To Ink or Not to Ink?


There was a time when tattooing was still something of an outsider pursuit, when tattoo parlours were a bit off-the-high-street. Nowadays it is unlikely you’ll get served in a bar, restaurant or clothes shop by somebody who is not inked up.  For that matter, buy a house and chances are the estate agent will be showing a few tattoos. The lawyer who handles the deal, well, you get the idea. Everybody now has bought into the art. That, for us, is slightly against the outlaw appeal of art etched into flesh.

Once they’re on that’s it. Done. It isn’t going anywhere. Only one thing looks worse than a badly judged tattoo and that’s the shiny, brittle-looking scar where it has been removed. We’re not saying we’re against them but, you know. The need to dress in bad shorts and singlets to show them off. The overwrought lettering spelling out children’s names or cod-philosophical one-liners. Come on, be a bit cleverer.

Family Business is old school. They have been tattooing in Exmouth Market for, well, they hark back to a time when the art still had the clandestine air of excitement about it.

It was once illegal in Britain to be tattooed. The only people legally allowed to go under the needle were members of the royal family and serving crew of the Royal Navy. Queen Victoria was famously, or infamously, heavily adorned. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Prince William has a couple of pieces of bad Balinese script on his calf. Queen Victoria, however, and her crude etchings seem more subversive and, well, cooler.

Lucien Freud was an avid tattooist. This stemmed from his time in the Navy. His practice of the craft lasted right up until he finally cashed in his chips (an apt term given his fervent addiction to gambling). Kate Moss has a tiny mark given by Mr. Freud. A tattoo comes, frankly, no cooler than that.

If you really are going to do it go see Family Business. Actually, come to Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings first. Explain to one of our (probably inked up) bartenders that you’re about to commit to the act and they will fix you up a shot of something appropriately reckless. Then, go get it done, come back and order the same again. No more fuss than that.

Never enter a tattooist and come out without one. That is like climbing to the top diving board, bottling and having to be talked down by the pool attendant. You will look silly. Sillier than with a baroque skull and dagger on your lower arm? That’s not for us to say. Remember, we are your friends and not your keepers. Are they still a signature of cool, live for now, existentialism? Well, again, not really for us to say. For every good one there are a hundred bad ones. If you do it, please, at least, be the one in a hundred.

(The writer of this piece has two and a bit tattoos. A small heart on one finger. The other is a souvenir of a drunken day in Byker, Newcastle. For the record it is Tintin rendered on the left shoulder. Unfortunately, time, and the shoddy skill of the tattooist means it looks more like Phil Mitchell than Herge’s hero. The other, the bit, was going to be an AC/DC logo executed with a needle and coal dust. The pain, to a fifteen year old, was more than could be withstood. All that remains is a feint, skewed, greyish line about an inch long.)

Megan Burroughs