There was one thing I really wanted during the lockdowns (aside from the, uh, cessation of the pandemic). I quickly stopped entertaining the idea of anything so unimaginably distant and decadent as sex, but my hunger for touch did lead me to become consumed by the thought of getting a tattoo. I also thought longingly of the brisk head massage I once received from a slightly cruel hairdresser, but it was the tattoo I kept coming back to.
By the time of the March 2020 lockdown, I counted seven tattoos, most of them small and simple doodle-like things, given by friends or at ill-advised parties in foreign countries. There is one particularly hideous rendition of a snail that was largely taken over and blurred by scar tissue after it was given to me by a very handsome and very drunk man at a squat party in Milan. It looks awful but I love it, of course, because of its origin and how it will help me to never forget that party, or the way it felt to be 26 and so stupid you let someone permanently mark your body because you fancy them a bit.
I got my first since the December lockdown last week, and one of the studio’s artists told me I was far from alone in my preoccupation. He had clients who were in tears, he told me, as soon as the needle touched their skin – not from pain, but from relief and euphoria. Some of them were already fairly compulsive about regularly accruing tattoos in ordinary times, and the general sensory deprivation of being at home and understimulated increased their need. Even for a comparative amateur like me, the experience of going back in was cathartic and special. The specific, productive pain, the undeniability of the sensation, felt like a healing counteraction to a year in which nothing seemed to touch the sides.