x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Not just another Tom Cruise stunt

Tom Cruise's stunts, parking rage, farewell to a great man and the pesky problem of bed bugs.

Tom Cruise at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, where he is filming scenes for his new Mission Impossible film.
Tom Cruise at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, where he is filming scenes for his new Mission Impossible film.

It's not every day that you look up as you're driving past the Burj Khalifa and see Tom Cruise dangling off the side. I wish I could say I saw it - I didn't - but I did see the pictures and even they gave me that wobbly feeling in the stomach that will be familiar to sufferers from vertigo.

Cruise's particular brand of action hero movie isn't on top of my cinema-going requirements list, but he does put together a great couple of hours of fast-moving escapism and the fact that he performs many of his own stunts has always been kind of impressive. Quite clearly, his directors do everything to minimise the risk to the billion-dollar star but even so, it takes some guts to run around the world's tallest building on the outside, 828 metres above terra firma even if you are strapped into a safety harness.

Frankly, I couldn't even stand with my nose pressed up against the windows of the Burj Khalifa viewing platform and look down without my tummy doing unpleasant somersaults. I had to back off even though my brain was telling me I was perfectly safe.

Despite being nominated for three Academy Awards and winning three Golden Globes, Cruise has consistently missed out on the major movie honours. His Rain Main co-star Dustin Hoffman once told me during an interview that they didn't give Oscars to people like Cruise "because he's too good looking". "They give them to the ugly ones like me," he said.

Cruise's devotion to Scientology makes some people uncomfortable, especially when he berated the actress Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants, saying he didn't believe in "chemical imbalance".

His behaviour on the Oprah Winfrey Show when he jumped up and down on the sofa professing his love for Katie Holmes was also seen as weird.

But after Saturday's stunt on the Burj Khalifa, filmed for a chase scene in his new movie Mission: Impossible IV, it would be hard to knock the actor for lack of courage.

Cruise may be seen by some as odd, but he shows courage doing his own stunts at the Burj Khalifa

Parking rage is an unnecessary evil

It's the little things in life that usually raise people's stress levels the most, like seeing someone nip into the parking space that you have been waiting for the previous incumbent to clear.

In one case of parking rage reported this week, a man had his teeth knocked out in a brawl at DragonMart. The incident happened in May and it has just reached the courts. The only thing that surprises me about this is that it doesn't happen more often because visitors to the mall on the outskirts of Dubai seem to feel they have to park directly outside one of the entrances on the main road side of the sprawling building.

If they were to take the trouble to drive around the back of the mall they would discover hundreds of empty spaces with excellent access to the entrances, but they prefer to sit and fume, pressing their horns and jostling for positions as if their lives depended on it.

I can understand it in the hot summer months when they don't want to have to walk any distance, but now that it's cooler it's just crazy behaviour. They don't even have the excuse that they will be carrying heavy packages back to the car, because there are plenty of trolleys and porters willing to push them at DragonMart.

It's the same all over the world, and you only have to glance at the letters page in most local newspapers to know how irritated people get about parking in general, especially when the council decides to extend the boundaries of the paid parking areas. People take it very personally when they're used to parking for nothing or if meters suddenly appear outside their homes.

Supermarket car parks become urban battlegrounds and perfectly nice people turn into parking space warriors when a little patience and the ability to walk a couple of hundred yards are all that are needed to avoid it.

The great man behind a great president

Behind every great man is another great man who has a knack of producing the right words for every occasion. Some of the greatest statesmen of all time owe a massive debt to their speech writers and none more so than John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Theodore "Ted" Sorensen, who died this week aged 82, was the man who made John F Kennedy sound so clever and noble, always able to conjure up a patriotic image or deliver a line that would go down in history.

From Kennedy's inaugural address in 1961, when he delivered the famous line "ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man", Sorensen was there by his side echoing his thoughts and turning them into statesman-like prose.

He even took the blame for the "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech that caused much hilarity at the time because a "Berliner" is also the name for a particular kind of jam-filled doughnut that is made in Berlin. He also wrote the inspirational "man on the Moon" speech urging congress to spend billions on the space race. "If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgement it would be better not to go at all," he wrote and eight years later the American astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the Moon.

Sorensen was utterly devoted to JFK and left the White House immediately after the president was killed. His genius was in capturing the zeitgeist of the age and creating memorable phrases that stirred the soul while sounding as if they came from the heart of the man who delivered them, rather than the pen of a staffer.

He was a vital member of JFK's staff but practically invisible, unlike the spin doctors of today. He saw his job as making the glamorous young politician look and sound like a president should. JFK called him his "intellectual bloodbank" and he helped to define an era.

Everyone is at risk from bed bugs

Bed bugs are such a great leveller. No one is immune against the little creatures that burrow insidiously into mattresses and pillows, biting anyone who dares to invade their domain. Now, they are terrorising travellers to New York and the infestation is so bad that the mayor Michael Bloomberg has created a bed-bug advisory board.

The tourism industry is worried that people will simply stay away from the Big Apple until they've cleared the problem up, and although the probability is that a touch of hysteria has taken hold, it poses a very real problem.

The Waldorf Astoria is being sued, major stores have carried out very public fumigations and there are even iPhone alerts showing where bed bugs have been discovered.

It all sounds hilarious but here in the UAE, known worldwide as a Middle Eastern hub for international travellers, we should be on the alert. The horrid little creatures are no respecters of people and like anyone else, they like a nice clean bed to sleep in. Once they're bedded in, they're practically impossible to get rid of, short of calling in professional pest exterminators.