THE first tattoo I ever saw was Edinburgh’s famous Military Tattoo. My folks took me there when I was four, so for months afterwards that’s what I thought a tattoo was.
The second tattoo I ever saw was inked on the forearm of Matty the milkman, who delivered fresh milk to our door in Greenbank Road six days a week.
My mum used to let me give Matty’s horse a stale ‘cheesy heel’ of Milanda white pan bread and once, when Matty reached up to take off the horse’s nosebag, I noticed the blue anchor with a red heart on his arm.
I never thought about tattoos again until I was nine. I was sitting at the breakfast table with my sister and my mum and dad and they were talking about the Holocaust. I remember my ears pricking up when they told us what that was all about.
I particularly remember the look of disgust on my dad’s face when he explained that the Nazi SS guards at Auschwitz tattooed everybody who came into the camp except the ones who were to be gassed to death immediately.
“But why did they tattoo them?” I asked.
“They wanted to know who they had killed after they had killed them”
“But why?” I asked. It didn’t make any sense to me. “You just said they didn’t tattoo the ones that they gassed, so why?”
My dad was getting too upset to go into the story. “Why?” he said full of anger, “Why? Because they were b*******, that’s why.”
It was the first time I ever heard him swear.
Tattoos have fascinated me ever since and last week I began to look into the Auschwitz death camp tattoos to better understand the grim story behind the practice.
Eva Kor’s tale was the one that touched me most. The day she was tattooed, she lost her whole family to the gas chambers. Only Eva and her twin sister Miriam were spared immediate execution.
Eva fought like a wild animal not to be tattooed, not just because it hurt but because she had learned what would happen to the other children the Nazis were tattooing in the queue of identical twins she’d been lined up in. She even bit the SS guard who was holding her down.
“The actual tattooing was very, very painful from what I remember. They heated a pen-like gadget with a long needle over the flame of a lamp, which I watched before it happened to me. When it got hot, they dipped it into ink, and burned into my left arm, dot by dot, the capital letter ‘A’ followed by a dash, then the numbers 7-0-6-3. ‘A-7063’ became my number.”
Eva and her twin sister Miriam were part of a group of Auschwitz inmates known as ‘Mengele’s Twins’ because they were set aside to be experimented on by Dr Josef Mengele, the extermination camp’s ‘Angel Of Death’.
Mengele ‘collected’ identical twins as young as six years old. He proceeded to conduct medical experiments in the hope of proving there was a way to produce a white, blond ‘master race’. He operated on over 3000 twins, without anaesthetic, performing experiments I can’t describe here. Eva and Miriam were one of the few pairs of twins to survive their ordeal.
The story of the Holocaust tattoos is disturbing. But what should disturb us even more is the appearance in Leith ten days ago of stickers put up by the racist, neo-Nazi group National Action.
The stickers were covered in swastikas. There’s a good chance the people who put them up are covered in swastikas too. Sadly, you will even find so-called ‘football casuals’ who share such obnoxious views on the Hibees Bounce website.
It’s time we identified these racists and banned them from Hibs websites and Hibs games. It’s time Leith’s tattooists refused to give swastika tattoos. It’s time for the whole Leith community to stand against these troubled, violent people. Watch this space.
Finnegan’s Wake, Murray family style
It was the first anniversary of my mum’s death last Friday and it turned out to be a pretty good day.
Mum loved a G&T, so I made a point of mixing one in her memory. Unlike John Lennon, I like to imagine there IS a heaven and I’m pretty sure mum was there with Shoogly (my dad), making an earthly impact with her new-found spiritual powers.
I say this because a matter of minutes after drinking the G&T I got a call from……no, not Him, an estate agent saying our apartment had finally sold. Cheers mum, thanks for putting a word in with the chief who puts sunshine on Leith.
My mum was a Midlothian Murray. We’re not overly keen on tracing our roots.
Back in the day the Murrays were a parcel of rogues, forever stealing sheep and carrying off their neighbours’ womenfolk.
The contemporary Murray clan, my 23 cousins, are a much wilder bunch. You know how it is with your cousins – you play with them for weeks during the school holidays and then suddenly they leave school, go to university or get jobs and move to different countries. You don’t see them again for decades until there’s a funeral.
All of us cousins got talking about this – at a funeral, funnily enough – and decided it would be a better party if there wasn’t somebody in a wooden box making us feel sad over the beers and chilli. Murrayfest was born.
This year we gathered at cousin Lorna and Mick’s. They live in a small Lincolnshire village with neighbours so lovely that they went on holiday and literally gave us their house to stay in for the whole weekend. I can’t remember much about the Saturday party except we were still singing Proclaimers’ songs round a blazing firepit in the garden at 2am.
On the Sunday they took us to their local and we ate roast chicken and Yorkshire pudding washed down with pints of Tribute and Broadside, the local ales.
The village smelt of honeysuckle and was alive with the sound of bees and blackbirds and cousins asking “So where are we doing it next year?”
The funniest woman I’ve ever seen on the telly, especially as Mrs Merton with boozy George Best. “If you hadn’t done all that running around playing football, do you think you would have been so thirsty?”