To get to the ‘tattoo parlour’ – a temporary affair above the gallery, cordoned off by a red-rope barrier from the crowds, I was lead up the back stairs by Jai, master-mind of the madness that was about to begin. I was in the first batch of three – out of the 100 to be tattooed over the long weekend.
I think that Jai was probably more nervous than I was – so much to worry about, from media, to health – even so, there were a few butterflies tumbling as I walked out into the glare of the stage. I shared a quick smile with Kate, who was also about to get her first tattoo – before we took our places.
Many people I know already have tattoos, so the details will be well appreciated, but for me, this was a first, and probably last, opportunity to experience the art.
Simon – already fairly well covered with a wide array of images, was to be my artist. A quick shave of my lower left leg, a swab down with some fancy gel that allows the image on paper to transfer across to the skin … so that is how it is done … not just the freehand genius, they have help! And then, after attaching a fresh needle to the Heath Robinson tattooing machine, he began. He dipped the needle into a small pot of ink – preparing his quill.
As I had sat down I had realised there was quite a crowd come to see the start of the show, but found I was facing away from everyone. Not sure what it would have been like looking out at everyone.
I tried to relax, but there was a slight moment of bracing as the needle, buzzing like a gentle dentist’s drill, first touched my skin. Remarkably un-uncomfortable – though there was a strange taste in my mouth that started almost immediately and lasted for a couple of days.
It was such a benign experience that I picked up my camera and started taking photographs … proof of the calmness came in the steadiness of my hand – no flash and no shake. As my back was turned towards the crowd, the only way of finding out who was looking was by taking photographs over my shoulder – you can understand that I did not want to move too much while Simon was needling my skin.
And then it was all over – so quick. He had been dabbing away at flecks of blood and excess ink – along the way and the result looked remarkably complete. Yes, a little bruised, but otherwise fine. But that was not it … there was another component to the process – to be photographed with a 120 year old camera – big plate film, masses of detail I am sure. And not of the tattoo, but portraits of each of the ambassadors.
All 100 are done now – and I am hoping that we can arrange some sort of reunion – and as I discussed in a piece in the Guardian, possibly linking up with people doing this in other countries to present a block of wildlife ambassadors at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
So, to the healing – the instructions were simple – get hold of nappy cream and cling film … I was so disappointed that when I left the restaurant with a friend all the supermarkets were closed, I just wanted to imagine the look of confusion when all that was bought was beer, nappy cream and cling film.
After three days of that, it was on to coco butter – and there is general appreciation for the tattoo – in fact more than that. People are surprised at how cute it is … there is an association between tattoos and anger I think, so it is pleasing to have an image that subverts this. There is no attempt to repel with the hedgehog – it is there to attract.
Is that it? Will there be any more? Well, the night of the tattoo, back at my friend’s flat and her partner asks about my next book idea – the one where I track down people with animal passions similar to my own, but for different species … and Ian’s thought? “You are just on the hunt for the next tattoo, aren’t you?” Well, that has set something stirring in my mind …. will just have to wait and see.