A-Z

Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Choosing not to use drugs

All of the people we talked to had been offered drugs, or knew where they could get them, but some had chosen not to take them. Here, young people talk about why they keep away from illegal substances including:
  • Fear of the risks involved in drug-taking
  • Family relationships
  • Having aims and ambitions in life
  • Having no interest in drugs
 
They also talked about how to handle pressure from others to take drugs.
 
Fear of the risks
Some had a fear of becoming addicted to drugs which put them off trying them. Steph’s mother had a heroin addiction. She can’t help but associate illegal substances with drug addiction and says that her upbringing means she can’t have a ‘careless’ attitude to drugs.
 

Steph is scared of drugs because of her mother’s heroin addiction.

Steph is scared of drugs because of her mother’s heroin addiction.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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My, yeah my upbringing has definitely changed my opinion because I know a lot of teenagers. I don’t envy them but a lot of teenagers that can have that careless thing of drinking and maybe taking drugs which I’ll never have. I’ll never understand why they have the carelessness of that because I’ve seen on the news about a girl that took cocaine and within an hour was dead and things like that. So I never see the carelessness of the drug use but the carelessness of alcohol I’ll never have because of my upbringing and because in my mind psychologically I see it more of an, obviously day-to-day I see it more of an addiction than just a one time thing and I sort of, I think I’d scare myself into thinking that it wouldn’t just be that one time and I’d want to do it again and again and again sort of thing. So I sort of stop myself in case I get addicted which I probably won’t but, you know, I don’t know how to put it really. It’s kind of like a psychological thing where I think in my brain I could become addicted to this so I don’t do it. But so it’s basically why I don’t really drink over the amount and things like that because I’m sort of scared of seeing my upbringing and my life that has been that it could be potentially an addiction. And sort of I don’t know, I want, [ha] I suppose I once heard as well that it can be like, is it the word hereditary where it’s in your family things like that. But or an escape route really I’d say sort of could be seen as that like where I see my situation and I could have seen my situation with that I’m in at the minute or there was when I had my daughter and things like that with no family around and everything like that as an escape route.  
 

Kim has never used drugs because she is afraid of addiction and the other effects of drugs.

Kim has never used drugs because she is afraid of addiction and the other effects of drugs.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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And when you refused what was their attitude to you?
 
Nothing, nothing at all. They respected the fact that I didn’t want anything.
 
So they didn’t put any pressure on you?
 
No.
 
And how did you feel when you refused drugs?
 
Not sure probably quite glad I did. [ha ha] Yeah.
 
But it was sort of you were not interested in drugs because of what you had heard, you were concerned about?
 
And addiction.
 
You were concerned about addiction?
 
Yeah.
 
So you were more than concerned you were scared of getting addicted to it?
 
Yeah I’d say that was the biggest factor.
 
And why do you think you were concerned about that?
 
Just because I know drugs are addictive, [ha] yes very addictive.
 
What I am trying to understand is why you at that age as a teenager why you were concerned about becoming addicted? Because you were afraid?
 
I don’t know it was just
 
Anything else?
 
No I’d just say it was more addiction. I suppose afraid as well to see what the side effects were once you’d taken it yeah I suppose. 
A few other people also described their concerns about the risks and consequences of drug taking as the main reason for not wanting to try them. PSHE lessons taught young people about the risks of drug-taking and some were influenced by high-profile cases of drug-related deaths involving young people. Jamie, Stefanie and Jen were all secondary school students at the time that Leah Betts died after taking ecstasy. Her father spoke at Jamie’s school as part of a campaign to make young people aware of the risks of taking drugs.
 

Jen has never taken ecstasy because watching a film about Leah Betts at school made her terrified of the possible consequences.

Jen has never taken ecstasy because watching a film about Leah Betts at school made her terrified of the possible consequences.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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And what about among your group of friends was anybody doing sort of drugs or?
 
A few of my friends were taking pills. They’d go out to big raves and stuff and. See I was more affected. You know Leah Betts who died after it. I was in Social Ed when I was at school. We were shown the video of her all sort of puffed up and stuff after she’d taken a pill. And since then I was always just too terrified to. I was always really scared about what might happen if I took a pill. So I have never, I never experienced that actually.
 
This is interesting. So how old were you?
 
I was probably about 16 when I saw that video.
 
And this was at school.
 
At school yeah
 
And it was discussed?
 
And it was discussed yeah and the dangers and stuff and that had a total lasting. I know and a few people who I went to school with it also had a lasting effect on that kind of. This is what. And it’s probably, the thing that now looking back on it I, there’s part of me that wishes I’d been a bit more adventurous but which is that lasting legacy of that image in my head and it was probably very unusual and it was so rare for that to happen but it did definitely have a lasting effect on how I viewed what, you know, taking pills might do to you. I guess because it was so awful and so terrible but it’s just happened to a normal girl I guess and that really put me off.
 
Normal girl so someone like you?
 
Yeah.
 
You could identify with her?
 

Yeah absolutely and you know if that happened to her then. And I think probably because you’d heard, you know, oh you should drink lots of water when you take pills and stuff. And I could easily imagine myself, you know, drinking too much water and you know. I could imagine the scenario so. 

Family life
Respect for parents, and sometimes grandparents, was another important reason for not using drugs.  Stefanie once tried cannabis with her school friends but was terrified of the thought of her mum finding out. She described her mum as someone with ‘strong’ anti-drug opinions.
 

Kayleigh knew that her mother and grandmother would have been very upset if she did drugs. She didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

Kayleigh knew that her mother and grandmother would have been very upset if she did drugs. She didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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I can’t think I’m hurting other people’s feelings so if I did something that I knew my Mum would find out and she’d be upset I couldn’t do that I just, I just, no it would bring me into panic attacks and things like that, and my Mum always had the best of them because like my Nana, and she’s still alive now, and she would, my Mum would tell my Nana and it would break my Nana’s heart if she found out anything and I, and I couldn’t do that to someone else, I think it is the best tool ever [laughs] if it works for the child, because she would be like, “Oh if you do that I’m going to tell your Nana.” And I’d be, “Don’t tell my Nana, don’t tell her.” Even now if it, you know, and my Mum says, “Oh I went and tell your Nan.” “Don’t tell my Nan.”
 
Obviously you’re very close to your Gran?
 
Yeah, I think it’s hurting people’s feelings as well you know?
 
Because I think if my Mum found out I did something really bad she would be hurt, and I think I couldn’t hurt someone, it’s that how you behave how that impacts on other people and I mean it’s different now because I’m an adult but when I was younger I think. 
Many parents had spoken openly about drugs and alcohol with their children and encouraged them to feel confident to say ‘no’ (see Family relationships, drugs and alcohol).
 

Alex A says that his attitude to drugs comes from his parents and from seeing the effects of drugs on others.

Alex A says that his attitude to drugs comes from his parents and from seeing the effects of drugs on others.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
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What do you think has helped?
 
I just learnt like when you’re walking through town you can see who’s on drugs and it makes you think, ‘Is it really worth that?’ You know, like you don’t, you’ve not got a job. It’s not worth like losing everything for what, for drugs. I don’t think anyway.
 
What do you think has helped you to have this attitude?
 
It’s like I’ve not really, well my mum and dad like said, ‘Drugs are not right. Don’t go taking drugs because it’s not good for you and it will affect you’. And nobody of my mates takes drugs so I don’t. I’m not like pressured in to taking them. So it’s never really been around me.
 
I know of people like who went to school with us had a bit of a like, who’s had a bit of run ins with drugs like. And I just think it’s not worth, you know, getting into it because I know what it, you can see what it’s done to them like.
 
Like what?
 
Like they stop eating. They take money off their mum and dad just to buy them. Don’t look after their selves whatever like think, ‘Where will I get my drugs from next?’ kind of thing.
 
Ok so you have seen that?
 
Yeah, yeah.
 
Ok and that has put you off?
 
Yeah, yeah.
 
Also it seems to me that you have quite a good relationship with your parents from what you have said?
 
Yes. Like they’ve told me like, they’ve taught me like right and wrong of things and I do listen to them because I know what they’re, I know what they’re like. Know that they’re doing it for my benefit. So…
 
Would you sort of describe your parents as strict and…?
 
Not really strict, not, not strict at all but like now I’m 18 they’ll just say, ‘Look I can’t tell you what to do. I can just like advise you what to do.’ And I still listen to them and they weren’t strict when I was younger. They let me, they let me do stuff but I suppose at that age you are, you’re going to do what you want anyway aren’t you.  
 

Bekky has been influenced by her parents’ anti-drugs attitude.

Bekky has been influenced by her parents’ anti-drugs attitude.

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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And regarding drugs what is your experience of illegal drugs?
 
I haven’t really had any experience with them but I think that some drugs they’re like really, really easy for people to get like. Where I live there’s quite a lot of people I’d say that smoke and drink and take drugs. And they’ll just be like, no just say, ‘Oh I’ll get a tenner off me mum and then I’ll go and buy some weed and stuff like that. And like they’ll just go and see somebody who they know and just get it easily. And I just think, ‘God that’s way too easy’. If it were harder to get then not many people could do it could they’.
 
What do you think has helped you to develop this attitude to not do drugs?
 
I think it’s my parents really because my mum’s always like brought me up and like said to me like and she’s always made me aware of consequences of what happens when you start doing stuff like that like. And if I’ve seen people how they look and how they behave and I think that just puts me off it mainly because it’s just seeing them that. I just think I don’t want to be like that.  
 

Emily doesn’t want to use illegal substances because of what she has learnt from her parents and PSHE lessons at school.

Emily doesn’t want to use illegal substances because of what she has learnt from her parents and PSHE lessons at school.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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You said that one of the things that influenced your attitude to drugs has been the information you have got or you have received from school and from college. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
 
Well a lot more from school there’s like in our PHSE lessons and stuff like that they talked about drugs and alcohol and the risks and why not do them and why you should say no and peer pressure to do with that because a lot of drugs around this area is to do with peer pressure. So but they like told us about the risks and that so a lot more people… I think that helped a lot of people as at college depending on what course you’re doing it depends on whether you get taught about them because there’s no, all you do is the course that you do. So like with doing the course I do, you do find a lot more about it. So…
 
Ok so that has helped?
 
That has helped yes.
 
And apart from that what else do you think?
 
I think as well as how I’ve been brought up, I’ve been brought up not to look at them and say ‘No’ and stuff. There’s some other people might have been, never been brought up to them and like never been said that they can say ‘No’ it’s never been. Because it has never been an issue so but you get talked to it about and stuff that some parents won’t talk to their kids about it. So I think it depends on how you’re brought up and your parents and that. So…
 
So you have this sort of communication with your parents in which you are able to talk to them about things?
 
Yes.
 
Ok with both of them, your mum and your dad?
 
Yes with both my parents. Yes
 
Do you have brothers and sisters?
 
Yes I have two sisters.
 
Older or younger?
 
One older and one younger.
 
Is their attitude to drugs and alcohol similar to yours?
 
I know that none of them do drugs and alcohol’s at a limit when alcohol. Like my little sister don’t drink at all but my big sister’s quite a bit older than me so she’ll go out drinking but there is a limit to it. She don’t go out every weekend or every night and that’s the limit.  
Aims and ambitions
Career goals also influenced people’s attitudes to using illegal drugs. Jamie was in the Royal Air Force (RAF) where they were routinely and randomly tested for illegal substances. Anyone who tested positive was instantly sacked. He was once offered a line of cocaine by a stranger in a club but it is only since leaving the service that Jamie started to smoke cannabis very occasionally. Sport played an important role in Emma’s life and was the main reason for never dabbling with drugs. 
 

Emma has never used drugs because it will affect her sport performance.

Emma has never used drugs because it will affect her sport performance.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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 Why? Well for me I think it partly had to do with I do quite a lot of sports so I wanted to take care of myself to be in a position where it wasn’t affecting my game or, you know, my coordination or anything like that you know, I don’t know I think it was, it was just not something it never appealed to me and that, as I say I mean with the alcohol it’s almost like, I would say, a substitute in a way, you know? I think that’s possibly it, you know, why go to this extreme to have the sort of fun when you were having fun already using, drinking alcohol? 
No interest in drugs
Some people said that illegal drugs had simply never appealed to them. They described having “no interest” in them and did not find anything about drug taking “appealing”. Bekky (above) didn’t like the way people on drugs look and behave.
 

Hayley was offered cannabis once and refused it. She thinks Customs should do more to keep illegal drugs from getting into the UK.

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Hayley was offered cannabis once and refused it. She thinks Customs should do more to keep illegal drugs from getting into the UK.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Have you ever been offered drugs?
 
A joint, like a draw off it, a joint. I’m like, ‘No I don’t want it.’ And then that’s when we moved away from that lad. I mean he didn’t force it on us. He just said, ‘Oh do you want to try some of it. We said, ‘No’. He said, ‘Alright then that’s fine.’
 
Ok but you sort of moved away?
 
Yeah
 
But not by people, not by dealers?
 
No never by dealers.
 
Ok so it’s very limited, your experience? [laugh]
 
Yeah [laugh].
 
Ok and you just basically think that is not something that?
 

It just doesn’t appeal to me. I mean you see, you hear about people when they go around town. I mean you hear it on news all the time there’s new drugs coming out they can bring more, like that new one that’s out. I don’t know what it’s called that’s coming over. It can get through customs and it’s like, well why, it’s customs and things like that that need to knuckle down on it so it can’t happen anymore. 

Handling peer pressure
Many people said it was easy to say ‘no’ to drugs. They said good friends would respect their choice.
 

Emily felt confident about saying ‘no’ to drugs. She thinks that people should make an informed choice and not feel pressured into it.

Emily felt confident about saying ‘no’ to drugs. She thinks that people should make an informed choice and not feel pressured into it.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Can you tell me what did you do when you were offered drugs and you refused?
 
I just said no and they took it. I know some people wouldn’t, some people will keep asking you and... you know think it were just. Knowing that way I think. It were totally knowing.
 
And that was it?
 
That was it really. Yeah
 
They didn’t insist?
 
No.
 
Were the people who offered you the drugs, you knew them or friends of friends?
 
Friends of friends and.
 
Any other reason why you refuse drugs, any other reason?
 
That you can say ‘No’. And never be pushed into it. You can say no and it’s up to you if you want to do them. And that there are risks behind them and check up this before you decide if you want to do it or not really. But really yeah you can say no if you want to say no.
 
So you…
 
Never feel pressured into it because you can say no. 
 

During a sleepover Bekky’s friends offered her some of a joint, but she refused. Her friends didn’t insist.

During a sleepover Bekky’s friends offered her some of a joint, but she refused. Her friends didn’t insist.

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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I’ve been offered cannabis before is like a spliff but I said no. I went to my friend’s house and I was sleeping at her house and she had some. I don’t know where she got it from. And a couple of my other friends tried it but I said, ‘No’ because well I don’t smoke so I thought well if that don’t interest me then something worse than that isn’t going to interest me.
 
Ok and what was their attitude when you said no?
 
They were fine about it but they were. But I said to them, I said, ‘Why are you doing that?’ ‘Oh it’s only once it don’t matter. It’s someone’s birthday. It don’t matter.’ But I think whatever occasion it is you shouldn’t do it no matter what it is.
 

It didn’t matter just because it were a one-off but then they do it more and more. 

Some described themselves as ‘strong-minded’ individuals, not easily pushed into doing things they didn’t want to do. Jamie and Bekky said that those who want to look ‘cool’ or try to ‘fit in’ who are more likely to give in to peer pressure
 

Bekky thinks that people will put more pressure on those who appear easily led or keen to fit in.

Bekky thinks that people will put more pressure on those who appear easily led or keen to fit in.

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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You were quite effective in saying, ‘No I don’t want to try drugs’. And people just left you alone.
 
Yeah that’s it.
 
I think it depends, what kind of person you are if they leave you alone. If they see you as like a person they can easily push about and they can easily influence then I think they would have kept nagging but I’d say I’m like quite a strong independent person where I can say, ‘No’ and people will know that I mean ‘no’. I think if you present yourself as like easily led and would do anything to fit in and like long to be part of group I think that’s when they like push you and push you until you do what they want.
 

And like how you present yourself. If you seem desperate to have friends and you think that you want to be cool and you try your best to be then they’ll see that as where they can get you to do whatever they want just so they stay friends with you. 

 

Jamie thinks saying ‘no’ to drugs is OK because it means you’re happy with who you are. He uses cannabis but doesn’t consider this ‘drug-taking’.

Jamie thinks saying ‘no’ to drugs is OK because it means you’re happy with who you are. He uses cannabis but doesn’t consider this ‘drug-taking’.

Age at interview: 26
Sex: Male
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The incidence at Glastonbury were, it was three, four o’clock in the morning we were sat around in a circle and we were by the tents and, you know I was offered this MDMA, I didn’t know what it was and I was just like, “No I don’t want any thank you.” And they, the person that offered it me was respectful of that, you know, andall of them were to be honest they were happy to kind of, I, whether it was, they were happy that I didn’t want to do it, or whether they were happy because it was more for them I don’t know, but either way there was, there wasn’t any peer pressure there, and I wouldn’t have crumbled to peer pressure anywhere, I mean I don’t tend to crumble to that. But I can see how a lot of people do crumble to that pressure if you want to look cool or something, but I think, personally I think you, I think people will maybe laugh at you at first but respect you more later, by doing so I think being able to have that character to kind of say, “I don’t need it, you know, I’m happy with how I am feeling right now, I don’t need to take drugs.” That they’ll probably at the time laugh because they’re high on whatever, but then the next day when they’re feeling rubbish and you’re all chirpy and like, you know, “I’m, I’m great I did what I wanted to within reason and I now feel good.” They will probably go, “Well fair play, you know, you’ve, you’ve stood by your beliefs, you feel good.” You know years on when they come to a point in life where I am now maybe where you look back and reflect on life, they go, “Well yeah he made the right decision, he’s sensible, and ultimately yeah he is cool.” [Slight laugh].
 
Yeah. So it’s cool to say no?
 
Yeah as clichéd as that is, it is cool to say no because it means you’re happy with who you are, because at, all of these drugs, even alcohol and Cannabis, they’re mood changing so you’re basically, by taking these drugs you’re admitting you’re not in a good place, or you’re not happy with who you are, so you want to change something about it like that, you know, if you’re down, I don’t know you would take a drug that picks you up and makes you feel happier and, but people need to realise that there are other ways that you can feel happy, you know, get, if you’re in a bad relationship, you know, taking drugs to feel happy about that relationship isn’t a good, that isn’t a solution, get our of the relationship, find a new partner and be happy with yourself you know?
 

Or do some exercises or something, get the endorphins flowing through your body and feel great about yourself, these mood changing drugs are a quick fix and normally from what I hear, the comedown of whatever it is takes you way beyond where you started anyway, so that quick fix might feel good but when you come right down you come right down and way below what you were before, so ultimately what is the point? 

 

In school, Stefanie was called a ‘wuss’ for not trying illegal drugs. But she is a strong-willed person and feels glad not to have given in to peer pressure.

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In school, Stefanie was called a ‘wuss’ for not trying illegal drugs. But she is a strong-willed person and feels glad not to have given in to peer pressure.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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What do you think has sort of helped you to avoid taking drugs?
 
I just. I’ve always had a healthy respect for my parents. And I knew that they would be disappointed. I know it doesn’t stop many people.
 
The other thing is I’ve always been quite a strong-willed person. It was never anything I wanted to do. But it’s tough it has, there have been times when I felt a lot of peer pressure about it when I, especially when I was at not college but school definitely.
 
Yeah?
 
People offering you?
 
Yeah and they make jokes about you being a bit of a wuss. And you do feel a bit like the square sometimes but I am so pleased now. I don’t regret not doing it at all.
 
So it never interested you and you were not sort of curious about it or anything like that?
 
I think mostly because I found people very tedious who did it a lot. I found them bad conversationalists and a bit thick. And I just didn’t want to. I got fed up when I was at college of the same conversation about 80s cartoons again and again. Like people would just sit in a circle on the field and talk about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for an hour because they were just high. And I just did not want to be part of that. So I would just go off and do my own thing.
 
Ok but you said that sort of peer pressure sometimes can be hard?
 
Yeah. You do feel a bit like the loner. And also people don’t realise that you’re. I’ve got a friend who he is very, very much against it. And his close group of friends are all heavily involved in substances that are stronger than cannabis. And he is often ridiculed in a friendly way and he’s quite strong willed so it doesn’t affect him but I can see how people can fall off the wagon like that, if you know what I mean.
 
Did you [pause] sort of kind of loose friends because of your attitude of not doing drugs when you were at school?
 
No not at all.
 
No?
 

No. My real friends if they ever were doing it they never, like my close friends would never judge me for it. It tended to be groups of people at parties who I was not that close friends with that would. And if people are going to ridicule you for that then they’re really not the kind of friends you want to be hanging around with because it’s your, your body. It’s your decision on what you do to it. 

Having a group of friends who do not take drugs made it easier for people to avoid peer pressure. Alex described how it removed the pressure to experiment. Kayleigh described her teenage group of friends as ‘shy’ and ‘geeks’ and not part of the ‘in-crowd’ doing ‘cool’ things. At the time she thought it was a disaster but now thinks she was lucky.
 

When Kayleigh was a teenager, her group of friends were involved in activities that meant they didn’t come into contact with drugs.

When Kayleigh was a teenager, her group of friends were involved in activities that meant they didn’t come into contact with drugs.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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Like I said my group of friends we were all the same so we all, like we would, where people probably went out drinking and stuff when they were younger hanging around we, we used to just go tothe cinema and stuff or like hang around each other’s houses, or go shopping, and those, kind of like young, young stuff, you know, because now I think, you know, teenagers are like more older aren’t they than, for their years? But we were kind of just the right stage. So, but I think because we never hung round with anybody who did those things we never did it, I think it’s very much the friends you hang round with, if you hang around with people who drink, if you hang around people who do drugs you are more likely to do it, but I mean I was lucky because you meet people around who say, “Oh I was doing this at thirteen and fourteen.” And I thought ‘I, probably at thirteen I was probably imagining what boys I had crushes on.”
 
I had a great childhood, you know, and just did stuff that normal kids did, I never got into trouble and nothing ever happened and, you know, it worked out well for me, we just went to the cinema, and when we were sort of teenagers we went down to London on the train and stuff like that and, you know, just had a good time, but we weren’t, we never like drank a lot, like I said we drank when we went to parties and things but it wasn’t like we needed to go down the park on a Friday night, we would just go round each other’s houses and have sleepovers and stuff you know?
 

I think it does very much depend and we were what [laughs] we were what you call geeks I suppose, so like no-one wanted to like invite [laughs] us anywhere, anyway, and then because we were, well we weren’t bothered, you know, and you think back now, at the time it was a catastrophe and, “Oh we can’t hang around.” But I think, I’ve probably, my life has turned out so much better because of I just did stuff that thirteen year olds, I thought I knew everything of course, you know, you think you know everything don’t you? But it, I knew nothing,  



Last reviewed: July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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