Alasdair Gill's beloved body art isn't embraced by all his family

Mother of all tattoos: Alasdair Gill can’t recall how many times he’s been to the parlour to enhance his beloved body art – but there’s one family member who really wishes each visit will be his last

  • Alasdair writes that around tattoo six, a mother’s disapproval will begin to abate
  • READ MORE:  Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s son surprises his mother with an inking in her honour for her 60th birthday

According to the latest YouGov statistics, a quarter of Britons now have tattoos, with one in nine opting for visible inking.

I’ve been a regular at the tattoo parlour for well over a decade. It started in my teens – a middle finger to conformity – and morphed into a habit. 

Over time it has become a game of collecting (artists, styles, moments). More accurately, it has something to do with the times I’ve found myself in a minor life crisis. With that, I’m running out of skin.

Oddly, the most common problem anti-inkers have with my 50-odd tattoos (I’ve lost count) is how they’ll look when I grow old. If I had a tattoo for every time I’ve heard this objection I’d now be looking for skin real estate in places that are awkward sells for even the bravest artist. 

I never cease to chuckle – it implies that the ink on my sagging skin will be the difference between going grey in a Chelsea hospice or the Playboy mansion.

In August, Alasdair finally got the ‘I heart Mum’ tattoo his mother had jokingly requested

Anyway, who cares what strangers think? Theirs are not the opinions that you will have to hear over and over. Family responses are the ones you need to anticipate, and here’s what I’ve learnt in the 15 years since my first tattoo (more of which later).

Siblings adore spotting new ink, not for artistic reasons but because they know it will be the catalyst for a drama – the chance to be an innocent spectator in the coliseum of family feuds is a rare and precious one. 

Dads, meanwhile, affect fake disapproval – the same look they might give the family terrier for gnawing the ankles of an MP campaigning on your doorstep. 

When my dad was still alive, his only three rules to all his kids were: no motorbikes, no tattoos and no heroin. I’ve never owned a motorbike, but I fumbled the ball spectacularly on rules two and three. 

I bear a few in his memory, most notably one of a doodle of his I found: Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream prancing naked through the night. Where, you ask? There was only one place to ink Bottom, the cheeky ass.

Mums are the real hurdle. They will never fully accept their once innocent, wide-eyed child being covered in skulls, snakes and slurs. I can remember anxiously presenting the first at 15; a shield and spear on my upper arm bearing pretentious symbolism only an emotional teen would think profound. 

On that note, I have a golden tattoo rule: never explain your ink. The only thing more skin-crawling than the needle itself is a lengthy expounding on why the cobra-entwined skull on your neck is an ode to your late nan.

When my darling mother became aware of a new tattoo of mine, there was a routine: she’d frown then proceed to rub at it furiously with a saliva-coated thumb as if it were a stained rug rather than an open wound. 

For those of you still in your early inkhood I offer light at the end of the tunnel – around tattoo six, a mum’s disapproval will begin to abate. It’s like the number of ring stains on a coffee table before you stop using coasters. 

I’m sure psychologists can tell you why that is. I can’t, but I know it’s the magic number.

There is one thing my mum tells me regardless of how much ink I put under my skin. ‘No more, unless it’s “I heart Mum”!’. She says it with a smug smile. It’s that brilliantly naff parental humour, that witty ‘check mate’, I’ve always found endearing.

So endearing that, for her birthday in August, I went and did it. I waltzed over with a smug skip in each step to wish her the happiest of birthdays and reveal this year’s permanent present. Before I could do so, however, she pointed to a tattoo on me that she hadn’t noticed before.

‘Where is my “I heart Mum”?’ she began. She couldn’t have set herself up more perfectly.

As I pointed to my ankle, the impossible happened. She was rendered speechless.

Just for a second, mind, the silence swiftly broken by profanities and a (failed) attempt to hide her beaming smile. I’d managed to get a tattoo and have my mum not only giggle and smile at it, but earnestly thank me for it.

Next year it might be tricky to up the ante, what with my anatomical canvas now pretty well covered. But there is a little bit of space still available – just south of my Bottom from Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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