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The tattoo studio





I really thought I was going to faint. I'd already had an Elvis signature done on the left arm around four years ago and not batted an eye-lid. It had felt like someone scraping their fingernail on my skin - not pleasant but not what you'd call painful, either. This time round the blood had drained from my face, I was covered in sweat and felt as limp as a dunked digestive. A six-foot fan was blowing in my face, with wet towels and water to drink.
Don't stand up, I was told - the last bloke that did keeled over and smashed his chin open on a coffee mug.
There you are ladies and gentlemen. A grown man, 33 years old, 6 ft 1 and 15 stone, acting like a big girl's blouse.
The tattoo was a Japanese symbol for my wife's name (I know, sweet) - it wasn't exactly a big job.
Feel no shame, says Danny Hawkin, 42, he of Danny's Tattoo Studio just off Sneinton Market, as I remind him of the incident last year.
"Ninety per cent of it is nerves," he says. "Even if you've had 20 tattoos as soon as you sit in that chair, bumph, your stomach goes.
"I've drawn a design on somebody in the waiting room with a pen. Next minute he's passed out."
Dutch courage doesn't help either. Call me a big girl if you will - it would have helped if I was one.
Women have a higher threshold of pain, says Danny, who has been tattooing in Nottingham for 20 years.
"The average guy will have it on his arm and it progresses on to his chest, on to his back, on to his whatever, as he gets covered.
"Women will come straight in and have one at the bottom of their spine, which is one of the most sensitive areas. And they don't bat an eyelid.
"You have some great big bodybuilder come in, he has a little thing on his arm and bumph, he's out."
Andy Cole, the Manchester United ace born in The Meadows, was man about it when he called last year to have a cross tattooed on his arm with In God We Trust written underneath.
"He phoned his mate up while he was having it done and offered him £10,000 to come down there and then and have one as well," says tattooist Joey Lawn, 44. He didn't show.
You see, some will and some won't - it's just that more and more of us are going under the needle.
The stigma - that tattoos mean biker, skinhead or just plain old nutter - has clearly faded.
The tattoo is more fashion accessory than war paint.
"When I first started 20 years ago the average person you'd tattoo would be the bikers, skinheads and punks," says Danny.
"It's totally changed now. You couldn't say that we get any certain type of customer any more. Fifty per cent of customers are women, 18-25 is probably the average age.
"But we have tattooed barristers, solicitors, bank managers, a mortician, doctors, police and quite a few footballers.
"The oldest woman was 74, the oldest man 86. He wanted a tattoo all his life but his missus didn't like them. Then she died so that was his chance to have a tattoo.
"He had about three done in the period of two weeks."
The popularity of tattoos during the 20th Century exploded with rise of rock music.
"I remember the Rock City crowd coming in and getting tattooed. Then it was the punks"
Marc Fairburn, 41, tattooed members of heavy rockers Iron Maiden during the late seventies.
These days it's not just the rock stars doing it - pop groups, film stars, footballers have all added to the boom on body decoration.
David Beckham is perhaps the best known of recent years.
"Times have changed and it's more acceptable. Because Beckham has done it, everyone wants one.
"The amount of people that have had their kids' names in old English across the bottom of the back is incredible."
By far the most popular tattoos are black tribal designs and Celtic symbols.
Joey: "Some days you will do nothing else."
Danny: "I hate em, they bore me silly. I didn't come in to tattooing to do thick black lines."
But names are still popular - of wives, girlfriends and pop groups. Not always a good idea.
"We will cover over half a dozen names every week," says Danny.
"I'd say 50% will have names covered over again. You will still get people who will come in for a tattoo with a group's name, like Steps or something stupid like that. But in ten years no-one will have heard of them.
If you drive past the National Ice Centre the studio is distinctive for the Honda VT1100 American classic motorbike sat in the window.
There are a thousand and one designs on the walls in the reception, although, says Danny: "We encourage people to bring their own designs in. It's a personal thing."
To the rear is the studio, which looks more like a hairdressers - all black and white tiles, clinical and clean. As they should be, says Danny.
Each tattoo studio is regulated by the local health authority and inspections are regular.
It is a long way from the grubby seaside parlours that were so common in the post-war years.
"Years ago people had a tattoo at the coast and not every city had a tattooist. Each city now has at least a dozen tattoo studios in it."
Nottingham has 11.
Tattooists Danny, Joey and Marc, (the fourth, Paul Polowski, is upstairs in the body piercing studio) certainly don't look like hairdressers.
Each, of course, has countless tattoos.
Danny says: "I think whether I was tattooed or not I've gone bald and I can look intimidating."
He doesn't know how many tattoos he now has but he remembers the first, aged 13.
"My earliest memory of wanting one was when I was six.
"I was in Hyson Green and there were some workmen outside on the roads and one of them had one. That was it for me.
"You could have stick-on tattoos that you got with bubble gum but I wanted a real one.
"At 13 I had a scroll with my name on and Elvis written underneath it.
"My dad wasn't too pleased. He went barmy. But there was nothing going to stop me having more. I just hid them."
He started tattooing as soon as he could.
"You can practise on pig skin but it's not like the real thing. The best way is to practise on your mates."
No college course exists, it is still a case of do-it-yourself.
But not everyone is suited to the trade.
"They've got to be very level-headed," says Danny.
His only visible ones are on his ear lobes and 'love' and 'hate' on his hands - something he advises against.
"We will try our hardest to talk them out of visible tattoos. Ninety per cent of the people in my experience that have had their hands tattooed have regretted it."
The increase in popularity has grown in line with an increase in skills, with more colours and sharper designs. Portraits of pets, pop stars and people now commonplace.
"We had a couple that travelled from Halifax, their son had died of meningitis. They both had a portrait of him on their backs. It was a difficult thing to do because you are dealing with someone who has just lost their son."
In the UK it is illegal to tattoo anyone under 18. Each of Danny Hawkin's seven children will wait until they are 18, but many won't.
"There are a lot of 15-year-old girls out there who look 20 and that's a hell of a responsibility.
"You can be married at 16 so you should be able to get tattooed at 16.
"The only problem is you'd end up tattooing somebody even younger who looked 16. So I'd say keep it at 18."
Racial tattoos are another big no-no.
"We never have done any in 20 years though we have been asked plenty of times.
"They get a bit funny actually when you say no, but it's wrong. Simple as that. "In fact, there should be a law against them."

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