Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interpreting The Rosetta Stone Of Body Art

I got on the bus into Huddersfield yesterday and the only seat available was one of those most un-English matched pairs that faces each other at the back of the bus. These are the seats in which you are forced to stare into the face of your fellow traveler rather than watch the grey rain fall on mucky, monochrome streets. But it wasn't the face of the chap sat opposite me which monopolised my attention, it was his hands.

In his forties, rough, tough and no doubt dangerous to know he sat with his fists clenched in front of him, chewing some kind of gum and staring into the middle distance as though he was on the look out for something to thump. Across the top of his fingers was clearly tattooed the word "HATE", but just above that, between his knuckles, was tattooed another word, but I couldn't quite make out what. I became obsessed with the cause of interpreting the object of his hatred and the more I stared the more I began to fear he would notice and not only take offence but also take the top layer of skin off the bridge of my nose. I carefully shifted position in my seat trying to get a better angle of view, to little or no avail : it was like interpreting the Rosetta Stone of body art. Was that another "A" and could that be an "R", or maybe a "B". If the annoying fellow would only unclench his fist it would be easier to read the message he obviously wanted to transmit to the world. For the entire bus journey I watched, studied, and attempted to interpret. By the time we got into Huddersfield I was fairly sure that his obvious loathing was directed at either Arabs or Aran sweaters, but I still wanted some kind of confirmation. Even though he was getting off the bus a stop before the stop I wanted, I followed him, hoping  for closure. But, alas, the offending hand had retreated inside his coat - checking that his knuckle-dusters were still in his pocket and his cosh was still at hand, no doubt - and all I could catch sight of was his other hand. And on this hand was tattooed the word "LOVE". But just above it, between the knuckles, was tattooed another word, I couldn't quite interpret. What could the antithesis of his loathing be? What could this man of pronounced hatred love? Berbers perhaps? Or possibly Fair Isle sweaters? I had to know. Should I turn my back on my intended destination, the railway station, and follow this man of simplistic emotions, or should I try to live with the fact that I would never know.

I chose life.

20 comments:

  1. I reckon it there is always a slim chance that the unreadable letters said 'not'. -J

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  2. It's usually LOVE and HATE due to the number of knuckles.

    I suppose it could be HATE and WORK.

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  3. How about HATE & LIFE, or HATE & WIFE?

    RACE & HATE?

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  4. HATE & BEER? Could be a wine afficionado...

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  5. CB : HATE and WORK, yep that sounds about right. OK, I accept Fair Isle Sweaters might be a little difficult to fit in.

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  6. Alan: The chaps who have these LOVE / HATE tattoos only have them for a short time. They tend to rub off as the knuckles are dragged along the pavement.

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  7. i thought of you today, alan
    there was a news item on the tv saying that you guys will be dropping the pint glass in favour of the (smaller & australian) schooner.
    i guess you better make the most of pints before they go the way of the dodo :)

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  8. Kylie : Several people from around the world have contacted me and told me about this story (What a reputation I must have!). The odd thing is that there has been hardly any coverage of the story in this country. Equally, the plan, as far as I know, is not to replace the pint with the schooner, but to add it as an extra measure.

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  9. Maybe he didn't know himself what the offending letter meant. Perhaps the thought of having his hands and knuckles tattooed just made him feel superior, and look particularly unapproachable. I know I wouldn't have wanted to approach him!

    CJ xx

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  10. just a couple weeks ago i had a similar encounter with a fellow - but this time we were both waiting for the train on the platform. i was likewise spellbound with the body art on his knuckles as the one i could read well didn't say the ubiquitous love or hate - but "soul" and i couldn't for the life of me read/make out the other.

    well, i'm not at all shy about this situation so i told him of of interest in his hands and asked to see/read the and i couldn't make out - so he showed me and said it said "lost"

    he went on to say he had the tats done when he was in his 20s and he's not very lost any more.

    this was one of the few times i wasn't as bold as i usually am and didn't ask if i could take a snap. truth be told he had quite a bit of lost soul look still about him.

    i had dozens of snaps of people and their body art.... i've been playing with the idea of an occasional series on snaps of such on the mouse. what say you about that idea?

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  11. I'm sure you are right about the Fair Isle Sweaters. Or maybe Poodles or Kittens. haha.

    I do this with the occassional bumper sticker. Only being able to read part of it and can't get close enough to read the rest! I fear I'll crash into them with my eyes fixed on the sticker and not their brake lights! lol.

    I'm glad you didn't keep following! We'd miss you, Alan! :)

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  12. Kimy : Bring them on.
    Betsy : I was on my way to a lunchtime meeting of the Old Gits Society (in a pub) so life and a pint (three in fact) was more tempting.

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  13. Hmmmmm... Following up on Betsy's lead, maybe his hands said HATE CATS on one hand and LOVE DOGS on the other. Or vice versa. Pet passions can get pretty intense.

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  14. I can definitely empathise with HATE and WORK. How about LOVE and HOLIDAYS? (2 letters per knuckle! Fits nicely :) )

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  15. In the 70s, when I was doing dirty work for big bucks, a number of my (ahem!) colleagues had these words tattooed on their knuckles. One guy had lost an index finger in an accident (at least that was his story) so ended up with 'love' and 'ate'. I always thought this was quite comical, as he only had two or three teeth that were visible. Of course, I never shared the joke with him, directly. Like you, I value my health.

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  16. Could it have been Hate sin, Love the sinner? I've seen that one before. Although, the fellow you describe doesn't quite fit that aesthetic. As an OR nurse, I've seen many strange tattoos over the years. Some in very odd places!

    I'm glad you chose life.

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  17. Like Mouse, I would have asked. But that's one of those things women can get away with and men sometimes can't.

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  18. What a way to add colour to such a dull, dreary day!

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  19. Doubtful, but maybe he was just a fan of the film "Night of the Hunter," as Robert Mitchum (as a deranged preacher) sported those tattoos.

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  20. I would have asked him if I could take a photo..of course I am a stupid American afterall:)

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