So I went into Cologne today to attend a meditation workshop, an all-day event which had me gibbering by lunchtime – not quite what meditation is supposed to do for you. Too many people, too much talk about fundraising for a European Buddhist centre, and I ended up escaping to a cafĂ© with my book and my personal reader – specs outfitted with watch-the-people-go-by lenses, even more portable than a Kindle. But what I certainly took away from the workshop was the desperate hunger of people, lots & lots & lots of people, for spiritual guidance. If belief is on the wane, it wasn’t evident here. And no, these weren’t just the ageing New Age hippy sorts (ahem). I spent some time beforehand talking with a youngish software engineer whom I know slightly and who’s lent me Robert Kaplan’s The Nothing That Is. A thoroughly rational creature – I think. I had a bit of trouble following his discursion into the nature of temporal logic.

But the best part of the day was a striking moment in the homebound train as it crossed the railroad/pedestrian bridge over the Rhine. Daydreaming tiredly, I suddenly caught sight of hundreds of motley padlocks – without keys – attached to the wire mesh stretching well above anyone’s reach and presumably meant to prevent would-be suicides from clambering over the guardrails. Either I haven’t noticed the locks before, or they’re new. From their haphazard arrangement and the variety of sizes, shapes, and colours, it seems fair to assume that many different hands have placed them there. Why, I asked myself. Why take a perfectly good padlock and leave it on a bridge? And that’s when I realised that I’d rather not know. Not because I’ll enjoy puzzling over the mystery. Exactly because it’s a mystery, and I want to keep it that way. We need, all of us, a reminder of the inexplicable in our lives.