One of Britain’s most venerable and respected news reporters, David Dimbleby, has got his first tattoo – a scorpion – at the age of 75. Good for him I say, even if it does have the wrong number of legs.
I am delighted to report that the UK is the world’s most tattooed nation – delighted and a little surprised that it beats the various Pacific island nations, including New Zealand, where body art is deeply-rooted. In fact, it was British sailors returning from the South Seas who imported the tradition, named for the Tahitian word tatau, meaning to mark – the word appears in Captain Cook’s account of his first voyage, published in 1769, as tattaw.
Until recently we tended to associate the tattoo with lorry drivers and sailors, but it seems that body art was very much in vogue in the second half of the nineteenth century among society ladies and gentlemen – the Prince of Wales, future Edward VII, had a Jerusalem Cross tattooed on his forearm, and his sons, the Dukes of Clarence and York, had dragon tattoos, also on their arms.
The forearm is where Winston Churchill famously had his anchor tattoo; his mother, Lady Randolf Churchill, had a snake tattooed around her wrist.
I have a tattoo, although since I tend to teach with my shirt on, it generally goes unremarked. I have not conducted a survey of OISE staff members, but as our Principal is from New Zealand, and James is a hardened hoodlum, it seems likely that I am not alone.
This is Omai, from Ulietea, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1776. Take a look at his hands.