Possibly this will be the last time
I mention tattoos. But possibly it won't.
My latest thought on the subject follows a visit to a Serbian Orthodox Christmas service a couple of evenings ago.
Having lived in Belgrade for two or three years, I was pretty familiar with many aspects of the proceedings, particularly the being-jabbed-in-the-ribs-by-small-round-bossy-women-who-had-decided-that-some-detail-of-my-appearance-or-behaviour-was-not-up-to-scratch.
When I used to take my baby out for a walk in Belgrade, even in the most extreme heat - (and in summer it gets very hot in that part of the world) - such females would regularly assail me with a prod from their bony forefingers, keen to point out my irresponsible negligence in the matter of walking the streets with a child who had 'zima na nogu' - (approximate phrase only - I never saw it written down). Roughly translated, they wanted me to know that she had winter on her legs - and this, (needless to say), would lead to pneumonia and other dire fates.
Eventually I learnt that it was easier to put at least one sock on my child's foot. You could then suggest that the lack of the other one was her fault. It was she who'd hurled it off, without your permission; you, of course, would never dream of leaving the house with a less than thoroughly covered up baby, even if you were risking her dehydration et cetera, et cetera.
I am sure that had I had a semi-clad baby about my person the other day, I would have endured the self-same nagging, even though it was well over 40 degrees inside the chapel. The small, round bossy types were ensuring there was absolutely no chance of zima na nogu or, indeed, zima na anywhere else, by lighting countless long, slim, coffee-coloured votive candles - but that would still not have stopped them having a go at anyone rash enough to enter the place bearing a sockless infant.
Such lack of self-doubt, such conviction that you know what is best is something that cannot be picked up quickly. In fact, I think it has to be bred into you - preferably over many generations. Thus, despite the fact that when I saw the roaring flames of the candles and the adjacent mounds of straw and oak leaves - (Serbian orthodox Christmas tradition) - it did cross my mind that they might be creating a considerable bushfire risk, because I do not come from small, round, bossy stock I did not have the gumption to poke anyone in the ribs to point this detail out.
And perhaps this is precisely where I - and indeed the entire Anglo world - have/has gone so wrong. For the one really remarkable thing that struck me about the crowd at the Serbian Orthodox church the other evening was that there was not a tattoo in sight.
There were plenty of young people who were prime candidates for the new fashion. They were dressed in exactly the same way as those of their numerous locally sourced contemporaries who have decided to turn themselves into living graphic novels. But not one of them had so much as a 'Family is Forever' gouged out in copperplate between their collarbones. There was not a single tiny dolphin frolicking above any young woman's anklechain.
All I can assume is that, each time the thought has flitted across the mind of any of these young people that a little inscription up their left bicep might be quite jolly, each time, strolling past a tattoo parlour, they have felt mildly tempted to get a snake branded into their leg, they have remembered the presence in their lives of a small, round, bossy person. Into the still smarting inky lettering, they have imagined her bony forefinger prodding. 'What you got there? What you got na nogu (or collarbone or arm or wherever)? What, in heaven's name, have you gone and done?'
53 minutes ago