I’ve lived in the Bedfordshire town of Ampthill for twelve years and I’m very happy here. It’s a town of around 7000 people that nestles up against the dip slope of the Greensand Ridge – a bit of geography for you there. Its name derives from what you get a lot of in warm, sandy places – ant hills.
Despite the ants, it’s a nice place. Ampthill has a lot to recommend it but it has its downsides too. It’s slightly heavy on the hairdressers and specialist shops and although you can buy clothes here, if you want ‘basics’, i.e. plain t-shirts or a replacement pair of school trousers for little Johnny because he’s put his knee through them; you’ll have to go elsewhere. But, as small towns go, in this more challenging trading environment, Ampthill’s holding up well.
However, from time to time, Ampthill seems to find itself in the news for the most absurd reasons. A few years ago we had ‘bunting-gate’, where the local fire brigade were prevented from taking down the festival bunting, because leaning a ladder up against a lamp post was deemed by ‘health and safety’ as a far too dangerous activity. I’m afraid the bringing of that story to the world’s attention may have inadvertently been my fault. So I apologise once again to the then Mayor, Mark Smith for giving him a rather manic time that week.
Last year, one of our pubs, the Queen’s Head, got into the papers – well I say papers, it was the Daily Mail, which is less a newspaper, more a fanzine for people with rather barmy opinions. Apparently, covering up the picture of Catherine of Aragon (the first wife of Henry VIII), with a picture of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, to celebrate her marriage to Prince William; was fine. But, a few weeks later as a bit of a joke, the landlord swapped the picture for one of her sister Pippa’s bottom at the same wedding. It was deemed a ‘step too far’. The resulting furore was accompanied by the special harrumphing noise that you get in these middle England towns, when someone dares to put a toe out of line and expose Major General Duckface to the ‘real world.’
Ampthill even has its own peddler of piffle – “Charlie Garth”, who seems to spend his life writing pointless letters to local papers, raging on about something the rest of us really don’t give a toss about. I wonder if half this crap isn’t coming from him? Although I take full responsibility for bunting gate. We all know who he is and frankly, him still writing under a pseudonym is completely pointless. Come on Malcolm, grow the heck up. I’ll spare the world your surname, but we all know who you are.
In the last few weeks, Ampthill’s been making the news again for all the wrong reasons. In one of the former antique shops a tattoo studio has opened up. Trading for any business in this economic climate is tough, so starting a new business takes some balls. Less can be said about the anonymous coward who took it upon themselves to issue a flyer, to bring this new business to the attention of the ‘nice people of Ampthill’. I got missed, I’m obviously not nice enough.
Their main beef, apart from some clap trap about it not meeting planning regulations, was that it wasn’t the sort of thing we wanted in Ampthill. It was first reported in Bedfordshire on Sunday on 29th January but since then, other news outlets have got hold of the story, including the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2.
I’ve seen a copy of the flyer now and it’s almost laughable. The first point is that it will bring ‘noise and disturbance’. From where? Oh I know, the hordes of Redborne students clamouring to get their ‘I love Ryan Austin’ designs, or those people falling drunkenly out of the Old Sun at closing time and staggering in to get ‘knob’ tattooed on their heads.
Anyone with even a cursory working knowledge of tattooing will know that this is not the sort of thing that getting a tattoo involves.
I have no desire to get a tattoo. I’m a wuss, I won’t even pluck my eyebrows; but I have friends who have tattoos and I know two things about the process:
1) The months they spend choosing the right design. It’s going to be there forever, you want to make the right choice.
2) That people choose the tattoo artist based on reputation. They go on word of mouth and seeing the finished result. The better the artist, the more business they will get.
Nobody sets up a new tattoo studio on a whim, they need to be good to be able to compete with everyone else out there. Tattoos take time to do and as for watching through the window – so what? They’re having a tattoo, not a cervical smear! Admittedly, you might not want to watch a grown man cry when he’s having his genitalia done, but anything else and we’re straying into the realms of ‘is it right to let woman breast-feed their baby in public?’ Don’t get me started on that, the only answer is yes. Get over it.
Although a tattoo is not for me, I have no objection to it and positively welcome this broadening of Ampthill’s retail sector. After all, there are only so many hairdressers and solicitors one town can take. I’m more morally offended that we have a Masonic Lodge still operating in the town than a tattoo studio. The studio is subject to the open scrutiny and regulation of Central Bedfordshire Council, safeguards are in place to ensure that they conduct their business within the law. While, if the Masons do indeed want to do lots of lovely charity work, why do they need to dress it up within the confines of a by invitation, secret, men-only club? Sorry, they can justify what they do all they like, but I will never get that point. And don’t tell me I ‘don’t understand’ because I do; I have made it my business to understand. How is it that everyone else, from the Girl Guides to the Mother’s Union, have to have an ‘open door’ policy on membership, but yet the Masons are allowed to remain? That to me is more abhorrent than someone wanting a butterfly safely tattooed on their ankle.
Ampthill continues to thrive despite the best efforts of both the economy and at times, its own residents. It is a shame that some wish to drag it down and give the rest of the world the idea that we’re all ‘too posh’ for a tattoo. The fact that anyone has a tattoo these days is not remotely shocking and you may be surprised at who has one. I have been taken aback at times when people have told me they have a tattoo, but it’s not from a sense of moral outrage, but admiration that they’re willing to go through so much pain in the name of art!
There are lots of wonderful people in this town, I’ve mentioned one already – Mark Smith and there are thousands more like him. I’m really hoping that the next time Ampthill hits the papers that it’s for something good and uplifting. It really is a great town and has so much going for it. It’s been fantastic to see that the great many residents don’t care one bit that we now have a tattoo studio and really can’t see what the fuss is about. That’s the real Ampthill, right there. But I suppose like everywhere, the good comes with an equal amount of the ridiculous and I’m sure that whoever circulated that flyer thinks I’m ridiculous too.
I may be, but I stand by my words; you don’t even have the guts to own up to yours.
Rachel J Lewis