John Helmer - Viva Brighton

Gets a dry-clean
Chloë King
The last tattoo?
“It means: ‘you can undo
on my ‘must do before it
‘And what’s this?’ A manicured fingernail taps a tie,
day, when she had to explain to a less understand-
your mistakes,’” I say
becomes legal’ list. My
one of three spread across the counter.
ing attendant than this one why her husband’s suit
proudly to my sixth form
friend Andrew got one
‘Maybe … Southern Rhone?’
looked like he’d been buried in it.
friends as they squint at
of an ankh around his
‘That won’t come out, I’m afraid.’ We move on to
The July air was fragrant, I remember, as we made
my new tattoo. We’re
bellybutton. It reminded
the suits. ‘Looks like you sat in something.’
our way home from The Open House that night,
drinking quadruple
me of the temples I visited
‘Pumpkin?’ I suggest; ‘sweet potato?’ The woman
and this birthday boy, torpid with contentment,
vodkas, lime and soda -
in Egypt with my dad and
behind the counter struggles to conceal her mirth.
decided to rest himself on a low churchyard wall
the low-budget pub drink
torsos on Top of the Pops.
Either that or I shat myself.
against a hedge. To this day I curse the Methodists
that screams ‘seventeen!’
So I asked him for the
In even worse condition is my pin-striped Piranha
who planted privet instead of a more supportive
“It looks like the Miss
address of the parlour he
suit, peppered with fag burns as if from volleys of
shrub like yew. When Kate turned around (as she
Selfridge logo,” replies
used in Stoke Newington.
birdshot. What exactly happens to me when I put
tells it) I had disappeared. She finally located me
one, and, if I know my
The journey from
on a suit?
under the hedge, fast asleep, and had to call Freddy
face, it drops. I skulk off to the damp toilet with
Brighton was long, but not nearly long enough
The answer is all too visible – not only to her, but
out to carry me home. ‘… Then, when I took his suit
its doors plastered in vintage Beano cartoons and
to decide on an image to etch permanently on
also to the queue steadily forming at my back.
to the dry cleaners, his pockets were full of leaves!’
I peer over my shoulder at my new back. My
a slab of my pale teenage flesh. My friend Alice
Because although the room is cavernous, and practi-
How we all laugh. Every time.
friend is right. It does look like the Miss Selfridge
came for the ride but quickly became tired and
cally empty apart from rails of polythene-wrapped
The manicured fingernail taps. ‘That looks like—’
logo. Why didn’t I notice that? Maybe 12 hours
bored, leaving me with another point to prove.
clothes, the area of the shop given over to custom-
‘A shaving cut,’ I say, too quickly.
ago, when I was choosing it out of the book?
The parlour had none of the drama I imagined it
ers is small: none of them can help but register the
‘What’s it doing down there though ..? Perhaps best
That tattoo has followed me around for fifteen
would, but I charged in determined. I demanded
slob life being detailed here in gravy, mayo and
not ask.’ She flashes me a confidential smile. Confi-
years. People used to ask me about it but as you
the tattooist give me one that day, for less than
get older, if people espy bad taste they usually
£50. The artist was ambivalent and getting the
in midnight termini. Meal deals at the
queue – which I notice as I glance around for the
restrain from mentioning it. My tat reached a
tattoo was sore.
sort of hotel where they serve Prawn
first time includes Poppy’s old headmaster – and a
peak of unacceptability when I was at Camber-
It’s not something I would do again in a hurry.
Cocktail with extra Marie Rose sauce
local GP whose mental prescription pad I imagine
well College of Art, studying alongside tattooists
I’ve agonised over a full sleeve but I don’t trust
and no irony. Showy-off plates full
filling itself out, as he watches one last gravy-spat-
like Saira Hunjan and other people whose body
myself to choose something because surely, if an
of sleeve-coating foams, reductions
tered tie cross the desk, with a course of statins.
art genuinely expressed their creativity.
image chooses you, it makes for a better tattoo?
and jus …
Only … looking at them all, clutching bags-for-life
Except, perhaps my shit tattoo does too?
Truth is, if I got another tat it would be medi-
It’s not that I suspect they might be
full of their own embarrassing secrets, something
Getting your first tattoo can be romantic. You
tated, invested in. It wouldn’t have any of the
judging me, I know they are. I can
occurs to me. Perhaps it’s not disapproval that
can sit for years dreaming up what it will be like,
spontaneity or stupidity of my first and so surely
smell it – even above the reek of dry
causes this shuffling of feet, this pointed coughing.
sketching away; listening to Green Day; saving
it would make me feel old and sensible, or worse,
cleaning chemicals.
Perhaps it’s impatience.
the money. You can do what Mr did, and have
it would be another status job. You see; the errors
I blame my wife for putting me
‘Pay now or later?’ The woman behind the counter
your best mate carve a skull into your ankle
you make the first time you do something are
through this ordeal. Kate doesn’t put
with a scalpel and draw over it in biro. For me,
forgivable, lovable, poetic, even. The next time
my dry cleaning in any more. Not since
however, getting a tattoo was just another thing
though, they’re just mistakes.
the time, after one particular JH birth-
‘Later, please.’
chip fat. It’s a tale of bolted takeaways
dential between the two of us and the ever growing
reaches for her famously malfunctioning cash