I was 18 and in search of adventure.
I hadn’t enjoyed most of my childhood – at least the parts of it I remember anyway.
I’d been most nervous, shy, felt ugly like I didn’t fit in, and focused on staying alive.
I’d never really thought about thriving.
I wanted to thrive.
I wanted to transport myself to another country and be someone else.
Be another man for a day; with a whole new background.
Backpacking allowed that opportunity. Especially in 2004 when it wasn’t customary to just look someone up and try to figure out who they were.
And what an adventure it’d been so far!
I was sitting in Chiang Mai having survived a 27-hour bus ride from Singapore with Mike from Kent. Irish-born, shaggy-haired Mike – who was also 18 and also in search of adventure.
It was 7 pm, and in around 12 hours we were due to set off trekking in the jungle.
A 2-nights, 3-day trip during which we’d eat snake soup, see Banana spiders, meet local villagers with extremely long necks and be told of the ‘Golden Triangle’ that made up the drug trade in this part of the world.
It was surreal to think only seven weeks before this I was sitting at home in West Drayton at my parent’s place packing to go out for six months around the world alone.
I mean – it’s natural to find life and yourself awesome after several Jack Daniels and Cokes. And this was exactly the state I found myself in as I was sitting knocking them back with Mike.
‘Ah mate, can’t f*cking wait to go and visit the jungle!’ Rattled off, Mike!
‘And a 27-hour bus to get here from Singapore as well in one go! Legendary!’ I said,
We high-fived and carried on getting plastered.
As I looked up in preparation to order another JD and Coke for £2 I noticed a figure sitting down beside me.
But a figure with a difference.
There quietly sat a man with a wife-beater on (a white vest) nursing a beer as he sat with a thoughtful demeanour, looking down at the counter.
That, alongside his olive skin and several tattoos on his arm and his back and the ponytail his hair was tied up in – made him look like a Thai biker – or at least how I imagined one would be.
Then it caught my eye.
His hand was clasping the beer glass he had in his hand; with his forefinger wrapped around the handle and the thumb around the other side.
It was exactly the kind of beer glass you’d imagine seeing Germans saying skoal with at a Bavarian drinking festival – just smaller.
Only it was just his thumb and forefinger that I noticed.
You couldn’t help but notice what else was wrapped around the mug.
It was perched on his hand; tightly wrapping its claws around the ring and another side as well. It looked menacing, was black, and thick and almost shone under the dim lights of the tiny bar and bar stools.
This creature was not there by accident and this Thai-bike type man (who called himself George, as I would discover) had to take it wherever he went.
It was a tattoo of a scorpion!
With the pincers wrapped around the mug. It looked so damn appropriate given what he was doing and I still remember the conversation clearly to this day.
‘Wow – great tattoo man!’
‘I really like it and love that you’re holding a beer right now with your scorpion!’
‘Would you like one?’
‘Wow, a tattoo – do you give tattoos?’
‘Yes my shop is next door ’
He half-turned his head to move behind him and as I turned I could there were rows of bars/restaurants all neatly packed together in this district and also his tattoo shop.
I was fascinated and my heart was pounding.
Mike had been listening in and said ‘do it mate!’
‘You were thinking about getting a tattoo anyway!”
I had been vaguely thinking ‘ah it’d be cool to get a tattoo’ – as I’d seen so many of them in the sunshine summer of Thailand and now it seemed the opportunity suddenly presented itself.
And drunk Deepak as it turned out was easy enough to convince….
‘Mate if you get a tattoo right now – I’ll get my lip pierced as well!’
Mike was already bargaining with me and I absolutely loved the idea.
My heart was thumping, I could feel the sweat release of whiskey flowing through my brain and it took me all of 30 seconds to make a call.
‘Ok, can I see your tattoo shop?’
He downed his beer and took me next door. And there I saw a little hut with tattoo equipment and at that stage, it felt like I had no choice but to make this happen.
My parents (mainly my dad) were religious people who would absolutely be unhappy I figured over the idea of getting a tattoo.
So I decided to get around this with a strategy that was broken into 2 simple parts.
‘Can you do this for me?’
I grabbed a pen and paper and squiggled out a weird looking 3.
The tattooist looked at it puzzled as he’d just witnessed a monkey trying to draw a Mozart.
‘Can I redraw it?
And after 2 minutes he’d drawn a MUCH better looking…
Ohm symbol. The sign for my family religion – Hinduism, the first sound of the universe; and a symbol that my parents couldn’t be too unhappy about.
Then I had the even more masterful Step 2:
I would not tell my parents about it.
In my brilliance, I recall asking the tattooist to put a hole in my jumper where my tattoo was (on my shoulder blade) – so that people could see it as I walked past them.
Of course, the only actual response I got as we began wandering back with my vaseline-covered bloody Ohm tattoo upon my back was ‘excuse me mate – you’ve got a hole in your t shirt’
Naturally, I felt like an idiot when I was told that 😛
I did head off into the jungle the morning after and did basically nothing for aftercare apart from scratch it to make it feel better 😛
And so at 18 years old, I got my first (and the family’s first) tattoo – which I ended up showing my mum and sister when they flew out to meet me for my 19th birthday in LA some months later.
This has ultimately taken me on a journey that’d led me to get significant amounts of my body covered in tattoos over the years, and in the fashion in which I started, I’ve also got them done all around the world.
That’s all for today but what I will do at some point is share with you some of the stories of the hardest/weirdest tattoo experiences I have had :p.
One day at least – meanwhile catches you in the next letter!