By Phil Weir
The late President Charles de Gaulle once observed, quite famously, with more than a little exasperation, about his beloved France, “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” As of the other day, I know where he was coming from. Although, in my case, it’s not been a surfeit of varieties of camembert and brie that has caused me to hurl my hands in the air and cry “Zoots alors!” My flabbergastery came off the bench during a trip I made to W. H. Smith. And the cause of my consternation? What was giving me the needle? Tattoo magazines, or to be more precise, the sheer number of them on sale. I find it strangely uncomfortable living in a country in which newsagent shelves offer no less than 16 of the blighters. Yes, let me repeat this statistic. The W. H. Smith down Kirkcaldy High Street stocks no less than 16 different publications devoted to tattoos. Until I saw this array with my own eyes, I might have surmised that the tattoo community - those who ink them onto virgin flesh, and those who sport them - might have been populace enough to sustain maybe one magazine, or two at a push. But 16? What is the world coming to? We all watch TV. Most of us have cars. Most of us have computers and/or games consoles. Many of us play one sport or another. Many of us have one hobby or another. Hence, there are markets for any number of TV listing periodicals, scores of motoring and computer mags, and dozens devoted to golf, or football, or photography or model-railways, or model-boat building, or mobile phones, or even a bit of macrame. But, I’ll shout it out again – TATTOOS!?! As I write, are there really hundreds, nay, thousands of people out there sitting at home or in cafes or on works coffee breaks, or esconced in parked cars, or comfily reclining aboard trains, planes and buses, all leafing through tattoo magazines, wondering what to get incised on to their skin at the weekend; musing over how to top up the broad roster of insignia already crowding every inch, visible and concealed, of their bodies; pondering what’s new and cutting-edge on the tattoo scene; reading profiles of top tattoo artists; admiring the interior design of the latest bijou tattoo parlours; or checking out the latest tattoo-application hi-tech paraphernalia to hit the market place? If so, our civilisation’s hours are numbered. What do I mean? Well... On that far-off morning in 410AD when Ancient Rome fell to the Visigoths, there were reportedly16 different ‘Tattoo News’wax tablets for sale to the decadent masses that daily milled in The Forum. And bang went the Empire. The 8th of November, 1519? Montezuma was spotted stood in front of a burnished gold mirror, obsessively checking out the reflection of his tattoos, as Cortes crept in at the palace back door. And bang went the Empire. Waterloo, June 18, 1815? Napoleon had his hand distractedly inside his tunic for most of the battle because he’d just had a tattoo of Josephine applied a little to the left of his belly button, and the still bleeding artwork was giving him some serious jip. And bang again went the Empire. And now we’ve got 16 tattoo magazines for sale in W. H. Smith. By the cigar of Winston Churchill, the sight of them sends a dagger through my heart. We can only have days to go before, you know what, you guessed it. Bang again goes the Empire...what little is left of it.