25 years ago, when the photo on the left was taken, there were very few options in north London if you wanted a tattoo. It wasn't like today, with an award-winning artist on seemingly every street corner.
I took the photo of my own upper arm for the thesis I was doing at art school on tattooing and youth culture (that in itself shows how few tattooed people of my own age were around to photograph). Probably unfair to mention the tattooist... but it was someone local I went to in my teens because I couldn't afford the big name on the Finchley Road, Dennis Cockell (who did some of Brian Setzer's first tattoos).
I had the bluebird/swallow done first when I was about 18 in the early eighties, a tentative toe in the water. I followed it shortly afterwards with the pinup girl (the design nicked from the Stray Cats record label). The notes and stars followed later. I remember my girlfriend at the time saying that the girl looked like she had a club foot and was sitting on a potty. And she was right.
I wish now I'd just had one big design done instead of scared little bits and pieces over years, but considering the artist's lack of artistry I don't think that matters now.
I'd wanted a tattoo since I was about five or six, when our neighbour – Jim Thorogood – who had been in the navy in WWII, used to let me study the inky blue designs on his arms that hinted at an exciting world I wouldn't be party to for at least another decade.
I've always been fascinated by homemade, badly done or basic tattoos and the process of their disintegration over time. The photo top right is the same arm today and you can see how the lines have spread and the colour has dropped out of the girl's hair. Those original designs have also inevitably been surrounded by more poorly-applied ink... by that same tattooist.
But the saddest thing is when people get their badly rendered ink covered up; I like mine, it's tied up with my life story and each wobbly line represents a memory I don't want to lose.