer pump just to stick it to the sales woman.

On holiday they are equally as irritating. My no-longer neon butterfly slips out the side of my bikini, the stamps on my feet go crusty and flakey and dry. And there is always a point, just as I’m about to relax back on a lounger in sun-filled bliss when some bright spark will remark, “What’s the hell’s that on your ankle?” To which my seven-year-old daughter will pipe up. “It’s one of mummy’s rubbish tattoos.”

And she’s not wrong. They are rubbish. Actually they are worse than that. They are witless and moronic. If only I could have predicted the future when I sat there, burning with rebellion in that Bristol tattoo parlour all those years ago. If only I had known quite how banal my ‘revolutionary fashion’ statement would turn out to be.

Tattoos are not cool. They’re not individual or original or funky at all. They’re bad and sad and really rather tragic. So if ever you get the crazy urge to tat, thinking it might be witty or indeed fun: Don’t. Step away from the Garfield, leave that Celtic motif alone – I promise you, you will regret it in the morning.


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