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When you’re a writer, it’s im­pos­si­ble to choose the right words for a tat­too. So many op­tions, so lit­tle skin.

I’ve been keep­ing an “Ideas For Great Tat­toos!” notebook since I was 19. Be­fore then, I had never liked the idea of tat­toos, be­cause I was un­der the im­pres­sion that only two kinds of de­sign were per­mis­si­ble: an an­chor, which was what Pop­eye had on his fore­arms; or a heart with the word “Mum”. There were no other tat­toos. Just those. I did not want ei­ther of these, be­cause I’d only just left home and get­ting a tat­too with “Mum” on it seemed un­nec­es­sar­ily back­wards-looking and re­gret­ful. Like a baby hav­ing one that read “Womb”, or a daddy lon­glegs hav­ing “Grub”. Ad­di­tion­ally, in the Eight­ies, all tat­toos seemed to take place ex­clu­sively on the up­per arm and, due to fat­ness, this was an area I con­sid­ered wholly pri­vate, and to be cov­ered at all times. A tat­too there would be an un­seen tat­too and, there­fore, point­less. If no one’s go­ing to see your ex­pen­sive and painful piece of self-ex­pres­sion, you might as well just lie by telling peo­ple you’ve got one, un­der your jumper. Then the Nineties hap­pened and, with it, some man­ner of tat­too dereg­u­la­tion, be­cause they started ap­pear­ing ev­ery­where. At the top of your bum; on your an­kle. And they could be any­thing. But­ter­flies! Antlers! “I Hope This Means Some­thing Pro­found”, in Chi­nese! Ba­si­cally, the body be­came one gi­gan­tic white­board onto which you could scrib­ble any­thing, and I liked the idea. How cool is it to add words to your body? Far more pleas­ing than jam­ming in ex­tra tits, or lips. I was go­ing to soup up my lower arm with some words. I was go­ing to be a word-mon­u­ment. It was de­cided.

But which words? There are so many! I had a list of my favourites - “Ux­o­ri­ous”; “Sha­green”; “Mer­cury”; “Cathe­dral”; “Zoo” – but they would all look wil­fully ran­dom on my lower arm. I feared in­quiries from un­com­pre­hend­ing strangers: “Are these ... in­ter­net pass­words? Or ... the names of dead cats?”

A sen­tence, then – a lyric from a favourite song. I had pages and pages of these, which I nar­rowed down to ei­ther, “Gimme your hands ‘cause you’re won­der­ful”, from

Rock’n’Roll Sui­cide, or “Love is a verb/ Love

“A tat­too with ‘Mum’ on it seemed un­nec­es­sar­ily back­wards-looking.”

is a do­ing word”, from Mas­sive At­tack’s

Teardrop - be­cause I found both to be pro­found, mov­ing and truth­ful. But then I had a long, dark night of the soul, where I re­alised that I’m just not a “hav­ing some­thing pro­found, mov­ing and truth­ful on my arm” kind of woman. An arm can be many things – a place for a watch; half of a hug; the top bit of the “Y” in a line of peo­ple spell­ing out “YMCA” – but I do not be­lieve that, on me, it can be pro­found. At the end of the day, it’s an arm, not a self-help book. I didn’t want to do any­thing con­trary to its pri­mary at­tribute: looking a bit like a sausage.

So for a while I gave up on my arm and con­sid­ered my fin­ger, in­stead. I was tempted to have the word “No!” tat­tooed onto the mid­dle fin­ger of my right hand, be­cause the mid­dle fin­ger of my right hand al­ways seemed to be in the thick of it dur­ing the or­der­ing of gin or the rolling of a cig­a­rette.

“No!”, I fig­ured, would work by way of a sim­ple Post-it Note, on my fin­ger, from my Sober Day­time Self to my Id­iot Night Self, to cease and de­sist all self-ru­ina­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, when my Sober Day­time Self heard that the fin­ger was one of the most exquisitel­y painful parts of the body to tat­too, it said, “Screw Id­iot Night Self – I’m not go­ing through fin­ger agony to sort out her poor im­pulse con­trol. She can sort it out her­self,” and that was the end of that.

Sim­i­larly, pain was a fac­tor when I thought about tat­too­ing some sig­nif­i­cant names. Be­fore I had chil­dren, I con­sid­ered hav­ing their names tat­tooed, Beck­ham-style, af­ter their births. How­ever, af­ter they had been de­liv­ered, I felt quite strongly that my body had al­ready per­ma­nently and ar­du­ously ac­knowl­edged their ex­is­tence – via a csec­tion scar and 27 stitches – and that any fur­ther trib­ute would be both lesser and un­nec­es­sary. And I couldn’t have my hus­band’s name – Pete – be­cause I only call him Pete when I’m an­noyed with him, or when his mother is around. The rest of the time, I call him by a nick­name that would dump me right back into “Pass­word or dead cat?” ter­ri­tory. That’s right. I call him “P4ss­w0rd”.

So here I am, aged 42, with a whole notebook with ideas for tat­toos – and no tat­too. I’d like to think it’s be­cause, as a writer, I have a height­ened sensitivit­y when it comes to words: my stan­dards are far, far higher than those of peo­ple who just use words on an am­a­teur ba­sis – hence my ad­mirable de­lay.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, I sus­pect it’s that other as­pect of be­ing a writer that’s come into play: of not writ­ing any­thing un­til 10 min­utes be­fore dead­line. Which, in this case, is, ob­vi­ously, lit­er­ally dy­ing.

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