THE SEVEN AGES OF LAD
When you are a lad, a baby lad, you have few compulsions: the snot, streaming lazily from your nose; matching top–bottom pyjamas sets; sending tiny hard resin army men down the stairs, pirouetting through the sky on a featherlight plastic parachute. The formative lad. The tiny, nascent lad. He knows not what sins he will grow up to do.
At some point in the evolution of the lad he will be gifted from an uncle a football – an actual, leather-and-rubber-inner football, not some flyaway thing, not a ball made of sponge – and he will kick the football against a nearby garage wall anywhere between ten thousand and one-hundred million times, until the ball disintegrates, then kick it more, three pairs of shoes worn out now, four, the ball thumping against the wall, thump thump thump, until it disintegrates more, somehow, shrinking even more, leather peeling off it even more, and at this point the proto-lad will ask his dad sweetly one night, "Dad? Dad, dad, dad: can I stay up late to watch Match of the Day?" and the dad will chuckle and whisper: fuck no
[The whole mess of puberty, which we don’t have to go into]
There is a period in the middle teens where your two sole motivations in life are thus: you would take a bullet for Alison Brie; you always smell faintly of Texas BBQ Pringles; there are no other facets to your personality beyond these.
At 16, The Lad grows legs and crawls from the sea. He will purchase a small gold bracelet or get Really Into Caps. The Lad will go out to town in perfectly ironed polo shirts and pay careful attention to the gelling of his hair. The first clumsy attempts at fingering. The first all-boys group chat. Drinking cider until you go dizzy and breathy. The Lad finds an hour-long techno set on YouTube that becomes the most culturally important artefact he has ever experienced in his life. The Lad turns from 16 to 17. The Lad works summer hours and stacks shelves. The Lad makes exactly enough money to spend ten days half-board in Magaluf with 12 other boys who are all somehow called "Mark".
[Loses virginity, rents a quad bike, turns red-raw in the sun, dances topless on the stage of a bar, shouts "WAHEY" so loud someone’s eardrum pops, gets the word "TITWANK" tattooed on his collarbone]
[Five years pass, ageing occurs, a mild amount of personal growth]
VII., THE FINAL AGE OF LAD:
The Lad walks into a TV studio and says he needs this tattoo covering up before it becomes embarrassing. And the Tattoo Fixers – Jay, Sketch, Alice, Glen, Paisley The Receptionist Who For Some Reason Is Also There – say, "Let’s see it, then." They ask him: "What do you want covering up with?" And The Lad thinks, for a moment. He pinches his bottom lip. All his experiences, The Lad, all his highs and lows. Distilled into this one moment. His hopes, his dreams, that banter holiday. And he inhales, deep, then exhales, then goes: "I’m actually quite spiritual, actually." He says: "Not a lot of people know that about me." And then: "Can you do me Jesus’s face?" And they say: yes, the Tattoo Fixers. They say: happy to, mate.
And The Lad becomes A Man.
Tattoo Fixers is a show about fixing bad tattoos. Statistically, based on this show alone, you have to assume that 50 percent of the tattoos currently walking around carved into the very meat of this country are, i.e. bad. So, for instance, every single episode of Tattoo Fixers features at least one dead-eyed lad who I wouldn’t trust to look after a dog for a weekend emotionlessly telling the cast about the time he got drunk (the dead-eyed lad will hold his hand over his scalp when he says "drunk", always, which I have learned is TV-friendly code for "actually, quite a large amount of ketamine was involved") and listen, a mate of a mate had a tattoo gun, and so now I have a pair of balls tattooed on my thigh. Or: a woman in some visible-age no man’s land, somewhere between 25 and 80, with either far too many teeth or too few, tells the team how she got a man’s name tattooed on her (bikini line, butt, breast, sometimes shoulder but mainly arse) and then they have since split up and it’s really making it hard to meet people now she has the name "JONNY" ornately inked around her nipple. Or: two friends – who are mad, the friends, there is a whole VT where they fake-shout in each other’s faces and cheerfully do piggybacks, to show how mad and how mates they are – two mates got a fun nickname they have for each other, "C U N T" usually, tattooed on their feet, and long story short: one of them has a kid now and she needs it fucking gone. Or: a portrait, done in honour of a girlfriend or wife, turned monstrous under the needle of an unpractised tattoo artist, like a huge jagged scar. Or: for some reason, every single person who gets a tattoo around their belly button to make the belly button look like a monkey’s arsehole ends up regretting it, who knew.
I suppose that, in many ways, is what Tattoo Fixers is truly about: the changeable nature of regret. "Did you like it at the time," the Fixers ask, as some kid from Warrington pulls two T-shirts and a jumper up to reveal his chest, where "KATY IS A SLAG" is inked across it in black-blue. "Yeah I did, yeah," he’ll say. "Yeah, I thought it was class." And do you not like it now, they ask him, and his voice goes quiet. "The missus isn’t much of a fan," he’ll say. Or: "The ladies don’t like it that much."
What do you want it covering up with / Jesus / alright mate do you want to pop through—
Here are the Tattoo Fixers, in no particular order:
JAY, the most HD-looking man alive, the one with the beard and the brilliant white teeth, Jay who— right. You know in art class, once, when you were maybe 14, you realised that actually, the way to draw humans wasn’t to outline their face in black ink or graphite grey, but to use flesh tones, pinks and browns and yellows, to make up a more natural, tonal, shadowy effect, like an actual human face? Nobody ever told that to Jay from Tattoo Fixers’ face. His face is three colours and those colours are "black", "white", "blue". He’s good at portraits and those heartbreaking ones where someone who’s gone through some massive trauma comes in for a big memorial tattoo.
SKETCH, who sincerely gives the vibe that if he didn’t get into being a tattoo artist his only other possible viable career would be "scandal-addled amateur magician". He’s good at doing traditional stuff and those cover-ups that look like torn flesh that go all red and pink and painful-looking after nine hours in the chair.
ALICE, who is MAD. She’s good at doing MANDALAS.
GLEN, the new lad, who has this trick where he doesn’t actually open his mouth when he speaks, he just smiles serenely, and I’m pretty sure he is structurally held together by his braces. He is good at doing a really big outline of a bear that could be incorporated into a sleeve, one day, if you want to mate, that’s a good start—
And then there is PAISLEY, who is a philosophical concept. Right: why does a tattoo studio staffed by four equally cheery people, who do four tattoos a day, and all of those tattoos are pre-booked through an entire production team: why does that tattoo studio need a dedicated receptionist? Right: say you are casting for a receptionist for a tattoo studio – and just hear me out, here – would you choose – and I know, I’m spitballing – but would you choose from these: i. a human being with one tattoo minimum, or ii. a human being with absolutely zero tattoos? Right: what does Paisley do, exactly, beyond crane her head backwards over the sofa and say, "You alright, darling, come in?" or, occasionally, "What’s your name?" Essentially: how can a receptionist be a receptionist when she isn’t in any way a receptionist? What – fundamentally – is the point of Paisley from Tattoo Fixers? I don’t dislike her. I don’t mind her being there. I would go so far as to say I enjoy her presence. I just don’t understand why she exists.
These are the Tattoo Fixers, and on Tattoo Fixers, they fix tattoos.
The structure of Tattoo Fixers is always the same: in a tattoo studio that is impossible to place because the B-roll has it being anywhere from Old Street to Hackney Wick, four tattoo artists and a receptionist will do some banter. Normally this is, like, Alice saying "all dogs are aliens" or Paisley slowly explaining a simple female concept to the three baffled and assembled men ("So let me get this straight: there’s something called a sports bra? A bra for sports?"), and then this whole scene is interrupted when a semi-shy Scottish lad comes in and says "y’alright?" before sitting down and being asked, "What’re you here for?" And the Scottish lad will sigh and say, "Well I’ve got a, uh, tattoo what I need, ahh, covering up," like fucking obviously, you dipshit. Like fucking obviously. What else would you be here for.
The joy of TF – what makes it so compulsive – is how it tells and retells the same story ("I got drunk and made a mistake") a hundred different ways, a thousand new and enjoyable ways; Tattoo Fixers is a cosy bubble, where nobody’s ink is overtly judged, or shamed, just told in a soothing voice that it can be fixed; that: Let’s Get Drawing; that, if nothing else, mate, Alice can do you a mandala and lose it in the colour. Tattoo Fixers excels at taking a 20-second drunken anecdote and turning it into 18 full minutes of entertainment, intricately tessellated in among the other stories that week, so we watch four separate people wince in slow-motion pain while Sketch studs a needle into their shin, or Alice makes someone bravely cry, or Jay looks up at them with perfect flint-blue eyes, then back down to doing a heartfelt portrait of their dad on their leg. And you keep watching, through the aggressive voiceover guy, through the redundancy of Paisley, through all the dramatic re-enactments of people getting drunk, through all the oh–oh–oh–way–oh! ad break pre-rolls, because you have to see it: that one perfect moment where, in front of a mirror, someone stands sideways on and looks at their own shapeless torso reflected back at them, only this time they no longer have a picture of a dick there, or a nickname, or a tampon, or a misquoted Chinese symbol turned blurry over the years, or an ex’s portrait, or something vile that they can never show their daughter: they’ve got a swallow or something. Big flower and that. Picture of a stag. The men will ask if they can shake Jay’s hand. The girls will offer Alice a hug. You believe in humanity again.
There are, as best I can tell from the show Tattoo Fixers, only around six tattoo designs going in the known world, and only eight circumstances under which you can get those tattoos, and those tattoos and tattoo circumstances are these:
Any of these phrases, normally tattooed on a foot but occasionally somewhere visible like an arm or a chest: "I LOVE PORN"; "I LOVE WANKING"; "REAL WOMEN SWALLOW"; "CUNT"; "BIG TITTY HONKER"; "PUT YR DICK IN ME" [w/ arrow to butthole]; "WANKAGEDDON"; "SHIT TASH"; "PRICK"; "[basically the rudest thing you can possibly imagine when you are 18 years old]"
Either a pair of tits or some balls. Occasionally a demon woman splaying herself open like a Yellow Pages, but yeah: most often it is just a pair of tits, some balls;
Some sort of cartoon character or something that was a reference to something once but the joke isn’t really funny any more, and anyway it’s gone all blurry now so it just sort of looks like a blue scab;
A Very Shite Portrait of a Boxer;
A stickman that is very small and barely visible and for some reason ends up getting covered by like a 3-ft. tall black-and-grey picture of an owl;
Extremely Hard Monosyllabic Bloke uses fake ID to get a tattoo when he is 15, and that tattoo has not aged very well at all;
A man has to get a tattoo as the result of a drunken bet;
A man, drunk, gets a tattoo to reveal lewdly to women in clubs in a vague attempt to chirpse them;
Man (drunk) goes to friend’s house (the friend is also drunk) and the friend has just bought a tattoo gun off eBay, and &c. &c.
Drunk man gets holiday tattoo;
Drunk woman gets holiday tattoo;
Person who is in love gets permanent marker of said love which ends up both outlasting the love at the time and impinging on any furtive shoots of new love they may be trying to build with someone else, which you would think would serve as a lesson to people re: love, re: tattoos, but no, apparently not;
Middle-aged woman who blinks slightly less often than I’m comfortable with is insanely in love with a male personality – Olly Murs, Noel Edmonds, &c. – and wishes to get his face tattooed on her thigh forever;
Young woman, same blinking situation, is deeply in love with something mad – Marmite, cats, &c. – and wants to get that thing tattooed on her thigh forever;
CIRCUMSTANCES THAT HAVE NEVER, EVER, EVER OCCURRED ON TATTOO FIXERS, THE E4 SHOW
"I planned to have this tattoo"
THE REASONS PEOPLE GIVE FOR FINALLY DECIDING TO GET THEIR BAD TATTOO COVERED UP, A FULL AND EXHAUSTIVE LIST
"Well I have a little girl now, and she’s almost five."
END OF LIST
For me, I suppose, Tattoo Fixers is a song of hope. I mean, yes: it is quite often just some sullen lad covering up an emoji of a turd with a very gnarly skull or something. But then you see a woman weep as a broken relationship she had inked over her heart is finally erased by petals and leaves, and you go: ah. Some lad with a vile shin tattoo has it covered up so he can go on holiday with his in-laws, and you go: aw. Tattoo Fixers is quite often a sort of I-done-a-night-out-then-I-woke-up-with-a-tattoo-didn’t-I meat-and-potatoes all genders banterfest, but it’s also sort of about growth, about people shedding like a shell the weird body their mad youth carved out for them, becoming someone new, becoming someone who has a mandala on their arse instead of a lipstick kiss. Sketch, and Jay, and Alice, who is mad, and Glen: they sort of run a rehabilitation centre, in a way, creating adults out of the idiots that came before them. And also Paisley is there. Just sort of… watching.