There used to be a perfectly good postal sorting office in Littleborough. It's now a huge tattoo centre. (That's a large building not a place where you can get big tattoos).
So, what is this infatuation with tattoos?
An angry eagle or striking snake might look OK on a honed, trim body, but what happens when we get older and it all sags? It doesn't bear thinking about. Imagine the horror of a photograph before the water-polo match on a senior citizens cruise. A menagerie of misshapen wildlife floundering in pool of liniment.
I'm all for uniqueness and self-expression but surely there are times when 'inkies' regret letting a Harley Davidson rider loose with an ink gun. I know, celebrities have them but just because you have an praying mantis tattooed on your privates doesn't mean you can convert a free kick from 30 yards or climb into the ring with a lethal light-heavyweight. Most alarming are the flames or primeval tendrils that creep up the neck and claw at the side of a face. Particularly when that face is a bank teller or dentist. Would you honestly trust a person with a drill who has a rabid dog tattooed on their throat?
The problem seems to be exacerbated because once you've had one, you want another. A single dragon is no good, it needs a soul-mate, or a slayer. Before you know it you look like a giant bruise and, when you're in a gathering of the sensible, it all needs concealing – perhaps that's why some people wear enough foundation to support a block of flats. But isn't make-up similar? The targeted altering of appearance to enhance the whole. Remember that fad with false beauty spots? Maralyn had a one (natural I think) so others followed suit and had false zits - temporary pimples that drew the eye and intensified lovliness but didn't ooze.
Furthermore tats often go hand-in-glove with body-piercings. Why on earth would anyone want to look like a highland bull or have a lump of rock stapled to their tongue? Do they want to get noticed or avoided? Are they hoping to blend in while walking through a field of cattle or frighten off religious types who knock on the door at inconvenient times? Now if you had a tow-bar welded to your buttocks at least you could pull your shopping trolley home and free your hands up - but most of these things don't appear to serve any purpose whatsoever. I suppose you can hang your shampoo on your nipple ring but, well, no.
Having said all that, bank tellers are being replaced by machines so what does it matter? A friend of mine recently had an operation in Lyon, France while the surgeon was in Belgium – all done remotely by robot, so it didn't matter that the surgeon had an python inked on his nose (not that my mate was actually awake anyway, but you get the idea). It's a visual thing. If someone on the phone offers advice or succour you listen without prejudice and make your mind up. If the same consultant is face to face and they have a cobra wrapped round their neck do you react differently? Very possibly. I would have to fight my way past the serpent to find the sage beneath. However smart, however wise, my first impression is of the snake, and I'm wary of snakes.
Unless you can afford laser treatment (or can persuade the local benefits office to fork out) you're stuck with them. I suppose you get the sandpaper out and have a scrub, but that's not for the faint-hearted. 'I luv Shirl' might have been appropriate thirty years ago but not when you've been invited to the captain's table and you're presently married to Doris or Boris. It's all rather permanent for my taste, and knowing my luck I'd get a dyslexic artist who'd leave me scarred for life. Imagine having a misplaced apostrophe for ever - the grammar police would have a field day. If you wear a T-shirt with a stupid motto you can at least take it off when you mature.
Shamelessly 'borrowed' from A Brief History of Tattoos, I quote: 'The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian “Tatu” which means 'to mark something'. It is arguably claimed that tattooing has existed since 12,000 BC'. And they are still trying to get rid of the damn thing!
Getting older is no joke. Not only will we have to work till 94 and still have a pension shortfall, we'll also have find a way to pay off that interest only mortgage and look after our own private parts in our rest home – all with knackered skin.
Actually there could be benefits. We could have our portrait and Personal Identity Number tattooed on our buttocks so we wouldn't have to carry an ID card about - or have a utility bill inked into our foreheads. Or hair! Baldies could have a wig tat. And with the emergence of 3D printing we could transform a bald pate into a beehive – surely more efficacious than a comb-over or a Trump cut. Being weedy I could have some muscles tattooed on to save endless hours pumping iron. Clutching at straws a bit here.
There was an event recently in Telford (one of my adoptive counties) - a joint Tattoo / Camper Van exhibition. An unlikely combination you must agree but it did bring together hundreds of pricks under one roof (I can just about get away with that having formerly owned an old camper van). Actually, look hard enough and you can see an association between the creative and colourful designs on a 1960's VW camper and swirls and whirls on a brick-layer's back.
I happened upon a series of photos from a tattoo convention, they show people with determined smiles sitting around in their underwear being stabbed. Tell you what though, some of these tattooists aren't half skilful and to be fair, some creations are genuine works of art.
Fashions come and go – but they change. Yes, it's fun but it's also a massive, transient industry based on keeping up with the Jones' to keep designers with silly names in Range Rovers. When you've worn an outfit once off it goes to the Sally Army. When you get a tattoo it might well go the Sally Army but it also comes out again with you. Tats are just about the archetypal one-way expense - you don't see many on Ebay do you?
Tattoos have been around for millennia but will the sudden explosion in popularity wane? If it does it will take at least a generation to fade.
If I happen to visit the local KFC (Keep Fat Club) when (if) I get older, I suspect that I'll be the only person with a perfect (if wrinkly) epidermis – if I can get rid of the Love / Ate tats on my fingers.
© Jo May 2016