Two 17-year-olds grow up in the pandemic

'You’re alone with yourself all the time. You start picking out things about yourself and then it just affects everything about you'

Ruby and her cousin Lucie (spelt “the French way,” she says) are from Salford. They are both 17 and are sitting on a black bin bag they have brought from home knowing that their favourite spot will be damp tonight. Ruby is lying on Lucie’s lap, who is looking out over Cathedral Gardens towards the football museum.

It’s Friday night, just after 7 o’clock. The organist in the cathedral has just stopped playing. There are a couple of other groups of young people on some benches nearby, and that’s it. “In the summer, it’s so cool, everybody’s here and we make so many friends,” says Ruby. “But now obviously no one’s here, it’s just us two on our own.” They are happy to chat - they have nothing else to do.

They go to the same sixth form college in Salford, but they live a bus-ride apart (“a trek”), so this is where they meet. “My dad's a policeman so he doesn’t want to break the lockdown rules!” says Lucie, explaining why they aren’t meeting at home. He is “paranoid about people grassing on him,” she adds.

“My mum is a freelance hairdresser, so obviously she’s not working at the minute, and she’s so scared that if anyone brings it home then she can’t work and that’s the only time she will get money,” says Ruby. She thinks her mum isn’t getting government support any more.

On a warm evening there would be 20 people skateboarding, people sat down the grass bank by the cathedral, some would have music on. “Round here there’s a lot of alt people. They dress all like quirky and stuff, and it’s so cool,” says Lucie. “Everyone’s in groups and they’re all talking.”

Neither of the girls looks very “alt”. They are wearing cotton tracksuit bottoms and hoodies and white trainers. “But it is cold. Catch us in the summer,” says Ruby. “We have lots of friends who are kind of alt.”

If it weren’t for the lockdown, they might be drinking. “We go to pubs and stuff - don’t put that on the recording,” says Ruby. Then she says I can. They have fake IDs, which briefly allowed them to branch out from the Wetherspoons they used to go to. “Over summer we made a lot more friends here and at the pub and everything,” Lucie says. “But now everything is closed again.”

Ruby is in her second year of college, so her final year. She wants to study policing at uni and then go travelling after that. Edge Hill she thinks - but needs to look for more options. Lucie isn’t sure if she will go to uni, or where. “I probably will go eventually,” she says.

“We both got a nicotine addiction over lockdown,” Lucie says, and they both giggle. They started smoking just after the first lockdown. They used to go on runs together and then use them as a cover to buy cigarettes. They smoke Benson and Hedges. “Because we come here over the summer, all the skaters smoke and it’s just cool here,” Lucie says.

Everyone has been an age during the pandemic, but Lucie and Ruby have been seventeen - the year you can drive and go to college and get a convincing fake ID. Sartre wrote that freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.

“We mainly come here so we can smoke,” says Lucie, although she thinks her dad (the copper) might have cottoned on. Are they going to quit? “I think I will,” says Ruby. “You’re too far gone,” she says to Lucie.

“My mental health is so shit now,” says Ruby. “Like honestly. It’s just one of those things - you’re alone with yourself all the time. You start picking out things about yourself - ‘Oh I look disgusting’ - and then it just affects everything about you.”

Did she have those kinds of feelings before? “Yeah kind of. Like it was always there but I was either always at school or going out or going to my friend’s house or doing something,” she says. “It weren’t on my mind.”

She’s felt depressed. “Yeah, but like obviously, because we are young, if I said to my mum ‘I feel depressed,’ she would be like ‘It’s just your hormones - stop being silly.’ So it’s kind of one of those things where I am always questioning ‘Am I actually depressed or is it just like my hormones?’ So I don’t know but I do feel it,” she says. (“Don’t be silly,” Lucie chimes in to mimic what their mums would say.)

Ruby lives with both her parents. As much as she loves them, “They get on my nerves man.” Being at home all day, she has worried about putting on weight. “It was like every time I ate something I was like ‘Well I’m not going to be walking to burn this off.' I think everyone put on weight in lockdown.”

Lucie says she actually lost weight. She works in a bakery and has been on her feet most days from 8-4. Being out of the house has helped, but work has stopped this lockdown. “This one’s been worse for you, hasn’t it?” Ruby says to her.

“Yeah. I’m not in work as much. And I have so much college work because my teachers think I have nothing else to do,” Lucie says. “Even though I have two jobs. That’s why I haven’t gone to college this week, I’m too stressed.”

They are doing one week on, one week off at college, so they don’t see each other there because they are in different bubbles. Lucie says she hasn’t seen most of her friends since the start of the pandemic. “We didn’t sit GCSEs, so we left in March,” she says. “And I’ve not seen my friends since - my group of girls I hung around with.”

“Everyone’s lives have kind of moved on now,” she says. “One of my friends has got a job at a pub, another friend is moving house. We always plan to make plans but we never do.”