Rowena Basil from Watford poses for a portrait with her tattooed lower legs. With everyone busting out the T-shirts, sundresses and shorts in this heatwave, I am finally faced with the difficult realisation that nice people have tattoos. Efficient people who know how the photocopier works, kind people who give up their seat on the bus, ethical people who don’t eat meat but are too discreet to make a fuss when you do. Even the very clever – and nice – new presenter of Newsnight, Evan Davis .
Climbing up these people’s charming arms or down their polite legs are dolphins, dragons, roses and, for the especially swotty, Latin tags. And I hate them all (the tattoos, not the people – though the boundary bleeds between the two like a back-street inking).
Of course I hate myself too. For what could be more close-minded and short-sighted than passing judgment on what someone chooses to do with their body? I feel like a throwback, obliged to stifle an involuntary shudder when the waitress who serves my flat white reveals a sleeve tatt as long as, well, her arm. “What on earth does your mother think?” I inwardly tut, avoiding the uncomfortable thought that her mother probably has one too.
Naturally it goes back to the fact that in my 1970s childhood tattoos were worn by a different kind of person. Not necessarily wicked or criminal – although that’s how they seemed to me. These sailors, lorry drivers and Hell’s Angels of the postwar world marked themselves as living outside the social norms where the rest of us quietly resided. They looked like members of a dangerous tribe that might surround the stockade in the middle of the night.
Of course, anyone with an ounce of intellectual curiosity or emotional openness will know that all this is wild nonsense, socially constructed. Indeed, it’s at this point someone always pipes up that “tattoos used to be upper class”. Winston Churchill had […]