ONE of last week’s more unexpectedly nice headlines revealed that veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby got a tattoo, while filming his documentary about British maritime history.
The reaction – skipping over the fact that his tat of choice, a zodiac Scorpion, is missing two legs and is also known as a symbol for being HIV-positive among the gay community – has been largely cheering.
After all, the 75-year-old was fulfilling a long-held ambition.
“You are only old once,” he told the Radio Times.
As someone who got her tattoo at the age of 20, I never quite know where to stand in these conversations.
As yet, I’ve never regretted my colourful rose, but maybe that’s because it’s small and on my leg and, first rule in the ‘How Not to Have a Terrible Tattoo’ handbook (Chapter one: Spellchecking), not associated with some zeitgeisty trend. Actually, it’s not associated with anything, other than a student me on Camden High Street, having some chips afterwards.
I didn’t even let my then-boyfriend come with me, correctly predicting that the ink would outlast the relationship.
These days, I tend to forget it’s there, except when I catch sight of it in the shower and momentarily think it’s a weird bruise.
Because every other idea for a tattoo that I’ve had since has been fist-gnawingly awful, it’s probably destined to remain an only child – but I’m glad it’s there.
I am fully prepared to love it when it is wilted on a much more seasoned thigh.
On my mother’s 50th birthday, we paused outside a tattoo parlour in Brighton.
I chanted, “Do it! Do it! Get one!” while she protested: “People would say, ‘look at that sad old woman with the tattoo’.”
They wouldn’t have, of course, but we kept on walking, anyway.
“Fifty years from now, the sight of an old man with a tattoo will be no novelty,” wrote Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian last week.
“Indeed, rare will be the Briton over the age of 70 whose skin is unmarked by ink.” And he’s right. “Think how it’ll look when you’re old!” is the bread and butter argument of the anti-tattoo brigade.
But, of course, the answer is: normal.
It’ll look normal, like every other octogenarian on the block.
Tattoos will be the shampoo-and-set hairdo of my generation – ubiquitous, steadfast and hard for younger people to understand.
The retirement homes of 2060 will be full of wrinkled swallows, faded dragons and crêpey Celtic bands, while our grandchildren find entirely new ways to modify themselves.
And whether they’re trying out chin extensions or laser eyes or titanium nasal implants, I hope I’ll have the guts to do a Dimbleby and give it a go, too.