Thursday, 7 December 2017

Unboxing September/October 2017

This is so late, it's almost a throwback. Nevertheless, I promised I would bring my unboxing up to date and so I have!

(Spoiler: contains 1x sur-prize!)


Thursday, 30 November 2017

The message

Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge
I'm trying not to lose my head
It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
(Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, 1982)
I’m not usually one for prefacing my posts with hip hop lyrics, but in this instance I really couldn’t not.

For starters, you may have noticed the absence of posts these last few weeks. That’s because I haven’t been well. I’m not talking about the stomach bug that my youngest brought home from school (although, to be fair, it wasn’t a net contributor to my mojo), but rather the clashing episodes of exhaustion, stress and depression. I also developed a corn.

I hope you’ll forgive the lack of further detail here. I’m perfectly happy to discuss my mental health (or my corn) with anyone with a vaguely passing interest, but as this blog is supposed to be a permanent record of the positive things in my life, I’d prefer to take that offline. For the sake of this post, however, it's quite sufficient to know that November was rotten.

Generally speaking, I find prize-winning to be a great way to kick-start the endorphins. Of course, the fly in that ointment was that my comping flatlined in October, meaning that the number of treats heading my way could be counted on the fingers of one tennis ball.

On the plus side, however, there was always my corn to contend with.

Two years of wearing the same footwear around the house, day in, day out, had taken its toll. My left foot cried ‘Hold, Enough!’, giving me no option but to re-shoe it.

Normally, that would mean one more chore to add to the list. Happily though, I had in anticipation of such drama stashed away a pair of suede Pumas that I won back in 2015. The promoter? One Grandmaster Flash.

I’ve no idea how I stumbled upon this competition, but it was great and bad in equal measure: great because there weren’t many entrants, but bad because the entry mechanic was highly flawed.

To enter, you had to guess Flash’s five favourite hip hop records. The answers weren’t hard to find - everything you needed to know was in his recent Twitter feed; the problem was that most of the songs weren’t hip hop!

I figured that this wasn’t the time to split hairs, so I fed the promoter the songs listed on Twitter and crossed my fingers. Happily it was the right call.

The story didn’t end there, however. I knew the prize comprised a Puma track-top and trainers; I also knew that (for reasons not shared with me) it was going to take considerably longer than the average four weeks for the prize to arrive. Eventually, all became clear: the prize was not being handled by the Puma marketing team, but rather by Flash’s wardrobe crew! The jacket and shoes arrived in the UK with the rest of his tour gear. I'd won an official (and I’m pretty sure money-can’t-buy) Grandmaster Flash track-top!
My Grandmaster Flash jacket
Flash's back
To add to the craziness, they didn’t courier the prize to me. Rather, they hired a despatch driver to bring it from central London up to Norwich! I can’t imagine how much that cost, but I’m pretty sure it was more than the monetary value of the prize.

Two years have passed since then, and while trying not to lose my head has a more regular position on my to-do list, being physically able to enjoy the fruits of this hobby, even when I’m barely working at it, definitely helps me keep from going under.

How long have you waited for the right moment to appreciate a prize? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Deadwood

Recently, I’ve not been enjoying the comps. Sure, I’ll always love winning, but the process of entering has been leaving me cold. I’m bored by forms, muddling my closing dates and drawing a blank with ideas for effort comps: in short, the mojo has taken a sabbatical.

And yet I can't get comping out of my head!

Some of that, of course, is compulsion (another good reason to ease back), but another part is the desire to get my head in the right place for the season of comping bedlam commonly known as December.

As I’ve said before, the advents can take a lot out of you, so it’s important to prepare as best you can - and to look after yourself as you go.

My last week has therefore focused on deadwooding my social media feeds to ensure I receive a better stream of interesting content once the season - and my mood - pick up.
Unlike icon

Deadwooding Twitter is probably the easiest. With an app like ManageFlitter it’s a doodle to review your follows and remove any that are no longer of interest (for more details, check out Di Coke’s post). That said, unless you’re approaching your 5,000 follow limit, there’s no urgency here, as the average Twitter feed is such a barrage of jibber jabber that the likelihood of a decent, low-odds comp falling in your lap are marginal. Indeed, most seasoned compers will tell you that the best way to enter Twitter giveaways is to take the bull by the horns and go find them yourself. In this regard, Nikki Hunter-Pike’s Tweetdeck tips are essential reading.

Onto Facebook then. Personally, I have little love for Facebook. I’ve no desire to spam my entire family with comps, but since Mark Zuckerberg now shares my every last like, reaction or comment with my entire social circle, I seem to have no choice in the matter. Furthermore, while Facebook is happy to unlike pages off its own bat, it appears less keen for users to do so under their own steam. Sure, you can unfollow pages as and when they come into your newsfeed, or go to your likes page and unlike to your heart’s content, but either way, the process is plodding and painful. To this end, I prefer UnlikeIt - a really simple app for removing like clutter. Yes, it can be a little slow, but given that Facebook refuses to support it, we’re somewhat over a barrel.

Finally, Instagram. Until the middle of 2016, follows were listed in chronological order, making it relatively easy to thin out old, redundant profiles. All that changed when Instagram introduced the present pointlessly opaque system. Now, the profiles at the very top of the list are the ones with which you have most interaction. The rest? Well, they’re just tossed in with no regard for order whatsoever. Thankfully, however, this update islimited to the app only. The desktop version of the site still shows follows in chronological order. In other words, if you’re logged in on your desktop, just pull up the list of who you are following, scroll to the bottom, and deadwood your way up.

BUT HOLD YOUR HORSES!

Before rushing off on a mad orgy of unliking, know this: massive unfollow binges put your account at risk of temporary suspension. This is because such behaviour is often associated with automated tools that can contravene the various social media platforms’ terms of use.

Furthermore, unliking promoters simply because their giveaway has closed and you didn’t win is a bit, well, mercenary. Give these guys a chance! That said, if it’s six months down the line and not one of their photos, memes or messages has had the remotest impact on you, then they're wasting their time marketing to you, and it's probably best for both parties for you to be honest about that.

Good luck getting those newsfeeds back in hand!

If you'd recommend any apps for managing your social media profiles, let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Comping on #WorldMentalHealthDay

I’m not a hardcore comper: I can’t do forms. Any sort of forms really, although application forms are the worst. Possibly it’s because I don’t see things so black and white; possibly my thinking is too lateral for silos; possibly I’m just an overthinker. Case in point.

The short of it is that I suck at forms - including web entry forms. At best they bore me; at worst they depress me. Even with Roboform, Fillr or any magic wand of wondrousness, entering and re-entering my address into a hundred-odd forms in a single sitting is like putting my mojo through the mangle.  It takes a special kind of focus that I simply lack.

And so I quit them. Why, after all, pursue something that makes you unhappy? Surely, that’s the very definition of madness?

And yet … Here I am. Staring down the 50th web form of the night. Telling myself that I WILL win that holiday.

I’ve gone months without a web-form bender and suddenly the wagon is rumbling off without me. How did it get to this?!

I’ve written elsewhere about my need for validation. But this is different. This is big-game hunting. Holidays - strictly holidays. This isn’t about savouring the fleeting high notes of a protein bar or a bit of milk, it’s about needing a break - needing light at the end of my tunnel.

That’s why these binges always focus on weekend breaks and holidays. As my dad used to say, sometimes it’s better to travel than to arrive.

That maybe so, but this kind of travelling always seems to be less about the dreaming and more about the bulk deletion of marketing emails.

There’s also the uncomfortable truth that despite completing hundreds of these web forms, I’ve won precisely nothing. Why? Because thousands of other people have entered them too! The odds of winning such comps are microscopically small, and if - like me - you have a limited tolerance for web forms, it’s worth remembering this.

Comping should be fun. If you’re not enjoying it, take a break. If you can’t handle the process, try something different. And if it feels like an obligation, stop.


Friday, 6 October 2017

Luck Is Where You Find It

Why do you comp? That’s the question I like to ask my fellow compers. Me? I enjoy the validation.

My eldest child has reached that phase of confrontational belligerence that I was led to believe started at puberty (he’s seven), while my youngest continues to scream in my face when I put him on the toilet; so much for the life-affirming nature of parenting. As for the vocational side of things, I’m self-employed, so the best praise I can hope for is that the decision to offshore my work is postponed for another few months. So, if I’ve found a hobby where folks I’ve never met tell me I’m a winner or congratulate me on my creative endeavours, then yup, you bet I appreciate the love.

In truth, it’s the creative comps that keep me in the game, as the sport itself is half the fun. The recent #NationalPoetryDay (much like #WorldPoetryDay and #NationalLimerickDay) is a case in point. Such hashtag days are a gift to promoters looking for something a little different from another mindless follow-RT comp.

As challenges go, it’s easy enough to quote a line of poetry or write a little (usually tweetable) poem - yet, bizarrely, the comping community at large seems to swerve such competitions, meaning that there’s the additional bonus of really low odds.

With this in mind, I was feeling pretty hopeful on last week’s #NationalPoetryDay, but sadly it passed without a prize. But that’s not to say I didn’t get lucky…

Bloomsbury Publishing was one of the promoters running a poetry competition, and while I might not have been a winner per se, my entry got a retweet from none other than one-time Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen. Now that’s what I call validation!

Have any of your near misses been as good as a win? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

On Tech

I’m a luddite. Not on purpose, you understand - I just have certain issues. Issues that prevent me finding the brain space to stay abreast of modern technology. By “certain issues”, I of course mean “my issue”; and by “my issue”, I’m generally referring to my first-born, who is so addicted to the sound of his own voice that moments of silence actually cause him pain. Six years have passed since my neural network last sparked and it’s only thanks to muscle memory that I can still operate a light switch.

For this reason, I tend not to enter that many tech giveaways. Last December, however, I saw that Aviva was giving away a whole heap Amazon Echo Dots, and the lure of such odds got the better of me.

As you'll have guessed, I was one of the winners. The doohickey arrived at the end of the Christmas holidays. It then sat on the shelf for the next eight months, waiting for me to have a couple of hours free from work, chores or children to explore what it could do (and how).
The Amazon Doohickey
My initial hopes were somewhat kyboshed, as I was rather hoping to use it as a wireless speaker - something that has been on my wishlist for some time now. A cursory inspection, however, suggested that I’d got the wrong end of the stick regarding what the device could do; which is to say, I hadn’t got much further than interrogating Alexa about forthcoming football fixtures and her ability to open the pod bay doors when my brood arrived home from their jolly.

On learning that that the device was fully programmed to entertain his poppycock, my first-born whooped like an immature ambulance. In truth, I was pretty chuffed too, and flushed with self-satisfaction, popped into the kitchen to brief my wife about our new electric babysitter.

The smug smile lasted a whole three minutes, after which first-born trotted in to provide an update. He’d started a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited.

It turns out that all Echo devices are, by default, allowed to bill your credit card based on voice authorisation alone. This much I discovered not because Amazon sent immediate confirmation of my new subscription (this didn’t arrive for another hour), but because I found the transcript of the conversation between my son and Alexa. When asked if he wanted to pay a monthly subscription fee of £3.99, his response was “sure”, and his word was bond.

The only trouble was, he never said that. Rather, when asked if he wanted to subscribe, he walked out of the room. I know this, because I (eventually) found the audio files. The system had heard some background noise and frankly this was good enough to close the contract. So, now I not only have two children who hear only what they want to hear, but I also have a passive-aggressive POS terminal furnished with selective hearing and my credit card details.



Have you ever had a prize that didn’t work out quite the way you planned? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

(Not) Unboxing September

Ooops. I forgot to unbox September. There are reasons for that (isn’t there always?) but mostly it’s because I got out of the habit of winning! Then, when I did get my first prize of the month, it didn’t come to my front door; rather, I had to collect it from a local business. As a result, it got carried upstairs in my backpack, quite bypassing the room in which I normally record my goodies. As for my second prize, well that was also a little abnormal - but more about that in due course. My other prize? Well, that hasn't arrived yet!

In sum then … apologies all round! Unless there are any objections, I’ll roll the September unboxing into the next video. Normal service will resume (at some point!)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dry Season

The last few weeks have been dry, which is to say I’ve had, six, maybe seven weeks without a wining notification of some kind. Some folks might call that bad luck. I say pish: there’s a world of difference between bad luck and the temporary absence of good luck.
By Luca Galuzzi (Lucag) - Photo taken by (Luca Galuzzi) * http://www.galuzzi.it, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2121532
Anyone who thinks it’s bad luck not to keep winning may as well jack it in right now because, as any comper will tell you, you’re always going to lose more than you win. Dry patches may not be fun, but they’re built into the game - as statistically inevitable as night following day.

Grumbling fixes nothing. Worse still, it’s a heinous waste of time and energy that could be better spent in so many ways!

Relying on the odds alone isn’t enough; success also requires a positive mental attitude. In other words, when you find yourself in the midst of a dry spell, see it as an opportunity to improve rather than waste it dwelling on the perceived failure.

For instance, if you’re not updating your spreadsheet or sending thank-you messages to promoters, you’ll have more time for other comping-related activities. For starters, you should be chatting with your comping buddies (if you’re shy, then just think of it as networking!). While you’re at it, invest in all those other comping groups you’re a member of: share comps, notify winners, discuss best practice - whatever's appropriate. This karma pays back!

More practically, learn a new skill to improve the technical side of your comping. If there’s a social media platform you don’t use (such as Snapchat, Instagram or even Twitter), now's the time to learn the ropes (see, for example, the guides by Lorna Beattie [Snapchat] and Di Coke [Instagram]). Alternatively, build on your existing knowledge to raise your game to the next level; for example, Nikki Hunter-Pike has a brilliant guide to Twitter lists.

Remember also that being lucky isn’t confined to your track record with giveaways - celebrate any and all luck as it finds you, and if that includes being reunited with your lost luggage, then so be it!

Finally, while there’s naught to gain from mourning what might have been; there is everything to gain from reflecting and persevering. For example, if you haven't won a creative competition, ask yourself: What went well? What could have gone better? Is there anything you can learn from the winner? In short: keep calm & carry on!

How well does this advice work? Who can say? But since starting this post yesterday, I've had two winning e-mails! :D

How do you cope with the dry season? If you have any advice, let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Another voice: Winning stories from Rebecca Beesley

A few weeks ago, I interviewed the wonderful Rebecca Beesley, who kindly promised to share some winning stories with you guys … Well, today’s your lucky day! I am absolutely delighted to hand Rebecca the metaphorical mic so she can tell you all about some of the fantastic experiences her family have enjoyed since Rebecca and her husband took up comping!

People often ask me “what is the best prize you’ve ever won” and that’s a tough one to answer as it’s not always the highest-value prizes that come to mind.

In a way, the best prizes are the ones that meet a need you have at the time. For example, when we had some building work done on our house, we ended up running out of budget to renew the front door, which was in desperate need of replacing. So when I won a new front door, I was thrilled because it was exactly what we needed at the time!

Some of our holiday wins have also been really special – again, not so much because of their monetary value, but because of the special memories they have given us - the precious family time and unforgettable experiences.

For example, we had the most amazing time when my husband won an epic road trip with laterooms.com.

The road trip involved travelling as far as St Ives in Cornwall, into Wales, and up to Liverpool and Leeds, staying in places that we would never have thought of going to (especially with three kids in tow!), had it not been for LateRooms making all the arrangements. In total, we stayed in nine different places over the course of 13 nights.
Most special of all was the trip to Fowey in Cornwall, where we also took in a display by the Red Arrows. This was so magical for me because my late mum was a massive Red Arrows fan and here was my little daughter having the most amazing time with me watching the Red Arrows in the best possible viewing spot you could imagine.

Last year, my husband also won another unforgettable experience: a few days away in Dubai!

The whole thing was just amazing, but for me, the first evening was the most special. Having had no sleep since travelling from the UK the night before, and then taken in the Dubai Mall, Sega Republic, and Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, we were ridiculously tired.
But despite the tiredness, it was just SO magical - I felt like I was in a dream, floating through the evening. Sitting in the Thiptara restaurant at the palace in downtown Dubai and watching the famous fountains at the base of the Burj Khalifa is one of those moments I will never forget.
The restaurant made us feel so welcome and treated Miss T like a princess. D even fell asleep whilst eating his ice cream and anyone who knows how much he loves his food knows just how tired he must have been! And that was just the first day!

As a parent of small children, I can imagine just how exhausting these holidays would have been - but how exhilarating too! Thank you so much for sharing these inspirational stories! 

If you have any winning stories you'd like to share, just let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Define "Win"

When the goodies arrive before you complete your entry, does it still count as a win?

Forget what it says in the dictionary, I’m saying YES, because that’s what it feels like!

Sounds strange, I know, but I was recently introduced to a sweet little tactic to boost my win rate - or, more precisely, feel like I'm boosting my win rate, namely, BzzAgent.

For the uninitiated, BzzAgent describes itself as a way to “sample fun products and share your thoughts with friends and top brands”. In other words, they send you free stuff on the proviso that you promote it through your social media channels.

Naturally, there’s no guarantee that you will be deemed worthy to promote the brand in question, so - much like comping - an element of good fortune clearly comes into play.

Ahh, that luck thing again... Well, Luck is a saucy mistress, 'tis true, but my so-so fortune over the last few weeks is largely my own fault for failing to stay on top of things - indeed, the fact that two prizes clean slipped through my fingers provides ample evidence that my luck management has recently been off key.

With this in mind, when BzzAgent asked if I'd like to road-test a bag of coffee, I saw this as a bona fide opportunity to take control of my luck once more.
Me, enjoying coffee
Always read the brief - adding the vapour trail was a key part of the instructions;
that and to look like I was enjoying my cup o' mud...
But how is this like a competition, you may ask? Well, in my case, my entry constituted a couple of tweets and an Instagram picture or two. Sounds easy, but I’m yet to score an excellent, partly because I'm a typical male and failed to read the instructions before posting my first photo. Fingers crossed I've not blotted my copybook - I’ll keep you posted!

What are your tactics for boosting that winning feeling? Perhaps you review products or send off for freebies? Share your secrets in the comments below!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Oh Nuts!

Just because I’ve had no wins to celebrate these last few weeks, doesn’t mean I’ve been without opportunities to own my luck - it’s just a case of knowing where to look. And in the present case, it’s about 150 yards from my house.

There’s a house on the main road with a hazelnut tree, and I’m guessing the owner has had his fill because you can grab a handful off the pavement every time you pass.
Nuts!
Freshly gathered hazelnuts, as modelled by my first-born
A couple of streets further on there are also cobnuts, but since these seem to require a 16-oz hammer to crack open, let’s just say that the yield has been less bountiful.

My first harvest is now roasted and waiting in the freezer for an opportune moment. Last year, that entailed grinding them up and mixing them into a crumble topping for a really awesome flavour boost. This year, I’m trying to lose weight … but I’ll probably do it again, anyway.

And when this little harvest season passes, it’s time for the chestnuts - and there’s a whole bunch of chestnut trees just a short walk from my place. That’s when the weight-loss programme really goes out the window, as there’s not much to beat roast chestnuts and hot chocolate when you’ve spent too long outside on a chilly autumn day!

Are you a forager (or even a scrumper!)? What fresh and free edibles do you have around your way? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Great Bag Debacle

The worst thing about my holiday was that not everything returned with me. Oh, I had the essentials, like socks, jocks and a broadly adequate number of children, but not my black holdall.

The holdall in question contained a whole bunch of things, such as toiletries, dominoes and sunglasses, to name but a few. There was also the matter of the 400 cigarettes.

For the record, I don’t smoke - I’d just bought them for my hopeless addict of a mate. Whether that made the loss worse, I couldn’t say. But I was steaming.

You see, I remember wearing the bag; my wife watched me fasten the shoulder strap onto it once I’d retrieved it from the carousel; and I recall exiting the terminal and slinging a holdall into the back of the taxi.

I also know that once we’d reached home, our eyes were on the children as the cabbie emptied his boot, so it took a couple of minutes to notice the absence of the bag, by which time he was well on the road.

My wife called the cab firm right away, but the casual disdain with which they denied everything hardly inspired confidence. Nevertheless, my wife took them at their word and returned to the airport.

The bag had not been seen.

This struck me as odd, because if I saw an unattended bag languishing in an airport, I’d be straight onto security. But no.

So we called the taxi company again. This time they dropped any pretence of sympathy and said, quite bullishly, that we’d just have to speak to the police.

So we did. Not with any expectation that they would solve the mystery, you understand, but the motions are prescribed and through them one must go.

Now, there are of course two sides to every story. To this end, the officer called the taxi firm for their statement. They refused to provide one - not unless the investigating officer turned up in person. Subsequent to this, their extraordinary cooperation was duly noted by the police, who, when they next updated us on the sorry situation, described the company as “obstructive”.

It all stank, but what could we do? Their story was consistent, there was no CCTV footage of me loading the car, and still no one in the airport’s lost property department had seen anything. The only remaining course of action was to file the insurance claim.

As anyone who has ever filed a claim will know, the phone calls last hours; the paperwork longer. The receipt hunt alone can turn nuns into nihilists. Finally, destiny brings you to the one absolute truth: all life is futile.

For me, that process took a couple of weeks, spread around the heaps and heaps of work that arrived while I was on leave. And then, just ten minutes from sealing the envelope, my phone rang. It was the airport. They had found my luggage in the carousel area, and thanks to the left hand eventually talking to the right, decided to contact me.

Flabbergasted was definitely the word.  That, and emotional. When the very helpful chap at the other end offered to courier it to me - at no cost - my eyes moistened and my voice cracked.

Still, a bird in the hand and all that. I resolved not to get too excited until I got my paws back on the bag - surely there had to be some mistake?

But no: by lunchtime the next day, I was hugging the holdall. As you can imagine, I felt like a bona fide winner, so it seemed only right to set up the camera for my first unboxing video of the month. The sense of wonder, I think, is palpable.
I know we were all exhausted when we landed (getting up at 2 am in order to fly with children seldom gets the best out of people), but when a story has more fishy bits than Grimsby Docks, no one in their right mind expects a happy ending.

Sure, I’d love to know how come my bag was also returned with someone else’s shoulder strap, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m still a winner, right?

For most compers, prize-winning is the most tangible form of good fortune, but it's important to recognise - and own - the good luck in all aspects of your life. To this end, I'm expanding my scribbles to include stories celebrating luck more generally. If you've got any you'd care to share, please add them to the comments below!


Friday, 8 September 2017

WIN! Sweets & Fun!

Heads up compers - it’s time to celebrate the 60th birthday of the famous chew on a stick - the one and only Drumstick!
Swizzels Matlow Drumstick 60th Birthday banner
It’s a landmark birthday for the classic confectionery, and Swizzels Matlow is marking the occasion with a brilliant “bucket list” competition, where there are 60 possible ways to enter - each requiring a photograph of your Drumstick lolly.

Some are easy (such as being frozen or watching the sunset) while some require serious effort - or at least, creative thinking (such as taking your lolly to Vegas or the Northern Lights).

There are three tiers of prizes:

  • five experience day prizes (value £500), to be awarded to the top five photos/videos entered into the competition, in any category.
  • 60 commemorative certificates and goodie bags to be awarded to the best photo/video in each category; and
  • spot prizes awarded to entries throughout the duration of the competition.

For more information, see the Drumstick homepage.

The closing date is midnight, Tuesday 31st October, so there’s plenty of time to go grab that lolly!
Be lucky!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Good Luck, Bad Luck

Have you ever won something twice? I have. Twice.

The first time was back when X-Men Apocalypse was released, and I won merchandise from two different promoters. This was especially sweet as I was able to share the spoils with the little folks in my life that I’m encouraging to be as geeky as me. That said, I was also left with two X-Men tees - one medium, one large - that I will never wear, but still haven’t had time to put on eBay. It’d be great to think that they’ve only matured in value since the film’s release, though somehow I doubt it.

Fast-forward to this summer, and I found a super-low odds competition to win tickets to the football. Sure, it was only a pre-season friendly, but it was premier league opposition - a perfect opportunity to for my first-born to see his first match.

Bums on seats is clearly an issue for friendlies: two days later, I found a second competition. This time the shirt sponsor was giving away 250 pairs of tickets to the game.

It was a sign: one giveaway with barely a dozen entrants, and another with an absurd number of prizes - surely I could score a winner?

What I failed to account for, however, was my summer itinerary.

The summer itinerary is something that happens *to* me every year.

The process unfolds as follows: the school year finishes and my wife places a calendar in front of me; my eyes glaze over, and an hour later, the next six weekends have vanished in a haze of ink and sighs.

Oh well, I thought. Good feeling or no, planning one’s life around wins that are yet to materialise is the cornerstone of gambling addiction. And so, without an another thought, I consigned my little jolly to the trashcan.

Two days later, I received a winning e-mail from the first promoter: Congratulations! You’ve won three tickets to the match!

I sighed, and asked them to redraw - the first time in my life that I’ve ever had to decline a prize.

And wouldn’t you know - the second time was just around the corner. Adding insult to injury, I won another two tickets to the game - giving the declined prize a grand value of £50.

It just goes to show that some you win, and some you lose. And sometimes, clearly, you do both.

Have you ever won the same prize twice? Have you ever had to decline a prize? Share your story, whether happy or sad, in the comments below!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Unboxing August 2017

As you may have noticed, August has been a quiet month - I lost a large chunk to my first holiday in three years (yay!) and then a further wedge to the humungous dollop of unscheduled and definitely uninvited work that appeared on my desk during my absence (not yay!).

Add to this the school holidays and the nightmarishly huge backlog of household endeavours I've been waiting all year to address and you'll understand why I've not only failed to post anything these last few weeks, but I've barely even managed to enter anything either.

All work and no play makes Neill a dull boy, or more precisely, an unbearable stress monkey, so here's hoping that September heralds more joy. In the meantime: August wins.

Technically, that should be in the singular. One win. yes, that is all. For this reason, I'm bundling a little extra into this unboxing video - my first freebie from BzzAgent. It might not have come from a competition per se, but it still made me feel like a winner, but more on that in due course!

In the meantime, enjoy the moving pictures.

WARNING: some scenes unsuitable for the faint-hearted...

Monday, 31 July 2017

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Another voice: Hello Rebecca Beesley!

Now that you’ve met Nikki and Lorna, It’s my absolute pleasure to acquaint you with Rebecca Beesley, who you may know from her blog The Beesley Buzz. I’ll let Rebecca introduce herself…
http://thebeesleybuzz.blogspot.co.uk
I’m mum to 3 kids, aged from 5 to 13. I blog about family life, recipes, books, travel and life with JIA (Juvenile Arthritis). The blog started out as a way of documenting our home-schooling journey when the boys were younger. Even though they are back in school now, I’ve carried on blogging as it’s such a great way of recording family memories. With my daughter’s medical appointments making it impossible to hold down a conventional job, I turned to comping as a hobby to keep me sane.

Well, you’ve slightly pre-empted my first question there! I was going to ask why you comp…

I’ve always enjoyed comping - My earliest recollections go back to childhood and having the winning ticket in charity raffles and I’ll always remember my first ‘creative’ win being from a competition to design a poster for the railway link from London to Brighton for which I won the second prize of a twin-deck cassette player – a real ‘wow’ prize in those days - I still have it to this day!

There’s something special about those early wins isn’t there?! My first prize was a dictionary that still sits on my office shelf … The cover boasts that it includes the word ‘Glasnost’, which should give you an idea how old it is! Still, there’s a world of difference between comping as a kid and the first time you actually identify as a comper. When did that happen for you?

I started comping properly in 2012. It was during the last few months of pregnancy with my youngest child, and those uncomfortable sleepless nights when I would turn to Facebook in my boredom and I found that there were loads of comps out there. The habit continued during that year with the nighttime feeding.

After a few months of entering lots of comps (or what I thought was lots of comps), I discovered that there are people out there that do this thing properly! I discovered this weird hobby of mine had a name – comping – and I discovered comping legend Di Coke’s blog and Facebook page. That was when I started to realise that some people were actually entering hundreds of competitions.

I was both excited and disappointed. Excited because a whole new world had opened up to me of people who shared my interest, but disappointed too because every comp I entered for the next few months seemed to be won by the same few people and I felt I stood little chance against these ‘super compers’. I stuck with it though, seeking out my own competitions and finding ones that the kids could enter and the wins started rolling in.

One of my first big wins was an iPad - something I’d never normally treat myself to - and after that I was hooked.

Given my own history with addictive/compulsive behaviours, I wince slightly when I hear compers joke about getting “hooked” - comping addiction is every bit as real as gambling addiction, isn’t it?

Absolutely - when post-natal depression struck, I turned to comping as a crutch to get me through those dark months. My only joy seemed to come from winning and the rest of the time I was just a mess. In one way, I am glad that I had comping to turn to but on the other hand, I became properly addicted to it. It took over my life to the extent that I would sit at the computer until sometimes 2, 3, 4 am comping, knowing that the kids would be up again at 6 am and hating myself for getting so little sleep. I would skip having a shower just so I could fit more comps in. I was glued to Facebook, scrolling through my feed for at least four or five hours a day just to check I hadn’t missed a winning notification or missed entering any comps on there. I was winning a prize pretty much every day but I was the unhappiest I’d ever been in my life.

I knew things had to change and so after that my new year’s resolution each year has been to spend less time comping. I like to think that I have a reasonably good balance nowadays so that it is a fun hobby to dip in and out of without it totally taking over my life.

The line you see the bookies use comes to mind here: when the fun stops, stop. That’s why I tend to steer away from the form-filling comps. Sure, I could enter 200 a night, but it really wouldn’t be healthy for me. I might enter a few holiday comps but then I’ll start looking at the ones that demand more effort.

Yes - I also love the creative comps best - and there’s always another one around the corner to be thinking about. I love how these can be family affairs. I tend to find the competitions and often come up with the creative idea, while my husband is the technical one, doing the video editing etc. So we make the perfect comping team really.

I absolutely adore blogger challenge competitions – Although my blog is not a comping blog – it was set up to record family memories – when the opportunity arises to take part in a blogger challenge I try to really understand what it is the brand is looking for and what message they are trying to get across. I then write my post accordingly and cross my fingers that it will stand out and they will like it.

I tend not to do many sponsored posts as I don’t have time to promote the blog properly to get the stats/readership that these companies want, so when I win a blogger challenge it’s like getting a little bit of income from my blog in a fun way that I’ve really enjoyed.

If anything, these creative comps are great for getting me out of my comfort zone and trying something new, whether that be attempting a slideshow with old family photographs or pretending to be Beyoncé. Even if I don’t win, at least I’ve enjoyed the endeavour. Comping may not have helped me find nirvana, but at least I can use it to improve my mental health!

Yes, it’s definitely got me out of my comfort zone – I’m sure a lot of compers will relate to dressing up in weird costumes, learning new skills and pulling funny faces to camera. Basically, it’s about having lots of fun and that’s one of the main reasons I keep going.

Enjoying the process is absolutely fundamental, but as with any hobby, comping has its tangible rewards - you’ve had some amazing experiences thanks to this hobby, so I hope you’ll come back soon and share some of your winning stories?

Of course - I’d love to!



Comping may not have the financial risk associated with gambling, but any kind of addiction (and winning can certainly be addictive) can be damaging to your health and your relationships. Please take a moment to read this useful guide to the signs of comping addiction. Your GP can offer support on addiction and dependency, and further information is available through Mind, the mental health charity.



Monday, 17 July 2017

Building a Car for the #NoddyChallenge

Kids love boxes. Everyone knows that. Less well known is why. Research from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has the answer: it’s because womb lining actually feels like cardboard.

That's right - playing in boxes makes children feel safe; it takes them to a blissful, happy state - a world without sibling rivalry, where food is on tap and they don’t have to wash their hands before dinner.

Don’t believe me? Google it. Well, actually, don’t - it’s utter hogwash. Kids love playing in boxes simply because they can let their creativity run riot!

My lads amply demonstrated this last Friday when I'd barely finished unpacking a fresh delivery of mundane adult stuff (new towels - whoop!) when they snatched the box to make some vehicle or other, or possibly a pterodactyl.

The next day it rained. In my house, that's a Grade A Emergency. Why? Because it makes the children exponentially harder to vent. [This may not be the universally accepted term, but given the strange banging and gurgling noises my offspring produce when kettled, the semblance to boilers really is uncanny.]

But I digress: indoor pursuits were needed, and since the towel box was to hand (or more precisely, underfoot), a solution presented itself.

We were going to make a car.

Not any old car, you understand, but an awesome car. And who has the most awesome car? Noddy, of course!

Now, you all know Noddy - he’s been around since 1949, making such characters as Dennis the Menace and even Spider-Man look like utter Johnny-come-Latelys (Johnny-come-Latelys who can’t even drive, at that).

What's more, he's been the subject of two dozen books by the irrepressible Enid Blyton, and no fewer than nine TV series, the most recent of which reimagines him as a Toyland detective who explores mysteries while encouraging young viewers to explore their own world and make discoveries.

And with this in mind, today we were going to explore paint.

Our first discovery was that the boys' stockpile of paint was much smaller than I recalled, so we had to raid the tester pots I’d been hoarding under the stairs.
First-born attends to the ironmongery
The second discovery was that children really shouldn’t be trusted with emulsion.
Next, the steering wheel and headlamps
Still, with brushes, scissors and a can-do attitude, the boys focused themselves on the task in hand.
The finished product
And as their how-to video shows, they succeeded in turning the drab old box into this awesome replica of Toytown’s most iconic vehicle.

Never have I seen the older one so determined to make something - much less something of this magnitude. Suddenly, I'm not so scared of rain!


This is my entry into the #NoddyChallenge Blogger Competition hosted by Tots100 in association with The Book People.





Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Another voice: Hello Lorna Beattie!

Meeting Nikki Hunter-Pike was so much fun that I've decided to publish a mini season of chats with some other great compers. With this in mind, I collared Lorna Beattie - Blogger-in-Chief of Mission Competition and asked her the big why (and also how)…

Why do I comp? Because I get such a buzz from it! There’s nothing like seeing an email titled “Congratulations” and wondering what the next words are (though it’s a bit of a gutter when it just says congratulations you’ve signed up to yet another email list). I also like it because I can treat people to things that I couldn’t otherwise. My dad is a massive cycling fan so I dedicated a lot of time to winning him an ace cycling present for his 60th birthday, including a £70 jersey I could never afford on my student budget.

It’s the perfect hobby for spreading the love isn’t it? Who doesn’t love bonus gifts?! But, as you say, it takes a lot of time - and organisation. How do you stay on top of it?

Sure, it takes a lot of time, but so does any hobby. This isn’t something I do just for the freebies (though they are nice) - I do it because I enjoy it. I love going into shops and searching for the word ‘win’ or doing crosswords for the chance to win a tenner.

As for keeping on top of it, I set reminders, have lists and use the Facebook and Instagram save functions. I also email myself a lot. It’s like talking to yourself … but via email! 😂 I have a routine and part of that is checking my emails for wins and also checking reminders from myself.

I also use phone reminders. It takes a bit of time to set up at the start of the year, but then I just update as needs be. So, for example, when it comes to #nationalpeanutbutterday, I’m all set to go.

Ahh, the peanut butter - I knew it was coming! I was chatting about personas just the other day, and you are totally the Peanut Butter Comper!
Haha! Yes - my comping mates all know I adore the stuff, and as a result, are always tagging me in related comps on both Twitter (@LaurieBeat) and Instagram (@lornab22) - the same goes for tea. It’s one of the things I love about comping - compers are lovely people and they look out for you (and your wishlist!).
Lorna also loves tea - can you guess?
That’s so true - tag buddies play such an important role in Twitter and Instagram comps in particular, but there’s no substitute for full-on teamwork!

Absolutely! And besides, the banter is fun!

So if there’s anything to take away from this chat it’s this: organise your diary, and get to know your comping buddies.

And enjoy yourself!


Well, I hope you enjoyed chatting with Lorna! If you have any more questions for her, please add them to the comments below, and maybe we can hook up with her again sometime soon!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

What you say about you...


Tell me about your comping persona: is it you, the whole you and nothing but the you? I suspect not.
In fact, I’d guess that your comping persona pays no nevermind to the majority of traffic in your head.

For example, would you start a thread in your preferred comping forum about your forthcoming MOT or tell a promoter that you ran out of leeks last night?

Yes, such information might create a more three-dimensional picture of you, but it’s hardly germane to the task in hand, ie comping.

What *is* germane is this: your passions. Yes, we all love Apple tech and holidays, but I'm talking about everyday passions.

Maybe your thing is socks. That being the case, I imagine you’ve already entered every last sock competition out there. Well, that’s a start.

The next step is to tell all your comping buddies that that’s what you’ve been up to. Share the comps with them - tell them how just how much socks excite you! No - more than that! How you live for socks. How you breathe socks. How you would swap your first-born for a barrel of socks.

Start tagging your friends in other comps (Twitter is especially good for this), and nudge the conversation to - you’ve guessed it - socks. Doesn’t matter if the comp is for biscuits or dishwasher tablets - steer the narrative to socks.

Why? Because now you’re the crazy sock lady, and whenever your comping buddies see another sock giveaway, you’ll be the first person they think of, and before you know it, you’ve got a dozen eyes out there, hunting down sock comps, and you can start banging on about the next thing - granola perhaps? Socks full of the stuff!

I wish I could claim this piece of crazy genius as my own, but as it follows a recent conversation I had with Lorna Beattie, I'm giving the entire credit to the peanut-butter-coated vinegary tea-swiller herself!

I’ll be tapping Lorna for some more pearls of wisdom sometime very soon, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, if you’ve got an idea for the first brick in your comping persona, let me know in the comments below. And more importantly - tell your buddies, then tell them, tell them and tell them again!

Friday, 30 June 2017

Unboxing June 2017

This month won't blow anyone away - but there were a few treats nevertheless...

And special thanks to Rebecca!


Friday, 23 June 2017

With Grate Power Comes Grate Responsibility

Last week I mentioned that KISS were running a really cool competition ... Well, I *have* entered after all. It's a bit of a rush job, on account of work running me ragged, but hope springs eternal, right? And in this instance, I hope the promoter loves drains...


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Another voice: Hello Nikki Hunter-Pike!

As any pro athlete will tell you, rest days are as important as training days. The same holds for comping - at least, that's what I tell myself when I take a break in order to neb at what other folks in the game are talking about.

The great thing about checking out other comping blogs is that you never know what you’re going to learn.

Well, that's almost true - you know you won’t learn much from Gary Wasabi’s Golden Luck Muscle. Still, as a pretty average comper who happens to like blogging too, at least I’ve got tea and sympathy in spades.

Nevertheless, I’m acutely aware that any blog benefits from a bit of glamour now and then. To this end, It's my pleasure to introduce the one and only Glam & Geeky Mum - Nikki Hunter-Pike!

On the off-chance you don’t recognise Nikki’s name (where have you been?! She posts in a whole bunch of comping groups!) I’ll let her introduce herself in her own words…
It's Nikki Hunter-Pike - that's who!
I’m a retired optician, blogger and mum of three (sometimes five). I’m also known as Glam & Geeky Mum (more geek than glam) over at my blog, which I started as a side project back in December when it became clear that having a day-job was frankly incompatible with meeting my son’s medical needs. Having a blog is a great way for me to gain back some identity - it makes me feel like an individual with something to contribute rather than just a full-time carer. I’ve done a few guest posts here and there, and love to blog to inspire and raise awareness. This can range from showing all the amazing inclusive things that my disabled son can do to sharing tips and suggestions about my hobbies (including comping!).

Your blog may be relatively young, but anyone who reads your monthly win lists can see you’re a premier league comper! How long have you been in the game?

I’ve been a comper before I even knew what one was! When I was a child, I constantly bugged my mum to enter competitions. Eventually she gave in and bought me a pack of postcards and some stamps so I could enter them as I found them. I thought I entered LOADS. In reality, I probably only entered about 20 (I was limited to the number of stamps I had!). I do, however, remember winning a giant Jelly Baby filled with Jelly Babies, a massive box of Nivea goodies, and a Planet Hollywood leather baseball jacket.

That might not be a huge number of prizes, but it was enough for me to realise that winning competitions was something I could do.

You lived my dream! I was desperate to be a comper when I was a kid. I think I’d seen an advert for Compers News (or whatever it was called at the time) and thought - yes! I had it all figured out. The reality, however, was that I entered a couple of competitions on Saturday Superstore then lost interest. But you kept it going then?

Actually, no - I think my Mum couldn’t afford to keep buying the stamps. Also I probably got interested in other things ... such as the opposite sex!

Ha! I guess hormones and comping aren’t natural bed-fellows… So when did you pick it up again?

Shortly after broadband internet was first launched in 2000, I realised that there were competitions that you could enter online. I decided entering competitions for free was even better than paying for stamps. (I still didn’t know that there was an entire movement of people who just entered comps - I thought I had stumbled across a genius idea that no one else had thought of.) I spent a few evenings trawling my way through the net and entering comps, but even after two months of doing this I didn’t win anything. Not a sausage. So ... I gave up.

I’m sure two months must be the peak burn-out period for new compers - certainly, my first couple of months were completely fruitless too. So what made you come back?

About three years ago, I read an article about a woman who had won £16,000 worth of prizes in a single year, and decided that if she could do it then so could I. Things were slow to start with and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or how many competitions I should be entering.

After I found a competitions listing website, I started religiously entering at least 30 comps a day. And I noticed I had started to win every now and then! It’s at that point that I felt I first became a true comper. That said, 30 comps a day is nothing compared to my comping routine these days! I put a lot of effort in now, but it does reap rewards. So far this year, I’ve won over £10K worth of prizes. Who knows - I may even surpass the figure in the article that inspired me to discover the comping world properly!

Outstanding! Performance at this level is incredible - not to mention inspirational! That said, it’s worth underlining the sheer graft that goes into results like this: this isn’t luck - it’s time and effort, routines and systems. That's something I’d love to chat about some other time - I don;t suppose you'd be willing to give us some insight into what it takes to be this successful?

Of course - it'd be a pleasure!




I hope this introductory interview has whet your appetite for more - personally, I can't wait for a sneaky peak at what it takes to be a top-end comper! If you've got any questions for Nikki, please add them to the comments below...

Friday, 16 June 2017

WIN! £2,000 + gaming notebook + drone

KISS is celebrating the imminent release of Spider-Man: Homecoming by running an amazing competition for vloggers. The prize - as you can see from the headline - is pretty tasty. As for the gig, well that sounds fun too:

Send us a link to a video which you’ve made which you think is awesome - it can be about anything you like ... music, film, fashion, dancing etc, you decide!

Sadly, my video skills are pretty limited. Even if that weren’t the case, my main pursuit outside of comping is photographing drains - a pastime yet to grasp the public’s imagination.

I’m not saying I won’t enter, but if I do, it’ll be purely for the fun of the challenge. That and raising the profile of one the more esoteric hobbies out there.

The first finalist will be chosen (and contacted) on Friday 23 June and the second on Monday 26 June.

For more information, check the KISS site.

Or just watch the trailer for the movie - because it does look awesome!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Flipping bottles

Entry forms leave me cold; retweets and like-shares positively frigid. So any competition with a novel entry mechanic has my attention from the off. As a matter of fact, the more fun it is to enter the comp, the less I care what the prize is - and sometimes about winning full stop.

Buxton Water ran such a promotion about a fortnight ago, with goodie bags for the first 50 people to tweet video evidence of them flipping a water bottle (Buxton, obvs), along with the #buxtonflip hashtag. The video with the most retweets also won a much bigger prize, but I didn’t pay that part much mind as (a) it was tickets for something I couldn’t attend and (b) spending the weekend acting adolescent was never going to get me into my (teacher) wife’s good books.

I should add that I don’t typically buy into purchase-necessary competitions, but as my first-born was already pestering for a plastic bottle to lob around the back yard, I figured this one might also buy me a half-hour of peace. As it happens, it was a mere five minutes, but peace is peace, right?

After a few practice flips, I captured some passable footage and called my lad in, flipping the bottle once more - looking, for all intents and purposes, like I’d pulled it off first time. Momentarily speechless with awe, he looked at me like I was some kind of god. What can I say - seven-year olds are easily impressed, and as a parent, you’ve got to get your jollies.
And indeed, further jollies ensued a week later with the delivery of a tee-shirt, USB stick, iPhone case, earphone case, keyring containing a disposable shower poncho, and a rubbery trumpet accessory that makes phones marginally louder when on speaker mode.
I wasted no time in using the cable tidy, which is why I forgot to photograph it along with the other goodies!
Out of interest, I did a quick sweep for the #buxtonflip hashtag just a few days later. As far as I can tell, less than half the prizes were given out, providing a textbook example of the extent to which odds can shorten once a little effort is required - there’s a lesson there, my comping friends!

What effort-based competitions have you enjoyed lately - and were you lucky?!

Friday, 9 June 2017

My Lucky Patch

How many daily lotteries do you play? I’m down to two - any more than that and I get all panicky if I forget to check in each day.

The main one I play, however, is My Lucky Patch, which is like the Free Postcode Lottery inasmuch as the winner is pretty much selected by sticking a pin in a map, but broadly speaking, the similarities end there.

As with the other free lotteries, the size of your potential win increases by a nominal amount every day you check in. Unlike the other lotteries, daily check-in also rewards you with additional lucky patches (ie entries into the daily draw), theoretically improving the odds of you winning. In this way, regulars are rewarded with additional entries into the daily draw (unlike with other lotteries, where your odds diminish as more people join the game).

I’ve now checked into the site sufficiently often to have a potential prize pot of £250, so you can imagine how excited I got a couple of weeks back when I saw that the day’s lucky patch was in Norwich. Check out my near miss - two squares closer and I’d have hit paydirt! I've had the Free Postcode Lottery miss me by a couple of streets before, but this was a couple of car-lengths!
Screen grab from My lucky Patch
If another free lottery sounds like your cup of tea, sign up here [disclosure, I get a 15 patch bonus!]

Be lucky!

Do you play the free lotteries? How are they working out for you?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My first spa #win

Just before Christmas, I won a £300 voucher for Virgin Experiences. A sensible person might have spent some time browsing the catalogue, as it were. Not me. In about the time it took to write that last sentence, I’d blown it on a spa break. In my day-to-day life, I waste hours deliberating over the merits of Decision A versus Decision B; not this time, however - I just went arrow-straight to the nearest place with chips and a dressing-gown dress code.

That place was Clarice House, in Bury St Edmunds, and I booked the break to coincide with my 15th wedding anniversary. Given that we hadn’t so much as grabbed a pint to celebrate any anniversary since the delivery of our first-born in 2010, I figured that back rubs and jacuzzis would make a pleasant change. (Here I should add that the package also included unlimited use of the hotel gym, though why anyone would entertain an exercise bike when they could spend the day in a fizzy bath escapes me.)
Clarice House, in Bury St Edmunds
Clarice House, a fancy old pile in Bury St Edmunds
So, after half a year of waiting, the day finally came. We bundled the children off to my mum’s house, fired up the Astra, and broke down 20 minutes away from our house.

The RAC promised to arrive within three hours (three!). Such faint reassurance invariably puts my stress into fifth gear, and indeed, for the next 90 minutes there was a bona fide risk that my anxiety would boil into a violent but ultimately pointless assault on my vehicle; that or vomiting on the grass verge. I try not to be a control freak, but I had seen the day going differently. Thankfully, the hotel was sympathetic, and rescheduled the treatments for later that day.

In the end, we lost only two hours of R&R. Small mercies, I suppose, but my state of mind was plain to see, even by the time we arrived at the hotel another hour later. Indeed, two hours of pool, jacuzzi and steam room made barely a dent on the residual tension, as evidenced by the therapist’s unrestrained awe vis-à-vis the incredible gnarl of my shoulders (largely accumulated since I last relaxed, some time in October 2016).

Credit to Michelle, however, for delivering one of the most effective back rubs of my life - I dread to think how much lactic acid she released from my knotted muscles. Judging from the way I stumbled out of the treatment room like a zombie on mogadon, it seemed pretty clear that those toxins were the only thing holding my body together. I collapsed in the relaxation room until reality came back into focus.

Regrettably, that was a little quicker than I would have liked, if only because of the piped music. I’m clearly the minority, but I’d rather listen to extra-mild cheddar than the emotionally vacant tedium of “relaxing music” - there’s more soul in a tape full of ZX Spectrum games. So I schlepped back up to our room and sat in the vast bathtub until it was time to eat.

At the risk of dwelling on things not going to plan, dinner didn’t start by going to plan. That was because we were given a complimentary bottle of prosecco, however, so I can let that stand - everything goes better with bubbles, after all.

As it was only a few pounds more, we upgraded to the perfectly cooked and deceptively large steak meal. I say deceptive because, as a doltish bumpkin, I am unaccustomed to eating from rectangular platters, and before I knew it, had over-eaten. I then compounded the matter by shoving down a humungous crème brulée.
Fancy truffles
The lovely kitchen crew gave us some bonus truffles, which I couldn't eat until breakfast time
Good times did not ensue. My belly thre its rattle from the pram, and I spent the rest of the night feeling horribly ill until, by the grace of God, I fell unconscious. Indeed, it wasn’t for another two days that I could eat anything without feeling like I’d ingested cast iron. Again, this wasn’t high on my list of objectives for the break.

Nevertheless, when dawn came with rosy fingers, I felt many times better than the night before. Perhaps not man enough for the full English, but sufficiently strong for eggs royale and a sneaky pain au chocolat before the digestive predicament came to light.

Still, we had full use of the facilities again, so a lie-down in the relaxation room (this time with suitable distractions) was just what the doctor ordered. That and another hour and a half in the jacuzzi and steam room.

Sadly, of course, all good things must com to an end, and so we loaded up the car and promptly ducked back inside to order lunch, which we ate on the terrace, and followed up with a leisurely walk around the grounds. Well, there was no need to rush, was there?!

This was one of my biggest ever wins, and while it might not have gone exactly to plan, it was still the best time I’d had in months and a brilliant reminder of why I love this hobby!

Spa breaks are a permanent fixture on my wish list - is there anything you couldn’t win enough of?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Unboxing May 2017

Second-born wanted to help out with the unboxing this month, making it very hard to get a word in ...

Monday, 22 May 2017

WIN! NOW TV Sky Sports day pass

Want to watch the big game but don't want to pay? Read on!

You may recall that I've recently been playing Snatch. Well, to cut a long story short, as one of the in-game prizes, I won a Sky Sports day pass. I won't be needing it, however, so I figured I might as well see if any of you guys wanted it.
To this end, I'm running a quick blink-and-you-miss-it giveaway with the aid of the Gleam widget to make sure everything stays above board.

The pass comes in the form of a voucher code which must be redeemed by the end of this month. In other words, please don’t enter this draw unless you’re in a position to redeem it right away. (You don’t have to use it right away, just add the code to your Now TV account and activate it when you’re ready).

Don't be put off if you don't have a Now TV box - you can also watch via smart TV or laptop/tablet.

Get your entries in by the close of Friday 26 May ... Good luck!

NOW TV Sky Sports pass giveaway
Terms and conditions
1) The prize is a NOW TV Sky Sports day pass There is no cash alternative.
2) The closing date for entries is 23.59 26 May 2017. No further entries will be accepted after this point. You can still comment if you like, but there has to be a line in the sand.
3) The giveaway is restricted to UK residents only, excluding my family.
4) The winner will be automatically selected via the Gleam app.
5) The winner has two days to claim their prize. If the prize hasn’t been claimed in this period, I will redraw.
6) I will announce the winner on this blog post and on Twitter within seven days of the winner claiming their prize.
7) This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Twitter, Blogger or any other social network; neither is it endorsed by Sky or Now TV.
8) I will not use your information to sell you encyclopaedias, or to get anyone else to sell you encyclopaedias.
9) I reserve the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of a catastrophe, war, civil or military disturbance, act of God or any actual or anticipated breach of any applicable law or regulation or any other event outside of my control. Yes, that does include zombie apocalypse. Any further clarification of terms will be clearly added to this blog post.
10) Entry into the competition will be deemed as acceptance of these terms and conditions.
11) I think that’s it, but if I have forgotten anything fundamental that might void this endeavour, please let me know.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Où est la madeleine?

One day last week, as I decanted the final box of Maldon sea salt, an exquisite memory prevailed over me, and at once the monotony of the chore became indifferent to me - the travails of the day innocuous, the grind illusory. This new sensation had on me the effect which fortune has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the salt, but whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

OK, let’s not over-egg the pudding: I recently decanted some salt. It was the final box from a set of three 250g ‘limited edition’ packets I won back in 2015. Although the prize was one of the most modestly valued items I’ve ever won, its arrival sticks in my mind more than most. Partly that’s because it turned up out of the blue, and partly it’s because I remember remarking how the cost of mailing the best part of a kilo of salt was three times what that salt was actually worth.
salt in a jar adjacent to empty box that contained salt just minutes previously
The salt in question (decanted)
Mostly, however, the prize sticks in mind because salt is such an elemental part of our very existence: our bodies become chemically unbalanced without it, our muscles and nervous system cease to function and, well, I guess we die.

To be honest, I consume less salt than I’d like. That’s not a conscious choice; rather, it’s because, like many parents of small children, we cook without it and then fail to season our food as we’re too absorbed in whatever argument we’re having with the aforementioned beasts. That’s why I seize moments to enjoy it as conspicuously as possible. I’m talking super fresh, crusty bread with unsalted butter, a sprinkle of salt flakes and NO INTERRUPTIONS!

But that’s by the by. The important thing is to notice how and remember that even the smallest of prizes can touch you on an absolutely fundamental level - in my case, the absorption of an essential daily mineral for somewhere in the region of 24 months (and counting).

Or, to look at it another way, two years of literally seasoning my meals with lucky dust.

Small wins are great! Which ones have been your favourite? Did any change your life?!