The daughter’s first tattoo: a battle of wills, and memories of a Microsoft flight simulator

The Girl has outmanoeuvred me yet again, but then again I told my children that my main job as a father was to make sure that they turned out smarter than me.

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I am sitting in the Hovel, waiting, waiting. I’m always waiting for something, like everyone else, but today I am not waiting for food or a phone call from a lover or Godot: I am waiting for my daughter to return from an appointment with her tattooist.

This is another one of those milestones that the modern father has no experience of from the generation above him. Usually. I know a few people my age who have tattoos, but they are either sexy women or middle-class men who now, on the whole, regret it. Regret seems to be built, as far as I can see, into the whole tattoo experience, and my favourite “tattoo fail”, as the internet puts it, is the aggressively Gothic script permanently inked into one young idiot’s forearm: “NO REGERTS”.

I once accompanied my friend T——, in the early stages of our friendship, to a nipple-bolting place in Camden Town where she was getting some kind of frightful decoration for her daughter, and she told me how a bolt through a woman’s tongue was, apparently, a great enhancer of the oral sexual experience for men. I went off on what I thought was a comic rant, along the lines of “Yes, I’ve always thought to myself at such times: ‘You know what’s missing from this experience, what would make it significantly better? A bloody great lump of metal through the woman’s tongue”, etc. T——, I noticed, was not laughing as much I’d hoped she would, and when I turned to look at her she was poking a pertly bestudded tongue defiantly in my direction. Which certainly stopped me from going on.

But apart from that, I have always thought the idea of handing over hard cash in order to disfigure yourself one of the more ridiculous ways in which you can lose your money. Doing it for free isn’t much better, and when Richey Edwards from Manic Street Preachers carved the words “4 REAL” into his arm in front of an NME journalist, I didn’t think, “How authentic,” I thought: “Very serious mental health issues.” (This sympathy didn’t stop me, during a boring Modern Review editorial meeting to discuss what we were Going To Say about the Manics, from writing the words “4 REAL” on my arm with a magic marker, thus giving Charlotte Raven the giggles.)

And now my daughter, as I write, is entering the ranks of the everlastingly inked. I vividly recall the time, some months ago, when she announced her intentions. She knows me fairly well, to the point where she can anticipate my thought processes and reactions faster than I can, and she suspected that there was always going to be a bit of consumer resistance at my end. Some of this is for form’s sake. The parent who says, “Hey! Tats! That’s sick!” (for older readers, this means “spiffing”) and takes their young one to the glans-perforating emporium before someone called Mowgli or Spider gets cracking on the bodywork is not the kind of parent I would want to be. So I put on my mother’s “there are various ways of achieving distinction” face and make a few elegantly pointed remarks.

The Girl, though, has got there before me: she breaks me off midway through my routine (“And so this will be your ‘character’? How pleasing to know you have one”, and so on) and says, “Yes, yes, you said this when I got a belly stud, so before you go on, let me show you a picture of what I want.”

And she takes out her phone, and pulls up a picture of a Spitfire, poised in graceful flight, photographed from above and to starboard, the curves feminine and full of power . . . and my objections evaporate as if they had never been. She recalls the days, a decade ago, when the kids and I would play Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator WWII, and I would discourse on the evils of fascism, the heroism of the RAF (Lezards involved in the Second World War were in the RAF, one rising to wing commander) – and the origins of the aircraft’s name, which was a term for a girl who not only took no nonsense, but answered back in the most outspoken manner. One of the plane’s designers had a daughter who he said answered to such a description.

“Oh,” I say. “Well, yes. Hm.”

The Girl has outmanoeuvred me yet again, but then as I told my children that my main job as a father was to make sure that they turned out smarter than me, I can’t grumble. Now, a needle is going into her arm at £100 per hour. Ow. Her tattooist’s name is Mowgli; which is considerably more reassuring than Spider. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 24 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Revenge of the Left