Gift giving is one of the more extraordinary things that humans do. Do other mammals give gifts? Probably not! Gift giving is a very nice rhetorical gesture, one that can on the way satisfy or invoke all manner of social obligations. It can also be a very sharp political manoeuvre, ensuring a measure of enduring memory long after the donor or recipient has parted from this world. Take the case of the oak tree. Not any oak tree, but one that last summer was felled in Hendon in north London. Nothing unusual you may say about a seventy year old tree getting the chop. But this oak, in the grounds of a school, did have an unusual provenance, for it was a gift from Adolf Hitler. During the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, winners of some events were presented not just with a gold medal, but also with an oak sapling. Hitler oaks took root all over Europe, some in private gardens, others in public parks or on school grounds. The one at Hendon was a tribute to the efforts of English long distance walker Harold Whitlock, who, having scooped gold in Berlin, returned to London and kindly gave the oak sapling to his old school. The prowess of another English sportsman, the rower Jack Beresford, brought a similar oak to the grounds of Bedford School. That tree too was axed a year or two ago.
It was the Hitler oak story that set us thinking about unusual gifts.