Wenceslas Square teaches us the virtues of music and literature
The veteran BBC foreign correspondent Kate Adie was on sparkling form in Dubai on Monday evening at a dinner to honour people and companies who have supported the arts to the tune of about Dh22 million over the past three years.
Together with the Egyptian author Khalid al Khamissi, she made a strong case for supporting the arts in general and the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in particular, along with the authors who attend.
She told diners about the time she was in Prague in 1989, covering what was later dubbed the "Velvet Revolution", which brought Václav Havel to the presidency of the Czech Republic. She and 35,000 others were standing in Wenceslas Square that night and the atmosphere was tense and volatile as behind closed doors the political future of a nation was being thrashed out.
"In one corner of the square the doors of the theatre had been deliberately left open and the National Orchestra began to play the hauntingly beautiful piece Má vlast (My Country) by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. Suddenly 35,000 people fell silent and it was an incredibly moving and wonderful thing," she said.
Later she spoke to one of the musicians who agreed that music was indeed wonderful and had the power to move the soul. "But he also made the point that he hoped they'd have a new government soon because the orchestra hadn't been paid for three months."
The very down-to-earth Adie said that although it was lovely to have airy-fairy notions about culture, "musicians need to eat and so do authors".
It was a neat and yet romantic way of encouraging the corporate world to put its hands in its pockets to help support the arts. "The book is cheap. It's essentially available to ordinary people at a very modest outlay," she said, adding that events such as literary festivals were a sign of a civilised society and they should be proud to be associated with them.
Al Khamissi told guests at the dinner, hosted by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority at the Raffles Hotel, that the festival was "a new way of thinking" for the Arab world and "an important event for our society".
Currently only a paltry two per cent of donations made to the arts goes to literature. Film, television and other visual arts receive the lion's share and patrons were urged to help keep literature alive. Adie added: "Literary festivals act as a kind of incubator where ideas can be spread to so many people. Patrons take a gamble because there are risks involved and books are frisky little things that sometimes get out of control."
Returning to her Czech theme she made the point that the president elected that night more than 20 years ago had been so successful "because he was a writer and not a politician".
Parking is the new pecking order
Anyone who has driven around the centre of Abu Dhabi trying to find a parking space will be interested in a survey from the UK, suggesting that drivers spend nearly a year of their lives doing just that.
The average driver spends about 25 minutes a day looking for the right slot, the equivalent of 152 hours a year. In 50 years of driving this could add up to nearly 11 months. It seems it's less to do with lack of spaces and more to do with lack of confidence in the ability to park.
What is interesting was the number of drivers who wouldn't even attempt the manoeuvre if another car was waiting behind them, with women the most likely to drive on and find another space.
A quarter of those surveyed admitted that they had at some time asked their passenger to park the car for them if it was a particularly small space.
My own method is simple. I have a little parking fairy whom I ask nicely to find me a space. My family are frequently amazed at how regularly it works.
Last month I found a space just outside the theatre I was visiting in London's Wardour Street and last week, during the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, when the Emirates Palace car park was bursting at the seams, I just said out loud that I really wanted a space near the lift, and there it was.
Forget the female handbag addict. This year's must-have customer is a male, preferably Chinese, who loves luxury items. Spending by men this year is expected to be up 13.2 per cent compared with 8.6 per cent for similar spending by women, and big-name designers are frantically expanding their ranges of men's luxury goods.
In China the trend is particularly noticeable, with luxury spending predicted to rise by 30 per cent, and it's men that are snapping up the designer wallets, bags and designer belts.
Next time you're in the mall, be careful not to be trampled in the rush to the mirror. It could be your old man pushing you out of the way.
Amy could prove the ideal doubles partner for Fred
What do you think of when you see the Fred Perry laurel leaves logo? I think of school sports days, long summer afternoons, the smell of cut grass, tennis at Wimbledon and jolly hockey sticks girls with ponytails.
In another era I'd think of Virginia Wade and Martina Navratilova in sport, Grace Kelly and Gwyneth Paltrow in movies or the sporty schoolgirl heroine of an Enid Blyton novel in literature. I most certainly wouldn't think of Amy Winehouse, which is why the choice of the Back to Black singer as the new new face of the clothing brand is so inspired. The tattooed Winehouse is all about smokey nightclubs and rough-edged jazz. She is one of the most talented singers and song-writers around, a total one-off who was on the verge of losing it all through her various indulgences, but who seems to have pulled back from the brink.
She looks marvellous in the new, 1950s-inspired range that includes a grey pencil skirt, black bowling shirt and pink polo top at fairly reasonable prices.
Fred Perry was definitely a brand that needed a little roughing up and Winehouse a girl who needed a bit of calming down. Meeting half way seems like a perfect match.