Perhaps it's the recession, but this year's Dubai International Film Festival seemed to lack its usual sparkle. Really big name stars were in short supply compared to previous years as movie companies tightened their belts. The biggest international name to make an appearance was Omar Sharif and organisers managed to cheese him off by screening his new movie J'ai oubliť de te dire (I forgot to tell you) at the same time as James Cameron's Avatar.
Unsurprisingly he was angry and hurt, though he refused to make a public fuss about it. "I am only human," he told me. "Normally I am very gentle and peaceful but sometimes I get mad. I am angry today but it doesn't matter." His French director Laurent Vinas-Raymond said it was "disrespectful" to screen the movie at the smaller Madinat Theatre instead of the much bigger Arena. Professional to the end, Sharif donned an elegant suit and flashed his trademark gap-toothed smile for his own screening and the intensity of the sound of clicking was testament to his fame and popularity. In fact, with the notable exception of the Scottish actor Gerard Butler who filled the Madinat Theatre with adoring women for an on-stage conversation, it was the golden oldies who stole the show. The Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan created a similar buzz earlier in the week.
Both Bachchan and Sharif share that indefinable ingredient known as real star quality. They represent a bygone age where movie stars were more glamorous. They wear beautiful suits and silk ties, their shoes are highly polished. When they walk into a room heads swivel and you can feel the buzz of excitement. Younger actors such as Butler and Christopher Lambert smoulder on screen but they tend to dress down in jeans and sneakers. The delightfully un-PC Frenchman Lambert is practically unrecognisable as he wanders around unshaven and often smoking, his mesmerising eyes hidden behind tinted spectacles. Both he and Butler are smaller and less obviously muscular than they appear in their films although cameras still love them and they both seem natural and friendly in real life. You can read my interview with Omar Sharif in Sunday's Arts & Life section.
By four o'clock on Monday it felt like a scene from the 1998 movie Armageddon, when a gigantic asteroid hovered over Earth. An eerie darkness preceded sheets of rain that quickly turned Dubai into a giant swimming pool. I had planned to drive to Abu Dhabi for an evening of Christmas carols and mince pies but abandoned the idea after one look at the traffic. The first downpour swept sand and debris into the drains so that the water had nowhere to go and every dip in the roads became a swirling wadi.
For the first time I longed for the comparative safety of a four-wheel drive and I slowed to funereal speed to avoid water flooding my engine. Even a child could see the dangers and still some drivers carried on as if it were a normal sunny day in the desert. I could feel the road rage rising as one white van drove right up behind me as I was negotiating a particularly huge puddle, foot down on his accelerator, hand pressed firmly on the horn, lights flashing. We weren't even on the Sheikh Zayed Road. This was a backstreet behind the Fairmont Hotel with speed bumps.
I was opening the car door to step out and confront the driver when common sense prevailed. Apart from anything else I was wearing new shoes and the water would have come up to my calves. Instead I waved him past and watched with satisfaction as other drivers flashed and hooted at him. When rain falls in the UAE it tends to be severe and usually accompanied by thunder and lightning. It happens every year. The place comes to a virtual standstill. People die, drivers are stranded, schools close.
In the UK, it's a seasonal national joke that delayed commuters stand fuming on train platforms all over the country because of "leaves on the line". It seems to take rail authorities by surprise every time. I lived in Berlin for a couple of years, where drivers have to cope with heavy snowfalls for about four months of the year. Within minutes of the first snowflake appearing, on come the snow-chains and huge snow ploughs are out there clearing the roads. Heavy rainfalls such those experienced on Monday may not happen often, but when they do they cause millions of dirhams worth of damage to homes and property. Using unexpected severity as an excuse simply won't wash.
Reactions to the Tiger Woods saga have been fascinating and seem to have polarised the sexes. With sponsors dithering like weathervanes, waiting to see which way the wind is going to blow, ordinary people are grouping into different camps with the only common denominator being that wherever you go, everybody is still talking about it.
Tiger's Tarts (you can tell which camp I'm in) now number 11. It's hard to tell them apart with their long blonde hair, pert bodies and pouting lips. Funny that they're all white too but I guess most unfaithful men tend to go for women that look a bit like their wives looked before domestic life took over. These women talk about their "affairs" with Woods, a word that dignifies some much more sordid encounters.
One male friend said, albeit somewhat sheepishly: "You have to admit Tiger has done us proud." By "us" he meant men, or rather the stereotypical "bloke" who secretly admires the golfer's profligacy. Some people feel that perhaps Elin Woods has been too busy with her young children and hasn't been dancing attendance on her husband. It's an age-old problem that provokes resentment on both sides. Young mothers get tired, their bodies don't feel attractive and their focus is on their babies. Men feel rejected and justify their wandering eye for that reason. It isn't fair and it isn't universal either, but it's a fact of life for a lot of couples.
Few women would want to give up the private jets, yachts and million-dollar mansions that Elin has become used to, but she probably wouldn't have to. As the mother of Woods' two children she'll always have access to the trappings of enormous wealth. Even if his earning power is severely dented, he could never make another dollar and still live like a king. Elin has been seen looking over an island property that she bought recently back home in Sweden. It's a perfect place for someone who wants to stay out of the limelight, something she has never sought. Actions tend to speak louder than words at times like this and, by the looks of things, she's quietly planning a new life for herself.
First it was the Royal Mail workers going on strike, so I won't be sending Christmas cards to the UK this year. Now it's BA cabin crew, so the 12 Days of Christmas are well and truly scuppered for thousands of passengers. Well, season's blooming greetings to the lot of them. In previous years I've spent around Dh600 on postage at Christmas time. I'm just one person, so imagine the damage that is going to do multiplied by the millions of people who will simply send their festive wishes via the internet.
As for BA cabin crews, don't they know we are still in the worst recession since the Great Depression? They are allowing their union to lead them down the slippery slopes when they are paid rather well - certainly much better than most of their rivals. Cabin service directors earn more than £50,000 (Dh299,000), which, to my mind, is a pretty healthy salary for a job that isn't exactly rocket science and even the lowest-paid flight attendant gets just over £30,000. With the average annual salary of rival carriers' cabin crews at £20,000 it is clear that BA was forced to make cuts and restructure. Published losses of £292 million for the first six months of the year show that they had to be made.
Union leaders say they are taking action with "a heavy heart". Not half as heavy as it will be in a year or so when they're all out of work as furious travellers jump ship.