One source of endless hilarity, late at night, was to climb the 'security gate'** behind the M&S at the bottom of the High Street, climb up to the roof and from there run to the top end along the roofs, jumping the gaps, before jumping clear at the other end and sliding down a lamp-post to effect our escape. This highly-laudable and deeply intellectual activity was frequently combined with drinking a lot, and equally frequently was participated in - albeit involuntarily - by the security guards at M&S.
I can clearly remember one occasion when, while being pursued by the guards, I forgot to jump - and dropped from a first-floor flat roof to ground level, landing on both feet. It hurt. A great deal. Yet the fear of injury was far less than the fear of capture by the disgruntled security personnel, so I scrambled up the opposite wall and belted on...and woke up the next morning with savage pain in my back, and unable to feel my legs below the knee.
I lay there, in terror. I'd paralysed myself with my own idiocy. I didn't dare say anything to my parents as they left for work - I just lay there, in tears of terror. Sensation finally returned fully four hours later.
I never went roof-running again.
Today, over twenty years later, the news is full, as usual, of the dangers of 'legal highs'. Every media service is reporting on the tragic deaths of two 19-year-old lads who, it appears, lost their lives at least in part due to the latest evil murder killing thing - Mephedrone, known by its frankly ludicrous 'street name' of 'Meow Meow'(Hardly 'gangsta', is it? Sounds like the underground magazine for 'Hello Kitty' memorabilia collectors.).
And, as always, the news of their untimely demise is met with mass outcry demanding that SOMETHING must be done.
Well, I'm sorry, but something doesn't have to be done. Because nothing CAN be done.
Pretty much all of us go looking for risk in our lives. Whether it's driving a bit fast, riding a motorcycle, taking up skydiving or (for the truly suicidal) having an affair, it's because we seek excitement. When you're a teenager, with the flat belly and fast reflexes you'll never have again, death is so far off as to be irrelevant. On top of that, you know - we all knew - that we knew far, far better than boring adults, with their boring jobs and their boring advice and their boring lives. Teenagers of both sexes are always looking for excitement, for challenges, for new ways to impress each other***. And they always will, because nobody can be bored like a teenager.
So they'll go looking for the thrill, for the risk. Whether that's roof-running, car-surfing, binge-drinking, casual sex or - to bring this back on point - stuffing plant food up their nose. And if you ban the plant food, you'll just make it more desirable, because nothing says 'risk' like the truly forbidden. Plus, by banning it as a legal high, you can rest assured that teenagers will find something else to get their legal highs from.
There's another thing, too. The lads who died weren't primary schoolchildren - they were nineteen years old. Old enough to drink, vote, marry, even die in a foreign field - certainly, therefore, old enough to make their own decisions. And they decided to inhale plant food.
And that's the thing. Everything I did, and everything any other person of that age does, is their own choice. You can't stop them from taking stupid risks, and you can't ban everything that might risk their health or life, any more than you could have banned my mates and I from jumping off the pier. What stopped me from taking stupid risks, as it does with the vast majority of teenagers, is the simple fact that I grew up.
So - put a warning on the packets of plant food, and let those stupid enough to ingest it take their own risks. Most will do as I did, grow up and put idiotic risk-taking behind them. Some, sadly, will not be so fortunate. But you can't wrap the world in cotton-wool - you can't legislate to protect that few.
To do so will be to attempt to legislate against teenage idiocy. And I'm sorry, but there's no way to legislate against that.
*Alright then, more stupid.
** Clearly, not a very secure security gate.
*** So that they can experience the new challenge of actually getting laid.