Aras bent over my thigh as he worked away, etching Ganesh deep into the back of my thigh.
He refused to work on anything that wasn’t a full day and that didn’t contain a lot of detail.
He was passionate about all the tattoos he created and becomes a man of extreme focus when putting ink to skin, forgetting everything else around him.
I’d tried to make chit-chat with him, but it came to nothing.
Because nothing would stand between Aras and the tattoo.
I’d opted this time to not go for painkillers of any kind.
No caffeine, no tablets, no cream – nothing.
And the spot I’d chosen – the back of my thigh – was a place filled with nerve endings and therefore particularly tender.
In short – as I’d soon discover – it was absolute hell getting my leg tattooed there.
But I was on a roll. I’d gotten my first tattoo with Aras some weeks before and had endured a similar 8-hour session, although that had been the side of my thigh.
I guess the assumption from all was that I would cope in exactly the same fashion.
Especially given I had my friend Omar videoing the whole process (I’ll try to find the videos and share them with you in due course).
This ultimately, however, became a day about survival.
I had to sing, grit my teeth, and ultimately cope with mind-boggling pain to keep going with this tattoo, especially as the thick black nature of the tattoo itself, which meant Persian Aras kept working and working over the same spot.
He’d quietly hum to himself as he worked on the tattoo – and as the day (we’d started at around 11 am) began to draw to a close at 7 pm – the others in the shop packed up and headed home.
It was Aras and I left to keep working on this magical tattoo.
Then music played and Aras sang and spoke more freely, telling me how he’d left Iran, moved to Greece, and then to England, all in search of a country where he felt he had more freedom and freedom of speech.
As he spoke, I struggled forward.
The pain of this magnitude is difficult to describe.
Your toes do indeed curl and the feeling of fire floods through you. You cannot quite believe how much pain you are in. While this is happening your heart rate goes through the roof as it starts to flood endorphins through your body to try to cope with the pain.
All you want is for it to be over.
The whole process is one of torment.
You can’t scream, can’t wiggle, and cannot afford to be squirming. You’re in a public environment where there are others around you happily chatting away.
Your tattooist is bent over your leg working away at your back thigh, focused entirely on the art and not concerned at all by your pain and discomfort.
My friend Omar was happily recording and chit-chatting with the staff in Ink’d (on North End Road, Fulham – my local tattooist)…
And so the only choice was to continue.
After all – this is what I had signed up for.
By the time the others had come and gone, and it was Aras and I left in the shop, I came the closest I’d ever been to fainting.
As I got up from the tattooing bed (a converted massage bed), I felt very dizzy and light-headed. I’d been laying down for the best part of 9 hours, so my body was reacting to suddenly standing up and wanted me to lay right back down.
Aras laughed as he sprayed the back of my thigh with disinfectant.
He was used to such reactions and quietly complimented me saying ‘you sit well’.
That was as much as I was going to get from Aras – and I suppose it made sense.
He did these 8-hour sessions day in and day out. They were the only kind of tattoos he worked on and I was just another person in a long list of people getting zapped by him on a daily basis.
As you (may well) remember, I got my first tattoo when I was 18 years old in Thailand and then some decades later (at the time of writing) I’ve since got tattoos all around the world.
I didn’t really appreciate getting my first in Thailand I would continue in Spain, Holland, Switzerland, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, and the UK.
But that’s exactly what happened.
As a reference (I’m sure you know me by now – I’m at my mum’s place here) here is me without tattoos.
Here is me after a costume change:
It’s a pretty big difference
Daniela often laughs and says that you can’t tell the difference – am I STILL wearing a t-shirt?
I’m in my 30s right now and Ara’s experience was just last year.
I expect in my 30s I’ll have some more work done. I’ve still got several years left in this decade and still have a £100 deposit that INK’D are holding for me.
Not sure I’ve mentally summed up the courage to go back and sit through all the pain yet…
It certainly (seems) easier when I used to do my 8-hour days through my 20s.
Particularly when I was in the midst of my Special Forces training and was used to putting myself through all kinds of pain.
I’d travel to Brighton to see Paul at Thirteen Tattoo (if you open that link this is the website I built for them). I’d get tattoos in exchange for helping them with their marketing – and for a 1-3 month period, it was an awesome relationship.
At that same time, I was going through my basic military training as well as training with other 21SAS applicants whilst visiting Paul to go and get these tattoos.
What it meant ultimately was I was a dab hand at getting tattoos across 6-8 hour days – i.e in one sitting.
It made sense. I was also used to lugging heavy backpacks through forests and putting myself through all kinds of torturous training in preparation for my entry tests.
Which meant (as Paul noticed) I was good at sitting in a chair for 8 hours. Although back then I would guzzle coffee and cokes for the pain-killing effects of caffeine.
Getting tattoos (especially for those folks who have them like me) is a funny old journey.
I have spelling errors, blurred tattoos, cover-ups, and a tattoo that looks more like testicles than the meteor it was supposed to be.
There is Shakespeare’s bald head, a call to arms on my back, a zombie on my chest, and the super id, id, and ego near my buttocks.
At some point when I’ve plucked up the courage, I’ll actually get my bum tattooed – I just remember how bloody painful it was getting tattoos even NEAR my bum.
Hurt like hell.
The spelling errors and ‘testicles’ I got in Florianopolis Brazil. The cover-up in Buenos Aires after a botched home job in Rio. Words that are now unreadable I got near my mum’s in Uxbridge..
And the Ganesh I got on the back of my thigh (which as it turns out is sacrilegious – getting an Indian god on your leg so my head of SEO Semil tells me) with Aras of course…
All makeup parts of my tattoo history.
There is no shortage of sightseeing to be had on the tattoos I’ve accrued over time.
Looking back on it – I believe I do have an interesting relationship with tattoos.
I hope that one of you is a therapist and can figure it out for me.
But I’m certainly a masochist (not the sexual kind), that much is clear. I think early on as well, tattoos were part of an ‘armour’ I physically created to draw over my insecurities.
To blot out my lack of self-esteem.
As time has passed my self-esteem has improved and so my interest has waned.
Or maybe I’ve just ‘grown out of them’?
Or maybe developing better self-esteem is exactly what ‘growing out of them’ is!
Either way – I wanted to give you some insight into my history with tattoos that will intermittently continue and offer some final thoughts.
Tattoos have literally taught me pain tolerance, given me, excitement, put me on a very tangible mission (to cover my body – and I’ll keep going), and occasionally still (I often forget these days) delight and surprise when someone comments ‘woah you’ve got loads of tattoos!’