Yesterday I was trawling through some ancient Daily Post prompts* having rejected that day’s, which was about fashion-nostalgia – something else I don’t possess – and came across this one about tattoos. Specifically: If you were forced to get a (or another) tattoo, what would you get and where?
Unlike most of the (televised) human race, it seems, I am totally untattooed. I have been amazed, recently, by the inkiness of everyone’s flesh. Even on Strictly Come Dancing – that treasure-chest of all that is glamorous and pristine – male dancers now seem to have tattoos hanging out under the sleeves of their powder-blue spangly tops – I mean, what is the world coming to?
I suppose it’s part of getting older. Things strike you as odd and gratuitously new-fangled that younger people don’t even notice. I recall a story about a woman going with her mother to stay in a hotel, and her mother being kind of affronted that hotel room-keys were now pieces of plastic to be swiped rather than actual metal keys. The older woman was not so much upset by this new piece of technology as dreadfully wearied. It made her feel that she had lived too long.
I begin to can relate to that now. You do get to a point where you just don’t want to have to a) absorb and b) try to suss out the logic behind a new fashion or development. Sometimes there just seems no reason why things have changed. There seem no possible benefit, no sense of progress – just change for the sake of change. The old adage If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it has now been discarded in favour of If it’s getting boring, change it.
In my younger day, tattoos were only seen on tarts and sailors – or sailors’ tarts. They were only to be obtained in the back alleyways of certain ports. Mostly they were of mighty anchors with elaborate twists of rope, or luscious ladies wearing very little.
Re tarts – I have to say there were rather a lot of things that would get you called a tart in my younger day. Ankle bracelets, I remember. Bottle-blonde hair. Hankies stuffed in your bra to make you look more luscious-er. Too much back-combing. Skirts too short. When I was at school they measured your skirt: you had to kneel on the floor and a teacher would check to see that no knee was visible beneath your skirt-hem. Nail-varnish – even clear, or that weird clear-pink stuff: straight to the science lab where a sadistic lab technician would remove the evil decoration with industrial strength acetone from a stoppered glass bottle. Any little cut or hangnail – you’d find out about it. Stockings too sheer. Stockings were meant to be thick and orange/sludge coloured so that (gasp!) men a) couldn’t see your actual flesh through them and b) wouldn’t even be tempted to look. Even patent leather shoes. I have a feeling that was Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch saying that the nuns at her convent school banned patent leather “Else men should see your underwear reflected in it”. Really?
The worst two things you could do (instant tarthood) was get pregnant without being married or get divorced. If you got pregnant, people hardly spoke of you except in whispers. They certainly wouldn’t talk to you. Or your parents. Or your auntie. Or your second cousin twice removed. And divorced – divorces were so rare they hit the headlines. Divorces were scandalous. A divorcee had failed. She knew she had failed. She had failed to hang on to her husband. She must have done something to make him beat her up or go with other women. A divorcee was no better than she ought to be. Women saw her as a threat. Men homed in on easy pickings.
And then there was the thing about hats. You daren’t go out in a red hat because it was well-known: Red Hat, No Drawers! Not that I would have done anyway as I loathe both hats and red. There were parts of every town that only tarts frequented. I remember wanting to buy a little bottle of Devon Violets perfume whilst visiting my aunt in Devon. Oh no! she said. You’ll smell like a lady of The Brook! The Brook in Chatham, now home to the Job Centre, a load of traffic and some very ugly buildings – had been, in her day, the place where prostitutes walked. Waiting for sailors. She seemed to have a thing about sailors. Well, Chatham was a dockyard town so hardly surprising. On one of her visits she remarked on how tall I had grown and that I would soon be spooning with a sailor in the front room. Spooning? In those days it just meant a romantic kind of cuddling. But a sailor? Where was I going to find a sailor? Couldn’t even find a boy.
So, it was easy to get yourself a ‘name’ – and a tattoo – well, that was a permanent name. A red hat can be taken off, bottle-blonde locks can be shorn, an ankle bracelet removed. But – in those days, at least – you were stuck with a tattoo. No one would have employed you to work in an office if you had such a disfigurement, though you might have got a job as a debt-collector or “door staff”. And people would automatically assume you’d been to prison.
But of course things have changed. Both my sister and niece have tattoos, in fairly discrete regions of themselves. I even – yes, I have to admit – at one point considered investing in one myself. I was thinking of intertwined dragons – one red and one blue – on my arm. There – I said it. I thought about it. Fortunately I didn’t do it.
The dragons – well, I was born in one of the Years of the Dragon so dragons have always felt like my totem animal. I like the look of dragons in old illustrations – their sinuous and elaborate nature. If I could draw I would draw fantasy dragons, like the ones you can find on the internet nowadays. Mega-dragons, all fire and nacreous scales. And the significance pink and blue intertwined? It was some sort of weirdo-psychological stuff I was going through at the time. Kept dreaming about dragons. Pink dragons, blue dragons…
And power-stations… and pebbly beaches… and men in long black coats who might have been my father…
Wonder what it all meant…
* Sorry, got that wrong. I mentioned, and linked to, a Daily Post prompt called Tattoo, You but the wording is slightly different. I’ve just stumbled across the one I actually used which is from the One Minute Writer blog.