I'm going to break traditional narrative structure by skipping straight to moral of this story – don't ever get a shit tattoo. I was sixteen, and not an 'old looking' sixteen; I was always the one out of my group of sixth form friends who had the worst trouble getting into clubs. I was also clearly a bit drunk having just been on a pub crawl in Southend-on-Sea during which my friends had to sneak me drinks outside in beer gardens. I'd wanted a tat for ages, but had no idea what to get. With barcardi-fuelled bravado myself and one other friend (the rest of the group wussed out) marched into one of Southend's more dodgy-looking parlours and pretended we knew exactly what we were doing. We scanned the rows of possible tattoos on the walls (each one shitter than the one before) as the two scary-looking men that worked there eyeballed us. I wanted something that no one else would have, so I chose a Japanese symbol that supposedly translated as 'unique and individual' but apart from that had no actual meaning to me. I might as well just had a question mark tattooed on me, something equally void of artistry and empty of personal meaning. My friend couldn't find anything she wanted so she asked the 'artist' to draw a daisy for her, and she went first. It wasn't horrendous as daisies go, but it certainly wasn't good. She asked me if it was okay, and I beamed back in a way that I hope didn't look like someone sticking two sarcastic thumbs up with a tight-lipped smile. As I watched her upper arm being crappily inked on I started getting second thoughts, but didn't want to be Phoebe to her Rachel and chicken out (Friends reference in case you missed that).
Which is how I ended up with this god-awful inking on the front of my shoulder. As well as entering a tattoo parlour with no clue what to have, I'd also given zero thought to where it should go. This also ended up being a decision made in haste and regretted for years, although with hindsight I'm kinda glad I didn't go with my inner wrist or somewhere I'd have to look at this monstrosity all day long. I think it looks like a man running, his long hair billowing in the wind, his arms both out, and a sword on his belt (just me that can see this?). I don't remember much about the actual tattooing, except that it hurt, and from my friend's fake smile I could tell mine wasn't going to be much better than hers. The other guy took our money afterwards and then asked us how old we were. We both said eighteen a bit too loud and fast, and he nodded. But it didn't matter anyway, as we now had tattoos, and they had cost us the small sum of just £10 – something I was smug about for ages when friends would tell me their hipster sleeves cost hundreds… but then I'd remember my tattoo looks £10.
I've thought of covering it up with a larger tattoo, but ultimately decided that the best action for such a duff excuse for body art is to laser it out of my life. I had a consultation at the Pulse Light Clinic on Fenchurch Street where I was talked through their PicoSure procedure. This is a laser that delivers ultra-short pulses of energy to shatter ink, resulting in less treatments than traditional laser removal. Your body absorbs the ink and naturally eliminates it, so treatments need to be had every eight weeks to allow your immune system time to go through this process. I'm told that the hardest ink to remove is red, and the hardest place on the body to remove from is the inner wrist (I dodged that bullet), but the PicoSure yields much better results for even tricky tats. I'm also surprised to learn that there are over 200 different types of tattoo ink, and this factors in how easy or hard a tattoo is to be removed. Apparently the bluey-green ink used on tourists in Thailand is the worst – beware that impulse holiday Thailand tat! I'm not happy to be told that I actually have some scarring in my tattoo caused by bad needling; the tiny white patches in the middle of the tattoo that I had stupidly thought were bits he'd 'missed' are now scar tissue. Thanks, Southend 'artist' man, could you be any worse at your job?!
I had a patch test on the 'sword' part of my tattoo, which as you can see in the two photos (above) has faded slightly faster than the rest of it. This is because it's a week ahead in ink-breakdown time (I went back a week later for my first full laser treatment). It does hurt, in the same irritating way that a tattoo does, that flicking, annoying intense pulsing that you want to bat away but have to endure. Luckily my tattoo is so small it's over with quickly, and the hot, sore feeling you're left with calms down in a matter of hours. During the laser treatment the tattoo blanches totally white and looks like it's been painted in Typex, but this also ebbs away and you're left with a faded version of your tattoo. I'm excited to see how much it fades before the next treatment, which will be in September (check back and see it!), and hopefully I won't be needing more than six treatments in total. So yes, don't get shit tattoos, especially unplanned, impulsive, underage, drunken ones. But if you do, know that there's a safe and easy way to erase the stupidity and get your unmarked skin back.
Pulse Light Clinic offered me free PicoSure treatment in return for this series of reviews.