You’re either with em or against em. You’ve either mused with the idea of getting one, or you’ve already given into it, or you refuse to ever be ‘that person’. I think how we grow up can have an impact on our views towards tattoos too, right? My dad, for instance, was always against them, as passed down from his father. His father, the tall, kind, gentle Geordie from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with the beautiful singing voice, made it through spending the second world war working in the Royal Navy on Minesweepers. Apparently everyone got tattoos in the war and they were probably pretty basic and were all things like anchors or, I dunno, ‘Mum’ in a love heart. He always said to my dad: never get a tattoo, son, you’ll be stuck with it for the rest of your life.

My big brother got a tattoo, when he was around 20, I think. My half brother, sharing with me our beautiful mum, decided (and he told me this reasoning only recently) that since he’d survived teenage-hood and made it to being an adult, he thought he should celebrate and signify that in some way. I think I remember my parents talking to me about it when he first got it done (he’s got 16 years on me), or perhaps after his first visit with it – Jules has got a tattoo, but he thought long and hard about it and it’s something that means a lot to him and is very special…

Aha, yes – if you get a tattoo then it must mean something.

And that has in turn informed my personal stance on tattoos. Only get one if there’s something that means so much to you that it’s worth getting immortalised on your skin. I think we can all kind of come at this idea. (Though my views are really more relaxed than this – not for me, necessarily, I think I’d still want a tattoo to mean something personally, I am all about making meaning out of things, but I think just liking the look of something and wanting a tattoo is good enough reason to get it, each to their absolute own, tattoos are cool).

My Ma has no recollection of this, but when I was little, she got me/let me get a little bluebird necklace and ring from the toy shop in Avalon (why was there jewellery at a toy shop? Maybe I’m conflating memories). She told me about the Bluebird of happiness and I’ve always loved that and felt connected to her through it. I also studied birds at uni, I love them.

I always thought that if I ever got a tattoo, it might be a bluebird.

When the doctors told me my time was really actually quite likely to be very limited, I thought ‘right well, I don’t want to die without getting a tattoo…’ so the hunt was on: to Pinterest to look for bluebirds. I’d looked off-and-on over the years and never found one that was quite right. Until I found it, the perfect tattoo.

When I was in Edinburgh, feeling trapped and panicked and scared and in pain, I went to the most incredible show I’ve ever seen, The Bowie Circus. As I sat there very much feeling Bowie nearby whilst smiling and crying along to the magnificence of it all, they started plying a song that I really wasn’t expecting them to do; one from his final album, a song called Lazarus. I don’t why they thought to do it, it’s hardly a dance number like the others they pulled out. I can only think they did it for me. Me, who was only three breaths away from a panic attack at any time. Feeling trapped by my circumstances, my illness, my body, my life. Because in it, I was reminded of some of my favourite lyrics-

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain’t that just like me?

And I suddenly remembered that Bowie had died from cancer. And did I think for a second that he was trapped? No. He was probably the furthest from trapped of anyone I could think of. Even now.

Yeah, I’ll be free. Just like that bluebird. I knew then that it was definitely the one. And I would get it on my back, on the side where they cut my shoulder out, way back in March 2018, to reconstruct my jaw with. The reconstruction that’s long gone, thanks to the first cancer recurrence. A bird on my broken wing. The meaning was endless.

It wasn’t until quite a bit later that I remembered I literally had a song on my album called ‘Bluebird’. Well looks like I didn’t need to think much further to find a tattoo to commemorate the launching of the album. And here it is to soundtrack you along as you read…

Most tattoo artists are booked up months, years in advance. I had to think how to get through that. Then the answer came to me. And there was only ever really one answer.

Back when I was first diagnosed (over five years ago!) I needed to get my piercings out for my first MRI. They weren’t easy ones, they were those types you had to get the piercer to change. I went to the piercing studio in Camden where I’d got my most recent one done and asked them to take them out.

‘No.’ Said the big burley man behind the counter.
‘…No?’ I said, my voice sounding smaller than I realised it could.
‘No. You haven’t taken good enough care of them.’
‘And you want to punish me for it?’
Ok, I didn’t say that. I probably just whimpered weirdly. I don’t know what he was on about. I’d done the whole ‘bathe ear in salt water’ as instructed but yeah they weren’t really quite properly healed. I don’t know, it’s a problem I have with cartilage piercings. Always have. Didn’t realise it was reason to force me to keep piercings in. He said he would change them to plastic but I had to keep them in. He told me to come back in an hour.

We decided to get a pint in the meantime. But before we could, it all hit me, and in the doorway of my favourite pub in Camden, I cried.
‘Why don’t you get a second opinion…’ suggested Boyfriend.
The thought hasn’t even crossed my mind.

So we went to Hell To Pay, which came up when searching for ‘best piercing places in Camden’. And of course they took them out. They didn’t even charge me for it. They said I was always welcome there.

In 2019, when Rosa and I wanted to get out noses pierced, that’s where we went.

So there was only really one option, not to mention they’re also POC and Queer owned and friendly. Big thumbs up. Once I’d looked through their tattooists and found one who did beautiful fine line botanical and zoological outlines, I knew she was the one. I booked it in.

After a bit of faffing with organising and her being ill, I ended up getting it on the day after I finished radiotherapy. Rosa came with me of course, my eternal emotional support human. We were both pretty happy to be doing something fun for once (not that we don’t find a way to always make an MRI outing fun), even though it was still me being in pain. It did hurt, but not at first. It started hurting at the end of the four hours (four hours!), when doing the colour at the end felt like knives scraping across my skin. And I thought if she didn’t stop soon, I might not be able to take any more. Then she stopped. We met Ma and Da after and all went to the pub to celebrate.

It’s the tattoo artist’s design and I made a few little tweaks to make it work better for me, but she drew it without me seeing it until the day… I like it. I’m still getting used to it, some things aren’t quite as I’d thought they would be, but it’s really nice. And no one else in the world will have one like it.

But the story doesn’t end there. Perhaps a week before I was going to get that tattoo, Ma, Da and I went out for lunch and a bottle of wine one day after Radiotherapy, at a wonderful tapas place in Coal Drop Yard, the stunning, bougie area at the back of Kings Cross. Mum had said a while before that maybe when I die, she would also get a bluebird tattoo in memory of me.
‘When I’m dead?’ I exclaimed. ‘Why not while I’m still here to for us to enjoy it!’

Well, at a bar we went to between lunch and heading home, I said ‘should we all just get matching tattoos while you’re here?’ And with only a few moments hesitation, they both agreed. Straight to Pinterest to find one that would speak to us all… And it only took minutes to find the perfect one.

So when I went to get my Bluebird, Ma and Da popped in with us and I said ‘shall I just book us in now?’ And with only a few moments hesitation, they both agreed. We booked in for less than a week later. When people told me that my first would be a gateway, little did they know I had my second already locked in, and soon…

In the days leading up to getting it, I suddenly worried that I had coerced my poor 70+ yr old parents to get tattoos against their will… But they assured me they did actually want them, so I let that go. Da wanted to go first, and Ma chose second, which left me bringing up the rear. They were both so chill about it, saying that yeah, it hurt a bit, but it wasn’t too bad.

Well, a combination of their reactions, and the fact that my shoulder one hadn’t started hurting until further in, lulled me into a false sense of security. At the pub the evening before, we’d looked up a picture of where hurt the most to get a tattoo, and the inside of the wrist was a nice calm blue colour, just as the shoulder had been, listing them as two places that hurt the least. Whoever made that picture was clearly a psychopath. Inside the wrist was nearly unbearable. I found it a much more traumatising pain than the shoulder had been. And it gave me nerve pain in my hand for a good 15 minutes after. Plus, when Ma and Da had theirs, we were all chatting, singing along to music, I was standing next to them – distraction. When I had mine, another tattooist was setting up in the room with with us, putting another bed out and crashing around. Ma started standing next to me, talking to me, but my tattooist asked her to move because her colleague needed that space. So I lay there in silence, with only the pain to focus on, clutching hard at the skin on my stomach, trying to divert attention. Thankfully it only lasted about 15-20 mins. But I won’t be rushing back to get another one on my wrist (though to anyone who I told my plans to, a few weeks after the trauma of it all had worn off, of getting a tattoo on my other inner wrist… I swear that wasn’t me… Don’t they say the mind has a way of forgetting pain? I mean, isn’t that why people go back and have additional children, despite the absolute insanity of how much it hurts?).

But we love them – it feels like they were aways meant to be there. And I went from having no tattoos to having two, a week later. And yep, there are loads more I want… It’s a gateway.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ann Payne says:

    Love you and hope to see you in Yoga soon enough. Happiness for a great time of year. xo Annie Payne


  2. claire93 says:

    lol can’t believe your parents got inked too ^^


  3. says:

    Wow you three are awesome! Love the bluebird and music notes. Xo Sally


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