I’ve had my sights on Brighton, a culturally rich and picturesque beach-side city on the south coast of Great Britain, since before this Euro cycling trip ever began. When I joined the Couchsurfing site while still living in Taiwan, the first guests I had the pleasure of hosting were Josh and Adam, a kind, thoughtful, super-fun couple who were in the middle of a two-year adventure, working and travelling around the world. Their visit had been brief, but the time we did spend together had been a whole lot of fun. When I learned they’d be home by the time I came around, I decided then and there that a stop in Brighton had to happen.
I spent a week with the boys, who showed me all that Brighton had to offer in true Josh-and-Adam style: I went on a scavenger hunt that the boys had created to help their friends explore and discover the hidden gems of the Brighton Marina; we bar-hopped from one favourite watering hole to another and wound up in a lesbian karaoke bar complete with a drag queen MC; we watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the beach in the middle of the night and sang and danced our hearts out; I was given a personal, customized bicycle tour around the city to visit its various attractions; we took a day trip out to some lovely villages, towns and cities in the area and took turns playing ‘make-it-all-up-tour-guides’… Never a dull moment with these boys!
My fun-filled week in Brighton was almost up when an opportunity to do a tattoo finally came along. An American woman, Cheryl, contacted me about a cool project she was involved in. She’s a writer, and she’s been going around different countries in Europe, looking for fierce women with beautiful, eye-catching tattoos. She also blogs, and she wanted to do a piece on these women on Sugar & Spikes, a site that promotes alternative talent – women with an edgy look; tattoos, piercings, awesome hair.
Ironically, Cheryl had no tattoos of her own, but one of her objectives for her journey to Europe was to change that. She’d known for a while what she wanted to have done, and now she was on a mission to find the right tattoo artist to put it on her skin. In a twist of fate, she came upon my profile on Couchsurfing, and a few days later she took a train down from London to have her tattoo done in Josh and Adam’s neat little loft on the jetty.
She chose to get one of her favourite quotes done on her upper back. Words full of meaning taken from the lyrics of an Incubus song. There are a several Incubus songs that have inspired her along the way, and this is only one of the tattoos that she eventually wants done that will feature their poetic verses. Another one that speaks to her: “I suggest we learn to love ourselves before it’s made illegal.” Nice one.
On my way out of Brighton, I made a stop in a nearby village to meet up with a woman who had gone to school in South Africa with a friend of mine that I met in Taiwan. She’d been tracking my progress on this trip by keeping an eye on my facebook page, and when she saw that I was getting close, she invited me to her home so she could get a bit of ink done.
Unlike Cheryl and her until-recently-untouched skin, Cathy has already had hours of tattoo work done on her. She got her first tattoo when she was 16 years old, and has been adding to her collection ever since. Now she has seven of them, and they’re not teeny tiny, either. Among others, she has a large ‘Dias de los Muertos’ skull in the middle of her upper back, and the beginnings of a large Japanese-style koi fish on the side of her torso.
Her latest addition is the shoulder piece I designed for her based on a few images she sent me to show me what she liked. She wanted to have some flowers drawn on her, black line-work only, with a bit of a stylized twist. I chose hibiscus flowers, which turned out to be just the right thing; Cathy wanted flowers to remind her of her home in South Africa, and she was particularly drawn to flowers that we tend to associate with the beach. The tattoo turned out great. It’s an eye-catching spread of flowers that has a lace-like quality to it; very elegant, light, and feminine. A lovely tattoo for a lovely young woman!
It’s true. Everywhere you look nowadays, you see people with tattoos. But there are still pieces out there that are so beautiful and well-done that they turn heads, and get a nod of appreciation from even the toughest critics. And for me, there’s something extra special about it when the tattoo being admired, (especially if it’s big and highly visible), is on a woman. Even more so when it’s on a woman in a traditionally conservative position or occupation. A doctor, a teacher, an accountant, a lawyer… We may be more accepting of tattoos every day, but it still takes a certain amount of balls (or ovaries?) for a woman to go with a big tattoo, in my books. It’s certainly a statement, and to me it says: “Here I am, and this is what I find beautiful. Convention be damned.”