Alex Polizzi; The Ellen Ripley of Hospitality

“My arms are crossed darling, I obviously mean business.”

If you’ve ever been to an hotel that has a mildew sodden carpeted bathroom, or a mirrored ceiling when all you wanted was a sea view, then don’t feel too bad because there is finally a woman prepared to put down her prawn cocktail and stand up, ding the bell on the hotel counter until the poor attendant has medically diagnosed tinitis and shout “this hotel is dreadful, darling.” That woman is Alex Polizzi and she is the equivalent of a Power Loader wielding Ellen Ripley with fresh towels.

The similarities between the two are striking; both have wild manes of just tamed hair, a fiery glint in their eye, and know how to get what they want. Whereas Ripley used whatever firepower was available to her, Polizzi uses her own innate armoury and charms sometimes shit hotel owners into submitting to her iron will. Want to dedicate your business to housing a memoriam of times past (including dismembered doll’s arms)? That’s fine, but don’t expect to survive an encounter with Polizzi with all your limbs intact, because once that woman has set her unwavering gaze on a problem, she won’t stop until that problem has been blasted into space.

Obviously a lot of what is featured on ‘The Hotel Inspector’ (Channel 5, Thursday at 9) is choreographed to create drama (which there’s nothing wrong with), and although long lingering glances of despair might be made up of stock footage of Polizzi listening intently, it’s sort of irrelevant. Whether it’s faker than Lauren Goodger’s face, or shows the stark reality of hoteliering (I have no idea what that word actually is) it doesn’t matter. Setting Alex Polizzi lose on a failing hotel is like diving into battle after you’ve just levelled up; it’s an exhilarating experience that pushes you to the edge of your seat until the inevitable conflict flares up and then you sit back, smug, knowing that you’re never going to see two middle class women have such a passive aggressive argument again.

Everything Polizzi says is followed by a smile. She might be saying that the hotel you’ve ran for forty years is the equivalent of La Cantina and you’re understandably upset, but she’s smiling still. There’s nothing that can be done to wipe the grin from her face, in fact, the more belligerent the owners get, the more Polizzi knows that she’s right, and the wider the smile gets.

It may sound like this is a bad thing, but it’s the exact opposite. Whereas Mary Portas has decided to let her icy facade crack and show us her crying a few times, and Paul Hollywood revels in his Silver Fox status, Polizzi continues to do what she does best: making bad hotels good. And hotels is what she knows well. She’s related to Lord Forte who held a stake in The Savoy as well as bringing Travelodge to the UK. And watching her tackle apprehensive hotel owners right in the balls and shove them to the ground will, hopefully never get old.

I’m Going To Miss The Olympics; Here’s Why

I didn’t think I would ever say these words, or that I would say them while waiting for the Olympic diving, but I think I could actually miss the Olympics once they finish on Sunday.

Before two weeks ago the thought of sport being on the TV filled with revulsion. Revulsion that demonstrated itself by watching something else on TV. As football clogged up the TV listings, knocking things like Eastenders and Coronation Street off kilter, my hatred of sport grew stronger. Like when Bellatrix Lestrange killed Sirius Black. I wanted to send football through the Veil that was never explained and we’re supposed to just accept even though it’s a pretty massive plot point that’s left unresolved. The Olympics looked like it was going to be a gigantic waste of money that would bring thousands of people into a city that didn’t seem ready for the influx of people. But, as the Closing Ceremony is tomorrow, everything has been gone smoothly.

This is the eighth Olympics during my lifetime, and I’ve never wanted to see one, happy to watch anything else than the boring commentary about weird rules. I missed the whole Zola Budd business, all of the Cold War shenanigans in the late 80s and all the horribly coloured lycra of the 90s, and whatever Dame Kelly Holmes is famous for. I missed it, and I didn’t care. I was happy not knowing. There were more important things to think of, like when Neighbours was coming back from the Summer Break and whether secondary school was actually like Grange Hill (it was, but only because it was before drugs became a whole ‘thing’ and it was what actors in leather jackets did).

This year was different though. This year I was slapped in the face with divers wearing tiny trunks and throwing themselves from diving boards, men bounding around a large mat in skin tight lyrcra, and men in leotards running stupid amount of distances. And every minute was absolutely amazing. My stomach churned as Kristian Thomas ran towards the pommel horse, soared as Greg Rutherford jumped a crazy distance (and then made himself sound like a right prick afterwards). And thats before you consider what Bradley Wiggins and Mo Farah achieved.

It wasn’t just the successes that made it for me though. There were the hilarious names, like Eric Shen, and Robert Grabarz. There was Claire Balding’s brilliant commentary. There was actually excelling at sports that I didn’t think that we would be any good. And overall, the pride that I was watching a part of British history as we careened headfirst into possibly one of our most successful Olympics to date.

Maybe the Opening Ceremony broke me down to the very core of my being and indoctrinated a pride, between marvelling at an army of descending Mary Poppins and sobbing as six unknown athletes lit the Torch, that I haven’t experienced before, or maybe I was swept up in Olympics Fever and would have sat through Caitlin Moran in the 100 second backcomb and still been engrossed if we were up for a medal.

The camaraderie that everyone felt as we all faced uncertainty over the Olympics’ success was palpable. We knew it could all go tits up very easily, problems arose about the empty seats and staffing at the beginning of events, but they all seem to have been swept to one side as Gold medal after Gold medal dropped around the necks of Jessica Ennis and Chris Hoy and we could see that this was something to be proud of. Jessica Ennis especially became the poster girl for the elation that we felt when she won. There shouldn’t have been many people with dry eyes as she burst into tears seeing years of training come into fruition and achieving her dream.

If we had been shit and flew into the water like a stunned duck wrapped in bricks it would be a slightly different story. It would be a case of ‘This Is What We’ve Paid For Is It?’ and without seeming like a glory hunter, it would have affirmed all of the misleading and strongly worded rhetoric that seemed to populate the Daily Mail months before the event even started.

Who can say why the Olympics have been so popular?

What can be said for certain is that I’ve watched more sport in the last two weeks than I have in my entire life, and it’s been brilliant.

Knowing that tomorrow will be the very end of the Olympics for another four years until Rio take their turn is a bit sad. Where else will I get my regular fix of revealing lycra and sexually ambiguous divers?

What Final Fantasy VII Means To Me

Picture the scene; it’s 1997. The Spice Girls are at the height of their musical dominance, and platform trainers were being sold at almost six a second to pre-pubescent girls screeching about ‘Giw Powa’ to any man who didn’t really understand what was going on in life anymore. Tony Blair is voted into power and starts his War On… whatever was a problem at the time, and Katrina and The Waves win Eurovision. It was a massive year for popular culture, but for a quiet thirteen year old from the North, none of this made a tiny bit of difference (except the Spice Girls. The Spice Girls were brilliant).

All he was bothered about was finally getting the opportunity to own one of the greatest games that he’d ever seen; an accolade almost beaten in the subsequent years, but not quite. Although his fancier friends that owned, the now archaic PlayStation, had been playing it since the beginning of the year, he wasn’t fortunate enough to have parents who threw bad money after good and treat their little darlings to whatever they wanted. No, he had parents who were stingy and had a Hulk like grasp on their wallets. He had sat, watching in awe as the boxy sprites moved around pre-rendered backgrounds, working their way up towers to save the girl, or fighting through submerged submarines to level up enough to pose a threat in one of the most difficult boss battles that he had ever seen, or silently fighting the tears as the girl who had saved from the tower ultimately met her death at the hands of videogaming’s meanest villains, who incidentally had the greatest haircut. Coincidence? Rumour has it having a gravity defying haircut is one of the prerequisites to join Team Rocket.

Final Fantasy 7, Squaresoft’s latest addition to the stale roleplaying game series, was that game, and it made an indelible mark on that thirteen year old’s memory.

Obviously that thirteen year old was me. It’s not a Stephen King laden surprise to hear that surely? If it is, then you should cut yourself a massive slice of FF7 pie and chow on the twists and turns baked within. How good are pie metaphors as well?

Every game that I download for free, or pay a semi-extortionate price for, is compared to this benchmark. Every time there’s a giant sword hanging around, waiting for it’s owner to claim it at ComiCon, I compare to Cloud Strife’s. Every time that an overly complicated battle strategy is employed by game designers, I compare it to the simple Materia system that Final Fantasy 7 used. Such is the lasting image on my memory of how amazing Final Fantasy 7 was, I’ve bought versions for the short sighted purchase of a PSP, even though I don’t have the hours of life that it takes to complete it anymore.

Boasting around 60 hours of solid playtime (taking into account leveling up and all that disastrous Chocobo farming), FF7 took a massive amount of dedication. Compared to the shooty shootys like the Call Of Duty series, or beat em ups, like the cursed Mortal Kombat series, it took concentration and a huge portion of your life to fully complete. You can go through the game, doing the very basics, skirting your way around getting the heralded Knights Of The Round (that noise you can hear is the sudden intake of breath from around the country as grown men remember being told that you can cast it twice using W-Summon Materia), and focus on defeating the nefarious Sephiroth. But if you want to savour the bizarreness that is secret ninja slash thief Yuffie (who looks an awful lot like Bruce Springsteen era Courteney Cox), or the awful Vincent and Nibelheim Manor, you need to spend time that you could be using becoming fully socialised and appealing to the opposite sex. Or the same sex. Or just to sex.

It wasn’t just the secret characters like Yuffie or Vincent who took the time to find, the essential characters took hours to hone and prepare for battle, searching around shops for their most powerful weapons and armour, and fighting for the chance to upgrade their Limit Breaks (what Square Enix call “going all Chris Brown on them”). And Cait Sith, the Final Fantasy 7 equivalent of Ant and Dec, who had no discernible talent or purpose, took the longest. Mainly because the strategy needed to level him up was based on luck over tactics, it just made him an irritant.

60 hours would be a massive chore if it was a dull plot that limped along like a horse staring down the business end of a rifle, but in Final Fantasy 7 there’s subterfuge, intrigue, murder, romance, but most importantly, an allegory on global warming and how corporations are ruining the World, at one point sacrificing thousands of the poorest residents to save their own villainous plans. You wouldn’t find a well thought out plan to save the Planet in Doom, or Theme Park. They’re all about either a) making little Sims sick, or b) yourself sick. As the number in your party starts to increase to officially make a ‘gang,’ they get thrown into more and more dire straits. Not only are Shin-Ra (it’s not She-Ra’s Chinese cousin) wanting to destroy the Planet, but there’s also a blast from the main character’s past causing destruction and chaos wherever he goes. That man, dodging all spoilers, is Sephiroth. Frequently voted one of video gaming’s greatest villain, with an actually believable ethos and a threat level that would scare even the most hardened gamer, Sephiroth travels the Planet destroying all that he comes into contact with, his sole goal, possessing the power of his dead “Mother” and ruling over the Planet that he thinks is his birthright.

Obviously this is manic video game nonsense, and you’d be forgiven if you gloss over like a stunned rabbit, but compare it to other games out at the time and it’s one of the most adult attempts at bringing in modern issues and giving them a roleplaying spin. Apart from Grand Theft Auto and Grandia, FF7 sets itself as one of the most mature games out that year. Despite it being aimed at children.

But it takes more than immersive gameplay and catchy characters to make a timeless classic. You need a ridiculously catchy soundtrack as well. If there were such things as ear worms, then FF7 is an ear worm colony because you’ll be singing every song well into the night, and bopping along to the Chocobo theme on the way to work.

And everyone who hears you whistling the Boss theme will sport a knowing smile because FF7 has touched so many people over such a wide net. As soon as you mention FF7 on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll get flooded with messages about who your favourite Turk was (always Elena), who was your favourite character (always Tifa) and what’s your favourite feminine product (Always Ultra). Accompanying Cloud and his band of eco-misfits as they travel through around the Planet in the search for acceptance, revenge and, maybe most importantly of all, righting a wrong that changes what we know about the main protagonist forever, is at times thrilling, and at times emotionally exhausting, but from the very first raid to the apocalyptic climax, you’ll still be shocked by Sephiroth’s ultimate cock block fifteen years after it first happens.

The fact that I’m writing this, as a PC re-release has just been announced by Square Enix with trophies and a ‘Character Booster’ just shows how much of a lasting impression Final Fantasy 7 has had on me. It’s got to the point that I actually feel sorry for whenever a new RPG is released. Nothing will match the excitement of finding out Cloud’s secret, or the soul crushing realization that I’ll never beat Emerald Weapon.