Tatt's the way you want it

It takes summer to get a real picture of just how many people have them. In the wet and (relative) cold of a big city winter you'll spot the odd one peeping out of a collar or cuff, but it's only when the weather warms up and the clothes come off that you really get it.

It seems everyone has a tattoo somewhere. Heels and calves to backs and necks and arms, to places unseen. As I've noted before, how ironic that something meant to make you stand out in a crowd has become so commonplace.

I still maintain that it's ironic that something that's meant to make you stand out in a crowd has become ubiquitous.

A while ago in this blog, I had this to say about them: "My opinion? They’re stupid, pointless, ugly, ubiquitous, mundane, and a hostage to fortune. If you want body art, buy a Texta."

I kind of still think I was right  - but as with Ronnie Reagan, who once said, when he was proved to have been lying about his dealings with Hezbollah: "My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."

St Paul saw the light just down the road from where Bonzo's favourite bombers now hang out and I've had a bit of a conversion too. It happened like this . . .

I was watching the Graham Norton Show. Channel Ten, the other Sunday night. Comedian Bill Bailey was on.

"I've always been hairy, even as a little kid," Bailey said. "I was like a Tribble. It stopped me getting tattoos. I really wanted tattoos when I was a teenager, as a rite of passage.

"So I went to a tattooist and he looked at all the hair and he said 'The only thing that would work on you would be something you glimpse in a forest, like a panther trapped in a thicket or a woodman's cottage'."

Lots of hair


Men are hairy - in fact, if you look back over the topics of this blog, most of what I've written about is men's hair. And there are still some areas I've yet to have a crack at (no pun intended). We have lots of it, in lots of different places.

Many, many men are getting tattoos and many, many men are hairy, especially in the very places - the arms and legs and chest - where body art is best dispayed.

What do they do? Surely being hirsute can't be an impediment to getting inked - if it was, there'd be far fewer tattooed men - unless they all had designs featuring panthers or cottages. So how you deal with the hair?

Paul's in his 40s, he's got a high-profile job in corporate PR, he's got body art he's very proud of, and he's hairy.

"I keep my arms clean from hair because tattoos are art and art should be seen," he told me. "I use a body trimmer once a fortnight, then shave with a razor and cream."

I might sound stupid but the simplicity and straightforwardness shocked me a bit. I was expecting secrets and potions. Some sort of depilatory cream specially formulated for the hairy tattooed gentleman.

But no, a body trimmer and a shaving razor. It's not like I'd cracked the secrets of the universe, but I was knocked a little bit sideways by the lack of complexity or arcana. And if that was a minor revelation, what he had to say next - and the passion he displayed - changed my opinion about tattoos entirely.

Five years in the making

"I was a late bloomer," Paul admitted. "I started getting them in my 30s. When other men were spending their money on clubbing or cars, I spent mine on tattoos.

"The process is very enjoyable. Mine have been four to five years in the making. A good tattoo artist will do a consultation, look at your body form and ask what sort of imagery you're after, look at styles, then freehand draw with Texta on your body before starting to ink."

Paul was obviously proud of his tattoos. They mean a lot to him. He hadn't chosen them in haste and he didn't seem likely to regret getting them.

That's still my objection to most tattoos - they'll last as long you will - and it seems to me too few people choose them with care.

"It's lots of work [but] if you just walk in to the sort of tattooist where you can pick a pattern off the wall then you're asking for trouble," he said.

Paul's tattoos cover his arms and chest but they are very much not the footballer's friend - the 'sleeve'. They're 'meaningful', he says. Patterns and words that matter to him now and given that he was old enough to think hard about it to begin with and took the time time to achieve the art he was after, not something he seems likely to ever regret.

Why jump on the tattoo bandwagon? Disfiguring yourself for the sake of fashion or a passing fad seems foolish, but getting something you can live with, something you'll always be proud of, seems worth all of the time and trouble in the world.

Stupid, pointless, ugly and ubiquitous still pretty much sums up what I feel about tattoos, but Paul made me think about those few whose body art is part of them. Not just skin deep, but soul deep.

Tattoos. We could go on and on. And we have. But how much effort and time would you put into them? Hours and minutes, or years and decades? And what do you do about body hair?