Former Hell's Angel leader [Fifehead Magdalene Chapter] Harley Threadbike is preparing for another slow day. Loaded gun in hand [he puts in a good deal of solitary practice whilst waiting for a willing client] Tyneham's once most notorious bad boy sighs, refills his mug ["strictly tea these days"] and dreams of better things. He cannot recall when business was so dead or when his hands were so idle. Perhaps recalling the old adage about "the devil's work", he sets to fingering his trusty tool in an act at once suggestive of a restive spirit and a strong, well-practiced grip.
The sole proprietor of Mutilalations R'Us [12 The Alley, Tynham] since 2017, tattoo-artist Harley has seen good times and bad but none quite so challenging ["piss-shit-crapulous-wanksplat" is his own colourful expression] as those now facing his salon and many more specialist emporiums like it. "I sold my three wheeler to get this gig", explains the diminished 74-year-old in a voice hollowed by many a sleepless night spent tossing on his bed, "and we were doing great up until this CONTRIK crap ... but now it's all gone to shit". This brief burst of animation over, his attention returns to his tool now hanging limply in his hand. "This used to be up and running all the time", he says. "I can't tell you how many customers it's satisfied over the years... there's not many come into the back parlour and left without a smile and something else on their face", he recalls. Good times; good memories. He hopes for more, but finds an optimistic spirit hard to sustain.
In an effort to keep afloat, Mutilalations R'Us are currently offering "Three for one" on Sonny and Cher ladies' breast tattoos on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as part of Tyneham's Chamber of Commerce's "Tyneham Is Open For Business Days" Campaign. However, Harley is not best pleased. "There's a lot of work in that tattoo - even if you're just doing the one. Cher's alright but Sonny's teeth - well they're a challenge and when there's a tattoo on each breast they've got to match. Fortunately most of my lady clients only have two breasts and, if they are going for the three tattoos, they have the third somewhere on the arse [with Cher on one cheek and Sonny on the other] which seems appropriate. The arse doesn't have to match anything, which is good... plus it's not as obvious and anyone rooting down there is probably already in a quite forgiving mood. Then there's his bloody shirt of course. Frankly it's a nightmare - I'd far rather be doing deaths heads and skulls, but there's not much call for them at present: it's almost like people want cheering up".
So if people want cheering up, why Sonny and Cher we ask? "Well when I first learned to do them they were like the symbol of shit fun you know ... like taking the piss ... and then I got so used to doing them that everything sort of came out looking like them. I remember once a woman asked for a Roy Orbison and when I'd finished she said that looks more like Sonny and Cher. So I put a pair of sunglasses on him and turned her into a guitar. Fortunately it was quite near her whatsit, so there wouldn't be many as would see it. Happy days".
I leave Harley, reflecting on all of the victims of the current pandemic [not least my next-door neighbour who has been self-isolating for two weeks and still hasn't brought the bins in] and wondering how this magnificent retail beast came to be so lowered. He is filling up his sacks with fluid, as I pick up my coat, preparing for encounters he hopes are still to come... perhaps "dreaming", as the poet has it, "of love and Serenissima"?
Three for one Sonny and Chers are available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout September. Terms and skin conditioners apply.