Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Tattoos

Dubious Claims To Fame – 11

I am glad that I had the foresight to prefix all of these claims to fame with the word “dubious”, because some of them are really very tenuous indeed.  I could have alternatively titled them Brief Encounters With Celebrity, because there is generally a little bit of substance to them rather than merely being in the same room as someone (in which case every single music or comedy gig could be included). I’m still striving too to include only tales that have occurred as a lay person, and not in the course of my one-time day job working in film and theatre. This is the time I met comedian Ross Noble.

I had been to one of his gigs at Glasgow’s Kings Theatre, sometime between 2004 and 2007. I know these dates to be correct, as I was living nearby in Charing Cross at the time, but can’t be more specific as I’ve seen him four or five times now. I left the theatre and went home, took my ticket stub out my wallet and put it in the box with my other stubs, and then decided to nip back out to get some food. My journey took me past the Kings, and I saw Noble standing at the stage door surrounded by a handful of fans and autograph hunters. I’m generally averse to being part of that gaggle, and continued on my way. I bought a sandwich from an international chain that makes them to order, and returned by the same route. When I glanced over again, I recognised one of the girls from the first year of my degree course. In fact, since I must have been in third year then, that would probably put this as sometime in 2006.

I went over to say hello to her, and since she was in conversation with some friends and with Noble, I spoke to him too. I regretted not having my ticket stub on me, to have it signed (I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it signed, but since he was there and had the time and a pen in his hand, why not?) During his show, someone had mentioned Iron Maiden, my once-favourite band (obsessively so) and a band that Noble also professed an affinity with. I asked Ross if he was going to see them on their recently-announced tour, but his deadpan reply was “Nah mate, I’m busy, I’ve got a tour of me own to do.”

It dawned on me that I did have something in my wallet that would look good with his signature across it – the joker from a deck of Sailor Jerry playing cards. When that brand of rum was launched, they put out loads of promotional items – lots of temporary tattoos, decks of cards – and I had taken the joker from a pack of cards my friend had. She was working in a pub at the time, and they had dozens of items left over. The joker showed a very cheeky monkey, bent over and spreading its arse cheeks. The buttocks read “AL” and “HA” and the positioning and the action made it read “Aloha”. I thought it was quite amusing in a puerile way, and had liberated a few rub-on tattoos showing it (some of which I think I still have, unused), and stuck that card in my wallet to show/disgust people. Noble has long documented his obsession with monkeys, on almost every tour and DVD he has done, and so it seemed fitting to offer this card for him to autograph.

He looked at it, shrugged, and signed it for me. It makes a different souvenir, and a better story, than just having a signed ticket stub – anybody can get one of those.

 

 

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Tattoos That Stay With You.

I used to work with a guy who had his own name tattooed on his forearm. It was on the inside of his arm, between elbow and wrist, and took up about two-thirds of the available space. It said “Scott…”

I asked him why he had chosen to get his own name inked on him, and why he hadn’t had it done in Chinese or some other less-obvious language or style. He told me that “then no-one would know what it says,” as if I was an idiot for not thinking of that.

He may have had a point, but he also became the source of much ridicule and conjecture in the years I knew him. We theorised that possibly his tattoo was incomplete, the ellipsis there at the end to signify “to be continued.” Maybe it was an attempt at poetry, from a man who proudly announced that he had never read a book in his life – “Scott, dot dot dot.”

Perhaps he was so forgetful that it posed problems, and his solution was a permanent reminder of his own first name written in an easy-to-read location.

At a social event, a friend of mine asked him his name. He gestured to his ink and made some disparaging remark. My friend’s response was to apologise, countering “when meeting someone for the first time, and not knowing their name, my initial reaction is not usually to look at their arm to see if they’ve got it tattooed there.”

I did eventually find out the reason for the dots, quite by chance.

It was my birthday night out, some years later, and I was drinking with the former Scenic Artist from that venue. He explained that he had designed the tattoo, writing it out in an artistically-pleasing font. When he finished, he habitually did his trademark run-off, and trailed it out in a series of dots. He demonstrated this on a tattoo of his own, a star, where all the points ended with a row of dots.

Scott had got those tattooed too.

The joke might be on us, of course – a tattoo should be striking and memorable, and we certainly all remember it…

 

 


Time Is Money, And Tattoos.

Life is absurd. Statement of fact. I called my blog this because there are so many incidences that are beyond the realms of comprehension, it is easier to just embrace the fact that crazy things happen all the time, rather than try to fully understand them. Here is one such coincidence, which has flummoxed me. Some background information is required.

A few months ago, I decided on a whim to finally investigate getting my first ever tattoo. I figure now I’m 30, the folly of youth is somewhere behind me. Trevor, the drummer in my favourite band, Combichrist, is a tattoo artist, and I asked him to quote me a price to get some work done on their forthcoming UK tour. His fee of $150/hour in cash, while not particularly unreasonable when you consider his portfolio and his standing, was sufficiently off-putting for someone with only an idea and no real money. Even with a favourable exchange rate, I’d need the cash (as opposed to credit card) and have to pay commission. Then consider that I have no idea how labour-intensive a tattoo is, how quickly it can be done, or in fact very much at all about the actual procedure involved. All I know for certain is that I want my first tattoo to hold meaning, and I’m extremely relieved that at no point in my twenties did this desire for a tattoo manifest itself this strongly – otherwise I might be permanently inked with the name of a band I no longer listen to.

Caught up in the idea, I immediately set about thinking of something appropriate but simple – filled with meaning, but achievable within an hour-long session. The Combi logo seems hack, and I realise now that I don’t want to be marked with the name of a band who look set to become huge – fine for the first few years, and then you look like you jumped on the very bandwagon you helped start rolling. I decided instead, in a sudden epiphany, that my first tattoo should involve the word “Glasgow” – my home for the past eight years, and when I moved here I discovered that I was always a Glaswegian, I’d just been trapped in Hamilton for 22 years. In describing this choice of tattoo, I would say: I’m a part of it, and it’s a huge part of me. I combined some Google image searches, and quickly came up with something I liked.

My closest and most trusted friend is a girl I have known for the entirety of our adult lives, and last night in the course of sending her an email I mentioned, for the first time, this notion that had taken me some months back. It didn’t relate to the rest of our conversation, apart from me saying that I’ve just booked up to see Combi four times on this tour, and neither of us is tattooed (which surprises many), but as she is my barometer of good/shit I ran my design past her. Her response, condensed, is that I should re-think the border I have chosen, and replace it with something that holds significant meaning. “I don’t think your tattoo design is finished yet would be my concluding remark if I was to make one which I have in fact just done.”

I realised, lying in bed reading this at 4am, that she is right. This is partly why we are friends and why I run things past her. I had hastily created this design and then chose the best of five similar ones I threw together one afternoon. Sure, the actual name of this city is as significant as any one place can be in a man’s life, but the rest of it came from what was at hand at that particular time, drawn from half a dozen pages of search results. There is still two months until the tour, plenty of time to plan further the artwork I want indelibly drawn on me, and although I am happy with the result generated so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is finished or doesn’t require additional work. Even though it isn’t financially viable right now, and though I did some research and came up with a few designs, one of which I like a lot, there’s still the possibility of creating something even better. All of which might be blindingly obvious to some of you, but which I was obviously blind to. That’s the thought I fell asleep to, tattoos and Glasgow and the resolution to put further thought into my design and make it truly personal.

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Tonight, I finally got round to putting away some of the stuff that I dug out of boxes last week, stuff that has been in storage at my dad’s since I moved out of my first Glasgow flat – long-lost treasures like my craft materials, black kilt socks, and a hip flask. I put this last item in the drawer with my other good-but-scarcely-used items, among the neckties, the kilt socks and pins, the other hip flask, the cufflinks, and the watch I’ve never worn. It was a present from my youngest sister, sometime when she was still working in a jewellers, but I’d stopped wearing a watch at that point as I didn’t like having the extra weight on my wrist and used my phone to tell the time. It has sat in various drawers all of the years since, during which time the battery has gradually died. As you do when confronted with some rarely-seen item of clothing or jewellery, I took it out and put it on, noticing that it could do with having a link or two removed and contemplating whether I have the skills and the tools for the job. Idly trying to wind it, I removed the plastic display insert from the box, looking for the instructions to confirm the method of setting the time. I don’t really want to break a watch that is as pristine as a watch can be. What I found was so unexpected that I have no explanation for it, and when I phoned my sister to ask her if she can tell me more, she can’t even remember ever giving me a watch.

“Are you sure it was her gave you it?” asked another friend. I am certain – I don’t own an abundance of jewellery, and I remember precisely how I acquired that little which I have: a watch for my 21st, which I chose and which has been broken for years and no longer has the metal strap attached; this watch my sister gave me, year unknown; my grandpa’s wedding ring, the replacement for the one he lost in the Mediterranean Sea; a gold chain that was my 18th birthday present, and which hasn’t been worn in over a decade; and a pair of cufflinks which my dad gave me in anticipation of my need for them at my sister’s wedding. That’s it. And at no point do I remember secreting money in any of them.

When I lifted out the plastic insert, there was a flap in the bottom of it with thick folded paper – I presumed instructions – inside. It came as a surprise to find that it is actually $130 US dollars in ten-dollar bills. I have no recollection of hiding money in there, and I have only been to America twice – in summer 2005 and February 2006. Both times, I took Travellers Cheques and only a handful of notes. The cheques were slipped inside the covers of various books I had taken with me, stored with my passport, and generally kept in a few different locations. Some were in my suitcase, some in my wallet, some in my backpack – all sound hiding places, and ensuring that it would take extremely bad luck to leave me without anything. When I did run short of money, towards the end of my ten-day stint in NYC in 2006, I figured I had spent more than intended or had done some poor accounting. In 2009, when I had moved into and from six flats, and finally unpacked all my boxes of books, I found an uncashed Travellers Cheque inside the back cover of the novel I had been reading at the time. I certainly can’t explain this wad of notes in the watch box.

For a start, it’s a watch I have never worn, and so I can’t imagine why I would have taken it on a transatlantic journey. The plastic insert has been sliced open, unevenly, and I am not given to destroying my belongings in such a way – if this was my chosen hiding place, I’d be far more inclined to keep it aesthetically pleasing by keeping the insert intact then folding the notes flat and hiding them under it. To damage something in otherwise excellent condition, to make uneven slits in the base instead of neatly cutting along the seams, to then secrete a bundle of notes inside it instead of keeping the notes flat – none of this strikes me as my natural choice. Then there is the fact that there are thirteen notes here, and I have explained on here previously that I have a lifelong aversion to that number. To place 13 ten-dollar bills in one place, to my mind, would be tempting fate.

I actually checked the notes against the light, looking for watermarks (which I found), but sense tells me nobody would go to such lengths to hide Monopoly money. There are only two possible explanations: 1) I put this money here for safekeeping, for reasons and in circumstances now wholly eradicated from my memory, or; 2) fuck knows. The money was hidden there by person or persons unknown on its way to, or before being returned unused to, the reputable jeweller who then sold it on? That seems implausible, and yet the rational option (that I did it) is alien to me in numerous ways. I have to accept that I will never know for certain, but there is one notable upside. Specifically, $130 dollars, in cash, is almost exactly enough to pay for a tattoo…

I would say this is really weird, this casual talking of and rethinking my tattoo (which hasn’t been spoken of in months) then suddenly finding funds for it completely by chance, because it is. But life is so overwhelmingly absurd anyway that it’s just another inexplicable coincidence to be taken in stride.

And if you ever hid 130 bucks in a watch box then lost track of it, please don’t contact me.