Tattoo Hullabaloo

Yesterday the British media dedicated quite a bit of its attention to reports of David Dimbleby, the veteran presenter of BBC’s Question Time and all-round seemingly strait-laced  TV personality, getting a tattoo at the ripe old age of 75.a

David DimblebyDimbles gets a tatt!

David Dimbleby's tattoo

A demure scorpion, poised to strike out at his enemies! He reportedly chose it because it represents his star sign, but apparently fell foul of gay culture tattoo symbology, wherein a scorpio is a way to indicate that you are HIV+ to prospective partners.

The elderly gentleman said that he initially balked at the idea, but then decided to go ahead with it, having always wanted to get one. Apparently his exact words were, “you’re only old once.”

I thought this was a wonderful perspective to have, because anyone who’s flirted with the idea of getting inked usually worries about how badly a tattoo will clash with ageing — be it the prospect of ink on sagging, wrinkly skin or the assumed lack of decorum tattoos carry as a stigma — citing that as one of the main reasons not to get one.

But over at The Guardian’s Comment is Free section, Johnathan Freedland rightly reminded us that Dimbleby’s move is a sign of things to come. No, Freedland is not predicting that senior citizens will rush off to tattoo parlours to get inked and pierced. Rather, “today’s tattooed young will be tomorrow’s older people.”

And it’s true: hardly a day passes when I don’t come across someone with multiple tattoos scrawled on various body parts. It’s de rigour now, and I often feel singled out for not having one of my own, if only a small one.

This was especially the case during the summer months of my Williamsburg, Brooklyn years. Oh, and during my internships in a couple of kitchens in London. Most chefs seem to have tattoos for some reason.

Hell, even Samantha Cameron has a dolphin etched on her foot! If you’re American and have no idea about what the hell is going on anywhere else, this is not some racy British pop singer, celebrated actress or sassy TV chef. She is married to David Cameron, the UK’s current prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

But maybe what all this means is that tattoos are decidedly uncool, and, in a bizarre reversal of fashion fortunes, I’ve come out on top. Not by way of ingenious long-term trend-forecasting, but due to a fear of commitment, as well as a low threshold for pain (1: the pain of the tattoo experience itself; 2: the pain of my father wringing my neck). And thank god! Because what was in during the 90s (barbed wire, maori tribal markings, and Chinese characters) is very, very out two decades later.

Chinese-Character-Tattoos-Translated-013-550x396Tattoos should be thought about long and hard, and researched thoroughly.

While buying an ill-advised spring jacket, misshapen skirt, or a pair ill-fitting boots on impulse may qualify as “poor decision-making,” I have the option of just not wearing those things. Once you get a tramp-stamp, well, that’s something you’ll be wearing for a long, looong time.


An armpit may not be the best place for a tattoo.

Dimbleby’s session at the tattoo parlour is to be included in the first episode of his new documentary series on Britain’s maritime history, Britain and the Sea, airing this Sunday on BBC1.

  1. Even colleague Jeremy Paxman had a little go at him.  (back)