Thursday, 17 May 2018

Mindfulness for compers?

The Mayday Bank Holiday was the hottest day of the year, and while I was out basking in my mum’s garden, I noticed myself enjoying a warm, if slightly unfamiliar, fuzzy feeling. It wasn’t just the sun radiating positive vibes - although that always helps; the long overdue family reunion helped too. But the clincher, if I'm honest, was firing up the coals for the first barbie of the season.

I hate cooking. And yet I love to grill. It’s not just that there’s something primal about it, or that my life zenithed when my first-born was ten weeks old and we barbecued for 20 days solid. There’s also fact that I love reconnecting with my prizes - in this case, the cute little Weber barbecue that I won a couple years back.

Every time I set it up, I smile to recall how it was, until recently, the largest object I’d ever won, and how it arrived on the same day as the least physically imposing prize I’ve ever received: a font.

Sadly, I must confess that said font (Thistle Creek) has had precious little impact on my life. Unlike, for example, the swanky watch I won from a 2015 Warner Bros promotion, which I was using to time the cooking, while sipping my prize lager from the last advent season, and wearing one of the brand-spanking shirts I won less than a fortnight prior.

And while I watched the children guzzle the fizzy drinks we’d fixed with the strawberry purée I’d also won over Christmas, I thought to myself: I’m so glad I decided to be lucky.

In the same vein, when I first started writing this post, I was wearing the sweater I won at Christmas, having just packed away the football shirt I won during the last World Cup and boxed up the night’s leftovers in the Happy Jackson pots I won that same year. This was after making my first-born stop reading his Roald Dahl book and put away his X-Men headphones, both of which I won in 2016, and washing up my wife's flask (won 2017). I’ve also just finished off the chocolate I won last month, and before I pass out tonight, will be applying the fancy eye serum I mentioned a couple of weeks back.

Am I a premier league comper? I doubt it. On the off-chance that I do somehow qualify for the top-flight, I’m very much a Huddersfield - standing under the armpits of giants.

Indeed, I’m in perpetual awe of the many fantastic - and more importantly - dedicated compers out there, whose drive to win the big-ticket prizes is plainly inspirational. People like Di Coke and Nikki Hunter-Pike, for example, spring to mind - and not just because of their success, but also because of all the work they do to support the wider comping community.

Next to these guys, I’m a blatant also-ran. But that's also cool. Comping isn't a sprint race; if anything, it's a marathon. I’ve been in the game for about four years now, and despite a few episodes of mojo fatigue keeping me on the sidelines, the wins have slowly but surely stacked up, and I can confidently say that my “winner’s luck” has manifestly embedded itself into my life. That translates to a constant reminder of what it feels like to be lucky. It also translates to feeling good about myself.

Some might call my win rate unremarkable, but that’s no bad thing! Unremarkable, means replicable. It means that anyone with half a mind to “be lucky” can make it happen! And once you've made it happen, soak it up as much as you can. Every prize is a happy moment made concrete.

To be sure, this isn't mindfulness per se. Nevertheless, if you take time to contemplate each episode of joy that literally passes through your hands each day, then you'll find an awful lot of cheer coursing through your brain. And that's definitely good for your stress!

Does comping make you feel like a lucky person? Do your past wins blend into the wallpaper or do you keep an active eye out for how they weave their way into your everyday life? How does that make you feel?

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Prize Unboxing April 2018

With apologies for tardiness, here's the prize unboxing for April. I also apologise for gurning at the camera halfway through when I thought it wasn't recording, and the ceaseless heckling from my second-born.

Be lucky!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

A nice problem

There’s a down side to comping: it develops tastes, creates needs.

Take confectionery, for example. It wasn’t so long ago that my idea of aspirational candy was a chocolate Matterhorn. That was back when duty-free shops the world over made like Fort Knox and stacked their king-size Toblerones like gold bars, and Alan Partridge scarfed a lap-full while driving barefoot to Dundee. Without doubt, Toblerone was the acme of sophistication.

These days, however, it's become a staple. Partly that’s because I can get my fix at Poundland, and partly that’s because I have over the last few years won a silly amount of top-end chocolate.

This year, in particular, my wins have become increasingly fancy (or increasingly grown-up, as my lad might say), culminating most recently in this great stack from Octo.

Clearly, this is made for posher folk than I. Consider, if you will, Exhibit A: this 100 g bar of raw white chocolate with salted pistachios retails at £8.50! Translated into Toblerone, that kind of dough would score a kilo of chocolate with enough change for post-binge Alka-Seltzer.

Raw white chocolate

You can probably see where I’m going with this - yep, it’s one of those problems that gets little sympathy: I’m becoming a chocolate snob - worse, a cocoa bore. I’m currently so flushed with the stuff that I’m sprinkling my morning porridge with goji berries coated in raw chocolate. I look like a right middle class ponce, even though I wouldn’t recognise a goji berry if I woke up in a sack of them.

My so-called problem is by no means limited to sugar and spice. I recently won some serum - man serum, to be precise. I was planning to let my wife use it, but at her behest I gave it a go. Which is to say, at her behest and under her direction, as I had not the first clue what it was for or how it should be applied given that my skincare regime had never graduated beyond patching cracked fingers with hand cream.
The serum I won
Fancy serum
And here we are: one week of half-heartedly following her guidance and the dry, flaky bags under my eyes are now just regular bags, albeit marginally less creased. Which is great - but given that childcare commitments mean I can work only part-time, the idea of ponying up £50 for another 30 ml of this elixir gives me the heebie jeebies.

That said, it could be worse. During the advents, I won a month’s worth of la-di-da serum for my wife. It retails at £200, which in terms of sustainability presents a lifestyle choice between slightly smoother skin and feeding our children.

REALLY la-di-da serum
Insanely fancy serum
Suddenly, my Toblerone habit pales into insignificance.

Has comping actually driven up your consumption of things you once considered luxuries?! Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 13 April 2018

Blurred lines

Obsession. Compulsion. There are times when the difference between the two isn’t so clear. The Great Oreo Cookie Quest is one of those times.

For the uninitiated, this app-based promotion is basically a scavenger hunt where you have no idea what you’re looking for. Actually, that’s unfair - there are daily clues, but in many respects it’s quicker simply to point your phone at anything and everything and hope for the best. (For a better description, see Di Coke's post.)

What’s up for grabs? Well, if you’ve time on tap, it’s easy enough to win yourself £15 of vouchers for the Google Play store. There’s also the star prize - a Galaxy J7 phone - for the first person to find all 390 items.

SPOILER! That prize has already been claimed, so if you’re planning to take part, you might as well put your feet up once you’ve bagged the vouchers.

That is, unless you’re particularly fond of obsessive compulsive behaviour, in which case, the pleasure of collecting items grows exponentially the further you progress. This is in no small part down to the fact that some of the items are nigh impossible to scan.

Take milk, for example. It must have taken me an hour to scan this one.

At this point in the game, I had fewer than ten items to collect, while the player in pole position had only one. So … everything to play for, right?

It had taken a few hours to get this far, and was plainly going to take hours more. By all rights, I should have conducted some sort of cost-benefit exercise with my time, but logic had plainly gone out the window by this point. By hook or by crook, that milk was getting scanned.

Thankfully, a kind-hearted fellow comper put me out of my misery with the following recommendation: froth it up a little and snap from above.

Ker-ching! Item scanned!
Proof that I scanned the milk! THE MILK!
I did it! I scanned the milk!
I must have spent just as long fumbling with Google Image Search, trying to find a hatchet that would scan - no easy task when the app thinks they’re all axes. My doggedness paid off eventually, but when I realised I now had to scan an ice axe as well, my heart sank. I must have pointed my phone at a hundred ice axes, only to have the app think they were hammers, nails or, on at least one occasion, a stethoscope.

By now, I’d reached seventh place on the national leaderboard - woohoo! Unfortunately, the player who had been leading the pack had managed to find the last item on the list. Game over, in other words. Except for the fact that I hadn’t checked the T&C at this point, and spent another couple of hours banging my head against the wall, trying to scan pliers and coconuts before having the common sense to check the small print.

By the time I downed tools, there were three items I’d failed to scan, and a further three I’d failed to identify at all. Which was more frustrating I couldn’t say; however, the sense of relief as I was released from my obligations was overwhelming. My shoulders buoyed as their invisible burden was lifted.

Now all that remains is to spend the vouchers - has anyone got any recommendations?

Have you been playing the Great Oreo Cookie Hunt? And if so, how have you got on? Let me know if you need any clues!

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Unboxing March 2018

Here endeth the month - and it hasn't been a bad one! Here's a video of me and the short man opening parcels. Not shown here is the £15 in Google Play vouchers that my wife and I both won through the Oreo cookie hunt. I'm not convinced the hours were worth it, but that's another story!

Be lucky!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

On belligerence

Sometimes I win. Sometimes I learn. And sometimes I do the same thing over and over again in the hope that things will turn out differently next time.

Some would call that the very definition of insanity. And sometimes they’d be right. Sometimes, however, it’s less clear-cut.

Case in point: I used the same Faces for Florida entry for three weeks in a row. After failing to pass muster on the first week, the likelihood of a subsequent win was slim to nil, but since I didn’t have any better ideas, my only option was to hope the rest of the field had a bad day.

Fanciful thinking? Maybe so, but a long shot is better than no shot, as Steven Bradbury found in the 2002 Winter Olympics when everyone else in the 1000m speed skating final fell over, leaving him to collect the gold.

Unfortunately for me, in this instance, the other entrants blew me out of the water. But on the plus side, I don’t have to worry about taking a volatile eight-year-old on a long-haul flight.

Then there was the time, about three years ago, when I tried to win a Weetabuddy. For the uninitiated, this recurring competition requires entrants to scatter fruit on their breakfast in a sufficiently artful manner that it looks like a face. I chose the path less travelled, and skewered fruit to my biscuit so it could stand up.

My weetabuddy

As luck would have it, the promoter was looking for balanced breakfasts rather than edible voodoo dolls, and my entry failed to make the grade. Not that I really minded - at that point I was in thrall to the comping monkey on my back, and entering every effort comp I could find, whatever the prize.

But I kept the picture. It wasn’t like it was well composed, or for that matter remotely clever. But I did love how perfectly it encapsulated the absurdity of comping - after all, who in their right mind would pin blueberries to their cereal just to win a fluffy Weetabix? And more to the point, why would anyone even want a fluffy Weetabix?

I can’t answer that last question, but I do know that my mojo was wanting a boot up the jacksie towards the end of last year, and on a whim, I entered the competition again. With the same picture.

Common sense would suggest that having failed once, the picture would only flop again. But common sense can bite me. I won that fluffy Weetabix. And my son loves it. At long last, he can hug his favourite cereal - something I’ll never manage with granola.

So, what’s my point? Simple! Stubbornness pays.

Has your persistence, belligerence or plain old dogged refusal to quit, won you any prizes? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Great Oreo Cookie Quest

In case you missed it, Oreo is currently running a massive promotion as part of The Great #OreoCookieQuest - a campaign to celebrate special family moments.

Packet of Oreos

The on-pack promotion will see a whole load of earphones and wireless speakers given away, not to mention a trip to San Francisco for four people (for more on this, check out Di Coke’s post).

I was planning to introduce my lads to Oreos as part of a fun day out; The Beast from the East, however, had other ideas, and effectively snowed us in for the best part of a week.

After three consecutive snow days, the children were getting fractious and clearly needed an injection of joy.

Now, anyone who knows me will confirm that I’m downright tight when it comes to letting my kids have sweets or biscuits between meals. Nevertheless, there are clearly occasions when a small but fun treat is in order. Being held hostage by an arctic tempest is one such occasion.

In such situations, I can understand why some people use biscuits as a form of currency, or possibly ransom payment, in the hope of buying a few minutes peace and quiet. My view, however, is that if you have leverage, it’s best to hold on to it for as long as possible.

To this end, I dangle cookies like the proverbial carrot while I create a learning opportunity for my captive audience. I call it a learning opportunity, but really it’s just me seeing how long I can talk about biscuits before my own willpower gives out and I have to open the packet.

And so, in lieu of a physical expedition, I took my family on a Great Oreo Cookie Quest for knowledge.

The lesson is brief, and comprises the following key facts:

  • Oreos are an American institution, having been made in the country for over a century; and
  • the traditional way to consume them is to first dunk them in milk.

Milk & cookies

There’s also the matter of a fun little story about Oreos, which dates back to 2013.

This was the year when another American institution - the Super Bowl - had a hiccup. As hiccups go, this one was a doozy: the lights went out.

This wasn’t major news in the UK; in America, however, where almost nothing gets higher viewing figures, this was a massive deal. The power outage lasted a good half-hour, during which time Oreo’s marketing team seized the opportunity to tweet a cheeky little message: you can still dunk in the dark.

Picture of tweet by Oreo

That opportunist tweet got over 15,000 retweets and is still celebrated in marketing circles as one of the best guerrilla marketing plays of recent years.

And it got me thinking in a similarly opportunistic manner - if the perfect serving size for Oreos is two per person, and there are four people in this house, one little snack can probably buy me a whole hour of family joy. And so, a new game was born: the amazing game of DUNK IN THE DARK!

You can probably guess how the game dynamics work, but I’ve made a little video of my son playing, just in case.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to eating biscuits, children have remarkable muscle memory. To this end, I strongly recommend moving the metaphorical goal posts between dunks!

As you can see, this hastily improvised diversion was extremely well received by the little people - and happy little people means happy parents!

Do you know any other ways to turn a tiny snack into quality family time - let me know in the comments below...

This post is an entry for BritMums #OreoCookieQuest, sponsored by Oreo