On holiday I indulged in quiet people watching to a greater degree than usual, perhaps because I had no children to amuse. My wife is amused enough by my antics that I need not seek ways to entertain her.
Perhaps, too, not understanding more than a few words of German or Polish favoured my eyes when my ears failed me.
One evening we were in the Old Town of Warsaw, pleasantly crowded with people from all over the world, under the watchful but discreet eyes of armed police and soldiers.
Do you tell yourself stories about passers-by?
In a group of Muslim girls, enjoying each other’s company on a warm evening, some will be veiled, some not; in a family, the mother may wear the veil, the daughters not, or the other way about. What discussions take place around their meal tables? And what does the smiling husband and father feel, accompanying them through Berlin or Warsaw or even Canterbury?
I can remember Catholics being scandalised by women appearing with heads uncovered in church, or sisters abandoning their traditional habits; but come to think of it, we saw more veils on nuns than on Muslims in Poland. And one rainy morning in Krakow, nearly all the stragglers from World Youth Day wore veils as they passed by.
Dr Johnson once remarked: ‘A man who cannot get to heaven in a green coat will not find his way thither the sooner in a grey one.’ But not everyone agrees.