When not toiling in the office or sitting in traffic, I have spent most of my time in Abu Dhabi at The Club. Nicknamed the ‘British Club’ by taxi drivers, this is an expatriate enclave near the new bridge to Saadiyat island. It has a sandy beach, gym, swimming pool, tennis and squash courts and many facilities to entertain the children. There are lots of rules to observe and notices such as “No horseplay or disruptive behaviour”. There is even a splendid beach restaurant, where at night you can sit and eat and watch the building work on Al Reem island. It rather reminds me of a boarding school, except that you can order beer and there are women around the swimming pool.
One thing in particular has struck me: the number of those bodies that are tattooed, particularly the women’s, many of whom are no longer in the first flush of youth. I had always thought that tattoos were the preserve of seamen and Samoans. In eight years of living in France – down near the Mediterranean, so there was plenty of opportunity for observation – I only saw one tattoo, and that was on the heel of a Goldman Sachs partner. She said that she had it done with her daughter in a kind of bonding ceremony. There was a time when that could be accomplished by a trip to Harvey Nicholls, but I guess a butterfly on your ankle serves equally well.
But clustered around the pool are women in bikinis, the majority of whom have something tattooed on their shoulder blade, or on their ample stomachs, or daringly down their back. What is the etiquette here? Can one say: “Nice tattoo. Where is the head of that snake that stretches down your back?” I suspect not.
My wife holds that these middle-aged women had their tattoos when they were younger, possibly on a hen weekend, but I don’t think this is the case. I suspect that the tattoo for a woman is the equivalent mid-life crisis that sends a man to buy a sports car. The person is hoping to send the message that they are still fit, eager, sexy – maybe a little dangerous - but in most cases it rings hollow. I recall a man who used to roar around our Sussex village in England in a red Porsche. That was fine, until he stopped and tried to get out. It would take him ten minutes or so to make it from the parking space to the pub. These women with their tattoos may think they look like Angelina Jolie – but just because you have ink on your buttocks that doesn’t make you one of the most beautiful women on the planet. It probably doesn’t help that the staple diet of these tattoo-wearers appears to be chips. Those tiny butterflies on the belly risk expanding into something more resembling giant bats.