The ancient Celts moved across western Europe reaching the
British Isles around 400 BC. The Iceni were the tribe who settled in
my region of East Anglia; their queen Boudicca being one of their
best known warrior leaders. Body art was an integral part of their
culture and permanent body painting was carried out with the locally
grown woad leaving a blue design on the skin.
Tattoo's, certainly when I was a child growing up in London in the
1950's, were the trappings of criminals and sailors and not something
that a nice little girl should concern herself with. But, even so, they
fascinated me - must be the woad in my blood.
You could always tell where a sailor had been by the inks on his body
or the rum on his breath - a turtle for crossing the equator, an anchor for
crossing the Atlantic, a dragon for crossing the China Sea and a black
eye for crossing a shipmate (back to the rum again)!
What they never told me was that during the late Victorian/Edwardian
period the "blue art" had an aristocratic moment when even the American
Jennie Churchill (Sir Winston's mother) bore a snake on her wrist usually
discreetly covered in public with a diamond bracelet.
One of my favourite chroniclers, good old William of Malmesbury,
when describing the Brits on the eve of the Battle of Hastings (1066)
said: "The English at that time wore short garments reaching to mid-
knee, they had their hair cropped, their beards shaven, their arms laden
with gold bracelets, their skin adorned with tattooed designs. They
were accustomed to eat till they became surfeited and to drink
till they were sick."
No change there then. Scroll forward a milennia and the picture is much
the same today in any of our big towns and cities on a Saturday night
when the clubs turn out.
But just when it seemed that the tattooist's art had reached it's natural
limits with virtually every inch of flesh fully "illustrated" along comes
BLACKOUT! Goodbye dolphins, roses and hearts - hello arms, legs
and even torso's inked solid black.
I have a theory that this style might have got it's name not from the
blanket nature of the genre but from the reaction of the recipient's
mother upon first viewing of her offspring's latest exploits. I have
only to cast my mind back to when my own mother viewed my first