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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The new Weston Library, The Cotswolds, The Internet of Things, 3 Terrorist Attacks on June 26th.

The Weston Library is a new extension to the Bodleian Library in Oxford which re-opened earlier this year after an £80m investment. The grade II-listed building in Broad Street has been restored and renovated over three years. Some of its treasures, including Shelley’s manuscript of Frankenstein (1818) and Shakespeare's First Folio (1623), are now on display. This new exhibition, Marks Of Genius, was unveiled by Professor Stephen Hawking and Sir David Attenborough. We visited it recently and the renovated public spaces are as breath-taking as the treasures on public display. We particularly liked the perfect quality Gutenberg Bible (the first major book ever printed in the West in around 1450), the cover to the Hobbit, hand-painted by Tolkien himself which you will probably recognise in my picture below, and a beautiful illustrated score by Mendelssohn. Formerly the New Bodleian library (and pretty ugly), it has been renamed the Weston Library in honour of a £25m donation given in March 2008 by the Garfield Weston Foundation, a grant-giving charity which was matched by the Oxford University Press. A further £5m was donated by Julian Blackwell of Blackwell’s bookshops, whose main store is literally next door to the Weston and well worth a visit in it’s own right. Don’t miss the extra-ordinary Norrington Room, one of the largest bookselling rooms in the world at Blackwell’s. The library was originally opened by King George VI in 1946 and is one of the Bodleian Libraries - a collection of about 40 libraries that serve the University of Oxford. Together the libraries form the largest university library system in the United Kingdom. If you get a chance to pop into the Weston, you will find yourself in the stunning Blackwell Hall where there are currently various treasures on display including a couple of Magna Cartas. There is also a shop and an amazing Benugo’s Café!
External view of the re-vamped library in Broad Street, Oxford.
Interior View - Readers only, not public here.
The Gutenberg Bible c1450
Tolkien's watercolour for the cover of his Hobbit book

I have always said that the Cotswolds are so beautiful that it doesn’t even matter if it is raining – they are still worth visiting. Well we were fortunate to be able to spend a day there in June when the sun was shining and the skies were blue and it has got to be one of the most beautiful locations in the world if you like stone villages, rolling countryside and history. Also ideal if you don’t want crowds, shopping malls and beaches. We stopped at a beautiful village called Oddington with a population of 400. We walked from the village about half a mile down a beautiful road to the 12th century Saint Nicholas Church which has medieval wall paintings on one wall and looks largely untouched. The church was empty but the village pub was buzzing with people and an E-Type Jag in perfect condition parked outside. Next we went to Maugersbury which in addition to being enchantingly pretty, has stunning views over the adjacent countryside. The main purpose of our outing was to visit Daylesford organic farm near Chipping Norton. As the name suggests, they grow organic produce and supply some well-known retailers as well as their own few shops. You can see that they are ploughing their profits back into expanding the business and they now have a fabulous restaurant (serving their own produce) a health spa, a clothes shop, a farm shop, a cookery school and a wonderful outdoor pizza oven! Your immediate impression is one of quality and care. We told our waiter that this was our first visit so he then showed us around the premises. Most of the buildings are beautifully restored Cotswold stone barns and they have created some lovely courtyards that connect them and there are walks you can go on around the farm. They have recently opened a shop in Marylebone. We will definitely be going back! On another day we visited Cotswold Lavender for the second time. Our first visit was about 5 years ago when we were absolutely stunned by the beauty of this location together with the rows and rows and fields and fields of deep blue lavender. In the 19th century there was a lot of lavender production in England as it became very popular. Cotswold Lavender was launched about 15 years ago and is now one of a small but growing number of British commercial lavender producers who are establishing themselves in response to a growing demand for the oil. Our first visit was more successful as the fields were more mature leading to a very powerful blue/purple colour, with bees buzzing everywhere. It was stunning, unforgettable. This visit was a little less spectacular as the growth is slower this year due to the cool summer so far. The colours were less intense, a bit greyer, although I am sure that will have improved within a fortnight. Nonetheless there were dozens of photographers on site. This is an idyllic Cotswold spot, near Broadway, and I can think of few better ways of spending a summer's day! The shop and the tea shop don't live up to the standard on the fields although you may wish to try a lavender earl grey tea and a lavender infused brownie just once in your life!
Cotswold Lavender fields at Snowshill near Broadway

Cotswold Lavender fields at Snowshill near Broadway
St Nicholas Church in Oddington

We went to an event held on the 27th floor of the Walkie-Talkie building (20 Fenchurch St to give it it’s official name) in London entitled ‘Making the Internet of Things affordable’. Both the subject and the venue made it sound appealing and we were not mistaken. In addition to meeting some interesting people, we heard how the connectivity that the internet now provides – particularly via affordable mobile devices that most of us now own – is already changing the world rapidly and we ain’t seen nothing yet. When people refer to ‘the internet of things’ they are talking about how the internet has sparked a business process re-engineering revolution that is just beginning. Two good examples that were quoted are Uber and Airbnb. Both created in San Francisco about 6 years ago, they have grown to cover cities across the world and they are disrupting the established traditions in their sectors. And they have done it very rapidly. Uber allows people to hail a car by pressing a couple of buttons on their smartphone; you can chose the vehicle type and the payment is transacted automatically via the Uber app. A few days ago the traditional taxis brought cities and airports across France to a standstill to protest against this new disruptive intruder firm. There have also been demonstrations in London and other cities. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, was recently involved in an altercation with a black cab driver in Clerkenwell who was unhappy with the Mayor’s failure to ban the Uber service. Johnson shouted back from his bicycle telling the driver to ‘Fxxk off and die but not in that order” which of course has been widely reported and even videoed by a passer-by on his mobile. Airbnb has also not been without controversy; various cities including Paris and New York have deemed the subletting of properties illegal in certain circumstances and there has been a backlash from the established holiday traders who feel threatened. What these two companies (and numerous others) have in common is that they use mobile internet to provide a disruptive service which is largely adored by the public to give them easy access at lower prices to everyday things. They make things that were hard to find or perhaps only available to wealthier people, accessible to the masses. It reminds me of what the low cost airlines (South West, Easyjet, Ryanair) did to the airline industry late last century. The point being made at the conference is that this is just the start. Expect to see many more new companies come along and disrupt the model that we are used to, probably in every sector and in every way. The event was held by an Insurance company, typically a very conservative city sector, working with under-writers at Lloyds of London who have operated in this way for over 300 years. They have set-up an innovation division – which we are seeing more and more frequently – as established companies start to get worried by the real threat of disruption that is taking place around them. There are numerous examples of how the insurance market is about to change. For example, a company that supplies fridges on loan which often get stolen can stich a $2 chip on each fridge. They can then tell where it is by picking up the signal via mobile phones in the vicinity. Will driverless cars mean we no longer need car insurance in the future as they don’t crash? Prior to that, as the price of black boxes in cars falls and the sophistication rises, will a new insurance company come along and offer lower cost insurance to the masses and to the detriment of the major players? This is already happening in the youth sector where costs are very high. Every traditional business has something to fear and the opportunity is to go out there and be the business that disrupts your sector before someone else does!
View to the south-east from the 27th floor of the Walkie-Talkie

The 3 terrorist attacks of Friday June 26th are depressing, disturbing and shocking. I will be commenting on all three in my next blog, once we have had a chance to digest the events in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the 35 people, most of them British, assassinated on their summer holiday in Tunisia whilst lying on the beach, to the popular and kind boss at Air Products in Lyon who was decapitated by one of his employees, and to the 30 or so people praying at the Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait who were murdered in cold blood whilst at Friday prayers.

"May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace."

Numbers 6: 24-26

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