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Snow in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

For the Love of Snow...

One of my most vivid childhood memories is when, aged seven, I and my classmates were stuck at school in the snow. An unexpectedly heavy blizzard had suddenly blanketed my small UK city in what seemed (with all the exaggeration of infant memories) like several feet of fluffy white powder. And although we'd all made it into school during a light early morning dusting, by midday the drifts were reaching the lowest windows...and showed no signs of stopping.

In full emergency mode, classes were cancelled, the entire school gathered in the assembly hall with the heat cranked up and teachers began calling parents to come and take their children home as soon as possible. By 2 p.m., mine hadn't shown up and -- along with the remaining stragglers -- we were fortified with tin cups of hot chocolate (yes, I can still taste that metalic-tinged ambrosia on my lips today) and allowed to do something we'd been begging the staff for all day.

Charging outside onto a playground slathered in several inches of crystallized powder was a dream come true. Up until then, the best snow days of my young life had seen just about enough powder to build a bonsai snowman that melted within minutes. Now, though, there was almost too much to know what to do with. Under a pewter-grey sky that continued to send out a few rounds of extra snowy goodness just in case we ran out, we set about enjoying ourselves.

Snowballs the size of cannonballs were rolled and thrown; deep snow shelters were hollowed out and slid into; and snow figures of every shape and size were shaped, patted and stick-armed into existence. My own project was to build the playground's biggest snow guy, a colossus of the snow people that would bestride the school and live far beyond winter.

It was a team effort. Peter and Adam joined my quest as we rolled ginormous balls that sucked up the city's snow supply and threatened to eclipse any sun that might emerge in the sky. But as more parents turned up, my snow team was gradually depleted. Finally, there was just me and what seemed like the school's last teacher -- waiting impatiently for my Dad to turn up so he could go home as well.

When he eventually arrived, I was standing back and admiring my handiwork. The snowman was at least 40-feet-high (any suggestions of childhood exaggeration here will be roundly ignored). Constructed of something like seven huge balls of snow (I'll admit I lost count after three), his thick, tree-branch arms were of Ent-like thickness and his face -- bent-twig mouth, round-pebble nose and deep-set black eyes that hinted at a wise understanding of the world he now dominated -- was noble, strong and proud.

He was a king among snowmen. Even my Dad was impressed as we slid and skidded home and I regaled him with the full story of how he came to be. When we arrived, dinner was waiting and I'd lost all sensation in my wet-socked feet.

I wasn't stupid. I knew my snowman wouldn't be there the next day. But he had been there for one amazing, magical afternoon, under a weirdly dark sky with no sound other than the scarf-muffled giggles of kids filling the air. It's a day I've never forgotten. Every time it snows now I have a visceral feeling of expectation and giddy excitement; a response that comes directly from that special snow day all the years ago.

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