OK, I have to do a bit of confessing before I get into the details of this blog. Yes a confession, (always good for the soul they say). Anyone who has known me for more than a couple of years, will know that I have been a long-standing ‘anti tattoo’ sort of guy, especially when I see them on women. Yes, yes, I know how prudish and out of date that made me, but that was how I felt, for many years. I think my biggest gripe about them, for men and women, is just how so many of them look old and dated, soon after they have been done. To me, in a short period of time they all looked like one of those ink blot tests they used to use in a psychological test. Well that was then, this is now and we’re all entitled to change our views, aren’t we?
As I’ve said before, if there’s one thing terminal cancer gives you, it’s a completely different outlook on life; and in this topsy-turvy cancer world I now live in, personal norms and convention get thrown out of the window. So hold onto your hats and let me try to explain, just how topsy-turvy my world has now become.
I guess it all started late last year (2018), around September time, when I started to watch with interest (and more than idle curiosity) a programme called Tattoo Fixers Extreme. Of particular interest to me were the two brothers, Pash and Uzzi Canby who were blowing my mind with the quality of their realism tattoos, I mean if you haven’t seen their work, you need to, its out of this world and a far cry from the ink blot image I was holding in my head. See here.
Anyway, this interest in their work was also running alongside another crazy idea I was having about Grave Goods, you know, where people choose to be buried or cremated with personal and sentimental objects. Typically in modern times these would be things like photos, jewellery, or a locket of a loved ones hair. In years gone by however, (think Egyptians, Vikings, or Romans), it wasn’t unusual for people to have ‘live people’ and ‘animals’ on this list of grave goods, as well as valuable objects. No I’m not thinking of having a family member or pet taken to the grave with me, or am I….?
So here’s where the two things come together. If you’ve read my main page blog, titled ‘The Journey so far’, you may remember my comments about the new family member, Cody our rescued Siberian Husky.
What I wanted to do, was turn him into a piece of grave goods, by getting a tattoo of him on my back. The logic being to act as my spirit guide when my time is up. No, no, no, I’m not going all religious on you, its just that he has been such an inspiration to me, the thought of having an image of him on me, when my time is up, gives me great personal comfort. Probably in the same way as someone might choose to have a treasured family photo placed in their coffin when they go, just as I’ve touched on above about grave goods. I mean, who would let me bury this handsome chap with me anyway.
So that’s the background, (as weird as it is) but how was I going to make this a reality? This had fast become something of a new ‘bucket list’ item and I was adamant that I wanted one of the Canby Brothers to do my first ever proper tattoo, and me at the ripe old age of 56.
So where do we start, how do I make this happen I asked myself, I mean you can’t just ask some of the most sought after realism tattoo artists in the UK to do me a tattoo please, can you? Well that’s exactly how I started out, I sent an email to their studio, explaining my circumstances and why I wanted to get one done, and I was blown away by the positive response I got. In short, they were more than happy to accommodate me and really went out of there way to help make it happen (thanks White Room Tattoos). The only thing against me was time, the first available bookings with Pash was April 2019, and it was still only December 2018, would I still be alive that far down the line? The simple answer was, I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell going to set it as a new goal.
Now some people might think well that’s just a few weeks away, what are you worried about. Well remember I was diagnosed with terminal cancer over two years ago and given a few short months to live. Here I was, well past the two guestimated ‘sell by dates’ that doctors had given me and I knew my health was failing over Xmas and the New Year. Would I make it to April? Hell I was going to do all I could to make it happen, or die trying.
So the next big hurdles were the logistics of actually getting there, I mean its not like its just an hour up or down the country. We’d have to travel to Plymouth, a journey that would be at least 7hrs by car (not one I was keen or able to do), it would be over 10 by train (and needed 2 train changes on route) or we could go by plane, which would be around an hours flight from Newcastle to Exeter. A no brainer really, a plane it was, and all in all, it was just as cheap at the other options. So, the flights and airport transfers got booked, as did a three nights in the Jurys Inn hotel in Plymouth, bring it on.
Now through all of this you have to remember me and Mrs C have been keeping this a closely guarded secret from everyone. Why? Well for two main reasons, one; I didn’t know if I was going to make it (a lymph node infection in December and a bout of pneumonia in January was doing all it could to stop me) and two; this was me getting a tattoo, the worlds biggest anti tattoo guy, remember!
But soon enough, it was April 1st, I was still here and in reasonably good health and it was time to hit the road to Plymouth. We had sourced a good dog minder for Cody and dropped him off that morning with Petpals and we drove to the airport. Our flight was a late one and we wouldn’t get into Exeter until 10pm, then we had a 1hr transfer to the hotel. Thankfully there were no delays, and after a swift pint and pizza at the hotel bar, we went to bed all excited for the next day.
Tattoo Day 1, 2nd April – so now we had to let the cat out of the bag, how would people take it? Firstly we needed to tell the kids, (you can imagine all the comments I got back from them after nearly 30 years of being Mr ‘anti tattoo’). It was a similar reaction from the rest of the family too, but I guess it was all to be expected and all light-hearted. Well we’d told them and it was off to the shop to meet Pash and the White Room Team (WRT) to get this show on the road. Fortunately our hotel was just 2 mins walk from the studio, so no long walks.
What a fabulous reception we got from everyone, so friendly and welcoming, who could ask for more. The studio was very bright and spotlessly clean, like a doctor’s surgery and after the obligatory photo with Pash and Uzzi it was time to get the design agreed and sized.
My chosen design was going to be a realism head shot of Cody, which I had wanted close to full size in the middle of my back, (I’d booked two full days to get it done). But due to the progression of my cancer over Xmas and the New Year, as it’s now trying to pop out through my ribs, like something from ‘Alien’ and the lymph node infection, I needed to down-size it a bit and move it more to my right shoulder. Which as it happens, turned our to be a good thing.
Having never had a proper tattoo done though (just some daft Indian ink crap as a kid), I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, every time I saw people being tattooed on Tattoo Fixers, they would often be seen wincing with all the pain, would it really be that bad? But I thought if nothing else it’ll be a distraction from the pain I have to live with daily from my cancer. While I was getting my tattoo done, Pash and Uzzi’s Mum and Dad, had planned to take Mrs C out for a bit of sight seeing around Plymouth, how nice was that.
Now, if you have never had a tattoo done, then you’ll not know there are a number of steps that have to be gone through before you can even start to lay down any ink. For example, shave the area to be tattooed. Now in my case this in itself was a task and a half, seeing as I have a back (sides and front) as hairy as a gorilla. So once this was done the transfer image that would act as the template for Pash was applied.
Once Pash began to put down the ink, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it was going to be, in terms of pain (well at least for the first few hours). Before I knew it, the tattoo was coming along fine and looking fantastic. I didn’t know, but apparently all tattoos are done from the bottom up to avoid any of the transfer being rubbed off. Common sense really.
During the inking, we talked at length and in detail, about all the reasons why I was getting the tattoo done, what I’d done before my diagnosis, what were my hobbies, what was it I could/could not do any more etc.
Now this might all seem a little OTT especially given throughout the inking process, a member of the WRT was photographing and videoing the whole process. The reason behind this was to do with their in house video production team, who were looking for stories like mine to record and share along with other similarly emotionally charged stories to act as inspiration for those who may be facing some turmoil in their lives. All participants would also get copies of the productions to share with their family members and have final say on the content. So I was happy for this to happen, even though at times it was very emotional for me, as I tried to describe how much Cody (and my family) had, and continues to keep me sane, active and in a positive state of mind, even on my worst days.
Before we knew it, it was 6pm and I had thought we would stop work and finish the tattoo off the next day as planned. But no, progress had gone so well that day and the reduced size had meant that Pash could do an extra hour and get it finished that night, happy days. Mind you, I have to say that that last 45mins was bloody painful as certain parts of the tattoo were re-inked and or colour added. but we were all done and I was happy as a sand boy with the results of my first proper tattoo. What an incredible likeness…
Now unknown to me, but Mrs C had, that morning, had also been mulling over the idea of getting a memento tattoo (her first too) whilst out of earshot of me, but was undecided at the time. A quick text message to say my slot the next day was available and she was on board with getting one done too, but the subject was yet to be decided.
So after a long, but incredibly exciting day of firsts, it was time to get back to our hotel for some much need rest and recouperation. Tomorrow was going to be more of the same, at least for Mrs C it was. We ate in the hotel had a pint or two and headed to bed. That night was another uncomfortable night for me though, with ongoing pain from my cancer and the added discomfort of the new tattoo. Like clockwork though, I was up and down every 1 to 2 hours or so, trying to find relief from the pains (something of the norm for me now). Now before going to bed, I had made sure I wore a T-shirt to avoid any ink from my new tattoo getting on the bed sheets. Now I’ve never been one for wearing any sort of bed clothes at night and at some point whilst half asleep, the T-shirt was taken off. The results the next morning were amazing, if a little surprising, my tattoo had left a perfect image on the bed sheet, like a Turin shroud. Quite impressive if I do say so myself.
Tattoo day 2 – 3rd April – I woke that morning full of aches and pains, mostly from my condition, but also having sat the day before for 7 hrs or more whilst my tattoo was prepared and done. All of which left me a little grumpy and in need of a walk to let my meds kick in, before we headed back to WRT for Mrs C to get her tattoo done. So we took a walk over to the local shopping mall, (10mins walk away) to find Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop, where I planned to get a box of sugary treats for the guys in the shop. Objective achieved, (pain under control) doughnuts in hand, we headed back to the shop to sort Mrs C Tattoo. Now although Pash and Mrs C had discussed options for her tattoo, no specific design had been agreed. However when they both compared ideas that morning, it turned out they had both selected the same image for a design, it was fate and meant to be, and the design was done.
Mrs C like me, was also a little worried about how she would cope with the pain, but there was no need to worry, all was fine and the tattoo was done in about 3 hrs or so. Also like me, Mrs C was over the moon with her finished tattoo, and we both had new happy memories to add to our memory banks, thanks again Pash. Now during the day, whilst Mrs C was getting her tattoo designed and prepared, she had to have similar discussions with family members about her getting a tattoo done, and like me she was getting some stick about why she was getting one done. Who cares, we know why and that’s all that matters.
That night, to finish off a great visit, we had a lovely meal at a Japanese restaurant called KuKu, well worth a visit if you like sushi. Again we headed to bed exhausted, but happy as the cats who got the cream.
Homeward Bound – After a half decent nights sleep and no mishaps with ink on the beds clothes, we headed down for breakfast before going to WRT to say our goodbyes to the team and to finish off a bit more videoing for the story about my condition and reason for the tattoo. What a wonderful few days we had, such great memories and new friendships made, I hope to go back one day and perhaps look for a new tattoo, something to aim for once I find a successful drug trial?
Our transfer and flight home was very uneventful, but we were still buzzing from all that had happened during our clandestine top secret trip.