Last year saw me finally pluck up the courage to get pierced after four years of wanting... Last week I got my first tattoo...

+ + + warning! long and meandering post follows! + + +

I went to Tattoo Expo last year in Dunstable and had been thinking about a tattoo, probably an anklet, for a while. Pat Fish was there and I looked through her work and liked it so I said that when I was in California in March, I would come by and have something celtic.

Time rolled round to March and through a series of email messages I arranged to visit Santa Barbara on the 19th & 20th. Pat recommended a hotel (The Californian on State St - great view and great character) and gave me some good advice on places to see and avoid on my route down the coast from San Francisco. Pat doesn't open Tattoo Santa Barbara on Monday or Tuesday (19th) but said it was OK to drop by and look through her archives for designs.

I make friends with Gnarly and Omi (her "ferocious" dogs happily rolling at my feet - don't be fooled: I also saw them defend the territory... they are serious guard dogs!) and start looking at designs. She has a hell of a collection of material and an amazing shop full of great stuff from all around the world...and some lethal fish too! A border pattern from one of the illustrations in the Book of Kells grabbed me as the main band and I had a few ideas for the larger knot I wanted worked in on the outside of the ankle. Pat suggested dinner and drove me (in her Cadillac hearse... way to go!) to Arnoldi's - a favoured restaurant of hers. Pat's very outspoken and it was entertaining getting to know her having only exchanged a few emails. She delights in telling several people I've come all the way from England to get a tattoo and this is my "last supper" before all the pain! (ulp!)

Wednesday I wander back to Pat's around 2pm. We finalise the shield knot (from a stone(?) in St Vigeans, Perthshire) and then she copies the design to get the right size and starts applying the transfer... The knot is positioned perfectly first time, but we have several goes at the band - Pat is very patient as I um and ah about whether I'm absolutely happy with the placement. Next she gets a pen and draws the extra loops needed to tie the band and the knot together so they interlock... This takes her some time, working patiently until we're both happy with it.

I draw amusement from the contrast between her patience with me and the design versus her somewhat short responses to some of the folks who wander in... "How much?" is a common question "Depends" says Pat (and there's a sign on the counter answering this very question). She regales me with tales of dumb questions while she's working. A mother comes in with a daughter under 18 who wants a tattoo. Pat says the law won't allow that and the mother should be wary of anyone who will do it (actually she was a *lot* more forceful than that!). The mother is not happy - seems like they'll go elsewhere. Pat says the principle is very important (I agree). Other near-customers include three girls who want triangles tattooed inbetween their toes as a sign of sisterhood. One girl isn't keen so Pat says "Don't do it" - all three go away without triangles.

Pat prepares the ink and gun and tells me I'll probably find it easier to watch - it'll keep my mind off the pain(!) So I watch and, much to my surprise, it isn't really painful at all. Well, apart from a couple of moments when she was working over the bone at the front! Pat works fairly solidly for about an hour and half, fending off dumb phone calls and dumb would-be customers as well as dealing patiently with the few people who seem to have thought about it...

About 4pm we're done and Pat takes a couple of photos of the finished anklet. I'm very pleased with it, especially the way the band and the knot interlock so smoothly. Pat tells me to drive to Montecito to buy Neosporin and Curel for aftercare (I get Longs own Trisporin - less than half the price of Neosporin but with the same ingredients). Later I wander back to the shop to watch Pat at work on others. When I get there, she's doing a yin-yang on some college girl's foot - the girl accompanied by a host of friends. I sit on the floor and play with the dogs, letting Omi (the Rottweiler) chew my hand ("She's only playing") Then two chinese girls come in: one wants a butterfly on her ankle, the other a rose on her back. After some discussion, the rose is swapped for a lotus. Pat talks the girls through their choice of colours and then they get their tats. Pat chats away, putting them at ease. One asks me how it compares to body piercing before she goes under the needle - I say my ankle band didn't hurt much... certainly less than my nipple piercings. I suspect the girl may disagree now... sorry :-)

Afterwards, Pat and I went for dinner again, this time at a great seafood restaurant on the harbour. Good shark! More tales of tattooing.

I leave Santa Barbara with great memories and a great tattoo. Pat's an absolute gem - funny and serious and every inch a professional artist. As a first tattoo experience, I was very impressed and will certainly go back when I'm in the area even if it's only to chew the fat.

Thanx Pat!