Cutting loose at 78

Jim Madgwick shows off his new tattoo – a gift from his son.

What do you buy a 78-year-old, who has everything, for his birthday?

Jim Madgwick’s got something he has hankered after all his life…. a rose, just one bloom, a $150 bloom.
And last week that large traditional red rose was etched painfully into Jim’s bicep. The rose will endure, it will see him out. His first tattoo aged 78. He’s always been a bit of a boy, a bit of a late developer.

It was a “happy birthday, love Steven” gesture from his son. “Why a rose?  Never quite figured it,” says Steven. “It’s always been on his mind. I can remember even as a teenager, before I got my first tattoo.”

Could have been Bette Midler inspired. She might have sung “The Rose” just for Jim. “Far beneath the bitter snow, Lies the seed that with the sun’s love, In the spring becomes the rose.”

Spring’s here, so come Jim’s birthday, Steven said: “you have been going on about it long enough, so now you are it, you are booked in at 9am with ‘Spud’. So get your ass over here.” Spud is Alan Pudney of Heritage tattoo in Cameron Road.

There’s not exactly a queue of septuagenarians waiting to be inked. And Jim Madgwick’s not even Alan’s oldest client. “I have this Frenchman - he’s 82 - he drops in every Christmas when he visits family, and he takes home another little bit of Kiwiana.”

But Jim was someone special – “quite a character, funny old rooster”. There’s even a photo of Jim grimacing with pain as he goes under the needle. “He’s faking it – just a piss-take” says son Steven. 

“Not at all painful,” says Jim. “Like digging a prickle from your skin. The worst part is sitting still for an hour while your bum goes to sleep.”

The photo went up on Facebook with the caption – “sailed the seven seas, fought in ‘Nam but can’t handle the jandal”. All in good fun.

Jim showed his new body art to the guys at work. Yes, he’s still working, driving school buses after 28 years driving milk tankers. Jim was reluctant to repeat their comments.

“They’re only jealous. One guy said I should have had the wrinkles taken out of my arms first. A wilting rose he said. And he’s an ex-navy guy who doesn’t even have a tattoo.”

But the ex-sailor probably has a point, because tattooing older skin presents problems. “It’s a delicate material to work with,” says the artist Alan. “The skin has less resistance and the ink can spread under the skin. But the process in this case was good as gold.” So Jim’s bloom won’t be drooping anytime soon.

Jim’s an old biker, a member of the gentlemanly Ulysses Club for older rides, so a bit of ink won’t look out of place. But one tattoo is often not enough - has something to do with the rush of endorphins during tattooing and all the attention afterwards. Jim’s wounds haven’t even healed and he’s thinking about another. “I was born in the year of the snake,” – the sixth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. “So I might get a snake weaving around the rose.”

Son Steven might have some ideas – he has a few tats himself. “Spud did 99 per cent of them.” He gave Steven’s sister her first tattoo, also his niece and nephew their first tats. Ink runs in this family.

Jim didn’t need anyone’s blessing to get a tat – no wife, no partner. “So no women’s names involved,” says Jim. “I would have needed the whole length of my arm if I had gone down that path.”