Monday, 20 March 2017

Do you remember the first time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. hilarious as always! I remember being lucky win a raffle ticket at a local church fete when i was about 5 or 6 years old and winning the lavender bath cubes that someone must've donated as an unwanted gift - The cool thing was I had spied them on the raffle table and really wished for them so the knock on the door that evening with someone delivering that prize i'd really wanted made me feel so lucky! First creative win was about 10 or 11 years old, I made a poster to celebrate some anniversary of the london to brighton raillink - i actually remember my design really well and it won second prize (which again was the prize i really wanted) - a twindeck cassette tape player/radio which I still have lurking in a cupboard somewhere. The real comping bug came with an ipad win around dec 2011 i think.

    1. Ha! My wife has a similar tale when she filled her bingo card on holiday one year but insisted on having the line prize as she wanted the senorita doll so badly! Sometimes first prize just isn't the best prize! :D (And I'm old enough to remember when twin-tape decks were THE hottest thing!)

  2. I love your story by the way. My son randomly threw together a 3 line poem for a comp once and won a fab prize of seeing michael rosen's show at the science museum. And because they knew nothing of the signed book he was also supposed to get on the day, they wrote and apologised afterwards and sent him a mega-awesome remote control dragon! That was such a jammy win as he literally spend about a minute writing his poem.

    1. Wow! A signed book is cool, but as a kid, I can't imagine it coming anywhere near as cool as a dragon, remote controlled or otherwise. Got to be in it to win it! ;D