Wednesday, 21 December 2016

2016: How was it for you?

Colour me happy: whether you measure by number of prizes or by prize value, 2016 has been my most successful year of comping. I won’t pretend that the majority of wins were anything other than modest, but any time I'm stuck in a dry patch (and I did have several this year), prizes like this play a key role in my motivation.

Some, I grant, were little more than cracker-fillers (the golf tees and the luggage tag spring to mind), and, perhaps inevitably, most of the little ones weren’t exactly exotic, but given the choice between winning a pint of milk or a viscose scarf that’s too small to function as anything but a flimsy handkerchief (yep - that was this year’s booby prize), then give me the milk every time.

As it happens, I won eight pints of milk. I also won a bag of coffee, a tube of toothpaste, several packets of granola, and more cheese than I could possibly hope to fit in my fridge. There was also the matter of the meat pie, but the less said about that, the better. My memories of the confectionery hamper were certainly sweeter.

On the subject of food, there was just the one dining experience this year: a family meal at Frankie & Benny’s. This came from a low-entry photo competition which required entrants to take a picture of the digger sponsored by F&B at Diggerland, Castleford  - there were three prizes and no more than ten entrants, so the odds were pretty sweet. This prize came in just a few weeks after I’d copped one of the runner-up prizes on F&B’s Facebook page, so who says lightning doesn’t strike twice?!

My first-born on a digger

Treats out are always great, of course, and this year I’ve won something for the whole family: I’ve been twice to see Norwich City play (although sadly only once in the Premiership…); meanwhile, my kids loved Cirque Beserk and my wife loved seeing BeyoncĂ© at Wembley. I’ve also won a family ticket to the Harry Potter studios, so that’s something to look forward to next year.

Tickets for the Harry Potter Experience

I might not have won cash, but I did win the next best thing: vouchers. I was well chuffed that the Christmas list I posted earlier this month won a £100 gift card from Debenhams. This was on top of the £100 Co-op voucher I won for reciting a fair-trade shopping list; the £50 Sainsbury voucher for snapping my first-born in his back-to-school uniform; the £20 Rymans voucher for writing a limerick; and the £75 voucher I won from a local menswear shop. None of these comps had very many entrants; in fact, the last one had only one - me!

As for the big ones, my year was quite nicely bookended by wishlist items: an iPad Mini in January and, last week, a £200 voucher for Virgin Experiences, which I’m blowing on an overnight spa break for my wife and me - so I’ll have to take at least one night off the comping next year!

But that's enough chatter from me - I hope you've had a great year too! All that remains for me now is to wish you a really great Christmas and a lucky new year - see you in 2017!

How was 2016 for you? Did you tick anything off your wish list? What are your hopes for 2017?

Thursday, 8 December 2016

A year of comping dangerously?

December is customarily a time for reflection. Actually, that’s not strictly true: most of the month is spent headless chickening about Christmas shopping, Christmas plans and Christmas competitions; but there is, traditionally, a week at the end of the year where the introspection shifts from snatched moments (usually on the toilet) of wondering where it all went wrong, to a more extended period of pseudo-calm where you can at least remove your head from your hands and gulp a breath of air.

So, let’s imagine for a moment that we’re enjoying that seasonal moment of nirvana and look back on some of the key moments from 2016 when the cosy little world of comping leaked into the world at large, or at the very least, the gutter press.

The gutter is about right when it comes to the first of these episodes - but to give the tale a veneer of respectability, I’ll link to the Telegraph’s version of the story:  Russian teen wins month in hotel with pornstar in online competition.


No, really: it was his prize for being the 100,000th person to visit Cases4Real, a website selling virtual weapons for video games. Needless to say, the lad was “delighted” and his mum was “furious” (sample quote: “He is studying ... They should give us 100,000 roubles [£931] instead").

As for the boy’s father, he was quoted elsewhere as saying he will “take possession of the prize himself, as the boy’s legal guardian”.


Well, nearly wow.

The fact that the boy is an actor and the promoter failed to publish the terms and conditions for the “competition” do make the story a bit fishy, but who needs facts when the copy is this great, right?!

Competitions that smell fishy are one thing; but how about ones that leave a sour taste in the mouth? Yep, I’m talking about the Walker’s Crisps Spell & Go competition, where fewer than 1,000 of the 20,000 holidays available to be won were actually given away.

It’s a truism, of course, that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but as Walker’s demonstrated, with the right competition mechanic and the enough heavy promotion, you can certainly get a lot of people really stinking mad. Especially if you throw in an extra little teaser that is (to quote the ASA) “misleading and likely to cause unnecessary disappointment to consumers”.

Judging from the online chatter, some people felt the ASA went in too softly on this one. By contrast, they stuck the boot into Heinz - banning its can song ad due to concerns for health and safety. Given that there was a £5,000 prize running alongside this promotion, I hope they didn’t put the mockers on that too. [Edit: the winner has now been announced!]

Finally, no summary of 2016 would be complete without 124,109 examples of why asking Joe Public to vote on anything is a terrible idea - that’s how many people voted to have Boaty McBoatface as the name of the Natural Environment Research Council’s new polar research ship. 

It is of course a matter of comping lore that the winning entry didn’t actually win (the selected name, Sir Richard Attenborough, took 10,284 votes), which begs the question, why have an open vote in the first place? It’s not like such mischief is without precedent (although at least Greenpeace actually had the brass to give the public what they wanted, namely, a whale called Mr Splashy Pants).

What will 2017 hold for the wider world of comping then? Sadly I have no crystal ball, but if I was going to bet on one thing, it’d be people petitioning their local authority to name a street after Roady McRoadface.

What did I miss?! Please use the comments section below to remind me about any of the other big stories from 2016

Thursday, 1 December 2016

My Christmas list

God rest ye merry gentlemen? I should coco! The month is upon us, the geese are getting fat, and I've got three weeks to get this house festive, finalise the gifting, and make sure I don't repeat any of my usual seasonal foul-ups!

My chief failing always boils down to the labelling of parcels. Apparently, it’s not the done thing to scrawl names on wrapping paper with marker pen. Who knew?

This year will be different - I’m going for dogtags (as in tags shaped like dogs rather than the necklaces of retired marines) - how cute are these little fellas from Debenhams?!
Scotty dog gift tag
Scotty dog gift tags
And since I’m in Debenhams, I’m going to grab a few more things to spruce up the house.

First, the wreath. I won’t take sole responsibility for this, but in twenty years of living together, we’ve always failed to sort this most elementary of decorations: the piece that says 'Hello!' and 'Welcome to our festive home!'. So far, so grinchy. Thankfully, this charming red number is perfect for two reasons: (1) it’s my wife’s favourite colour and (2) our front door was glossed black just a couple of months ago, so it’ll look smart as a button.
Red berry wreath
Red berry wreath
Next, bunting. Everyone loves bunting. Actually, that’s not strictly true: there’s a short register of sociopaths with something against it, but mercifully they’re all locked up (as Dostoevsky said: "The degree of a society's civilisation can be judged by observing its prisoners") - but I digress. Bunting is key to any festival - except for Christmas, it would seem, when it becomes "garland". But as the song says: you say tomato, I say royale with cheese.
Let it snow garland
Let it snow seasonal garland

There's also the matter of the annual Christmas decoration I buy my mum - a tradition that started when I finally moved out of the family home, some twenty-odd years ago. This beautifully embroidered guardsman decoration is handmade with velvet and gold metal threadwork, with sales benefiting the work of Help for Heroes, meaning that it looks good and does good. 
Christmas decoration
Help for Heroes tree decoration
The final item, I confess, we don’t actually need - not least because there isn’t a square inch of space left on our Christmas dinner table to host it. But HOLY FLAMING ANTLERS! You will not see a better candelabra this year. I know - I've Googled.
Silver stag candelabra
Silver stag candelabra
So there’s the preparations sorted, but what about the giftlist?

Well, the most important question is how far the family should be indulged. As this clip shows, opinions tend to differ.

Now, let’s just say that I did want to indulge the boys - and that I had the budget to do so - I’d sort something for my youngest first, quite simply because he's the easiest to buy for.

There’s a saying: Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. In which case, be Batman.

That, in essence, is my boy's philosophy. I can't describe how much he loves Batman (the tantrums when his Batman tee-shirts aren't clean, however, I can detail to a forensic level). In fact, he's not content to spend his waking hours being Batman, he sleeps him too. 

Sleeping two-year old in Batman mask

What he lacks, though, is the wheels. So what I’m about to show you, you must never tell him about, as there's really nowhere I can put it, but were he to learn of its existence, I’d never hear the end of it. In short, check out the 6v electric Batmobile.
6v Batmobile
The electric Batmobile! 
My first-born meanwhile, is a more complex creature. I'd go as far as to say deviant. I don't mean "a deviant" - just deviant, as in he simply doesn't function like other children. Example: most kids are happy to get a sticker from their dentist - mine demands a surgeon’s mask and latex gloves.
boy dressed as dentist

I just can't predict what he will engage with. For example, I gave him a scooter for his third birthday (everyone loves scooters, right?!) - he left it in the shed for two years.  

Fortunately, he's now old enough to write a Christmas list ...

a christmas list (untidy)

... Perhaps next year he might even write a legible one!

Having discussed his wishlist with him, one thing is clear: what he really wants is decorator’s overalls. Seriously! In a world where you can be Batman, he wants to be a decorator. Sure, there's less chance of long-term injury and it’s probably easier to hold down a relationship, but still.

I’ve looked into this, and you know what? They don’t make decorator’s overalls for six-year-olds. Fortunately, we’ve negotiated a compromise. You can - thanks to the popularity of Super Mario - buy a plumber’s outfit.

For the purpose of clarity, he doesn't want a Super Mario costume per se - indeed, I don't think he's even heard of Super Mario. He just wants overalls so he can pretend to be Colin, the chap that painted our kitchen. And since there isn’t much demand for Colin costumes, I’m looking at this ensemble right here.
Plumber's costume
Plumber's costume
The moustache won’t last a day, but that’s fine - Colin is very clean shaven.

My next purchase is an easy one - but only because I asked my wife what she wanted. She said she wanted to look less tired.

Crucially, she didn’t say that she wanted to be less tired, for that would be nigh impossible. Even if we went on holiday we’d have to take the children, so we’d still have to wake up ridiculously early in order for them to meet their self-imposed quota of mindless yelling and pointless arguments with us.

In short then, my wife wants something to paper over the cracks. In other words, make-up.

I confess this isn't my area of expertise. However, I do know that she swears by Benefit Lemon Aid. By all accounts, it gives the illusion of having had an additional 35 minutes of sleep, which is sorcery by any other name.
Lemon Aid make up
Lemon Aid
That just leaves yours truly. If I'm honest, however, I haven't had time to think about me.  All that springs to mind is the Christmas list my father would wheel out every year. I used to think he was being obtuse, but in hindsight he simply had no desire to waste his wishes on winter woollies.

So, like my father before me, I'm going to wish for two things: peace on earth and goodwill to all men!

Have a great Christmas!

This is my entry for the Debenhams Win Your Wishlist” Blogger Competition.
Links to all items can be found beneath the product images.