Ok, so I have been honest about this one before, but generally I only ‘fess up to these bad boys when I’m in wardrobe for a job and they rear they’re unexpected little heads.
I have two shit tattoos. I got my first one when I was 15. Yes, I was underage, but my best friend had ascertained a few weeks beforehand that the guys at the tattoo parlour were an absolute pushover. She went in there to get her belly button pierced (aah – the 90s). The tattooist informed her she was too young, but that they would do it if she got her parents permission. He then gestured towards the phone and winked. My friend picked up the receiver (it’s the 90s, remember) and ‘called her parents’, her finger all the while pressed firmly onto the telephone switchhook.
We hatched a plan. We would save up our pocket money and get matching tattoos. Oh, what larks!
Our over-excitement, impatience and total absence of careful consideration meant that I had only managed to save up £15 by the time we toddled into the smoky (there go the 90s again) shop and leafed through the tattoo designs, displayed in a wall-mounted flipbook, like a train timetable. The idea had been to have a look and see what was there, have a think, then come back at another time. But when I saw there was one I could afford (£15 exactly, thank you very much) we were convinced it was the one for us.
Why we decided to get snakes, I do not know. Why we decided that we had to get them facing in the same direction on our right hips, so that when we pressed our hip-bones together the snakes would ‘sixty-nine’ each other, is even less clear. At the time we probably thought that this was incredibly sophisticated and hoped it would be a strong talking point in the pub. We did go on to demonstrate our party trick almost every Saturday night after that, even though I can’t imagine that at the age of 15 (with my shit £15 tattoo that took exactly 15 minutes to be stained into my flesh), I had ever sixty-nined an actual person.
For about a year it was cool. Then it started to look shit. Ok, it always looked shit, but I started to see that it was shit. The design was pretty basic and zero care had been taken by the tattoo artist (what a shocker from the guy happily piercing girls in school uniform without parental consent). The snake on my right hip (the OG snake) still has a misshapen head and wonky tongue. To make it worse, a bit of scab got knocked off it before it had healed and a little chunk of colour was missing from its neck. I was particularly unhappy with it when I looked at myself naked. As anyone with an ill-placed, small, tokenistic tattoo will know – it makes no sense on the wholeness of the bare human form. It doesn’t work with the body, but sort of perches on top of it, looking a bit lost and silly. Like a winking emoji sent by someone you’ve just started sexting, taking all the wind out of your previously billowing sails.
How did I decide to deal with this indelible mistake? Call in the Tattoo Fixers? Get a huge tiger tattoo over half my body, incorporating the tiny snake into its stripes? No! I got another tattoo of course! Exactly the same one, but on the opposite hip – clever, right?!
I should have known (I was 18 by this time) when the tattooist drew a wonky biro line from my existing tattoo to a point vaguely opposite it, that I was in for a similar level of care this time round. Now I had two snakes that weren’t even level. One with a wonky head. The tattooist did fill in the missing block of colour in my first snake – an act which was approximately four times more painful than getting a tattoo done in the first place – but overall they ended up looking pretty shit. And they still do today.
So, here they are in all their glory – photographed in my dressing room in Southend for your delectation. I have pretended, over the years, that they have meaning. ‘They’re signs of fertility’, I’ve claimed. ‘I really identify with the snake’. ‘It’s a Medusa thing’. All of which, its fair to say, are total bullshit. I got the first one because it was cheap and I wanted a party trick with my best friend. I got the second one to try and make the first one less shit. Guess what? It didn’t work.