An inkling of an old art getting a makeover

When I was growing up in the South Wales valleys a tattoo was something held each year in the grounds of Cardiff Castle and involved a lot of bandsmen marching up and down.

The modern fashion for ‘inking’, the name given to body art or tattoos certainly enlivens a walk around Bridport market on a sunny Saturday morning.

I saw one lady this week whose body art reminded me of some fine nineteenth century Japanese wallpaper I had admired in a local National Trust property. She would have been hard to spot in a game of hide and seek in that room, for sure.

Body art is very ancient. Julius Caesar wrote in 55BC of the Celts painting themselves with woad which gave them a ‘frightful appearance in battle’. Along with paint they also shaved off ‘all their body hair’. As South America wasn’t discovered yet this was probably called having a ‘Briton’.

Tattoos were once confined to bikers, soldiers and seafarers. Nowadays though even Prime Minister’s wife Sam Cameron has one, a discrete dolphin on her ankle. Footballers, singers and models all seem to be inked. Apparently one high earning soccer player has right and left tattooed on his hands so he can follow instructions on the field.

Not all bosses like to have employees with tattoos. There are sufficient stories of people losing their jobs to suggest it’s a risk. Why?

Tattoos were once associated with high risk behaviours such as smoking, drinking and multiple sexual partners. 31% of employers say they are less likely to promote someone who has been inked, a real draw back in a printing firm. The advice from The Economist is be strategic, cover the inking at least for the interview.

Times and attitudes change. Inking is no longer a sign of rebellion, of the outsider or of class. Some personal body art is fashionable.

I’m ink free at the moment. Maybe a discrete dove or scallop shell somewhere, perhaps? What about ‘Amen’? Where do you think I should I stick it, dear reader?

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