Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A slippery slope to fun in the snow

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Tony Brady and his son Alex
Tony Brady used an old suitcase as a sledge with great effect

Snow is a love-it or hate-it phenomenon.

Either you think it's great fun and an excuse to enjoy yourself, or a nuisance and a reason to stay indoors.

While much of the country has struggled to get to work over the last couple of days because of snowy roads and a lack of transport, others have rejoiced in an enforced day off work or school.

And so as a result, scores of adults and their children trudged up the snowy path at Parliament Hill in North London, dragging sledges behind them under a bright afternoon sky when they might otherwise have been indoors.

Their choice of contraptions varied somewhat. Some sledges seemed fit for nothing more than a couple of hurtles down the slopes of oblivion.

We bought these skis after the heavy snow in '91, thinking they would come in useful, but they just stayed in the attic because the snow never came back
Cheryl Wells

Indeed, some of these specimens displayed an alarming crack or two. Other snow-goers had very sturdy, wooden creations that looked rather professional, perhaps the Land Rover Discovery of the sledging world.

But probably the best effort was made by Tony Brady, 45, of Kentish Town, who was at the top of the hill with his two sons Alex, seven, and Wayne, 14.

Mr Brady was using half of a small suitcase, once a battered and unloved item fit only for a landfill site.

Now, having been broken in half, it has taken on a whole new lease of life as a sturdy sledge, even complete with its own carrying handle to which a rope was tied.

"The bottom of it is very slippery and there's already an elastic strap on each side to hold on to," explained Mr Brady proudly, with a pitch that would not be out of place on Dragons' Den.

"The shops in Kentish Town were all sold out of sledges and even trays. So I had the idea of using this case.

Parliament Hill
Sledging can be a muddy business after a while

"It's a pity there's not more snow. It gives the kids a great day out and I can spend time with them."

He breaks out into a child-like grin. "If there's more snow I'll be the first up here."

Ski time

The trappings of winter shenanigans are everywhere. Screams and shrieks zip about the air, as do snowballs thrown with a hint of malice by a group of teenagers.

Off the beaten path there's an attempt being made on a snowman's life - or perhaps they're trying to put him together in the first place. It looks messy, in any case.

A small, warm-looking black hat sits sadly on a bench, forgotten by the owner of the head that goes with it - whose exasperated mother will surely not be pleased.

There are dirty dogs everywhere, looking slightly bemused at being allowed to get quite so filthy, and clearly a bit unsure as to why the world now looks funny when it was perfectly normal two days ago.

Sliding around on the slopes in an expert fashion are Cheryl Wells and 72-year-old Stuart Beare, of Islington.

"This is the first time I've been up here on these skis since 1991," explains Mr Beare. "There's too much grass appearing now but on the hills over there the snow's in better condition." He waves a pole in a general direction.

Cheryl Wells and Stuart Beare
Cheryl Wells and Stuart Beare last skied on Parliament Hill in 1991

"We bought these skis after the heavy snow in '91, thinking they would come in useful, but they just stayed in the attic because the snow never came back," says Ms Wells.

Family time

So have they skied anywhere else in the meantime? "Oh yes, we were in Austria last week," she says.

The couple have a point about the grass. The area around the top of Parliament Hill now looks rather like a battle has ensued.

It's very muddy, and the path down which hundreds of bottoms have skidded, mere inches above the earth, now resembles a runway more than a winter wonderland.

Natasha Rollason, 40, was walking down the hill with her children Jonah, nine, Jessica, six, and Theo, 11, wrapped up in an enormous Arsenal scarf.

This family relied on a rather more basic level of sledging technology - Jessica clutched a tray, exactly like the one you might be holding in your work canteen tomorrow.

"The best thing about all this snow is not being able to use cars," says Mrs Rollason, who lives in Tufnell Park. "We've had to be a bit intrepid and come up here by foot.

"The children have never seen anything like this in London in their lifetime, so it's just sheer excitement for them."

Natasha Rollason with her children (from left) Jessica, Theo and Jonah
The Rollason family chose to use a tray as their mode of transportation

Jerome Weatherald, 47, from Kentish Town, is also on hand with his two daughters, Lola 12, and Mabel, seven.

"Snow is different and scarce in London," he says. "I wanted to come and see it for myself."

Lola and Mabel both agree that snowballs were the best thing about having so much white stuff lying around. So would they like it to snow more often?

Mabel scrunches her nose up a bit. "Just every now and again would be all right."

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