7 years ago today

On the 15th of March, 2003, I got my second tattoo done. Here’s what I wrote for my website at the time:

A few years ago I was living in Scarborough. One day I was walking the long way up from the beach to my house, a route I didn’t normally take, and passed a tattoo studio. I turned back and had a look in the window and thought to myself “I’ve always wanted a tattoo…” It was about then that I realized I had 20 quid in my pocket and that I was less than a foot away from someone who would happily take my money to stab me with an inky needle.

So I went into the studio and had a look at the various designs on the walls. I didn’t actually like many of the designs and those that I did like wouldn’t have suited me. So I pointed out a design to the tattoo artist and asked him to change it a bit. He did, and then proceeded to ink it into the side of my right leg.

Sometimes I wonder at my own impulse buying habits.

Soon enough I left without my 20 pound note and with a tiny picture of a bat. That is the small, flying rodent kind of bat; I’m not big into cricket or anything like that. If I had looked at the design a bit closer I would probably have noticed the uncanny resemblance to both the Bacardi logo and the Bat Signal. But I didn’t, so other people have been reminding me of that ever since.

Now one thing I must mention about this tattoo is that it hardly hurt at all. As it was being tattooed onto my leg I could feel it but no worse than someone scratching me with their nail. The most painful bit of the whole experience was when I pulled the masking tape off that was holding on the pad of protective gauze. That hurt. Took a few hairs off my leg.

Over the two years since then I’ve generally forgotten that I’ve had a tattoo at all. It isn’t in a place I can see clearly so it is only when people point that I even remember it is there, and sometimes it takes a while to cotton on to what they are pointing at. Do I regret getting the tattoo? Not at all… just that it looks a bit lonely.

Some people say that tattoos are addictive, that once you get one you will want more. I guess it could be true. Since getting a small bat on my leg I’ve always wanted another animal to keep it company. I was toying with the idea of getting a tiny moth to go beside the bat for it to either eat to or keep company… but really what I wanted was a gecko. And as geckos are most known for clinging to things that are at weird angles to the floor, I thought the best place to get it would be the sole of my foot.

A tattoo down there would be quite unique and always hidden, as long as I kept my shoes on or kept myself the right way up with them off. Even though I kept my eyes out for gecko designs in every tattoo parlor I happened to be walking past I never did come across any. I even looked on the Internet for designs to print off but even there I didn’t see any I really liked.

Then, after doing a swift deal on various electric and gas cookers for my new house, I was left with £50 sitting on a table. I could have very easily put it back into my bank account or spent it on something useful, like a bed. Instead, just one idea kept popping back into my mind… “Why not get that tattoo?”

Now, if you ever “sort of” want to do something but are very much in two minds about it, the best thing to do is tell lots of people you are going to do it. That way, if you don’t go ahead with it, you are not only letting yourself down but lots of people will know you have failed at something. And point and laugh.

Knowing this I went on a specific course of telling lots of people I was going to get a new tattoo “sometime this week”. Of course, the more people I told, the less I actually wanted to go ahead with it. Even so, last night I told 5 members of my immediate family that I was going to get it done. In my own mind, that made me pretty much committed.

At this point I had just one problem: I didn’t have a final design for the tattoo.

There was nothing else for it, I got out some pencils and paper and started scribbling. After a bit I worked out the type of thing I wanted and it turned out not to be as small as I imagined. And not a gecko either. I settled on a generic lizard shape, solid black except for a stripe down its back and beady eyes.

This morning I woke up at the normal time after having a dream about… well, not about getting a tattoo, though I must admit it would have made for a better story. Saturday, the last day of the week that I could get a tattoo done so it had to happen today… It might seem like I’m hamming this up to be more of a big deal than it actually was but I really was apprehensive about how much it might hurt. Things always hurt a lot more when the memory of the pain is fresh… I wasn’t really convinced that my first tattoo was as painless as I thought it was…

At about 2pm I realized I was being a complete wimp. It couldn’t hurt that much, right? If it did, why would people get tattoos in the first place? I stuffed the 50 quid in my pocket, jumped on my bike and within 2 minutes I was at the tattoo parlor. I showed my design to the receptionist she told me it would cost about £40. I sat down in the waiting area and flicked through some design books. One was full of Japanese lettering, every name you could think of and many rude words. I looked up my name but it seems that the Japanese don’t have a symbol for the sound “L”. The nearest they have is “Ru”. I certainly wouldn’t want “Ru-Ka-Ee” tattooed on my arm, no matter what language was used.

I was called into the studio area and a huge, hairy bear of a man asked me where I wanted the tattoo. I said “on my foot” and I saw him flinch. At the time I didn’t take much notice of that flinch but I should have. As I sat down I asked if it could be done on the sole of my foot but he said the design would just wear off if it was put there. I settled for putting it on the side/top of my foot instead. He soon swept his beard out of the way, smeared my foot with 20 different types of antiseptic ointments and creams and jellies and sprays and stuck on the transfer that had been made from my original design.

He fixed a needle into a vicious looking contraction, something straight out of a horror movie autopsy scene, and brought it to my foot. I braced myself, all of a sudden…


“This,” I thought to myself, “is the most painful thing that has ever happened to me…” I guess I’ve been quite lucky in the serious injury department. I’ve broken a few toes and had a few stitches in my time but all of those put together were nothing compared to this!

Every time the needle went over a bone in my foot, which was pretty much all the time, my foot would start to shake, juddering from the nerves. I guess this wasn’t much help to the tattooist, he probably found it quite annoying. I sat there, subjecting myself to about 15 minutes of continuous pain… and I could feel myself going into shock. I’ve been in shock before but it normally accompanies some sort of sudden injury, which takes up all my attention, but this time I could sit back, relax and feel my body doing strange things out of my control. My hands started shaking, my stomach started turning, I felt a bit faint and my mouth went very dry.

The whole job was finished quite soon. The hairy man wiped my foot off one last time and I said I was happy with the final result. He covered the tattoo with a sheet of cling film held in place with cellotape to stop my sock sticking to the scabbing skin (this time I was sure removing the tape would be the least painful part). Then looked me in the eye.

“You know,” he said quietly, “the feet are considered the most painful part of the body to ink. I didn’t mention that beforehand in case you didn’t want to go ahead with it. Well done.”

“Um… thanks, I guess.” I mumbled back.

I put my sock and shoe back on and returned to the receptionist. She gave me a small “tattoo care” card in exchange for £45 pounds. I left the shop, got back on my bike and was home in two minutes. The whole experience had taken just under half an hour in total.

Once I got home I removed my shoes and socks and peeled off the cling film. I got my camera and took a photo:

(a little lizard on my foot)

To see what people thought of my new tattoo I posted the photo on the b3ta.com message board Most people seemed to like it, and there was general agreement over the high pain levels involved in having tattoos inflicted on yourself.

For the next 5 or 6 hours I still felt pretty queasy. Certainly no appetite. And there was a constant throbbing pain from my foot. It is now about 10 hours later and I must admit it doesn’t feel bad at all, there’s a slight stinging sensation if I touch the skin, but that’s about it.

No sweat.

So, is it worth that much money and pain to have a little picture, which I must admit has no meaning to me, inked onto my foot?

No. Not at all. But then, why not? It’s something to do.