Sunday, 30 September 2018

Prize Unboxing September 2018

It's a personal best - the epickest unboxing video yet! Which is to say, epic in the sense of longest, as I've just broken the 15 minute barrier - you have been warned!

The unprecedented scale caused YouTube to blow a gasket, which explains the unusual thumbnail, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Be lucky!

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Tales of the midnight comper

Purchase necessary comps aren’t generally on my radar. Partly that’s because I can’t trust the grocery pickers at Tesco to put the right goods in my basket, and partly it’s because I refuse to pay for something that I have no intention of consuming. Case in point: I wouldn’t touch high-caffeine energy drinks if I was dying of thirst (I know, my body’s a temple, right?) so I’m hardly going to fill a trolley with them.

Sometimes, of course, such bloody mindedness serves only to spite myself. Consider, for example, the Walker’s Snap & Share comp from 2017. All I needed was one bag - one! - and I could have been off to watch Champions League football or playing Pro Evolution Soccer on one of the 500 PlayStation 4 consoles they were giving away. Instead, I just waited to womble a packet, by which time there was about a fortnight left to enter. Sure, I won an adidas football (and it was the best football I’ve ever won), but imagine if I’d pulled my pointlessly principled finger out?!

Here, I can only paraphrase Beverly Knight: what-ifs are for chumps. The only sensible thing to do is to thank Mr Walker for my ball and move on.

Moving on from what might have been is easy enough, but what might yet be is another matter. In this regard, I’ve had a change of heart. It’s not just that I’ve been spending so long on Instagram that I fancied a change, but also because there has recently been such a glut of prize-heavy instant win promotions that I’d have been an utter mug to turn my nose up.

The most obvious example is the recent Ribena Pick Your Own Gig promotion, through which my wife and I were blessed with more than a dozen bottles of Ribena and a few quids’ worth of Amazon vouchers. To be sure, I missed out on the biggies, but a score of soft drinks is always handy in summer.

I also found the Ribena comp to be a bunch more generous than the Lucozade Born to Move promotion, which I’ve entered religiously and won two prizes: one last year and one this year. I say “won” but the “free bottle of Lucozade” came in the form of a voucher that I had a fortnight to redeem and wasn’t accepted at any major supermarket. It also didn’t cover the full cost of the product, so for two years running it has cost me fourpence to purchase my prize. And I don’t even like Lucozade.

But that’s by the by. More important is the fact that I’m a terrible sleeper. At best, I’ll wake up some time around 3 am and then some time annoyingly close to my wife’s alarm going off, then again when the alarm actually goes off, and again when she actually gets out of bed. Come the weekend, the alarm clock gets put on ice for a couple of days so that the children can wake me up at a similar time instead. Weeknights, my wife will still be working by the time I go to bed, so the odds of me waking up when she turns in are pretty good too. On top of this, one of our children is currently midway through a season of wee-hour nosebleeds and bed-wetting through which it is unacceptable to sleep. And did I mention the gurgling of the radiators? Yeah, that too.

Now, when it comes to winning moment competitions, it’s often said that there are good times to enter, and there are bad. Bad is the peak time - daytime, especially lunchtime and other down times; good is when anyone in their right mind is asleep. And since sleep deprivation has contributed less than nowt to my comping, I figured it was about time for it to start pulling its weight. To this end, I decided to try small-hour comping.

For the first month or so, my success was limited to the Walkers/Pepsi Perfect Match promotion, from which I won a plastic bowl and a couple of tumblers, one of which had got smashed in the mail. To be sure, wins on this scale fall under the umbrella of tiny acorn rather than great oak; however (and more importantly), they also bear out the theory that moonlight comping can indeed bring grist to the mill.

But why settle for grist when there are bigger fish out there, just crying out to be fried? Fish by the name of Freddo’s Big Adventure and Dairylea Super Cool or Super Cheesy.

Why these two? Well, I’d like to say it was because of the prizes, but actually it was because the entry mechanic involved keying in a barcode rather than a unique code, so they required the smallest outlay.

Shining blue light into my face when I should have been KO took about a week to pay dividends: Freddo, bless him, chucked a couple of GoApe tickets my way, while the benevolently bonkers gods of Dairylea endowed me with a Polaroid instant print camera, which for some reason they classified as a cheesy prize, lumping it in with the karaoke kits and Dairylea onesies.

It's not cheesy - it's awesome!
For the absence of doubt, I mean no disrespect to Dairylea, but giving away 150 cameras on top of 100 Samsung tablets, 100 Bose speakers and 100 bikes is definitely bonkers. And - unlike with the Freddo or, for that matter, Foster’s Thirstiest Place on Earth comps - the Dairylea T&C don’t specify a limit on the number of times you can enter each day, meaning that sweat shops full of cheese-wielding comp-mongers are no doubt tapping away 24/7 in the hope of bagging a giant Jenga set.

Speaking of Foster’s, I also won a chiller disk at about 5 am today, so it looks like my bleary-eyed endeavour will be continuing a while longer.

Is that really wise, though? Wee-hour wins taste just as great as their daytime counterparts, but much like the house creaks so much louder at night, so too is the winning buzz amplified. Just try grabbing that shut-eye when you’re still high on that sweet dopamine-adrenaline combo!

The question then is what price a good night’s sleep? For a £150 camera, I’m happy to spend the next day as a crotchety growl-bag. The only thing is, in my twilight stupor I thought I’d won something else - a (genuinely cheesy) disposable camera. Not something that most people would toss and turn the rest of the night over. But then again, maybe people should take more pleasure from not being on the wrong side of a four-penny mugging.

Have you tried small-hours comping? How has it worked out for you? Let me know in the comments below!

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.