On Saturday November 5th I hopped on the Go Train to Toronto, bought myself a coffee and a muffin, and spent nearly an hour wandering Queen Street West. I was early for my tattoo appointment, but that was by design; I didn’t want to miss a train/bus and end up late when I had been planning this for so long.
By the time I sat down in the chair with Wes (who designed my tattoo and is very talented, check out his instagram) I had passed through nerves and back into calm. The first ten minutes sucked, but then I stopped noticing the pain and zoned out. Before I knew it the outline was done, and though it had been ninety minutes and Wes offered for me to stop for the day, I sat down for an extra hour to get some of the black shading done.
Now I have a large raccoon on my upper arm.
It’s not done. I’m going back soon to have the colour added, but that shouldn’t take long as it’s only around the berries and leaves. I am incredibly pleased with it and it turned out even better than I was hoping, so I have barely been able to concentrate on anything else since.
So why did I get a large raccoon permanently drawn into my skin?
That’s a question I’ve been getting ever since I decided to do it, mostly because Canadians associate raccoons with annoyance and rabies. I do too, but my life-long love for the animal is not going to die because some raccoons can figure out a rubbish bin even I’d struggle to open.
When I was three my aunty gave me and my sister a present each. It is my first memory. I can tell you where I was sitting in the room, and how the furniture was laid out (it turns out it was my uncle’s house in London, as I discovered when describing the room a few years ago to prove I really did remember). My aunty let me decide which of the two wrapped presents I wanted as I was older, and I clearly remember deciding to give the bigger present to my little sister who was eighteen months old at the time (and therefore wouldn’t have cared).
The present was a raccoon teddy. His name, so said his tag, was Raggy – still is, in fact, because Raggy continues to be a part of my life. Though I have moved around and suffered quite a lot of displacement in my life, especially in my teenage years, I have always had Raggy. He has crossed the ocean with me and even if he’s looking a little worse for wear, he’s still here.
I announced he was my favourite toy ever at the time and remember my mum saying that I would have a new favourite in a month; more than two and a half decades later, my stubbornness won out. He’s still my favourite.
Though Raggy isn’t the reason I got a tattoo of a raccoon, he is the start of it. Since then raccoons have been a running theme in my life. I have lots of raccoon toys around the place, and I get super excited about seeing them at Toronto Zoo, which is ridiculous when there are lions and giraffes (though I love them too). Raccoons now symbolise my move to Canada as they are one of the common animals I see around that I would never have seen wild in England.
When I was camping with my girlfriend and her parents earlier this year, my girlfriend took me to see a raccoon sleeping in a tree. We watched him until he woke up and gave us a death glare. At that point we made a swift exit because although I do love raccoons, I’m not an idiot. They’re not generally for cuddling.
That’s what I love about them: they’re assholes. Just like cats, they’re self-important and independent. They’re also fucking cute but dangerous as hell. They’re intelligent and they adapt well to anything. Sure, they’re also little thieves, but nothing is perfect.
My new tattoo is about twenty different symbols all rolled into one for me, and I couldn’t be happier with it.