An Unreliable History of Tattoos By Paul Thomas (Nobrow Press, £14.99)
Now spring is coming, warm sun and longer days coax many things into the open: the blossom will bloom on the bough, the baby birds will take their first flights, and men and women across the country will shed their winter plumage and reveal the summer colours inked permanently into their skin.
Once upon a time tattoos were the preserve of sailors – you weren’t in the gang if you didn’t have an anchor tattooed on your bicep or I Luv Maisie/Mum under a bunch of flowers on your forearm. Now every one it seems including the prime minister’s wife has succumbed to the needle and results vary from a tastefully discreet dolphin to a full body inking.
It’s this national obsession that has inspired (tatt-less) former Daily Express cartoonist Paul Thomas to put pen to paper. This is more of a dirty laugh at the trend than an accurate history and takes us irrevently from the first caveman inkings through ancient Egypt and Rome to the Battle of Hastings. Richard III has a dead teddy bear on his arm as a memorial to his murdered nephews, Charles II a list of his bedroom conquests and Nelson would do better to keep his shirt on in polite company. More recent fans include Churchill - lions and Union Jacks; Princess Margaret, who frequents a parlour run by Jack “the Tatt” McVitie and Stephen Fry who is ‘Born To Be Wilde’. As ever Thomas nails his topic with perceptive wit.
Along side the book is an exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in Mayfair from 9 to 19 March where the original cartoons are for sale for about the price of a half sleeve inking - and they won’t cost an arm and a leg to remove if years later you change your mind.