Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Saturday December 16 2017

My camera is pretty good, but it isn’t ideal for me.  I only use a bit of it at all regularly, the automatic bit.  So if, on a rainy day, I push, by mistake, some stupid knob on it that tells it to stop being automatic, it stops being automatic.  And, the automatic focussing refuses to work the way it should.  That’s what happened when I thought it had conked out.  It’s fine.  It was simply obeying orders.

I tried photoing the relevant knobs, first with mirrors and then with my mobile, but the results of all that were a blurry mess.  Have you ever tried getting a camera to photo its own arse?  And photoing with my mobile is something I need daylight to do half decently.

I got a much better picture of the back of my camera by going to this.

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In particular, I draw your attention to this bit:

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The knob with AF/AE LOCK on it needs to be pointing at AFS/AFF, and absolutely not at MF.  MF means, I presume, Manual Focus.  AF means automatic focus.  S and the other F mean whatever they mean.

The problem arose when, in the rain and needing to possess three hands, one to hold my bag and two to operate my camera properly, I try to look at the photo I just took.  That involves pressing the button with the green arrow on it.  To get back to photoing, press DISP.  But, what with all the rain and the confusion and only having one hand to both hold the camera and press the knobs on it, I accidentally pushed the AF/AE LOCK knob, and got it pointing at MF.  By mistake.  I’m guessing this would be why the AF/AE LOCK button includes the word “LOCK”.  And this works a treat.  I know this now.

Anyway, the upshot (metaphorically speaking) of all this is that my camera went from photos like this, just before I met up with GD2 the day before yesterday ...:

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… to this, not long after that, after the knob disaster had occurred …:

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… and then back to this:

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… when I met up with a friend yesterday, in: Hither Green.

So, panic over.

It’s an odd feeling, partially the feeling of massive relief that I won’t have to spend Christmas trying to turn whatever guarantee came with my camera into another camera, and partially the feeling that I am an idiot and that I should pay more attention to the knobs on my camera.  Delight and embarrassment all mixed up together.

This is what Americans would call a “learning experience”, and although often all that this means is “total cock-up”, in this particular case they would be right.

Friday December 15 2017

Incoming from Rob Fisher: link to a piece in the Independent, about machine learning applied to old telescope data is finding new planets.

Quote:

A computer was trained to look through the data from the Kepler space telescope, and look for signals that might belong to planets. And it found new planets within existing systems, by spotting signals that seemed to indicate something of interest but were too weak to have been spotted by humans.

That suggests that there might be whole worlds and solar systems hiding within the data we’ve already collected, but which we had not noticed because there are simply so many signals to pick through. Kepler has collected four-years of data from looking at the sky and 150,000 stars – far more than humans could ever look through.

So, exactly what were these weak signals?

The new planets – just like all of the thousands found by Kepler – were spotted by watching the sky for light coming from the stars. When planets pass in front of their stars, scientists can register the dimming as they go, and use the speed and characteristics of that dimming to work out what the solar system might actually look like.

Much of that work relies on pattern recognition, which until now has been done by scientists looking through the data. But the new findings are the result of work between Nasa and Google, which trained machine learning algorithms to learn to spot those patterns itself and so pick through the data much more quickly.

This is good.  Keep Skynet busy with harmless hobbies.

Maybe not.  Getting Skynet to compile a huge and exhaustive list of all the places in the universe where biology-based life might be, after biology-based life on this planet has been taken care of.

This is maybe how the robot holocaust will happen.  We will have been telling them to “take care of” us and our fellow creatures.  But they’ll have been watching too many gangster movies, and ...

Thursday December 14 2017

My camera has conked out.  The autofocussing is refusing to autofocus.  Which is nasty.  And even nastier given that I only found out about this when I was trying, with it, to take photos, this afternoon, like this one:

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That’s from the top of Primrose Hill, as photoed by my mobile phone, which is a Google Nexus 4.  That one wasn’t too bad, but most of the phone-photos I phone-photoed with this annoying gadget, truly good only for telling me where I am and how soon I will reach my tube destination and what the cricket scores are, were rubbish.

Here is one of the few other good ones, taken from one of the bridges over the Regent’s Canal:

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That red boat is the Feng Shang Princess.

GodDaughter 2 was with me.  Since I couldn’t take lots of photos, there was nothing for it, I had to make do with talking to her.  And also listening to her.  Which worked out quite well.

Wednesday December 13 2017

Today I was in central London.  It wasn’t good photoing weather.  Grim and grey and wet.  But I did take this photo:

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At the time, I thought I was photoing an army of Santas.  For some reason I find the photoing of large numbers of similar or identical objects, in a big clump or clutch, to be rather satisfying.

But it turned out I was photoing two British Personal Brands With Huge Global Reach, namely The Queen, as performed by Elizabeth Windsor, and Mr Bean, as performed by Rowan Atkinson.

A lot of their appeal is that these are both characters who do a lot of physical stuff, rather than characters who talk a lot.  Neither Elizabeth Windsor nor Rowan Atkinson are stupid or inarticulate people.  On the contrary both are notable wordsmiths, blessed with famously subtle senses of humour.  Nevertheless, the Queen’s daily repertoire of stuff is adopting Royal poses and walking or being driven about Royally and making Royal gestures and doing Royal things like shaking hands with a line of lesser celebrities.  And Mr Bean mostly makes faces and does pratfalls.  These are things that anyone on earth can see – see - the point of with great ease.  You don’t have to know a word of English to get what The Queen or Mr Bean are all about.  And if only a tiny percentage of the world’s populace like what they see of these two characters, that is still a lot of people.

You see Queen and Bean together, in effigy, in tourist crap shops, a lot.  That I photoed the two of them accidentally is no, as it were, accident.

Despite googling it, I still don’t understand what this is about.

Tuesday December 12 2017

I have been receiving several of these calls recently, from faraway Indian-sounding guys who all, coincidentally, have English-sounding names.

Once again, I am reminded that the internet is the internet, and that if I type some words into my computer, along the lines of “I’m calling you from Windows …”, I should get the story.  And: I did.

That story was posted in 2012.  As it says, this rubbish obviously works.  Five years later, they’re still at it, with an identical script.

I’m somewhat ashamed to relate that it worked on me, the first time, a bit.  I seriously considered the possibility of the call being real, until I worked out that it obviously wasn’t.  Such shame spasms are important because they stop people talking about these scams and thereby reducing their chances of working.

In the early nineteenth century, sheep stealers were hanged, or so goes the legend.  Rip-off phone calls like the above make me understand why this happened, insofar as it actually did.  People talk, quite reasonably, about how people stole sheep because they were starving, but I’m guessing that having your sheep (singular or plural) stolen was a serious blow about which you (the victime) were ashamed, and that catching the bastards was very difficult even if you did tell other people.  So, when, by chance, sheep stealers were caught, they were often or at least sometimes killed.  I completely get it.

More often, however, they were (scroll down to the end) transported to Australia.

Once again, the internet tells the story.  This is yet another way in which the experience of getting old (the first posting you’ll get, as of now, if you follow that link, will be this one) has been transformed.  We oldies love to satisfy our curiosity about things that are none of our business and of no great interest to anyone, except us.  Time was when discussions about pointless trivia could go on for ever in a fact-free fashion.  Now, all you need is one small machine and the matter can be settled.  Does the internet kill conversation?  Discuss.  Or, you could type this question into the internet and get a definitive answer, yes it does or no it doesn’t.  End of conversation.  Or not.

Monday December 11 2017

It’s been around for a while, but thanks to This Is Why I’m Broke, I have now heard about it.  Rubber(-ish) tyres which don’t need inflating, and which therefore don’t suffer from punctures:

image

An idea first conceived by Michelin research engineers in the United States, the TWEEL is a revolutionary non-pneumatic tire that changed the configuration of a conventional tire, bringing together the tire and the wheel assembly into one solid unit. The TWEEL comprises a rigid hub connected to a shear beam by means of flexible, deformable polyurethane spokes, all functioning as a single unit.

Unlike conventional tires, the TWEEL has no air, thereby solving what had seemed to be the unavoidable challenge of chronic flat tires that plagues the landscape, construction, contracting, refuse/recycling and agricultural industries.

Yes, at present the Tweel would seem to be confined to heavy duty activities of the sort described about, where spikey and scratchy things are constantly encountered, and where even a short amount of time is a lot of money.  On regular, smooth roads, the Tweel does not now make sense.

But, I wonder what effect the switch to robot road vehicles might have.  Might that, in some hard-to-foresee way, create an increased demand for the Tweel?  If there is one thing we can be sure of, it is that we cannot now be sure exactly what robot vehicles are going to look like, and exactly how they will go about their business.  Will robot cars welcome the greater variety of terrains that Tweels would presumably make possible?  Might it be better for the robot cars to have wheels that are unpuncturable, given that those wheels would no longer be guarded by human drivers?  Who now knows?

More generally, it looks to me like further Tweel developments depend on improved materials, and improved materials is now something the world does very well.  Simply, Tweels may become better and cheaper.  That alone might cause them to replace what I am now inclined to call balloon-based wheels.  But what do I know?

What I do now know is that the Tweel impresses me greatly.

Sunday December 10 2017

There are two places in London where I regularly encounter antique cars, in other words the sort of cars that were new at the time when I was a new human being.  One of these places is Lower Marsh, where there are regular convocations of such cars, which I have regularly bumped into when shopping at Gramex for second hand CDs, which was until very recently in Lower Marsh.

And the other place where antique cars can often been seen is outside the Regency Cafe, which is about two minutes walk away from where I live.  Antique cars congregate there in order to contribute to television shows or films set in olden times, the self-consciously dated Regency Cafe being a regular location for such dramas.

I recall being rather surprised to encounter these two ancient Austins were doing, even nearer to where I live than the Regency Cafe, in the summer of 2013.  What are they do?  Answer: they had been or about to be performing outside the Regency Cafe.  Enjoy:

imageimageimage
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I am meeting someone tomorrow morning at the Regency Cafe.  I haven’t actually used this place very often, other than to photo old cars and showbiz activity outside it, but I think I will eat in it rather more in the future.

Saturday December 09 2017

Yesterday’s panda posting had all the appearance of a quota panda posting.  But it wasn’t because there’d already been a posting earlier.  Who could forget those Thameslink Seats?

But this really is a quota posting.  It features a photo of plants in summer (the summer of 2012 as it happens) that are pretending to be a trees in winter, by having branches but no leaves.  That means you can see through them to the Big Things in the distance:

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That wasn’t in the I Just Like It directory, but it could have been, because I do really like it.  The view is looking back across Victoria Park, which is out east, the other side of those Big Things from me.  The Big Things are way out of focus but still clearly recognisable, which is just what you want from Big Things.  The rule is: a photo is fine if something in it is in focus, like these plants.  If everything is out of focus, well, that’s a problem.  But even that can sometimes be quite good.

In a few years from now, that view will look very different, with several more really big Big Things, two in particular, now at various points in the pipeline.

Friday December 08 2017

Seeing a how this is Friday, and Friday is my day here for cats and other creatures, I don’t want to just leave it at train seats.  I have an Other Creature to show to you, that I photoed earlier this evening.  This was at Victoria Station, so this is also train related.

The Other Creature was, I am almost certain, a panda:

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A few moments after the moment captured above, I actually asked this guy if he’d object to me photoing his panda. I said “bear”, but it didn’t matter.  Not him, I said, just the bear.  He was fine with this, so I took another photo, of the panda.  But the above photo was better, if only because in it, the railway connection is better communicated.

And yes, the panda has stars in its eyes.  How about that?

My journey to St Albans yesterday began rather inauspiciously.  I was changing at St Pancras International, and I had hoped that I might get the chance to view the International bit, with its wide open spaces, Eurostar trains and its mighty roof.  But all I did was follow the signs to “Platform B”, and that weary plod might has well have been at Green Park or Oxford Circus, for all the wide-open-spaced drama there was to be seen.  And then when I was on the train, the scene outside was grim, grey and wet.

But then, I noticed the seats.  The surprising thing about these was that instead of resting on the floor of the carriage, they were attached to the walls of the carriage, leaving the floor entirely unencumbered.  They hovered over that floor with very little visible means of support:

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Here are two closer-ups, showing the diagonal compression member that was doing all the worke:

imageimageimage

It looked crazy, but it felt as solid as a rock.  Solider in fact, when you consider the state of a lot of rocks you encounter on your travels.

What I think I see here is not so much a design for a railway carriage, as a design of a system for making railway carriages, just the way you want them.  And for changing them, if you suddenly decide you want them to be different.  If you wanted to redo the seating on these carriages, all you would do is undo the linear compartment at the point where the wall of the carriage nears the floor of the carriage, and make whatever changes you want.  Different seats, differently spaced, whatever.  The floor is untouched.  If you want to change the surface of the floor, easy.  When it comes to cleaning the floor, also easy.

I have a nostalgic fondness for the railway carriages of my youth, with their absurdly thick, manually operated doors, that you had to slam shut, and which all had to be shut before the train could depart.  But whereas I genuinely like old cars, I cannot really mourn those old carriages.  These new ones are just so much better.  For starters, they are wider on the inside by about two feet, because the walls are so much thinner and because these walls curve outwards.

I also like how the latest carriages join together in a way that allows people to walk continuously through, thereby easing congestion at busy times.  Here’s a rather good photo from Wikipedia which shows that.  According to Wikipedia there have been complaints about there being too little leg room between the seats, and no miniature fold-down tables.

They have their reasons for imposing such discomforts.  Basically, they want to enable the maximum number of commuters to be able to travel in okay comfort, rather than allow a lesser number of commuters to travel in greater comfort.  Which makes sense.

My point is different.  My point is that if it is later decided, perhaps in response to such grumbles, to switch to having slightly more generously spaced seats, with little fold-down tables, this would be a relatively easy operation to unleash.  Newly introduced carriages could be differently configured with great ease, without needing a totally new design.

There is much to complain about in the modern world, but stuff like this just gets cleverer and cleverer.

Thursday December 07 2017

Indeed:

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Opened in 2013.  Still very much open 2017:

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Photos by me this afternoon, in St Albans.  Thanks to Darren and family for the hospitality.

LATER: Another blast from the past:

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I remember liking that one a lot.

Wednesday December 06 2017

I am trying once again to clear open windows from my computer.  Two days ago I referred to something very interesting that had been hanging around for some time on my computer screen.  I am now doing this again.

This photo explains it pretty well:

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This appeared at Dezeen early in October, and I’ve been meaning to mention it hear ever since.

You want more?  Here you go:

An app has launched that allows users to instantly identify artworks and access information about them, by simply scanning them with a smartphone.

Smartify launched at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last week. It has been described by its creators as “a Shazam for the art world”, because - like the app that can identify any music track - it can reveal the title and artist of thousands of artworks.

It does so by cross-referencing them with a vast database that the company is constantly updating.

There was a time when art galleries and museums would try to stop you taking photos, but those days are pretty much gone.  It was the smartphoners what done this, because there are just too many of them to stop with their photoing, and anyway this can’t be done because you can never really tell whether they are taking photos or whether they are just doing social media with their mates or catching up on their emails.  This app will end this argument for ever.  People are just not going to tolerate being told that they mustn’t use this in an art gallery, and if they do use it, its use will look exactly like they are photoing.  The key to stopping photoing is that you have to know when it is happening.

Tuesday December 05 2017

Earlier this evening at the Two Chairmen, Westminsters, Adriana Lucas, who grew up in the old Czechoslovakia as was, gave a most eloquent talk about this experience.  She didn’t bang on at length about the usual horrors – prison camps, executions, purges, and so on – although of course these were mentioned.  Rather did she focus on the minutiae of life for the rather less unlucky victims of communism, the ones who got to stay alive.  People adjusted, basically.  Or if, like Adriana’s family, they were dissidents, they learned to be extremely distrustful of almost everyone but their closest and most trusted loved ones.  Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

Here are four photos, that I picked out from the dozen or more that I took, and that I just sent to meetings organiser Simon Gibbs, who is to be seen in the first one, introducing Adriana.  The photos I sent to Simon were rectangles, but I actually prefer these square cropped versions.

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As you can see, this excellent talk was videoed.  Videos are far harder to edit than merely to … video.  So you may have to wait a bit before seeing this one.  But, for those who did not attend this talk and for many who did, it will be worth the wait.

Monday December 04 2017

This article (which is based on and which links to this article) has been an open window on my computer for over a month now, because it struck me as being so very interesting.

These reports concern recent research into the impact upon the world of online dating.  Mostly good impacts.  Two impacts in particular are pointed to.

First, online dating seems to facilitate more interracial relationships and interracial marriages.  There is definitely a correlation between online dating and interracial relationships.  This research strongly suggests that the link is causal.  Online dating gets people past racial barriers.

Second, the relationships it facilitates tend to last longer and be more solid.

If I believe both of the above effects to be not only very important, but also to be true, this is because both effects make so much sense to me.

The first effect concerns taste in mere appearances.  Suppose you inhabit a world where a relationship between you and someone ethnically different is somewhat taboo, the chances are you won’t be sufficiently acquainted with many fanciable people of a different ethnic group to be able to do anything about it.  But if a dating app asks, bluntly: Do you like the look of this person, or of this person, or of this person? - then your answers will crash right through such racial boundaries, provided only that you personally would like them to.  Relationships across racial boundaries become a simple matter of individual taste.  Your “friends” can just stay right out of it.

But then, once strong relationships across racial boundaries stop being the stuff of movies, because they are so rare, and become quite common, all those “friends” are just going to have to live with it, or stop being your friends.  Chances are, they’ll be fine with it.

I do not believe it to be coincidence that the one marriage in my circle of friends which I know for certain to have started on the internet is also one that crosses what would, when I was a lot younger, have been a racial barrier.

The second effect bears strongly on the kinds of fundamentals that can ruin a marriage in the longer run, and also get you through a racial barrier in the short run.  These fundamentals are, well: fundamentals.  Fundamentals like beliefs about what life is about and for, what marriage means and how sex should and should not be done, what is right and wrong politically or ideologically or spiritually, and so on.  These are the kinds of things that also, along with superficial racial preferences, get declared that little bit earlier, when you do computer dating, rather than turning around to bite you, two years into that relationship with a more local bod who merely looked great and had a nice sounding voice and wore nice clothes.  And you get a bigger choice, which enables you to pick dating partners with more similar beliefs about those fundamentals.  Even if such fundamentals aren’t stated in full up front, they are often at least referred to early on, and form the basis of early conversations, rather than just erupting later, in the heat of some perhaps seemingly trivial drama.

That interracial marriage I referred to above also anecdotally confirms everything in the above paragraph, about those fundamentals.  How they both looked to each other was a nice bonus, but it was fundamentals that really brought them together for the long run.

The one big negative I can see happening here is that if all of the above is right, then the tendency will be reinforced for society to divide up into groups who all agree with each other about fundamentals. The much discussed “bubble” effect of the internet will be greatly reinforced.  Regular touch with people who hold to other beliefs will become rather rarer, because marriages used to be more common across such fundamental belief boundaries but are now becoming less so.  And that could be a big negative in a lot of ways.

A way to sum up what is happening here is that society is continuing to be tribal, but that the tribes will now be based more on beliefs and less on biological and genetic similarities and connections.

I should say that I have not myself ever done computer dating.  I would welcome comments on the above from people who have.

I note with a small spasm of pleasure that one of the researchers who did the research alluded to, Josue Ortega, is based at Essex University, of which I am a graduate and of which I have fond memories.

Sunday December 03 2017

I knew this would happen.  Ever since I noticed those leaning tower cranes of London, which looked like they might be about to collapse through the unbalanced weight at the top of them, I knew that as I wandered through my photo-archives I’d find more such pairs of leaning tower cranes, leaning in opposite directions to each other, and looking like they should have collapsed and caused a flurry of shocked news reports, but which never actually did that.

And I just did:

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Taken from the top of the Monument, on the same day as the photo below of the Walkie-Talkie.

At the time, all I thought I was photoing was a nice sunset and some nice cranes, posing nicely in front of The Wheel.  But those two cranes on the right there seem to be in that same state of strong disagreement about what exactly vertical is, and for the same reason.

Yet, if either of those cranes had collapsed, late on in the year 2012, I am sure that we would have heard about it, and that I would have remembered it.  Clearly, they did not collapse.  They were just leaning over a bit.

All those cranes that we see were working on, among other buildings, two rather striking buildings that are now finished.  I’m talking about the two stumps now blocking the view of the Shell Building.  There is, on the right, in between the two leaning cranes discussed above, 240 Blackfriars.  And to the left of 240 Blackfriars, as we look, the innards of the Tate Modern Extension, from which further lovely views out over lovely London were to materialise.

Saturday December 02 2017

Indeed.  I was going through the I Just Like It file, and came across two, independently selected, which make a nice pair.

First, taken in November 2012, the Walkie-Talkie while still under construction, viewed from the top of the Monument:

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And second, taken in January 2016, the Monument now just about visible in the scrimmage of smaller London

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The Walkie-Talkie looks very big from the top of the Monument.

The Monument looks very small from the top of the Walkie-Talkie.

And while we’re about it, here is another photo that links these two buildings.  Taken on that same day in November 2012, back on the ground, with a little sign on the right there, saying “Pudding Lane”. 

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The Monument remembers those who died in the Great Fire of London of 1666.  Pudding Lane, or so I was always told, was where that fire started.

Also, three days after taking that photo of the Monument from above, above, I took this photo of the Monument from below, along with another sign, this time a temporary sign telling me how to get to the Monument:

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The way to get to the Monument was not, it would seem, the obvious way to get to the Monument.

Friday December 01 2017

Last Saturday, a friend invited me to share some gin at The Star.  We also each had a pie, with red wine in it.  Delicious.

The Star is quite near to the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, and has a great slab of Crossrail turmoil right slap against it, which has turned the formerly busy Great Chappell Street into a poky little footway, and has for a year or three now destroyed all possibility of passing trade to The Star.  So, The Star has switched to invites and events.  It hasn’t now even got a sign on over its front door.  Where there once was and still ought to be a sign, there is, for the time being anyway, only blank blackness:

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But inside, things liven up considerably, in particular with an enjoyably ironic display of antique signage:

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This next one, also visible above in the general display, being a particular collector’s item, which explains why I waited until today (Friday is Cats and Other Creatures Day here at BMdotcom) before displaying it here:

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That wouldn’t be allowed now, any more than all the tobacco adverts would be.

imageAnd since this is a Cats and Other Creatures Day, there on the right is an advert for another product from the same enterprise.  If the product had been made of budgies and canaries, I’m sure the pussies would have loved it.

We got there on the dot at 1pm, opening time, and were the first there, hence those empty tables to be seen above.  But the place was soon buzzing with happy gin drinkers.

An earlier posting, featuring a photo I took just before I got to The Star, was also naughty, in a different way.  It’s interesting what naughtiness is now and is not now allowed.