We went to Dorset at half term, and spent our days dodging showers and searching for ammonites and our evenings trying to work out how to play Mahjong in front of the log burner. On the way back home we called in on my nana. Nana is a natural performer: she sang for the troops during the second world war and still goes about singing to the ‘old people’ in homes. It means she has the ability to make my children sit still and listen to her. So when she told them this story – body and face entirely animated, voice full of drama – they sat, fascinated and silent:
‘Once some thieves went to a beautiful big house and stole all the family silver. They ran into the woods to try to hide the loot in the branches but all the trees shook their branches so that the thieves couldnt climb up. All except the poplar. The thieves climbed up the poplar and hid the silver in the branches and ran away. Soon the police ran into the woods looking for the silver. They couldn’t find it, and so they ordered all the trees to put their branches up into the air. Knives and forks and spoons came clattering down from the poplar’s branches, and landed on the ground below. The poplar’s punishment was to hold its arms up in the air for ever more. That is why they grow that way to this day, and why they are known as silver poplars.’
I suspect my kids will recognise silver poplars.