A Filthy Mind Is Good To Find

I was chatting about internal lives recently, especially where it comes to issues of attraction, and fantasy, as you do. Innuendo and sometimes not even single-entendres feature heavily in many of the conversations I have with partners and friends – so this always means keeping at least half an eye on boundaries.

You might think that this is particularly true with regard to some of my older colleagues, but as they spent some time trying to see if I was shockable I consider them fair game for as much veiled near-bone ribbing as possible. One of the great joys of getting older has been finding people generally not being particularly precious, or at least being more thick skinned. So while still remaining within the bounds of decency, the jokes and conversations and can and do get a little pointed.

So far so normal in general, but the real debate was around recognising the internalised tensions that some people have about recognising and owning attraction and boundaries. The conversation then meandered around the differences between ethical non-monogamy and cheating and how this informs mainstream representation of relationships in the media, such as the ubiquitous love triangle that always has polyam viewers wanting to throw things at the screen.

This belief that someone who is polyamorous will uncritically listen to and support someone in an affair is one of the major annoyances that I and my partners have encountered again and again.

Even with my hyperactive brain and ability to fall in love several times a day, I have no guilt over crushes and attractions – and I’m lucky enough in my dynamics that I can even mention them and it becomes a source of amusement or sometimes mutual quiet agreement where we fantasise out loud for a brief period before getting on with the day.

I long ago accepted that I have a filthy mind, and that fantasy is a strong element of my internal life. That’s just who I am. But breaking trust and hearts? Causing hurt? Why add to the cruelty of the world? It’s selfish and destructive.

It generally boils down to this: even if you can’t pin down where the line in the sand for your relationships is, you know when you’re crossing it. If you don’t know, then you need to have some sober conversations to check in and make sure you’ve agreed where those lines are.

Short Story: Boundaries

The mists rolled in, blanketing the town quickly and silently in its valley. Cool and soothing, they deadened sound and reduced visibility to little more than an arms-length. The town’s inhabitants stayed indoors, apart from young Danvers who insisted he needed to get back to the farm

He was filled with the bravado of youth, and the stubbornness that his father had brought to their land when he’d first started wrestling a livelihood from the sparse soil on his property. As a result he waved aside offers of the spare room above the diner. He could take it slow and even, he said, and he knew the local roads like the back of his hand.

His journey was easy enough as he started. Everyone else was off the roads, so he didn’t have to jockey for position to get out of the carpark or into the correct lane to head up into the hills along the old dry stone walls he and his father had built for so many of the properties and field boundaries.

He rounded the corner just before Farthing Street at a careful speed, relieved to see the dark mass of the huge old oak tree they’d had to build around. Then he frowned and brought the car to a stop. Someone had pulled the wall down. In fact, someone was still in the process of pulling the wall down.

He got out and walked quickly towards the slender figure levering stones away from the base of the tree. He recognised the vandal quickly enough: old Mrs Lehman. The old bike she habitually rode was propped up against the wall on the other side of the road, it’s light feebly shining but doing very little to illuminate the scene.

“Hey!” He called to her. “What the hell are you doing? You’re going to cause an accident!” He waved his hands in the air to encompass the stones currently spread over the verge and road.

“Oh! It’s you!” She responded, a note of annoyance audible in her tone. “Make yourself useful – I told you you had to take this wall the other side of the tree.” She waved at a stack of stones nearby.

“Oh not this again! It was quicker to fence it in. We talked about this!” He put his hands on his hips and refused to come any further.

“It’s a boundary marker, didn’t your father teach you anything?” She began to lay stones along the other side of the tree so that nothing lay between it and the junction.

“A what? It’s a tree next to a crossroads, and the walls are there to protect it from drunken louts joyriding in stolen Ford Focuses and losing control of their vehicles. Now, am I going to have to call the police?”

” Is your name Snow? Do you know nothing? The marker’s been here to set the boundaries for generations. You don’t just unilaterally change something like this, the Gentry don’t like it!”

“What? Mister Jabber from The Grange? What’s he got to do with it? The Council signed off on it and everything!”

“Oh if the PCC signed off then that’s everything sorted!”


“Of course not. Listen, can you hear them through the fog?”

“Who?” But he could hear a noise. Several noises in fact. The hoofbeats of several riders approaching. The jangle of harness, laughter on what breeze there was, and suddenly Young Danvers was sure he shouldn’t be here in the mists in the night.

Mrs Lehman nodded and pointed a finger as she saw realisation dawn across his features. That’s it. These old boundaries were negotiated. We can live in the town as long as the boundaries are respected. We don’t go into the Summer Lands and they don’t come down into ours. Now come on!”

Prompted by a growing chill of unease, he joined her in tearing down the drystone wall and clearing the road. They were just closing the gap on the rebuilt wall that this time went behind the oak and it’s grasping branches when the lead rider came into view.

“Don’t look!” Mrs Lehman hissed, and Danvers averted his gaze from the radiant paragon of life and health and dark mirth before him. He put the last stone in place, feeling the dark gravity of the horseman’s regard, and then suddenly it was gone. So too was the mist and the dread.

Mrs Lehmen’s bike had fallen into the road at some point, and seemed unharmed – aside, that is, from the wide scorched mark of a horse’s hoof in its back wheel.

Writing Lines

I remember writing lines as a punishment at school. It didn’t happen very often, mostly because I got very good at staying within the text of the rules if not the spirit, and by not getting caught on those occasions where I decided I knew better. My counsellor would be among the first to point out that I’ve never met a rule that didn’t make me want to dig my heels in. The flip side as many will agree is that I rarely meet a barrier I don’t want to push against.

What was fascinating to me at school was how the punishment was often subverted by those undergoing it. Sometimes the punishment would be what most would understand by representations in media as varied as The Simpsons and Harry Potter. Most people think of lines as variants on “I will not tell lies”, or “I will not sell bridges to gullible Americans” – repetition as punishment in the hope the message will sink in.

At our school it was often more incentive. We had to check out pages of special blue paper with exactly 25 lines on each side from our House Master. We then had to fill those lines with at least seven words a line, copying from a text. I imagine at least some of you can already see where this went.

The most passive aggressive response to this punishment was to draw out a 7×25 grid on each side and fill those boxes. Sometimes we would just copy a text, other times we would do it in reverse, or vertically. 

For those teachers and prefects who didn’t bother reading the results we got more inventive. There was a fad for putting in random words, and then for making patterns, like writing in a spiral. Then some bright spark noticed that no one ever specified what text had to be copied, so all bets were off. Hedgerows and older siblings’ bedrooms were searched for copies of Penthouse and the like (ah the joys of pre-internet Britain), and stories and articles duly remixed in patterns on the page.

Did the punishments ever stick? What do you think? Lines were designed to waste our time, and were treated with contempt accordingly. Perhaps this explains a bit more about my approach to rules: that they are there to make you at least think for a moment about consequences before you break them good and hard.

It’s all about personal responsibility you see, owning the consequences of what you do and recognising what drives your responses to situations. 

Those line writing exercises may have slid off my back like water from the proverbial duck, but at the same time the reverse of them as a repetitive mental exercise can be a useful tool. 

When I’m thinking over things that have got under my skin and I’ve worked out why I’m letting stupid things irritate me, it can be a useful exercise to set myself some mental lines as a corrective. Instead of telling myself “I will not rewire the physics lab bench supplies”, or “I will not set fire to the bin”, I instead set my own boundaries like: “I will not be an entitled jerk when someone doesn’t message straight back”

What lines should you be writing for yourself?