Friday, 28 April 2017

My big one

Being lost for words is nothing new for me - the imbecilities of my two children leave me in perpetual shock and awe. Less often, however, am I struck dumb by the peaks of life’s loveliness.

And then something like this happens.

A few weeks ago, I made a video for WD40 … Well, I was a lucky winner. A very lucky winner.

For a start, there was the merchandise - the hats and gloves. Then there was the heap of bike maintenance stuff - all manner of lubricants that I had no idea WD40 manufactured. And then came the bikes. Four Diamondback mountain bikes - utter crackers! And then - as if that wasn’t more than enough - was the GoPro Hero 5.
All my WD40 swag
Stunned doesn’t cover it. When I first read the congratulatory message, I sat there slack-jawed, with the butterflies in my belly pulling some some shocking manoeuvres. For the last few weeks, my wins had been infrequent and modest. And then this: a year’s luck in one great dollop! I messaged back to check it wasn’t an administrative error. Surely, they didn’t mean *all* this prize was for me?
Two of the bikes I won from WD40
But they did. My biggest ever win - by an enormous margin. Nice, with ever so many ‘i’s. The bikes alone are worth more than my car!

Even now I’m struggling to come to terms with my good fortune - and I don’t mean the logistics of where to store four new bikes at short notice (that’s easy: two in the dining room, one in the hallway and one in the master bedroom), or the matter of procuring whupp-ass locks (no way am I leaving these babies out with only my old D-lock for protection!). No - I mean that every time I see them, I just think: gosh.


Has your luck ever left you lost for words? Tell me your story in the comments!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

My scarf is IN

Back in 2010, the bookies discovered social media. They gave away so many free bets that, for a few months, I had a nice little side hustle in free gambling. By no means did I make a fortune, but I did take sufficient money from one company that they flagged me as The Wrong Kind of Customer and effectively barred me from placing any more bets.

This was especially disappointing as these guys ran loads more competitions than any of the other bookies, with the result that, on top of the free bets, I’d also won branded hoodies, poker chips, playing cards and a polo shirt. Without doubt, I was having a ball (literally - it was a rugby ball).

The merchandise was great, but there was icing on the cake too: I accumulated something like £200 of credit at a store specialising in soccer apparel, both modern and retro. This explains how I ended up with, among other things, an Atlanta Chiefs jersey that is every bit as flammable as its 1981 counterpart and an exquisite replica of Zaire’s 1974 World Cup strip that I’m no longer able to wear since becoming a biscuit shovelling snack beaver (yes, I do blame the children).

The credit came in the form of gift vouchers, so it was a case of use it or lose it. And being the sort of person who wouldn’t buy so much as a cheese straw without first checking in to Quidco, there was no way I was going to fill my basket with big stuff and then let the chump change slip through my fingers.

Goodness knows how long I spent trawling through the bin-ends, most likely with spreadsheet and calculator to hand, but eventually I found a scarf and a couple of keyrings to round out the order. I possibly had to write off as much as seven pence worth of prize money, but somehow I summoned the inner strength to stomach such egregious waste.

Keyrings, of course, are both subtle and useful, and they began to earn their keep almost as soon as my prize parcel arrived. Football scarves, by contrast, are bluntly ostentatious statements of tribal identity, and - when they deviate from the designated colour scheme - arguably iffy in one-horse towns.

That’s not to say that the fine citizens of Norwich would have given me a good pitchforking had I openly allied myself with Paraguay, but I was certainly unsure whether wearing said scarf would actually have been cricket. To this end, it sank to the bottom of the winter accessories box, where it lay, cruelly neglected, for the next few years.
You can, therefore, imagine my excitement when I read - in the Guardian, no less - that football scarves are presently a la mode. My scarf is now out of the box, around my neck, and officially holding my wardrobe together.

With hindsight, you might say that the scarf represents a watershed. Certainly, it was after this prize bundle that I started thinking that winning stuff was a highly agreeable experience, and that maybe I should look into making it a more regular event. If nothing else, I’m going to treat it with more respect from now on: it’s not just an accessory - it’s the symbol of the moment I decided to be more lucky!

What got you into comping? Did you win a prize and decide you wanted more, or did you just wake up one day and decide to be lucky? What prizes contributed most to making you the comper you are today? Do you still have your first prize? Let me know in the comments...

PS: I meant to post this the other week. I’ve a strong suspicion football scarves are OUT again.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017


I’ve won football tickets before. Thanks to Barclays and Aviva, respectively, I’ve seen Norwich hold Man City to a goalless draw and beat Rotherham 3-1 (honestly, that first one was a corker!). This match, however, was the one I was *really* looking forward to. Not because it was going to be a high-stakes promotion dogfight (that much was written off weeks ago), and not because it would be a chance to see a world-class team show off its silky skills (with all due respect, Fulham, you’re no Barcelona); no - this matchday was going to be awesome because I had golden tickets. The fact that the match was a half-dead rubber was irrelevant: these tickets *guaranteed* a good time.

I won the tickets back in January, when Green Farm Coffee - sponsors of the South Stand at Carrow Road - ran a Gleam comp on their website. I already knew who I wanted to be my plus-one, so I got my mate to enter too. Thanks to this referral, I got an extra entry into the draw. Whether that was the straw that tipped the camel’s back in my favour I shall never know, but for the sake of the narrative, let’s just imagine it was.

The prize, simply put, was an afternoon of top-notch hospitality at the finest football club in East Anglia (yeah, you heard me Ipswich), comprising a tour of the ground, fancy lunch and exceedingly comfortable seats to watch the game.
Carow Road stadium
The lull before the storm
Without doubt, the tour was incredible. Happy to chat both football and the business of football, our guide showed us all the special little nooks of Carrow Road, from the dugouts to the dressing rooms, the press conference suite to the post-match interview cubicles, and, lest we forget, the trophy cabinet.

To be sure, Carrow Road will never rival, say, Old Trafford, for silverware, but even so, there were so many stories in that one room that it was nigh impossible to digest even the highlights. But with lunch beckoning and a queue building up behind us, we had to make way for the next party to see the spoils.

On the touchline
Getting 110% Out of the lads
Speaking of lunch, the meal was (as you’d expect from Delia’s staff) impeccable: a champagne aperitif, followed by a salmon fishcake starter, succulent roast lamb main and something I’m tempted to call a bakewell cake for dessert (sorry - I totally failed to cross-check the bill of fare!), and - of course - coffee. My photos of the food don’t do the meal the slightest justice, however, so here’s another picture of me, mugging for the camera.
In the press cubicle
To be fair, you never can tell. The lads did well at the end of the day and I think the ref's going to feel that in the morning. It was a game of 90 minutes, and, fair play, two halves. That said, I'm sick as a parrot.
Now, about those seats. I had no idea that anyone outside of the squad was allowed a comfy seat. I acknowledge my error. At the top of the terrace, opposite the dugouts, is where the posh people sit. The view was fantastic and my riff-raff buns were over the proverbial moon.
Seat at Carrow Road
Check out the padding!
As we got to our seats, the Barclay was in fine voice, the team having pounded Reading 7-1 in the previous game. No one was expecting a repeat of that, of course. Much like no one was expecting Fulham to go a goal up in the first five minutes. Suffice to say, I'm disinclined to discuss the subsequent 85 minutes; that is, unless you want further intel on the euphoric state of my buttocks.

This was the first time I've ever been vipped, and it was, without question, brilliant. How I'm ever supposed to cope with being a civilian again I will never know!

Have you ever had the VIP treatment? Tell me more!

Friday, 31 March 2017

Unboxing March 2017

I don't normally do unboxing videos - I don't win enough prizes to make them worthwhile. Then I figured, hang on, there's probably enough compers out there who feel exactly the same. So here it is, my first unboxing video, dedicated to our daily disappointments!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Take one

This year, one of my personal challenges is to enter as many video-based competitions as possible.
That’s not because I’m some bright young camera-wielding hotshot - quite the opposite in fact: I need the practice (and yes, it *is* way too late for me to be bright or young).

So what’s the rationale? Simply put, I suspect the number of video-based competitions is going to increase over the next few years. Why? Because we all have the technology.

Technology is plainly changing the comping landscape. To state the obvious, there were no web-based comps before the internet, no follow-RT comps before Twitter, and no selfie comps before the world and his dog had a front-facing camera in their smartphone.

Of course, today’s front-facing cameras don’t just take half-decent photos - they’re also capable of capturing respectable video footage too - and things will only improve.

I’m not born-digital. Aside from berating retailers, I get little joy from Twitter. Likewise, Snapchat, with its vacuous filters and counterintuitive interface, has done nothing for me except pacify my children during weddings and funerals.

In short, I am, despite my best efforts, a 42-year-old Luddite, guilty of spawning children purely so I have someone to sync my iPod when I retire.

Today’s children will be playing with video like we played with Chuckie Egg. Sure, they’ll still have written assignments at school, but video-based assignments aren’t going to be limited to drama and media studies lessons. Their media literacy is going to be all over ours. And this is where I draw the line - I’m not going to let the next generation outdo me when it comes to video comps!

Right now, I have only my phone and the video-editing software that came bundled with Windows. I’m sure there are plenty of free or modestly priced video editors out there, but for me the priority is such basics as lighting and narrative.

By way of example, here’s my entry into the recent WD40 life-hacks competition.
I really should have looked more closely at the contrast on the purple ink I was clearing up, as the light bleaches it out somewhat - I can only hope it’s sufficiently visible for the promoter. I also hope the promoter enjoys the footage of my lad’s apology that’s woven into it.

Here, I confess that he was actually apologising for a different misdemeanour - I just had the footage on file, as it were, and saw an opportunity to use it! Nonetheless, such confession bears emphasising. Compers already prepare for photo comps by snapping everything from sunsets to messy bedrooms - because who knows when those pictures will come in handy… All I can say is that a change is going to come, so start saving those video clips too!

How do you find technology is changing comping? Do you yearn for the "good old days", or do you embrace each new development as it comes on scene? What are your tips for video comps?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Do you remember the first time?

The dry spell is over. All wins are great, of course, but some make for better copy than others.

For example, there’s only so much spin you can put on being the only entrant in a Twitter comp to win a branded beanie hat from a company specialising in cattle disinfectant.

I also won some teabags. Well, technically, I was tagged in a comp won by an Instagram tag buddy, but any port in a storm, right?

So, in the absence of exciting stories, I’ll fall back on throwback and tell you about my very first win.

It was the summer term of 1999, which would have made me 14. A chap from Cambridge University Press came into our English class to talk about something - I’m guessing publishing, but the memories are hazy - for all I know, it was the mating habits of the Palawan stink badger.

At the end of this clearly memorable session, we were, as was the norm, set our weekly homework. What made this week different, however, was that (a) it would take five minutes instead of the usual hour or more, and (b) there would be prizes.

I wasn’t the kind of pupil to need reward-based incentivisation; however, I did have an admirable track record when it came to rushing my homework to get my parents off my back so I could get on with my R&R. Thus, when I was tasked with writing a story in a sentence, it was as good as giving me a week off.

Mine wasn’t the best entry. The best entry was (I later learned) plagiarised from Stephen King. The judges clearly suspected something was afoot, however, and awarded first prize - a concise Chambers Dictionary - to my hastily tossed off guff about a radioactive worm. (Stephen King, since you ask, bagged but a pocket dictionary.)
My story in a sentence, aged 14, as recovered from the July 1999 Parents Newsletter. 
I still have the dictionary. The dust-jacket is long since perished, of course, and the spine flaps around in the draft, and if you want the skinny on latte or for that matter any other contemporary term such as LOL, vape or emoji, it’s plainly no use at all. That said, if I want slumpflation or perestroika, then it’s totally my go-to reference book.
Dictionary cover
I’ll be honest though, it’s not the win that got me into this game. Half my class didn’t bother with the homework, so I didn’t feel like I’d won fair and square. What’s more, the plagiarism wasn’t even confessed for another couple of years, so I simply couldn’t understand how I could possibly have beaten Stephen King. It didn’t sit right.

Oh the innocence! I love that it never even occurred to me that someone might cheat. But more than that, it makes me laugh that I didn’t value my win because the odds weren’t long enough. Coming from someone who did a victory dance after scoring a cow soap beanie against zero opposition, that really is incredible.

What was your very first win? Did it give you the bug, or did that come later?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Prize piles

The last few weeks haven’t been kind. I blame the change in routine. No longer can I use my lunch break to search Twitter for short-lived comps with precious few entrants. Instead, I’ve been sitting down in the evening to run my searches and trawling through page after page of irrelevant US posts. The fact that I’m exhausted by this point only compounds matters.

I’m working to fix this, of course. But in the meantime, I’m reminding myself about my luck credentials by dusting the virtual trophy cabinet, which is to say, working on my Winspiration Pinterest board.

Mostly, my prizes come in drips and drabs, so I can only really snap them one at a time. Last December, however, was my most successful month ever - in fact, things went so well that my wins were stacking up on my desk faster than I could find homes for them. At one point I was even thinking: Is this what it feels like to be Di Coke? Because if it is, she must feel BRILLIANT!

And that’s when I remembered prize piles.

When I first started comping, I used to pore slack-jawed over the winners’ stories on Prizefinder, gasping at the heaps of things some people were winning on a monthly basis. And I thought: one day, this will be me. And so it was - I was living the dream!

Dry spells are an inevitable part of comping, but it’s how we cope with them that defines us as compers. So, when I realised that this beautiful moment was unfolding before me, I captured it, intending full well to use it in my next trip to the luck recovery clinic.
Some of my wins from December 2016
When I look back on this picture, I think YES - I really can do this! I may not be able to make an actual pile in any given month (read, most months), but I'm a total advocate for snapping every last win for posterity. The prize spreadsheet is undoubtedly great, but never underestimate the emotional value of those Kodak moments!

Celebrating past glories is just one salve for bruised luck muscles - the best recovery programmes always draw on a combination of therapies. How do you massage your luck back into shape again?!