I’m in a suburb in Prague.
It’s only a 20-minute metro from the city, but here apartments give way to rustic family homes with chicken coops and fruit trees in gardens. I’m in a room of one of these houses, a constant buzzing not quite drowned out by high-volume Chemical Brothers in my headphones.
I close my watering eyes, try to remember my yoga breathing, swear quietly under my breath. Meanwhile, a Ukrainian woman, a full 17 years younger than me is, carefully, beautifully, permanently, changing my body.
I’m 41 and getting my first tattoo.
You’d think I might start with something small, maybe in a discreet place. But my tattoos, drawn by my husband, are two fairly large magpies directly under my collarbone.
Unless I feel like wearing a polo neck all summer, they’ll always be visible. That’s fine by me. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want a single thing in my life to be small or discreet when they can be big, colourful, joyful.
I don’t want life to be normal anymore
I’ve written here before that I could have died this year. I had an undiagnosed rare condition, idiopathic subglottic stenosis, and was incredibly lucky to get emergency surgery before my body was unable to cope.
I’m still processing that I’ve gone from being a physically healthy 40-year-old to having a lifelong, incurable condition. Occasionally, I turn to my husband in the frozen aisle in the supermarket, or while eating a takeaway in front reality TV, and say: “Isn’t it weird I could have just dropped dead?” He gives me a cuddle, agrees, yes, it’s very weird, and we return to normal life.
Arvon Memoir Masterclass ready! pic.twitter.com/ZqPBPMh2W8
— Kerry Hudson (@ThatKerryHudson) May 6, 2022
Except I don’t want life to be normal anymore. I was never a shrinking violet and I’ve taken plenty of risks in my time. I travelled. I left a stable career to become a writer. But, as the years have gone on, as the pandemic stretched to two years, I definitely allowed my life to become slower, smaller.
Things I desperately wanted, and had no reason not to do or have, just never seemed a priority. Almost two years of illness, pandemic and motherhood had stopped me allowing myself to live fully.
Loud, big, and vibrant – the way life is meant to be
After my operation, I decided life was, quite obviously, too short. The first thing I did was book flights to take my son to visit the sea for the first time. I’d wanted to do this, take my wee boy and paddle his feet in the ocean, since before he was even born but, somehow, I always decided work, family visits, practical matters should come first.
I love outlandish clothes. Bright, clashing colours, strange, unflattering shapes, tassels and sequins, oh my!
When we were by the coast in Italy, I ate and drank everything. Honestly, I would always rather have cake for breakfast than a thigh gap, but it was good to relax into it.
I love food, why would I deny myself the joy of it for the sake of society’s idea of how much space I should take up? Instead, I stripped off and ran into the freezing sea, completely unselfconscious about my body.
Once home, I raided my wardrobe. You probably wouldn’t know it from my uniform of jeans, jumpers and boiler suits, but I love clothes. Nothing expensive, but I love outlandish clothes. Bright, clashing colours, strange, unflattering shapes, tassels and sequins, oh my!
At the back of my closet, I found all the things I’d bought and then deemed too wild to wear – a multicoloured, faux snakeskin bomber jacket, bright red balloon trousers, an orange and purple camo print opera coat, wide-collar 1970s shirts resembling magic eye puzzles – and I started wearing them.
I wore them everywhere: to the playground, the dentist, going to the laundrette. I died my hair bright blonde and now wear cowboy boots or silver brogues daily. I’ve become extra, or perhaps just exactly as loud, big, and vibrant as I was always meant to be.
Wear the dress, eat the ice cream, get the huge tattoo
We finally got a dog. We’d been meaning to for years, knowing we could provide a loving, stable, forever home for an animal but, like everything else, we’d always said: “In a bit”. But I don’t want to live “in a bit”. I want to live now.
So, we adopted a nine-year-old giant staffy-lab, whose owner had suddenly passed away. He’s smelly, enormous and he’s, thankfully, stopped humping everything. He’s already a beloved member of the family.
The thing is, we could all turn around and say: “Can you believe I could have died?” Or: “In a bit”. It’s easy to forget life is finite.
— Kerry Hudson (@ThatKerryHudson) April 27, 2022
Wear the dress, eat the ice cream, get the huge tattoo, let your giant, farting dog sleep happily on your bed. Live big, joyfully, colourfully.
Back in the tattoo parlour, my artist wipes the excess blood and ink from my chest. There are my tattoos, proud and prominent. She smiles at me: “It’s just… They’re just you. They’re absolutely right for you.”
She’s not wrong. I feel like I’ve been born with them.
I look at myself in the mirror: bigger, bolder. Yes, I’m a little broken, but I’m living with greater joy because of it.
Kerry Hudson is an Aberdeen-born, award-winning writer of novels, memoirs and screenplays. She lives in Prague with her husband, toddler and an angry black cat