Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Shrapnel

I need the needle. 

Ah the good old days. A time when people thought that bit in Only Fools and Horses when Delboy fell through the bar was funny (it definitely wasn't). A bygone period when people still ate pilchards on toast (gah). An age that people look back on and ask "do you remember when there was white dog poo everywhere? Where did all the white dog poo go?" (which on reflection now sounds suspiciously like something Nigel Farage would bang on about in a speech). And a time when I looked like a prize pillock. 

A disturbingly long time ago I was walking down the high street of the town I lived in and walked past a tattoo place. At the time I thought tattoos were ridiculous. Considering I had bright green hair that was stretched into a ridiculous hedgehog shape you'd think I wouldn't make a judgment like that. I mean honestly - every other week I'd dye my hair a deliberately stupid colour and then smear a mix of Imperial Leather and water into it to look as deliberately as silly (or "cool" as I mistakenly thought) as I could. Every now and again I'd wear one of two things I owned on my head as well. One was a black baseball cap with the word "pervert" written across it. The other was a weird yellow Gaelic headband. I'm talking quite an excessive level of twattery here. I have a photograph of me wearing that. It might be one of only a handful of photos of me between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. Probably to ensure that nobody sees what I looked like and therefore I'll get to have sex again. Quite honestly I don't really remember me at eighteen with bleach-blond hair wearing a second-hand wool sweater from Oxfam. But there it is. Good God I looked like one of the members of East 17 had run off to become a gypsy.

Tony Mortimer's Pikey Cousin
But let's be honest - like most young men I was a pretentious twat. I held views. I had feelings. God damn it I'd lived through pain and triumphed. But in a totally cool, sexy way. Right girls? Girls....? Anyone...? Even more embarrassing was that you could tell of this without actually having to meet me because I owned a denim shirt that I'd written lots of aforementioned pompous feelings on in marker pen. I don't remember much of the nonsense I scribbled on that thing. Other than some not-particularly clever allegory about Sisyphus pushing a rock up a mountain. And the patently-wrong-because-I'm-eighteen-years-old phrase, "everyone is wrong, and I'm the one that's right". Well clearly. I remember the sensation that I thought that was clever. That people would read my shirt and feel the same way they do after reading the last line of Funeral Blues. Or after watching the very last seen of Black Adder. Instead looking back that shirt had the touch of a manifesto about it. ..  

I don’t really remember making an actual decision. I was just walking past the tattoo shop. But fifteen minutes later I had my left nipple pierced. I remember the mechanics of it. And I remember during the entire thing that the bloke doing it seemed genuinely surprised that I didn't seem frightened at all. I'd love to say I'm just as tough as ten bears and those sorts of things barely tickle my sense of fear. Rather the truth is sometimes being massively ignorant can be quite helpful. Still my enduring memory – to be completely honest – was that I surprised to learn what people meant by a fine line between pleasure and pain.

A few years later I wandered into another place – still all pompous and snooty about tattoos – and had my bottom lip pierced. Weirdly that didn't hurt at all. A month or so later I had my eyebrow done. I kept all those piercings for a few years. I calmed down with the ridiculous hair. It was still silly quite often. Just not as often.  And I developed a schizophrenic dress sense. One day I'd be 90s Grunge. The next I'd have a shirt and tie on.

I remember two things happening right before I ended up waltzing off to university when I was 21. Firstly I was invited to a friends house for a party. That was the beginning of me farting about in weird rock bands playing guitar and drums. And at that party I was supposed to be showing up to play guitar a bit. Everyone else there was dressed up like a goth. I had on a pair of grey trousers, a collared shirt and a black tie. And a very drunk kid there kept calling me trendy as an insult. Yes I had silly hair. And yes I had an eyebrow ring and a spike sticking out of my lower lip. But he missed the irony completely of being dressed up exactly like fifty other people and saw me as a Townie. Right up until I picked up that guitar and started playing Sinatra and Meantime. I realized on my way home that night that the desperate grasp for an identity had piss all to do with clothes and only liking certain music. Which certainly helped because I'd been feeding a serious man-crush on Chris Isaak for years. I mean seriously...

Then I showed up at university. Still with piercings in - but no longer dressing like a homeless man had been given a makeover by the people on MTVs Headbangers Ball. And met probably a hundred people with a piercing in their face. I remember sitting in one of my first lectures and glancing down the row to see a line of people with their lip pierced. Exactly like in a  went back to my student house after lectures and took them all out. And that was that. 

Nowadays I don't have any shrapnel in my body. And I have two tattoos. And dear lord do I crave more. And no my skin has not become a substitute for that rambling, late-teenage denim shirt. But I love the sound of a tattoo place. And again - there's something strangely erotic about the way it feels when the ink hits your skin. Funny how things change. Mind you Only Fools And Horses still isn't funny. Nobody eats pilchards anymore. But you just know that someone, somewhere probably has a tattoo of white dog poo on their body. 

I'm betting it's Nigel Farage.

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