I'm a firm believer that when people with a great story to tell make that story available to you, you should listen. Over the years I've heard Gordon Banks tell how he got into goalkeeping by being tall and just happening to be at a bus stop next to a football pitch upon which one team was short of a goalie. I've heard Frank Dick tell the story of how he guided Daley Thompson to his Olympic glories, I've heard two ordinary women who work for a bank tell the story of how they rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and I've heard Norman Whiteside tell the story of what it felt like to be the youngest player ever to appear at a World Cup. There are more to add to the list, some famous, some not and last night I added another to the roll.
Tucked between Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire you will find a very new, rather small and quite pleasant place called Buckshaw Village. A place where around 4,000 people have made their homes and the place I found myself on a blustery Friday night in September. There, in a community centre that serves as the local church, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr John Sentamu speak.
Who? Maybe the name Dr John Sentamu isn't one you are familiar with, I wasn't until two weeks ago but I was aware of his job (I just didn't know he was the one doing it). You've heard of the Archbishop of York? That's John Sentamu.
Now, don't run off...this isn't a tale of epiphanies and a glorious awakening and there is a bit right at the end for the tattooed folk out there.
It's not everyday you see the Archbishop of York in a community centre built on the sight of the old Royal Ordinance Factory so I went, partly to accompany my girlfriend and partly because...well, it's the Archbishop of York. Not being the religious type myself, I had that fish out of water feeling you get when you are a fish and you aren't in water and what followed was utterly surreal.
I hadn't expected proceedings to begin with a Parkinson style interview about music. It came as little surprise that the good doctor isn't a fan of Heavy Metal I just hadn't expected that to be a topic of conversation and I hadn't expected things to be so....well, laid back. I hadn't expect HIM to be so laid back. Where was the incense? Where was the prepubescent choir? No talking in Latin?? What on earth is this??
Moving on from music he told of his life in Uganda under Idi Amin (You've heard of him, right? Big bloke, a bit on the irritable side, fond of a uniform), how he found faith and how he was tortured and expected to die. Then he did a drum solo.
The floor was opened up to questions and one lady was thrown out of the room in response to hers. OK, so he let her back in, he was illustrating a point. Then he gave her a lesson in playing the drums.
I sat, at the back of course, utterly stunned. This was not how I envisaged an Archbishop.
After an hour so of this incredibly funny and inspirational man's speaking my mind was, to be quite honest, blown. Not just by what he said but by what he did; drums, temporary evictions, the lot. Oh and then there's his voice....if Morgan Freeman was Ugandan, he'd sound like John Sentamu.
Before we left, my girlfriend decided (being as much in the "Believe" camp as I am in the "I'm not so sure" camp) to go to him for a blessing, getting blessed by an Archbishop is a big thing you know. With a little coaxing I went with her, not for a blessing but I needed to see this guy up close. He found my lack of faith genuinely amusing, he didn't mock me, deride me or shun me and just speak to the faithful...he cracked up at my protestations, he suggested a career as a stand up comedian and then told me a joke about the difference between Jehovah's Witnesses and Skodas.
I could feel myself sweating, I was being dismantled with the kind of ease you usually see reserved for five piece jigsaws. My head was now mashed but not so mashed that I didn't seize the opportunity to ask about the God vs Tattoos debate. Having seen so many posts and comments on the internet saying how tattoos are sinful and how Leviticus says...blah blah blah, I had to ask one of the most prominent religious figures on the planet what he thought, well you would, wouldn't you?
The man just looked at me funny, as if I'd just asked the most ridiculous thing ever and said, "God takes you as you are". That was it. No clarification, no expanding on his point. Just that and as far as I'm concerned, that is that.
In future, whenever a Christian tells me how sinful my ink is, I will no longer need to explain myself, no longer have to contradict the Bible, I will simply say, "Really? Well the Archbishop of York said....".
This is Josef Craig, he's Britain's youngest Paraympic gold medalist. Still only 19 years of age, Josef has just been disqualified from appearing in the 100m freestyle final of the IPC European Championships (despite winning his heat) in Madeira because.....he failed to cover up his tattoo!
in 2012 Josef won gold at the London Paralympics yet, four years later, the tattoo which celebrates his achievement is considered "advertising" by the International Paralympic Committee.
A spokesman said, " Body advertising is not allowed in any way whatsoever and that includes the Olympic rings. The athlete did not wear a cover and was therefore disqualified." He went on to say, "All teams are informed of the advertising policy at a technical meeting prior to competition so it wasn't as if they had not been reminded about the rules."
Of course, you can take the stance that he knew the rules and it's his own fault for failing to cover the tattoo up, something he did do in the heats. Alternatively, you can ask, "What is he advertising?" Does he get paid to advertise the IPC? I'd have thought not. Will people rush to join the IPC? erm.....on this evidence, probably not.
This young man celebrated a remarkable achievement with a tattoo and today he's been punished for it. He's taken no drugs, he's had not been involved in blood doping, he hasn't deliberately hampered the opposition....He's had a tattoo, which I suspect he paid for and equally suspect he's received no payment for displaying it.
To my knowledge tattoos have yet to be proven to make people swim faster and they are at best only as streamlined as the skin they are embedded in yet, despite winning his heat, he will sit out the 100m final on a bullshit "advertising" technicality".
Apparently, the Olympic rings are, "... the exclusive property of the International Olympic Committee. They are marked protected around the world and can not be used without the IOC's prior consent." Are we to expect sanctions against every Olympic and Paralympic athlete who ever had the IOC's five rings tattooed upon them?
Josef, a cerebral palsy sufferer, who hails from Jarrow sensationally set TWO world records at the age of just 15, is still eligible to compete in the 400m event, provided he covers the tattoo up.
I know sports have rules but in a world where footballers dive to gain an advantage, a world where doping is increasingly common place and a world where cheating has almost become the norm, apparently using the Olympic rings without permission is unforgivable.
Football has resisted video replays, allegedly because it will slow the game down (or could it be because the richest clubs might now and again suffer at the hands of video evidence). Corruption and cheating has marred every sport to one degree or another and has remained largely unchecked yet this young man from the North East of England is disqualified for celebrating and commemorating his own outstanding achievements with a tattoo.
I wonder if FIFA would punish Lionel Messi were he to win the World Cup and then celebrate it with a tattoo. I believe not. If only, Josef Craig competed in a sport where money mattered more than the finer points of its own rules.
For many years tattoos were associated with, shall we say, the tougher members of society, warriors, soldiers, sailors, airmen and erm.....those whose grasp of the law was somewhat loose. These days that view isn't quite so common but an American study, published in the American Journal of Human Biology, suggests there may be some truth in it.
In a press release from the University of Alabama, Dr Christopher Lynn likens getting tattooed to going to the gym when you're out of condition. The first time you go it hurts, a lot, it takes days to get over the aches and pains but, if you continue to train, your body adjusts and it becomes more tolerant to the stresses and strains of a rigorous work out.
As Dr Lynn puts it, "After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium. However, if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher.”
In short...You get stronger!
Well, apparently, getting tattooed could be just the same.
The first tattoo you get can actually reduce your tolerance to minor infections, such as the common cold, but the more you get the more your immune system adjusts and helps you to fight off such illnesses.
So how did Dr Lynn come to this conclusion? Well, he found 29 volunteers, (24 women and five men) who submitted to saliva testing before and after tattoo sessions. His team measured levels of Immunoglobin A, what Dr Lynn calls a, "...front line of defence against some of the common infections we encounter..." and Cortisol, a hormone known to suppress the immune system in times of stress.
After the first tattoo, the levels of Immunoglobin A dropped due to the Cortisol's response to the stress of being tattooed, this was apparently as expected. However, in people who were tattooed frequently, this reduction in Immunoglobin A was less marked.
When you get tattooed your body gears up to fight infections, your new tattoo is an open wound and therefore a possible gateway for infection. Your body knows this and gets ready to do battle with any nasties trying to gain entry. If you are tattooed regularly your body, it appears, puts itself on permanent alert making you more able to stave of minor infections.
Personally, I think there may well be something in this. In the days before I was at the tattooist almost every month I used to suffer greatly when I got a cold (not man flu, that's not real). My colds would drag on for months, but now if I have a cold for a week, I'm surprised.
Did I ever make the connection between the two? Nah, I'm not an Associate Professor in Anthropology, but Dr Lynn is and he knows science and shit, so I'm going with it.