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Each tattoo inked on Clarrie Ramsden’s body tells a story. Hers is a tale of pirate queens, ukuleles, apple trees, ladybirds, draughty vicarages and much more




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Clarrie Ramsden is a walking canvas. Every tattoo on her body tells a story. She says she’s inked “from my ear down to my toes”. The artwork stretches across her chest, arms and legs: each is linked to a moment in her life or a person she loves.
Clarrie retired from teaching 18 months ago, after 31 years. Her first husband died suddenly a few years ago. Through difficult times, Clarrie has found the strength to carry on. As well as being a teacher, Clarrie is a musician, a performer, a horticulturalist, a climate activist – and she has a collection of 226 pairs of Doc Marten boots! She comes from an interesting family: her great-great-grandmother met her husband, when she pulled him out the sea at Cleethorpes after a shipwreck. She comes from a long line of strong women.
Since Covid, we’ve all heard the word “infectious” swirling about. It’s been seen as a scary, negative word. But I’d like to offer another meaning of infectious: I hope you will be infected by Clarrie’s story. Infected and inspired to do what you can in your corner of the world; to make a difference and even have fun.


My Dad’s Last Words
The most recent tattoo is on my arm, of my dad's last words. He died 3 years ago. He was a vicar, a cannon of York Minster and a very interesting bloke. He had been approached by his old parish about some advice about the church organ, because he was also the district organ advisor for York - he was an exorcist too, I found out. Anyway, they were asking about what they should do about the organ. He was blind at the end of his life and he had Parkinson's. It was really tough. And the last piece of writing he ever wrote was, “Go for it. No time is better than now.” I just thought, “What an epitaph.” So I've actually got that tattooed on my arm and a few times when I'm struggling a bit, I'll just pat it and say, “Yeah, I can do this. I've got this and I crack on with it. Go for it. No time is better than now.” And I go off and have another adventure.
I was born in Hull. And I don't remember much about it other than when I was about 6 and I was fighting my big brother for some reason and I put his backside through one of the windows. I also remember dodging the coalman, because we couldn’t afford to pay for the coal. Then we moved to Middlesbrough to a big Victorian house with fantastic bannisters to slide down. Lovely, but always cold. We used to play up in the attic where the servants used to live in the old days. Still had the bell pushes on the wall. And then we moved to York, near the university. And my bedroom was really cold because it was a weird 1970s house; my bedroom overhung empty space and there was a big crack in the wall that the wind used to blow through. I had to make the bread. That was my job. I made 9 pounds of bread a week. 3 pounds of white and six pounds of granary.
From an early age you had to make cups of tea for bishops. I’d have to get up on a Sunday morning and go serve at church, make the cups of tea for the old ladies. I learned by osmosis to be nice to people. Being helpful, being kind – it’s how you want to be treated, isn’t it?


Ukulele Pirate Queen
On my left forearm I've got the Turtle of Fifths. Any of you that are musicians know about playing through the 5ths. It's great if you are jamming late at night in the pub somewhere and someone says, “We’re playing so-and-so in B flat”. You think, “What chords do I need?” and you just have to look down at your Turtle of Fifths and there you are.
I play the ukulele and I used to perform as the Ukulele Pirate Queen. She was based on Diana Dors, the kind of old sexy, really womanly, vamp. I wore a lovely Union Jack corset, Union Jack boots, big blue skirt: amazing. I’d get up on stage at the George Formby Society in Blackpool and it was very entertaining. I think it started by watching the old films on the weekend, sort of the film noir really. I used to love watching films with really super sexy film stars in dresses. They were very womanly, but very in control. Really powerful women. We did a bit panto in the church I think that's where it started. I could never see why you would just want to sit at home and be boring. Just get out and have a bit of fun!

There was a group of ukulele players that used to meet in the club opposite where I lived. Once a month all these old guys used to get up on stage, with ukuleles and banjoleles. They’d start playing, Leaning on Lamppost, doing all the fancy tricks. I bought myself a cheap ten quid ukulele and I got up and performed. My husband watched me and it was brilliant. And then he went bloody died on me. So it was a way of sort of channelling, that pain and that grief through music. And I've actually got one of Tessie O’Shea’s banjoleles. Tessie O Shea was an inspiration to me. “Ten Ton Tessie from Tennessee” - she was actually Welsh. I've got this instrument of hers. She was a big, strong, fantastic woman who took no rubbish off anybody. I've also got some of her stage clothes. It's just amazing that you can take a little bit of her and make it your own. She was a Welsh girl who sang at carnivals, from a theatrical family and she reinvented herself into this big star.

Snowflakes, Teacups, Oak Trees and Tits
The first tattoo I ever got was a ladybird, about the size of your little fingernail, because ladybirds are tough little survivors. Like me. I was 36 and quite unhappy. I was in quite a dark place. We were on holiday and my friend said, “Come on let’s get a tattoo.” Peer pressure! It was a tiny thing on my shoulder. That started it all off.

Then I had a leaf, turning over a new leaf. And then on my right leg I've got some snowflakes. That was to do with depression and the idea that “This too


will pass”. I've got a storm in a teacup on the other leg. Anybody that knows me knows that the first thing I'll say is, “Do you want a cup of tea?”. And then I've got wings on my heels. I've got an oak that grows from my ankle all the way up to my hip. It's got little birds on it. I've got my Clarice Starling playing the ukulele. I've got a Nightingale and I've got a nice pair of tits: great tits. The birds!


Covering up and Recovering
When I was working as a teacher, I had to hide all my tattoos even in the summer. I had to cover literally from the neck down to the toes, because I'm covered in tattoos. That got bit warm! I worked really, really hard, I was constantly dashing about and never really had time to sit and think and feel. Apart from six weeks in summer where I used to sleep. By the end of the second week I was vaguely human. By the third week I was mostly human. In term time it was a 100-miles-an-hour.
I loved it when the kids “got it”. A lot of them came to us excluded from school and they’d had quite negative experiences. I remember years ago we were doing Macbeth. I love Macbeth. So bloodthirsty. One of the children came in and said, “Did you see Corrie last night? That Tracy Barlow, she's just like Lady Macbeth. She's such a bully and she's controlling everybody”. Yes! I mean, it's moments like that that made it worth it.
A lot of people were quite surprised I was a teacher because I'm not really a twin-set-and-pearls type of gal,

you know? I found that now I've had time to not be that Mrs Ramsden teacher person. But there’s a lot more in life. It's good fun. Retiring has been a massive shift because when you’re working, you've got your internal model and you know who you are in the world. And you stepped into that role: you’re Mrs Ramsden, and you know that you do this, this and this every day. When you’re not in that role anymore, you think “Who am I?” It's really quite mind boggling, because being a teacher, you are only yourself on the weekend. After you finish working, suddenly you've got the whole week. What do I do? I started doing courses. There's lots of free courses at the Kentmere Centre, through the LS14 Trust and We Are Seacroft. Then I got involved with Climate Action in Seacroft, and I found out that I’m quite a nice person actually. I found out I've got far, far more to offer. I always thought when I was teaching that all I could do, but actually I'm finding now I've got so many transferable skills. Retiring is strange. You feel a bit like an octopus in a box, sticking in a tentacle out and then climbing out and finding where the world is.

The tattoos I've got across my decolletage (or frontage) are blossoms. I had them done after my husband Mick died. He dropped dead on me one morning, which wasn’t a very nice thing to do. He was 52 and fit as a lop. He had a pulmonary embolism; just one of those things. It was awful. It didn’t understand grief, I didn’t understand the word “bereft” until it happened to me. The cherry blossoms are about love: little blossoms, fragile blossoms holding my heart together. Love’s so fragile and life’s so fragile. I’ve been so blessed in my life.
I thought I’d never find love again. Then I met Mark in a pub. I was getting chatted up by a bit of a weirdo. I’d seen Mark through the bar and though, “He's nice.” I went over and said, “Hello, I'm Clarrie, can I come and rescue myself on you?” He said “Yeah. What are you drinking?” He bought me a pint and that was it, and we've been together ever since. Within a week, we were living together and we set the date for the wedding, a year and a day later. We got married on the stage of the Leeds City Varieties, in the middle of the show. It was amazing.
When Covid and lockdown came both myself and my husband were at home because he's clinically vulnerable - he’s only got one lung. So we sat in the house terrified to go anywhere. I said, “Should we grow some vegetables?” When I met him, his garden was just pebbles. He went out to work one day and came home to a rockery. Next day, we got an herb garden and it basically went on like that. We got everything delivered. We built a raised bed and grew all sorts of vegetables, even to the point that we went out on Christmas Day and dug the potatoes up. There's a thing called Square Foot Gardening. You divide the garden up into 1-foot squares. And then put different crop in its square. It's just so much easier because otherwise it's so big and so scary. Like life really: If you’re struggling with something, chop it into little bits. You can't eat an elephant on in one bite!
Then one of my friends said, “I hope you don't mind, but I've joined you into this little chat group of people that are interested about growing stuff and the environment.” Well, it's gone crazy. Climate Action in Seacroft is a group of local people who are interested in doing something practical about the climate. So we have Get Growing Seacroft, we've got a community allotment up in Killingbeck:  it's got a polytunnel, it's got a lovely big pizza oven and a lovely social area. It's got a loo, it’s got a shed, it's got raised beds and it's got a bed which is growing herbs to make tea out of. Obviously, it's got the kettle because you can't do anything without cup of tea - it puts the “tea” into “community.”
We grow plants and save seeds that then into community seed banks. We've got plans that would like to actually develop little pocket parks around the area. There’s a grass verge near me, so I'm going to put an apple tree on it and put some nice plants around it as well, make it nice place to be. Green the area up. The legacy is that in 20- years’ time, we can all walk to a tree, sit under it, read a book, pick an apple and eat it. Absolutely gorgeous.
I’ve made so many lovely friends, amazing people. What happened in Seacroft during the pandemic was the third sector people all joined together as We Are Seacroft. I think it's amazing. We’re all working together, for example on the energy crisis. Giving away coats, to keep people warm; giving away slow cookers. I work on the old method of put a jumper on, put another jumper and put hat on. Put your coat on. Put the dog on. Now blanket. Now another dog. Now the cat. Are you still cold? Okay, now you can put the heating on. But I think that's growing up in cold, draughty vicarages
We’re doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things. It’s people talking about what you can do, not what they need to do - as in the government. This is what we can do. We can do our little piece, our little square foot. And actually make a real difference.

I’ve been so blessed in my life. To have loved and to have been loved. Hopefully when I go kicking and screaming into the grave, I’ll be able to say I’ve lived a life well loved – that’s all we can hope for isn’t? 

Find out more about Climate Action in Seacroft on Facebook and at


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