The Tattoo Journey: Collecting Memories Beneath the Skin


Recently, tattoos have become as commonplace as your daily cup of tea, with a quarter of Britons proudly sporting them and one in nine boldly choosing visible ink. For me, the journey into the world of body art began in my rebellious teenage years and gradually evolved into a lifelong habit.

Collecting tattoos has become my game, a treasure hunt filled with artists, styles, and the moments that define my life. Each new piece of ink tells a story, capturing a unique chapter of my existence. It’s as though my skin serves as a canvas for my ever-evolving narrative.

As time marches on, I encounter a rather typical concern raised by those skeptical of tattoos – how will they look as I grow older? Suppose I had a tattoo for every time I’ve heard this objection. In that case, I’d probably search for available real estate for even the most audacious tattoo artists in some rather unconventional places.

The notion that my aging skin, adorned with its 50-odd tattoos (though I’ve lost count), will decide between a gracefully silver-haired existence in a tranquil Chelsea hospice or an unending party at the Playboy mansion never fails to amuse me.

However, let’s not dwell on the opinions of strangers; after all, they’re not the ones whose voices we’ll hear echoing in our heads. It’s the responses of family members that truly matter, and in my 15-year journey since my first tattoo (more on that later), I’ve learned a thing or two about how they react.

Siblings, ever the keen observers, delight in spotting new ink, not necessarily for its artistic merit but for the ensuing drama it unfailingly triggers. To be a silent spectator in family feuds is a rare and treasured privilege.

In August, Alasdair finally got the 'I heart Mum' tattoo his mother had jokingly requested
In August, Alasdair finally got the ‘I heart Mum’ tattoo his mother had jokingly requested.


On the other hand, Dads put on a show of feigned disapproval – the exact look they might give to the family terrier for gnawing on the ankles of an MP campaigning at their doorstep.

My father, may he rest in peace, had just three rules for his children: no motorbikes, tattoos, and certainly no heroin. While I managed to avoid owning a motorbike, I spectacularly disregarded rules two and three. I bear a few tattoos in his memory, most notably a playful doodle of Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream prancing naked through the night. And where else would one ink Bottom but on the cheeky ass?

Mothers, however, present the real challenge. They may never fully come to terms with the transformation of their once-innocent, wide-eyed child into a canvas adorned with skulls, snakes, and other symbols. I vividly recall the apprehension of presenting my first tattoo at the tender age of 15 – a shield and spear on my upper arm, filled with pretentious symbolism that only an emotionally charged teenager would find profound.

Let me share a golden rule of tattoos: never feel compelled to explain your ink. Few things in this world are more cringe-inducing than subjecting someone to a lengthy exposition on why the cobra-entwined skull on your neck is an homage to your late nan.

When my dear mother first became aware of a new tattoo, it followed a well-rehearsed routine: a furrowed brow, followed by a vigorous rubbing with her saliva-coated thumb, as if trying to remove a stubborn stain rather than tending to an open wound.

For those of you still in the early stages of your ink journey, take heart – around tattoo number six, your mother’s disapproval will likely start waning. It’s like the number of ring stains on a coffee table before you stop using coasters. I’m sure psychologists can explain, but I can’t. I know it’s the magic number.

Regardless of how much ink I accumulate under my skin, there’s one thing my mother says consistently: “No more tattoos unless it’s an ‘I heart Mum’ tattoo!” She says it with a mischievous grin, showcasing that delightful brand of parental humor that’s both witty and endearing.

It was so endearing that I decided to fulfill her playful request for her birthday in August. With a triumphant skip in my step, I approached her, ready to wish her the happiest birthday and unveil this year’s permanent present. But before I could do so, she pointed to a tattoo on me that she hadn’t noticed before.

“Where is my ‘I heart Mum’?” she began. She couldn’t have set herself up more perfectly.

As I pointed to my ankle, the impossible occurred. She was rendered speechless.

Mind you, only for a fleeting moment, as a string swiftly broke the silence of colorful exclamations and a valiant (albeit unsuccessful) attempt to conceal her radiant smile. I had made my mother giggle, smile at my new tattoo, and express genuine gratitude.

As we look ahead to the coming year, I might find it challenging to top this particular birthday surprise, given that my anatomical canvas is now quite thoroughly covered. However, a tiny bit of space is left south of my mischievous Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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