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Stewed, screwed and tattooed


That was the curt synopsis of shore-leave for many sailors after months at sea. A port earned its reputation from the variable qualities of its bars, women and tattoo artists. Well, you can sober up in the morning (or possibly the afternoon) and the clap clinic will sort you out fairly quickly if necessary, but a tattoo is for life – unless you can afford the laser treatment to remove it, which (frankly) doesn’t work.

The strapline for this blog (up ^ there, alongside the title) used to be “Because the internet is forever”. The garrulous and wise “Anon.” is credited with “Love lasts forever, but a tattoo lasts six months longer”.

Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling. Historically presented, in the mad and cruel Gallantry, foolish Bravery, ridiculous Beauty, filthy Fineness, and loathesome Loveliness of most Nations, fashioning & altering their Bodies from the Mould intended by Nature. With a Vindication of the Regular Beauty and Honesty of Nature, and an Appendix of the Pedigree of the English Gallant was the abbreviated title of Dr. John Bulwer’s Puritan diatribe against tattoos, first published in 1650. The second edition of 1653 sold much better as it satisfied and gratified early perverts, voyeurs and connoisseurs, being copiously illustrated with wood-cuts. The centrefold, Miss 1653, is … frankly … phwooar!

Getting this post back on-topic, I could fill a daily instalment for a year, with illustrations, of When Tattoos Go Wrong. However, since that would be as tediously repetitive as an ‘amusing’ bumper-sticker that you see every morning, I’ll deal with the subject once, today, and then leave it alone.

In evidence, my first witness is David Beckham (the walking doodle-pad and occasional footballer), who decided to have the name of his permanently smiley, happy-go-lucky, giggle-a-minute wife scratched on his left forearm. So far so romantic, but for some reason he elected to have it done in Sanskrit. Whoever knew that he was a student of the ancient liturgical language?

Nobody is entirely sure which Indian language, dialect or script was used, but there is an overwhelming consensus that the one word it doesn’t spell is Victoria. Then there are these examples, proving that you don’t need to go multilingual to find an illiterate tattoo artist:

If you’re ever considering having a tattoo, it’s probably worth bearing in mind the apocryphal words of the architect to the surgeon: “At least you can bury your mistakes. All I can do is advise my client to plant trees.” When Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder ended their engagement, Depp had his shoulder tattoo of Winona Forever changed to Wino Forever, which isn’t much better.

In closing, let me leave you with this gloriously ill-formed thought:

EDIT: Further to posting this, I’ve learned that Winston Churchill’s mother, “Jennie” Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill), not only had a snake tattooed on her wrist but also had both nipples pierced.  There was a brief craze for nipple piercings among the ladies of the aristocracy in the 1890s.


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  1. Nipple piercing! Thanks a million, you’ve just ruined my breakfast!

  2. Well, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that, since Winston was born in 1874, he wouldn’t have fed from them.

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