'What will you have as your first tattoo?'

By David Medcalf

Published 16/01/2016 | 00:00

David Medcalf
David Medcalf

Young Persephone asks questions.

Not the sort of questions that trouble the great philosophers or cosmologists. Not the sort of questions that are posed to competitors on 'Mastermind'. Nor even the sort of practical questions which must be answered for those who plan to catch a bus or cook a soufflé.

Persephone's queries are not of the 'How many eggs?' or 'Is that a.m. or p.m.?' variety. She loftily expects others to attend to such details. If she is required to show up for football practice or for a harp lesson or for a medical appointment, then she feels that it is up to others to make the arrangements.

The frightening thing is that this carefree attitude to the nuts and bolts of ensuring safe passage from A to B or to being on the pitch at the same time as the rest of the squad actually works for her. Realising that she will not be responsible for her time-keeping and logistics, others automatically pick up the slack, while she sails on serenely oblivious.

The questions started at a young age, sometimes as a means of keeping conversation going late into the evening, to postpone the evil hour when it was time for bed. And sometimes as a means of diverting attention from some task which might appear urgent to her companion but which was of no particular interest to Persephone herself.

Thus, the parent who wanted the daughter's bedroom tidied found that no progress was possible until the issue of 'What's your favourite colour?' had been resolved. The parent's initial reluctance to become engaged in such senseless discussion was eventually broken down by her unwavering insistence. Finally, she extracted an absent-minded narrowing of the field down to yellow and red.

It was amazing how long it took to dither between yellow and red - so long in fact that by the time red (reminiscent of Manchester United and nicely cooked steak) had emerged as the favoured hue, it was time for supper. The bedroom remained in its customary state of disorder.

'Why is Da such a bad dancer?' or 'Do you believe Eldrick will come back in a future life as a wombat?' The questions continue now that Persephone has reached her teenaged years, most recently as we took a stroll around Our Town: 'What will you have as your first tattoo?'

This was posed of someone who would surely have been disowned and disinherited had he turned up at the family home with the Bohemians AFC crest emblazoned on his forearm - and not just because my late father was a Shamrock Rovers fan. Meanwhile, Persephone's mother has an in-built distrust of the urge to decorate skin with hearts or flowers or the names of sweethearts or Oriental dragons. Hermione falls short of asking anyone so adorned for a list of previous criminal convictions. But she falls not far short.

In short, Persephone comes from parents who can do a strong line in unreasoning prejudice when it comes to the topic of sticking inky needles into skin. As we strolled, my initial instinct was to turn on her with a series of questions of my own. Why do you want to know that? You are not thinking of having a tattoo yourself, surely? Do you imagine your grandmother would let you into her house with a tattoo? Do you realise a tattoo is for life?

But the evening, though tinged with a light grey mist, was pleasant. The tone of the question carried no hint of adolescent challenge. And the way in which it was formed, with guileless reference to the first tattoo, was somehow disarming.

My gentle interrogator admitted she had tossed the matter around in her mind to the extent that she had a notion of maybe having a star engraved behind her ear. The location would allow easy hiding from disapproving mothers, or grandmothers. I did not ask her whether she perhaps envisaged a second tattoo somewhere more prominent at a later stage.

Instead, I mellowed. I went with the flow. I decided that my first tattoo, if it ever happens, will be an image of a parsnip adroning the base of my spine. Just above the bum cleavage.

Wexford People

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