The expansive tattoo
People may be forgiven for believing that having tattoos is a fairly recent thing. It seems that all young people have at least one these days, and most pop stars, and famous actors, are covered in them, to different degrees. This is not the case of course; they have been around for thousands of years.
One afternoon, we were called to a local old peoples’ home, to transport an elderly lady into hospital. She was suffering with arthritis, and needed to go for x-rays, and possible admission, due to her general lack of mobility. On arrival, we were shown to her room, where we met a very friendly and chatty old lady, with an outgoing personality, and a ready wit. We were handed a doctor’s letter, and helped her from her bed, onto our ambulance trolley, making her as comfortable as possible, in the circumstances. Once in the ambulance, she adjusted the blankets covering her, as she felt too hot. I noticed some discolouration on her upper chest, and thought it might be bruising. I asked her if she had any pain there, and told her my suspicions that she may be bruised in that region. She just chuckled, and winked at me. ‘ I’ll show you something lovey’, she said, with a wicked grin.
Before I could protest, she lowered her night-dress, revealing her entire torso. What she was trying to show me, seemed to be a picture of some kind, a huge tattoo, covering the entire top half of her chest. I could make out sails and a hull, and what could have been waves. Unfortunately, age had not been kind to her body, and her once proud breasts now resembled a cross between deflated, week-old party balloons, and two un-stuffed pitta breads. This made definition of her work of art difficult. She told me that she had had the tattoo done in 1940, when she was 19 years old. At that time, few women had these, and the only types that did, were either entertainers of some kind, or prostitutes. ‘I wasn’t on the stage, so I will leave you to work it out son’, she said with a cackle. ‘It is HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship, and it was very popular during the War’, she added.
I can only imagine the many hours that she must have sat for this work to be completed, the pain endured, and the substantial cost involved. I gave her a wry smile, and said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but it looks like it is going down with all hands.’ She laughed so hard, that she almost choked on her teeth, and had to take them out, and hold them in her hand, until her guffaws subsided. It was at times like this, that I really loved my job.