Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Game, Set & Match

There are money-can’t-buy prizes and there are my-money-can’t-buy prizes. For example, I never realised how beyond my means Wimbledon was until I checked just the other day. On the final Saturday, it costs £30 just to walk around the grounds. Sure, you might get lucky and see someone warming up on the outside courts, but if you want to see the ladies’ final, a Centre Court ticket is £170 for the day. And, yes, tickets for the men’s final cost even more. So, assuming I’d managed to get through the ballot system and procure tickets for me and my wife, I’d be £400 down before so much as sniffing a strawberry.

It also stands to reason that if you want to eat there, you’re going to be forking out a small wedge. Sure, ‘tis but £2.50 for a bowl of the aforementioned strawberries, but man cannot live on fruit alone - not when there’s all that cucumber to consider, although at £8.50 a glass, sourcing your five-a-day solely from Pimms’ garnish is unwise in more ways than one.

You can therefore imagine how I felt when Robinsons (yes, the squash people) told me I’d won VIP tickets to this year’s ladies’ final. You can also imagine my strangled squeals of drawn-out frustration that the only person I was able to share this news with for the next hour had no concept of SW19, never mind corporate hospitality, on account of being only four years old.

If you’re thinking that this is unusually good fortune for me, you’d be right. I couldn’t possibly say what something like this is worth, but if it’s not the fanciest prize of my life, then it’s surely a close second, and certainly the most amazing thing I’ve ever won from a tie-break comp.

A tie-breaker? No, I couldn’t believe it either. In five years of comping, my track record with writing tie-breaks can be summarised as follows:

  • a nice cake (I was the only entrant); and
  • a hoodie from an online smut site (four entrants; three of whom failed to read the brief).

In the latter case, I was actually hoping to win the dressing gown, so even here I was wide of the mark.

Missing the mark is of course an area where it is incredibly easy to excel. In the present instance, for example, I drew a blank for three consecutive weeks before Robinsons took a shine to my suggestion for a new flavour for its Fruit Creations range.

Truthfully, I was never going to win in the first week - there were over a thousand entrants and regardless of how tasty my idea might have been, I always knew that it lacked the mustard to stand out from such numbers. In Week 2, however, I pulled my socks up and tossed in a tennis pun or two.
Nevertheless, despite a massive drop in the number of entrants, it wasn’t my week. In Week 3, I tried putting my recipe in verse form. Still no luck.

By Week 4, then, it was time to go all in. That my recipe was going to have strawberries was a given, but I was also going to saddle it with more tennis puns than would be remotely decent. Thus:
LET me take ADVANTAGE of this opportunity to KNOCK UP something with strawberries - surely you can’t FAULT me there?! It’d be ACE to LOB in some rhubarb PULP too - a MIXED DOUBLE of classic British flavours. But HOLD on a sec - if you really want a SMASH hit of a drink, I’d LOVE to add a little ginger and SERVE with a smile! (Trust me - folks will be making a RACKET about this juice for years!)
Fortunately, it was one of those weeks where nothing succeeds like excess - helped by the fact that the drop-off in entries had continued, and fewer than 350 people had thrown their hat in the ring.

At this point, all that remained was to get a babysitter, book train tickets, buy trousers and, oh, tell my wife!

Procuring rail tickets at short notice is seldom cheap, and this occasion was no exception. What I did not expect was that the most economical way to arrive in London would be to travel first-class. I was also not expecting the coffee to be quite as dreadful as that served in prole class, but there you go.

That a first-class ticket entitles the holder to a free packed lunch along the lines of the Boots Meal Deal is nice, but whether that makes it worth five times the basic apex fare is up for debate. Such digression, however, is moot: any pleasure gleaned from this brief insight into how the other half lives dissolves into grimy dust the moment you board whatever hot, stinking Tube train connects you to Southfields.

On the plus side, the walk to the grounds is straightforward and our conga line down Wimbledon Park Road was refreshingly genteel.

Before I go any further, I must come clean about my ticket kink: I love the physical experience of slapping my ticket on the counter and swanning inside ahead of the Johnny-come-hopefuls. It might sound like mild schadenfreude, but it’s actually far simpler: I just dig on tangible credentials.

For this very reason, being on a guest list stresses me right out. I daren’t look behind me as I’m convinced I’m being shadowed by some fat-pawed security gorilla who’s got me pegged as a cheap ligger.

In reality, of course, no one ever bats an eyelid. The woman at Gate 5 handed me the grounds passes and funny little cardboard buttons, and relieved me of the weight upon my shoulders. Not the whole weight of course, as there was still the matter of locating the hospitality suite - but given the unambiguous guidance in my invitation (literally: it’s just opposite Gate 5) how hard could that be?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the grounds of the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, what’s opposite Gate 5 is Centre Court itself. So, in the absence of any obvious signposting, we found a chap in an official blazer loitering outside Centre Court and begged directions. And what glorious directions they were - taking us right to the far end of the grounds where the various corporate partners had their marquees - major corporate partners like Jaguar and HSBC, but not Robinsons.

Three further members of staff later and we were exactly where we started - except this time, we noticed the wee notice directing guests to the Robinsons Suite.

And oh, what a suite it was! As I stood there, just a flight of stairs away from the action, I suddenly felt sorry for those poor schmoes slumming it in the suburbs with Ralph Lauren. Inside was air-conditioned and spacious; outside on the balcony, meanwhile, was pleasantly shaded with a birds-eye view of Joe Public and the exquisite flower arrangements. A more perfect spot to sip our first Pimms of the day I couldn’t have imagined.

How's this for a chunky VIP pass?!
As we topped up our vim, two further fantastic things became clear: first, the guests in the room were all compers, so the atmosphere was one of genuine over-the-moon excitement; and second, the spectacle was set to exceed everyone’s expectations, as the second men’s semi was yet to be resolved. To this end, our lunch was brought forward so we could watch two sets of Nadal v Djokovic.

It didn’t take an expert to see that this was tennis of the highest calibre. These guys were so evenly matched that on any other day I’d have described the next couple of hours as epic. However, as the preceding semi ended 24 v 26 and lasted six and a half hours, the rivers of hyperbole were running dry.

Thanks to this unscheduled bonus, our afternoon tea was a bit of a frantic affair. I can’t imagine I will ever neck champagne at such a dangerous pace again, but rest assured plans are afoot for us to get a similar wodge of strawberries and cream next year.

Finally, then, it was time for the headline event.

Mrs Wasabi enjoying the hospitality ...
and if you squint hard enough, you might be able to see the Meghan Markle's barnet
The ins and outs of the match have inevitably been documented by writers far finer than I, so I’ll forgo the details, suffice to say that we were really rooting for Serena, but sadly it was not to be. What we did witness, however, was the climax of a legend’s year-long journey from intensive care to a grand-slam final, followed by one of the most wonderful examples of grace in defeat that anyone could hope to see.

Miss Williams didn’t simply congratulate her opponent for winning her first title, but shared her pleasure in that moment, while praising her for being an incredible person and a really good friend.

As for being the “super-human supermum" that the interviewer suggested she was, she replied, "No, I'm just me and that's all I can be … I look forward to just continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best … It was such an amazing tournament for me. I was really happy to get this far … I can't be disappointed. I have so much to look forward to - I'm literally just getting started".

The fact that one of the greatest winners of all time doesn’t take winning for granted is a massive takeaway, not just for athletes and sports fans, but for compers too. Like any seasoned comper, I have failed to win thousands of times. What’s more, I have every intention of continuing to do so. Indeed, I similarly refuse to be disappointed when things don’t go my way: if I’m looking back, it’s not because I’m lingering on what might have been; it’s because I’m enjoying past successes or learning from previous fails. Mostly, however, I’m looking forward, because I’m just getting started too.

Somewhat satisfyingly, the wise words of Wimbledon don’t end here either. As everyone trickled back into the hospitality lounge, the bartender leaned over to my comping buddy and whispered, “We’re closing the bar in ten minutes, so if I were you, I’d rack them up while you still can.”

For me, this is the best kind of advice as I can process it in a fraction of a millisecond, because, well, I'm just me and that's all I can be.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Prize Unboxing August 2018

So that was August... And I did eventually work out where the Russell Ayto book came from. At least, I think so, anyway!

Be Lucky!

Friday, 27 July 2018

Prize Unboxing July 2018

July has been hot! Not just literally, but in terms of wins too. I've been aberrationally successful, for which I'm endlessly grateful, and bracing myself for a super-drought as the world realises its error and the cosmic balance lurches back into place.

Possibly the first step in this regard was one of my prizes smashing before I got the chance to use it. Fortunately, it was only a small bottle of serum, but frustrating nonetheless.

Also, despite what I say in this video, the coat *is* the one I asked for - I just got muddled with the one I'd ordered for my other son! As for the football, I can confirm that the signatures are from regular civilians whose celebrity is based entirely on the fact that they happen to have the same name as someone else.

Most of my July wins are in this month's unboxing video. The largest, however, I'm saving for a forthcoming post as it really was rather cool...

Hope you enjoy the video - and be lucky!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Football coming home...

The FIFA World Cup used to be the cornerstone of my life. I got together with my other half during the 1998 tournament, and exactly four years later, we were married. Another four years on and we were still gorging on as many matches as we could fit around full-time work. Come 2010, however, our first-born was three months old and did not care for international football - not one little bit.

I was on the afternoon shift at that point, but every time I sat down, he’d wail. Watching Germany dissect England is excruciating at best, but there’s nothing like doing it while you slow dance with a mardy bairn to really put the boot in. It was at this point that I stopped watching football.

That’s not to say I stopped taking an interest, however, as I’d just learned about matched betting - the clever-dick form of gambling where you don’t end up out of pocket as the bookies kindly pony up the stakes for you. Now’s not the time for the full ins and outs of the hustle as they’re way too complicated to explain in a glib aside (though if you are interested, see Nikki Hunter-Pike's post), suffice to say that it was a boom-time for bookmakers running promotions to expand their social media reach.

888Sport, in particular, was on a mission to own the market, and was giving away free bets and branded merchandise left, right and centre - in the space of a year, its various score prediction and caption competitions had provided me with a branded polo shirt, rugby ball, laptop sleeve, three hoodies, two packs of cards and a set of poker chips, not to mention countless free bets and a £60 sportswear voucher.

Then came the big one - the World Cup score-prediction comp. At this point, they really lost their marbles, because in addition to prizes for the overall competition winners, they also encouraged entrants to set up their own mini leagues, and gave these players prizes too. How they worked out a scoring system for the mini leagues I’ve no idea. Truthfully, I wasn’t paying attention. All I knew was that I hadn’t made the top three in the main league, so I didn’t give it another minute’s thought. So, you can imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, a £120 voucher to spend on sportswear turned up out of the blue.

Sadly, it wasn’t long after this that the penny dropped at 888 HQ and I was barred for being - quite literally -  a liability, as 888’s computers twigged that I was taking more money out of the company than I was putting in, so banned me from making any further wagers.

Disappointing as it was to call time on our relationship, lessons were learned and we both moved on: I stopped messing around and committed myself to comping properly, while 888 approached the next World Cup in a far more austere manner, with any suggestion of a re-run knocked squarely on the head.

Nonetheless, it is a truth universally acknowledged that where there’s a World Cup, there’s a prediction competition, and Brazil 2014 was no different. Filling the void left by 888 was a competition of even greater magnitude and generosity, which the Brazil Tourism Board had opened up to pretty much anyone, anywhere. This giveaway had over a hundred prizes, from vouchers to cameras to various Apple products. I didn’t make the top twenty, but still copped an iPod Nano, which was awesome - well, apart from the £30 of import duty I had to pay to receive it.

As this was my first year of comping during a World Cup tournament, I was only just starting to become aware of the sheer volume of competitions that spring up around it - not just the big-ticket giveaways from the official partners and sponsors, but also the numerous unofficial comps from companies that want to join in the excitement, but lack the deep pockets of companies like MasterCard or McDonald’s. For example, thanks to Carpetright, I walked away with an official England shirt; concurrent with this, I also won a tee-shirt of Archie Gemmill scoring against Holland in 1978 - which rounds out my heritage neatly.
The England shirt has served me well - not because I enjoy sartorial statements of nationalism, but rather because it’s super light-weight and doesn’t cling to my sweaty body when I play badminton. It’s also handy for entering football-related competitions, and to this end finally paid dividends this year when I won a giftcard and football from Screwfix for posting a picture of my best football cheer to Instagram. Considering that Screwfix was an official sponsor of the ITV coverage this year, surprisingly few people were entering its comps. Its daily Facebook giveaways were (as I discovered too late) getting fewer than 200 entrants, while this Instagram comp had barely a dozen. So, a lesson learned for next time is to check out all the TV partners too!
How I would cheer, were football to come home
This year, I also won prizes from two completely unaffiliated companies - three £30 Decathlon vouchers and my choice of football shirt from the FIFA store. The football shirt came from a simple tag-and-follow comp on Instagram - again with barely a dozen entries. Unfortunately FIFA had sold out of my first, second and third choice of kit, so if you were wondering why there’s a picture of me on Instagram wearing the Japanese away strip, now you know.
Me, in the Japan away strip. Hot, right?!
The first Decathlon voucher, meanwhile, came from a prediction comp I’d found via Google before the tournament began. What I hadn’t clocked, however, was that the score prediction aspect was purely for fun, and that the question you had to bat away before entering said predictions was actually the tie-breaker for that round. You can therefore imagine my surprise when the promoter mailed to let me know that my throwaway comment - “5.30” - was one of the most creative responses to the question, “At what point of the working day are you most on top of your game?”

Any criticism you may wish to throw at the weakness of that response is well deserved - I dread to imagine the quality of the rest of the field that week. Still, if ever there was an example of “got to be in it to win it”, this was it. And, since we’re looking for takeaways, it was also a reminder of the importance of reading instructions!

In any case, you can be sure that I upped my game for the last few rounds. And yes, my renewed efforts did pay off, as I made it into the top three for the final two rounds, giving me a grand total of £90 to spend at Decathlon.

The other great thing about this year’s World Cup was England’s progress. Notwithstanding their overreliance on set-pieces and their charmed avoidance of top-notch opposition, the fact that the team advanced as far as it did was a boon for flash comps. To be sure, I drew a complete blank here, but again, some of these comps had ridiculously few entrants, so I’ll definitely be getting my Tweetdeck house in order for 2022.

At this point, it bears repeating that 2022 will be FIFA's first Winter World Cup, and in case I need to spell it out - that means it’s going to clash with the advents. With this in mind, I’m going to get my first prediction in early: it’ll be carnage!

How did your World Cup season go? Or did you focus on Wimbledon or some other event? Let me know in the comments section!

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Prize unboxing June 2018

And so to June's wins! This roundup is notable for (a) the absence of the water bottle I won and (b) the awful face I make when my varifocals are sliding down my nose. I really must work on that...

There was also the matter of my Lucozade Made to Move win - but more on that another time.

In case you're wondering, the water bottle came from a local flash comp but didn't come in the post, so I totally failed to capture it on video. I'd apologise but I imagine you're over it already!

Be lucky!

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The only way is down?

I’m in decline. You may have noticed that my blog posts are getting fewer and farther between. I’m likewise entering fewer comps, or to be precise, I’m entering fewer interesting comps.

A competition to win a £5000 holiday is, of course, interesting. But that’s not the kind of interesting I’m talking about. Most big-ticket competitions are tediously straightforward to enter and consequently have thousands of entrants. In other words, the chances of winning are very, very small.

That’s not to say impossible - I once won an iPad Mini from a pool of about 2000 entries, but that kind of success has since eluded me, and goodness knows how many comps I’ve entered since then. Not as many as some hardcore compers, I’ll admit, but a healthily obscene number all the same.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I prefer competitions with smaller odds. It’s not just that the likelihood of winning is greater (like, duh!), but the ones that are more challenging tend also to be more interesting.

Unfortunately, my wit has gone somewhat out the window of late. The spike in my first-born’s challenging behaviour is presently celebrating its six-month anniversary and I am wiped out. I used to be smart. I’ve got certificates and stuff. These days, however, I can barely operate a spoon.

Me, when I still had brains. By which, I mean hair.
As a result, I’m failing to enter so many of the effort comps that I’ve bookmarked that I might as well not bother with them at all.

But that’s not to say I’m thinking of quitting this game. Rather, I’m cutting my crack to fit my clock, or however the saying goes.

In my case, that means sticking to Instagram. To be sure, tagging and following is a pretty mindless way to enter comps, but (a) you can do five-minute micro-sessions when you’re grabbing a breather between arguments; and (b) the random draws are less opaque than those for Twitter comps (see Di Coke's post on the subject).

That last point is particularly salient, as it puts Joe Average Comper with 100 followers on the same footing as a comping blogger with 5000 followers. Well, theoretically, anyway. As with any prize draw, there’s nothing to stop a promoter from pulling names out of the hat till they find one they like, but I can’t imagine there’s that many bad eggs out there to make that worth worrying about. And in any case, I’m still managing enough wins to keep it interesting.

The bottom line is that this hobby is fantastically scalable.

If you want a hardcore comping session, then go for it. Enter hundreds a night if that works for you - it’s a numbers game after all. But if all you want is a bit of fun, then go where the odds are smaller. There might not be as many tellies and games consoles, but everyone needs protein bars and gin, don’t they?

How do you change your comping game when life gets the better of you? Do you focus on the big stuff, the fun comps, or simply pull down the shutters? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 31 May 2018