It was the week Joey Ramone died...

An upper arm with a tattoo of a black dog and the letter B underneath

It’s of my dog Billie, the dog my family had from my teenage years, through to when she died in 2001. I was 27.

Half Collie, half Flatcoat Retriever, she was an unusually intelligent, even empathetic dog.

She became a great companion and comfort to me: a socially and scholastically unsuccessful teenager growing up in rural Somerset.

By the mid 90’s I had gone away at art college, and obviously didn’t see her as much, incrementally watching her turn into an ‘old dog’ when I’d come home for the holidays.

During the last few years of her life, I often vowed that I would get a tattoo of her when she died; to commemorate that great dog-friend of my boring, tricky teenage years.

I remember my Dad telling me on the phone that she had finally gone – it was the same week that Joey Ramone had died.

The rest of 2001 came and, almost, went…but on New Year’s Eve I suddenly realised that if I didn’t get the tattoo in the actual year of Billie’s death then I would use it as an excuse that ‘the moment had passed’ i.e. chicken out.

So on the grey afternoon of December 31st 2001, I hastily did a simple drawing of her, with biro on a paper napkin in ‘TastyStop’ (the local greasy spoon) and nervously took round the corner to ‘TattooLand’.

This big shaven-headed Welsh guy named Dean looked at the napkin and said -

‘Not bad that. People come in with some terrible doodles they’ve done and I tell them I’m not doing that but I don’t mind doing this one for you.’

He set about copying it onto my arm. He seemed in a bit of a rush though, because it was New Year’s Eve and he wanted to close early to ‘get some drinking done.’ So much so, he wouldn’t write the full name ‘Billie’ under the dog - ‘I’ll just do the ‘B’ if that’s okay, cos you know, pub’s waiting.’ I said that would be fine, because I was a bit terrified; by the act of getting a tattoo, by Dean himself.

The finished tattoo is pretty underwhelming . And at a glance many people mistake that abbreviation - B - for an adjacent dog shit!

For a few years I thought I should maybe have drawn a more prepared, better rendered drawing of Billie (with legs in better proportion, they ended up a bit long on the actual tattoo) and taken it to a better recommended (or at least, less hurried) tattoo artist.

But as further years passed, and more and more people got more and more elaborate and impressive tattoos, I’ve grown quite fond of the low-key, slightly crappy look of mine.

I think my more minimal one might suit me better, at the top of a skinny white arm, with no right hand at the end of it.

(I did choose, quite deliberately, my right, handless arm. Though I’m not quite sure why.)

written by joff