Gerry Farrell: Someone else’s tattoo marked me for life

The stranger in the Gaudi House displays her tattoo with the missing word enticingly hidden. Picture: contributed
The stranger in the Gaudi House displays her tattoo with the missing word enticingly hidden. Picture: contributed
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My son Olly posted a picture on Facebook the other day. It’s a shot from ten years ago of a tourist walking down that great curving staircase in the Gaudi House in Barcelona.

Across her shoulder-blades is tattooed the sentence “I had a great _____with you.”

The missing word is hidden by the strap of her shoulder-bag. I was with Olly when he took the snap. It was me who signalled him to take it. The girl was a stranger. I never even saw her face but the mystery of the missing word on her back has stayed with me ever since. Whatever that word is, it’s a tattoo with a sense of humour. The fact she had it inked on her back tells you that if her relationships don’t work out, she’ll walk away rather than be walked over.

Not knowing who she was or why she got herself tattooed, planted the seed of a book in my head. I’ve only just begun to write it. Sometimes a tattoo is a random act of drunkenness. You wake up in the morning with a hangover and a strange, raw pain in your calf. You look down and see a blood-stained piece of gauze. What happened last night? Gingerly you peel it back and your hand flies up to your mouth in shock. There she is on your leg in a yellow and white polka-dot dress. Minnie Mouse. You don’t want her but you’ve got her and it’s your own fault.

All these mistakes, marks and mementose fascinate me. The tattoos people don’t want any more. The tattoos they always wanted. The tattoos they got to commemorate the breaking of their heart, the birth of their child or the death of their dearest ones. I want to know the tale behind the tats. So I’m calling my new project “Tell Me About Your Tattoo”. Today, if I spotted the girl in the Gaudi House, I wouldn’t let her walk down the stairs and out of my life. I’d catch her up and ask her to tell me about her tattoo.

I talk to tattooed strangers all the time now. I was sitting in my local bar in Leith last week. I looked under the table opposite and saw a man’s bare feet. On each one was a Mexican sugar-skull, blue ink on white skin. I went over, told him I liked his tattoos and asked him how come? What followed was a tale I can’t tell in full in a family paper about a man who sold his company in his mid-20s and made so many millions that he felt invincible.

On the spur of the moment he caught a plane to Thailand and made his way around South-East Asia, partying hard, mixing with dangerous people and throwing his money round. After a month of hedonism he decided to come back to Scotland. During the flight home he began to feel ill. By the time he landed the cabin crew had to call an ambulance to meet him on the tarmac. He was rushed to hospital. The doctors told him he was very lucky to survive the virus in his blood. He had his feet tattooed with sugar-skulls to remind himself of his own mortality.

So what’s the story of your tattoo? What’s the mystery or the magic behind it? Why did you put up with the pain? What’s so important about those rainbow inks that you’ve already spent a thousand pounds doing one arm? If you’d like to show off your tattoo and tell the world your story post it on Facebook at Tell Me About Your Tattoo or email me at tellmeabout

Sit down with a double espresso and get hooked on this drama

The second season of Narcos is now on Netflix and I’m hooked. For those of you who haven’t caught up with it yet, it’s the story of Pablo Escobar (pictured), the world’s most notorious drug lord who turned Colombia into a war-zone in his efforts to protect his ‘business’ from the Colombian Government and the DEA, the American Drug Enforcement Agency. No wonder they wanted him dead or alive.

At the height of his career in the mid-eighties, his Medellin cartel were supplying 80 per cent of all the cocaine smuggled into the US and he was one of the world’s Top Ten Wealthiest Men. The Medellin cartel spent $2500 a month on rubber bands, just to bundle their money up.

Like Walter White, the cancer-ridden chemistry teacher-turned-crack-dealer in Breaking Bad and Tony Soprano the family-man-mobster in The Sopranos, Pablo Escobar’s character plays with our sympathies. We see him stroking his daughter’s pet rabbit, tenderly embracing his wife and caring for his elderly mother. Often these scenes are juxtaposed with car-bombs exploding outside shopping centres at his command and enemies being executed in cold blood: plato o plombo, money or a bullet, you take his bribe or you get shot. The difference is that Narcos is based on fact and everything Escobar does in the series he actually did in real life. In 1989, he downed a civilian airliner, killing all 107 passengers on board just to murder one man, the 1990 Colombian presidential candidate, who hadn’t even got on the plane.

To this day, cocaine is still the second most-used illegal drug on the planet. Made from the leaf of the coca tree, it’s the most powerful central nervous system stimulant existing in nature. Because of its high price, it has become the drug of choice for celebrities, fashion models, even sportsmen and women. It’s an addictive stimulant that gives the user a short but very intense buzz. Once addicted, people need to take more and more to experience the same rush. But for every high, there’s an equivalent low. The worst side-effect of cocaine is, of course, death. Coke causes three times more deaths than any other illegal drug, even heroin. It affects the heart, the brain and the emotions. In the States, most coke-related deaths are from suicide, homicide and car-accidents due to the drivers’ state of mind.

So if it’s a stimulant you need, stick to the double espresso. And if you want a flavour of the violence that accompanies the trafficking of this Class A drug, flick on Netflix and get addicted to Narcos.

A soft touch for midgies

We’ve just arrived at the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary where the temperature hovers around 30C and swarms of wee flies haunt the shoreline. Zsuzsa is a magnet for biting insects which is good news

as it keeps the mozzies off me. But generous soul that I am, I’ve shared my secret weapon with her: Avon Skin So Soft, as used by the Royal Marines and the SAS to keep the dreaded midgies at bay. We may not have the best army in the world any more but they smell lovely.