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The slippery slope to boredom

Snowballs are educational, says Victoria Neumark

Luke is 11 and loves snow. Not for him the adult shiver, the gloomy thoughts about burst pipes and broken-down cars. As soon as the weather turns cold, his only question is, "When's it going to snow?" Jenny is 36 and doesn't like snow. She's one of those people for whom snow comes in only three packages: white-and-so-pretty-you-don't-want-to-go-out-in-it; dirty-with-ice-under-so-you-don't-want-to-go-out-in-it-and-fall-over; and slush-you-don't-want-to-bring-that-into-the-room. Jenny is Luke's teacher.

Playtime, and the children are not allowed to go out in the snow. There are many reasons for this: it's cold, it's dirty, they might fall over, the insurance may not cover it, what would the parents say? For Luke, they are not good reasons.

He wants to run in the snow, to throw snowballs, to scoop fluffy fresh snow off window ledges and car windscreens and hurl it at people's backs, preferably those of unknown adults, to shove handfuls of melting flakes down his brother's squirming neck. He could spend hours and never notice his raw red hands as they roll a huge snowball to make a snowman (carrot provided by mum). He could spend even longer in co-operative play, rolling snowbomb ammunition stockpiles. And here he is, learning about the solid and liquid states of water, about crystal formation and decomposition, about how to sculpt in a refractory material, about harmless ways to let off aggression, about how not to feel the cold. Or he would be, if he were allowed out to play in the snow. For him, snow is so much more than congealed rain.

Jenny, meanwhile, hates the hostile white world which beckons the children away from their warm routines. Not a scrap of green for days, a hopeless mass of lost hats and gloves, coughs and sneezes spreading fast through the class, a huddled-up feeling of grumpy retreat. So what if the Eskimo have dozens of words for snow. Jenny has only one: nuisance.

What Luke really loves best about snow is the transformation. The boring old, grinding old, predictable adult world becomes, for him, all playground. People change, too. Throw a snowball at an adult, even a mother, and she just might throw one back. Make a snowman, and dad may lend you a scarf. Sit on a plastic bag, and you can skid all the way down the steepest slopes and you don't need a sledge. Snow is something on which children are experts and adults stumbling novices.

Snow is what Luke could give Jenny lessons in. But she won't let him go out to play. So he can't. Game and set to Jenny, you think?

Guess who's been writ-ing in the snow on Jenny's windscreen?

parting shots

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