It was the summer of 2010. I was to turn twenty in August, and I had decided that before I left my teenage years behind I wanted to shock and horrify my parents one last time. A tattoo was something I had always fancied, but the standard fall-backs of stars or Celtic knots had failed to take my fancy. I wanted something that would be witty, different and visually appealing. Fortunately, it was a warm summer, and I was able to turn my eye on a lot of exposed tattoos for inspiration. Somewhere amid the crowd, I caught a glimpse of a woman with wings on her ankles, and I was immediately taken with the idea. I’d seen people with wings tattooed across their shoulders before, but I’d always been conservative enough to think it slightly sacrilegious. Wings on the ankles, though – that was fine! That was classical! It would recall Hermes (or Mercury in the Roman tradition), messenger of the Gods, slayer of hundred eyed Argus, and the guider of souls to the next world. It would reflect my speediness. I could imagine being an old man shuffling about the house, looking down at the wings on my ankles, and remembering how fast I used to be. It was a perfect fit.
Having found a design that I was happy to live with for the rest of my life, I browsed dozens and dozens of pictures of wings on the internet, until I found one that took my fancy. Then two days before my twentieth birthday I sauntered down to my local tattoo parlour, having carefully neglected to tell my family where I was going beforehand.
The best thing about getting my tattoo was that someone walked in halfway through with an idea that was much, much sillier than mine. It was a massive rampant brown bear, almost the height of an A4 sheet, that he wanted tattooed on his right buttock. I wonder if the guy ever got it, and how long it was before he managed to sit down afterwards.
The worse thing about getting my tattoo was that it was both ankles. The tattoo artist told me beforehand that one leg was going to hurt more than the other. It’s just the way the nerves work. And after having gritted my teeth and tried to concentrate on Shakespeare’s sonnets for twenty minutes, it turned out that the other leg was going to be considerably more painful.
Still, it was soon done. I sauntered out around the town to show them off, and then headed home to gauge the reactions.
I think my sister’s was the best. ‘And you haven’t told the parents yet, Thomas?’ she boggled. ‘They’re going to go spare! They’re going to go absolutely spare!’
Having set such high expectations, approaching my father was rather a disappointment. He raised an eyebrow disapprovingly, and said ‘Well it’s your body, Tom, and you can do what you like with it.’ And dismissed me.
Then my mother came home. She was standing halfway up the stairs, swapping small talk about her day, and suddenly Dad and my sister caught each other’s eyes and started grinning. ‘What? What’s going on?’ Mum asked. I told her. ‘Give me strength!’ she ejaculated forcefully, rolling her eyes and collapsing against the banisters. Yet having seen them, she was almost won over. I was, of course, extremely naughty, but so long as we could hide them when we went to see my Gran, it would be fine.
‘If it was me, they’d have gone spare.’ my sister sniffed. I didn’t argue.