It’s always good to start a new year by doing something you’ve never done before, I think. So a week ago, on a chilly January afternoon, four months before my 50th birthday, I got my first tattoo.
My older son has loads of tattoos. He got his first one as soon as he turned 18, and I was extremely resistant to him doing it. A tattoo is a permanent signifier, a mark you choose to say something about yourself. I argued then (as I would now), that at that age, it’s hard to choose something that you can be certain will always represent the person you are. He doesn’t seem to have regretted doing it though, so what do I know?
2018 is a momentous, life-changing year, and I felt I wanted to acknowledge that in some way. I’ve chosen a symbol which I have loved for many years and which I feel expresses what 2018 means for me.
The ampersand is the graphic representation of the word ‘and’ (et in Latin). I’ve always loved its looping ‘figure 8’ shape, and have a few pieces of jewellery that incorporate the symbol. I love typography, and it’s a freestyle glyph where type designers can really strut their stuff. For me, I have always seen it as a signifier of writing as an art form. I also like the word and… it suggests that there’s more to come, a continuation, a building on, as it were. And of course, the ‘ands’ in my personal life, my husband and children, are the most precious people in my world.
I looked at literally hundreds of ampersands online, but finally chose this one. It comes from the logo for Child & Co, an old British bank (now swallowed up by one of the big high street banks). I loved its shapely lines and the historical feel it has. The ampersand is an attempt to graphically represent the Latin word ‘et’, and in this one, you can see the shape of the e and t, which I rather like. Many modern ampersands have lost this distinction and are more graphic.
Having a tattoo done
… wasn’t nearly as painful as I expected. Maybe I’m more hardcore than I realised, or maybe it’s just that I had a very small one done on a fleshy part of my arm, but I found the pain quite manageable. I’ve suffered more having my eyebrows threaded. I emailed the designer my image and he printed it out on transfer paper (rather like those temporary tattoos you buy for children). He applied that to my arm and then ‘traced’ over the lines. It’s scabbed over now, but should be completely healed within a week or so.
A symbol of what I am
What tattoo would I have had at twenty? Or at any age before this? I don’t know. But I do know I love the one I have had now. In this, the year I become a fulltime novelist, I’ve chosen a symbol of what I hope I have become. I’ve never felt happier in my work life than I do right now, more absolutely sure about where I am and what I’m doing. After years of mumbling about what I do for a living, I want to claim what I AM. A writer. It’s not just a job. It’s an expression of the human being I am and want to be for the rest of my life.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.