I thought tattoos were for sluts…until I was branded with a 4-inch high prancing horse. My boyfriend's reaction 'Rock and roll! Now you might have sex with your top off!
07:02 GMT, 1 October 2012
I have never wanted a tattoo, much as I have never desired a nose ring. Such self-indulgent decoration always seemed a bit dirty, a bit slut-like. And, as we all know, I am the very opposite of a slut. I could never take part in one of their protest marches (against justifying rape on the grounds of a woman’s appearance): all fishnet tights and exposed bras, messy make-up and loud opinions.
I have never wanted anyone to look at me, and have always been scared of doing anything that might be slightly left-field.
Smoking a cigarette Never even held one between my fingers.
Brand power: Liz proudly shows off her new tattoo
Taken drugs Not even a small tablet of ecstasy – far too scared I might lose control or be taken advantage of (although, as Sybil said in Fawlty Towers of her mother’s fear of being chased by men: ‘I don’t know what she thinks they’re going to do to her. Vomit on her, Basil says’).
My only experience of tattoos thus far was a boyfriend, Mad Richard, who had one. As he was black and it was navy, it didn’t show up very much. It also looked a tad blurred, which at first I thought was my eyesight but turned out to be because, as a squaddie, he had been punished for having a tattoo by being made to jump in a pool, which, as I soon learn, is something you must not do for at least two weeks.
Oh, and I have had semi-permanent make-up upon my eyebrows, a sort of wimp’s version of a tattoo, but it hurt nonetheless, and was not a huge success: instead of Brooke Shields-like arcs, the dye has quickly worn off, and I now have purple brows that are far too circular, having been moved by my facelift.
I have pierced ears but, unlike most slutty women, mine involve a lot of homework: if I wear platinum ear studs, they have to be soaked overnight in a tumbler of surgical spirit to clean them (something I often forget I’ve done, resulting in much frantic telephoning of hotels to try to retrieve studs I’ve left behind).
So, you can see, I am permanently torn between ragged nervousness and a desire to improve myself so that I don’t frighten people on the street.
But I also wish I had been braver in the past: spoken to men who approached me rather than turned away. Gone to that party. Called a friend or a man instead of avoiding my phone. Worn a sexy dress rather than my permanent attire: a Helmut Lang trouser suit over a white shirt.
I’ve only in the past few weeks bought some sexy underwear. Even on my wedding day, I wore a white vest and pants, like something you’d put on for PE.
I wish I had been a bit more bad: gone to a rave in the Nineties rather than sat at home watching Thirtysomething. Had sex in my 20s. Got drunk and swum in the sea naked.
Before and after: Liz Jones's 4-inch tattoo on her shoulder is a permanent mark that she has turned a corner
And so, tired of my buttoned-up,
boring life of always brushing my teeth between meals, cleansing, toning
and moisturising, wearing pyjamas in bed, always wiping the bottom of
groceries before placing them in the fridge, placing the cats’ feed
bowls on squares of paper napkins, I decide, in a rush of blood to my
ancient head, to get a tattoo.
figure it might just make a tad of difference to my personality, which,
to be honest, I’m tired of. I am tired of being prim, and wholesome,
and shy. When you are 22, being shy can be quite alluring, but when
you’re 54 it’s pathetic, and tiring, and I’m already exhausted enough.
dinner one night, I tell my best girlfriend, whom I’ve known since we
were 18, my plan. Instead of outrage, she is fascinated.
always wanted a tattoo!’ she shouts. ‘But I never got round to it. I
was always a bit scared. Plus my dad would have disapproved, but now
he’s no longer with us I might get one, too.’
dad, an Army officer, would also never have approved of me getting a
tattoo, but he is also dead, and so I begin to feel a bit braver.
I call a tattoo parlour – except that they are no longer called tattoo parlours these days but ‘studios’: Good Times Tattoo, in London’s trendy Shoreditch. I turn up to discuss my design, and to pay a 100 deposit.
I already feel wildly out of place in Shoreditch, with so many men with facial hair and kilts, and women with Beatles caps and Dr Martens.
It’s the most relentlessly urban place in the world, and do you know what As I stagger around on the cobbles in my (polished) Prada platforms, everyone who passes me, the so-called freaks with chains hanging from their noses and numerous tattoos on yoga-honed biceps bigger than Popeye (there! At last I have thought of my new role model! The most famous sailor in the world!), every single person smiles and says hello, something you never get in bloody Somerset, where no one would dream of leaving their farmhouse in anything other than green quilting, a gun slung over a shoulder.
These multi-coloured, over-decorated, multi-national misfits are the new nice people, accepting, non-judgmental. Just thoroughly nice.
Branded: Samantha Cameron (pictured left) has a tattoo on her ankle (right) which she got while at university
The young woman who runs the studio,
Harriet, who is covered in tattoos (who’d have thought a girl with such a
posh name would be so alternative), tells me that choosing my tattoo
artist is important, as they have so many different styles and
I am shown
many thick portfolios. I tell her I quite want to have the face of my
collie, Michael, on my shoulder, but Harriet says getting hold of an
artist who does that kind of work will take some time.
in the end I settle on a rearing horse, and an artist called Jaclyn
Rehe, who specialises in impressionistic animals that are also pretty: I
tell Harriet I don’t want any skulls or anything too scary.
‘What part of your body are you thinking of’ she asks me.
tell her I’ve decided on my upper arm because it is covered up most of
the time – and the needle will cause less pain there than it would on,
say, an ankle, where Samantha Cameron has her tattoo. Hopefully, should I
ever go strapless, it might also distract from my cellulite.
A week or so later, I return for my tattoo, which will be 4in long and will take about two hours (mine costs 150, but a small rose at the small of the back or on the inside of a wrist would be less; lots of elaborate wording on the back, a la David Beckham, could cost up to 300, plus hire of dictionary).
Jaclyn turns out to be 29 and is blonde, beautiful and heavily drawn-upon, like a sixth-former’s exercise book. She tells me there will be no anaesthetic, topical or otherwise. Everything is reassuringly aseptic: even the arm of my chair is wrapped copiously in clingfilm.
First, Jaclyn traces a stencil on my shoulder, to ensure I’m happy with the size and shape, and then she approaches me with her needle.
Ow. Oh. This is not too bad. Not even as bad as having my eyebrows tattooed, which hurt a great deal as the skin was over bone.
My arm, thankfully, despite decades of an eating disorder, has a little bit of residual flesh. There is a buzzing noise, and much gentle wiping with an iced cloth, which is soothing. I shut my eyes, knowing when I wake I will be transformed. For ever.
About two hours later, I realise I am a walking logo. I have the Ferrari horse on my arm, but it could be worse: it could have been something more downmarket.
Liz Jones sits while tattoo artist Jaclyn Rehe gets to work
Ouch! The pain of getting a tattoo was not too bad for Liz Jones
I’m given an aftercare leaflet, which says I must stay out of sunlight (a given), shower each day (no baths), patting the area dry carefully, and apply a special cream twice a day for two weeks, which destroys rather the hard image all those Harley-Davidson bikers exude.
After enduring some tenderness and a little scab-shedding, I took my new tat to Paris Fashion Week, where I sat, on a teeny gilt chair, arm bravely exposed, and other women, those scary ones in weird hats and difficult shoes, actually smiled.
I even got papped by those Japanese fanatics who wait outside the shows to photograph fashion lunatics for their blogs, and this hasn’t happened since 2001, when I fell up the steps at the New York Public Library. I am no longer conventional, but I no longer care.
My so-called boyfriend hasn’t seen it in person, but I sent him a BlackBerry Messenger photo captioned ‘A little dry and tender still’, and received this: ‘No change there, then. Yeah, I like it. A bit rock and roll. Maybe now you’ll have sex with your top off.’
My best friend also thinks it makes me look younger, though quite how, I don’t know.
Last week, I unveiled my horse to my teenage nephew and his mum. While my sister was slightly disapproving, I could see my nephew’s eyes light up: ‘Was it painful How much did it cost’ he said, slightly in awe of me. I imagine stern words were said once I left.
And at an awards ceremony on Thursday night (Compassion in World Farming, where I got two gongs for my work with animals), I took off my jacket and mingled, and the tat proved a real ice-breaker. ‘Wow!’ lots of farmers said, smiling. ‘You really do love animals, don’t you’ and ‘Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.’
So far, I haven’t had one single negative reaction. I now understand why people have tattoos. It gives out a signal that you don’t care what others think of you.
God, I used to care. Five years ago, when I first moved to the country, I cared deeply about whether or not I was liked. I went into my local newsagent, the Tantivy, heard women gossiping nastily about me and I cried, and didn’t dare go in again for about three years.
Just last week, I was reading in the journalists’ trade paper about my nomination as Columnist of the Year in the British Society of Magazine Editors awards (I’m not blowing my own trumpet, by the way, I’m about to make a point) and there, at the bottom, was outrage I should be nominated, people aghast at my salary.
The old me would have cared, resigned, run away, self-harmed, but now me and my tattoo say to the world: I’ve worked hard for what I have. I put two children through school in Bangladesh and my salary supports 113 animals.
So shove it. You vile, jealous people probably eat steak, and feed your ghastly brood bacon. I bite my thumb at you, or at least give you the cold shoulder. Which is now decorated, a permanent mark that I have turned a corner. I am branded braver now.
Good Times Tattoo (ilovegood times.co.uk, 020 7739 2438). The Eighth International London Tattoo Convention is on today at Tobacco Dock, East London. For details, visit thelondontattooconvention.com.