Tuesday 1 June 2010

Comping can change your life!

Today's post is from Duncan Nagle. Many years ago I won one of my first - and funniest - web competition prizes from him, a pair of remote controlled vibrating knickers. I'll hand over to him now for a moving story about how comping can change lives.

The year 2000 – the place London.

While many of the residents of the Big Smoke were chuckling about a wobbly bridge over the Thames, or the giant tent just down the road, I was face-down on the floor – not through some drink or drug-induced merriment, or even through being on the wrong end of a stout stick, simply through losing consciousness for “no apparent reason”.

“Just one of those things that happen” you would think – low blood-pressure, lack of sleep, stress; all of these could be contributory factors to my pavement-dive, and it was a one-off after all.

Except it wasn’t.

During the next couple of weeks these black-outs became more and more frequent; at work, on the tube, once in a public lavatory and at home. Being quite a large chap, who at the time had quite a small child I decided that “enough was enough” and that I should trouble the NHS.

The next couple of weeks were a whirlwind of seizures, doctor’s appointments and worry; I wasn’t able to go into work and the bills weren’t going to pay themselves. At least there was my daily fix of competition-entry to keep me sane.

Eventually I was directed to an eminent Neurologist who poked and prodded me for a bit before declaring “Hmm – it could be a brain tumour, could be a heart defect – could be something else. See you in a couple of months”. Comforting.

The day after this wonderfully reassuring appointment I received a phone call out of the blue which went something like this:

“Hi, is that Duncan?”

“It certainly is – who is this?”

“You recently entered a competition in Auto Express to win a selection of Sony goods and…” (At this point my sales-call synapses kicked in)

“Look, I’ll be honest, I’m not really looking to subscribe at this time, if that’s okay!”

“Oh no, this isn’t a sales call – YOU’VE WON.” (I believe there was an awkward and slightly embarrassed silence here on my part).

So the call continued; Sony had provided £2k’s worth of Mini Disc (remember them?) equipment, including a top-of-the-range In-Car unit. The problem being that I didn’t drive (and was in no fit state to drive in any case!). “Not a problem” said the friendly PR girl – “I’ll see what we can do!”

What she did changed the course of my life.

Later on the very same day I received a call from the same PR girl who announced with some glee that instead of the car stereo they would provide “one of those new DVD players”. Great, I thought – although I doubt it will ever replace video, it will be nice to have.

As this was happening it became apparent that my condition was more long-term than we had first thought, and the decision was made to sell-up and leave London and take advantage of the cheaper house prices across the rest of the country – specifically the area where my daughters’ mother grew up, near her parents. (My main worry when moving house was that any undelivered prize wouldn’t find its way to me; I was entering every DVD-related competition going and didn’t want to be robbed of a prize!).

In the space of a few months I had gone from being in charge of 130 staff, working all hours of the day, living in the capital and earning a fantastic wage to being “trapped” in the Midlands, with uncertainty abound – questions about health, work and money being at the fore, and answers not being forthcoming.

It was at this time that I had a brainwave; I had for a while owned and operated a website, I was able to work from home, and had a fair amount of time on my hands – why shouldn’t I review DVDs? Perhaps I could run some competitions, too – maybe just one or two to keep interest ticking over.

And that was what happened.

I emailed every PR Company, Film studio and DVD producer that I could find trying to scavenge review copies and competition prizes for what I imagined would be a small daily-entry affair, with mini-prizes mostly going to members of competitions newsgroups, and directories such as Loquax. I had created a monster.

Within 6 months I was running 50-odd competitions a month, all daily entry, and mostly with 3-5 winners of each prize – that would mean an average of 200 winners a month to draw, contact, get personal details, send out prizes, list – and that was before the next load of competitions were posted. Add missing prizes, dial-up internet, “hard-coded” websites (this was before the days of the blog) and a constant barrage of press releases via post, fax and email and it was a hard slog – I didn’t really have time to watch any of the DVDs or even enter comps and as such it was self-defeating. Being unconscious for a fair proportion of time also didn’t help matters.

As time went on I eventually scaled back running the competitions before abandoning them altogether – I was now running a shopping site which was bringing in a living wage and was far less hassle; not having to plan my life around making sure that I was at home on the 1st of every month was in itself a bonus.

Meanwhile I was living the life of a virtual recluse; not able to go anywhere on my own in case I were to pass out lead to little exercise, weight gain, and depression, meaning that I got to the point where I didn’t want to go out! I had at last, however, received a diagnosis – I was suffering from “Non-epileptic Vasovagal Syncope” – seizures that were unexplained.

This cycle carried on for a couple of years, and I entered (and indeed won) the occasional competition – an iPod from BT, an iMac, a plasma TV and World Cup party from MasterCard, £1000 to spend at John Lewis, several prizes from “Brainteaser” – the list went on. On a personal level though I was really unhappy – unhappy with myself and unhappy with my personal circumstances, but feeling unable to change them.

I don’t want to go into all the details, but eventually, enough was enough – I was in contact with a load of old friends via the medium of facebook and realised that I had to make a change to my life; during this period I learnt three valuable lessons:

  1. If you are unhappy, don’t just “put up with a situation” – you only have one life and need to live, not just exist. Happiness is a RIGHT, not something that is EARNED.

  2. Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, stay with someone “for the sake of the kids”. (Just make sure that you are there for the children if they ever need you).

  3. If you have a medical condition, don’t be defined by it – work it into your life wherever you can.

So I left the mortgage-free security of a large house, for a room rental in a place half a mile away (close enough to see my daughter 3 or 4 times a week). At this point I wasn’t entering many comps!

After a short time (amazingly short, some said at the time), I met the woman who was to be my wife; after feeling almost emotionally anesthetized for so many years I experienced love and indeed joy; okay, I was skint – but this was an emotional richness beyond anything I had ever known. (And still is!). Eventually we moved into another rental place (still within bussing distance of my daughter), settled with our three cats and I once again had time for entering competitions.

Well, the comping scene had changed slightly; where were the “No Purchase Necessary” entry routes? When did stamps get so expensive? What the hell is Twitter? Just how many text-entry competitions are there? Loquax was still there, but the old newsgroup had apparently turned into a bit of a ghost town and with so many more people entering, my chances of winning would be even slimmer than before.

Within a week of restarting I had won £500 worth of Virgin Vouchers from Jaffa Cakes; the old me would have thought “Maybe £400-450 on eBay”, but instead we booked several “experiences”, including a Balloon Flight and Aerial Extreme ropes course. Not something that would have entered my stratosphere of thought a mere 18 months beforehand, but something that will live with my wife and I forever.

The Gods of Comping continued to smile on us, and we won a digital camera from Appletiser – perfect for getting snaps of all the days out that we were having, for now I was living.

Nothing was safe from our roving photographic and video eye: music festivals, weekends away, theatre and comedy, plus – to celebrate our 1st Wedding Anniversary – the Cardiff Cheese Festival.

That’s right – a Festival of Cheese. In Cardiff.

In truth the visit to South Wales probably won’t go down as one of the best weekends we have ever spent together – it was cheesy, but just not festive enough, and all in all a bit of a rip-off. But it mattered not, for we had film; film that was fast filling up our facebook pages as people decided that myself and Karen “Should have a travel show”, and lead to me being described thus: “The unwanted child of Judith Chalmers and Charlie Brooker”. Which I take as a compliment.

Competitions aren't just about huddling over a PC..

With the seizures more under control, and in between going away, filming, uploading, spending as much time as possible with my daughter and trying to get some work done, I still found time for competitions – it was usually a quick look on Loquax at the “closing today” section and I only entered for prizes that I really wanted. When seeing one such prize listed my heart did a bit of a somersault:

“Win 12 holidays over 12 months and £20,000”

Now then, I thought, this seems like the sort of prize that I would really like to win – so I duly clicked through for a peek and discover the entry route and was confronted with magic words: “Upload a Video”

The competition entry involved sending a video (of no more than two minutes) reviewing something. Anything – a book, a holiday, shampoo – anything; as it was the last day for entry I cobbled together something from our CheeseFest and fired it away – surely I was too late to have any chance in any case?

Well, apparently I wasn’t! Out of over 3,000 entries a panel of judges made up of industry specialists have chosen me as one of the ten finalists, which is where you (if you are still reading at this point!) come in to it.

This is where it has the potential to all get a bit “X-Factor”, so I apologise if that is how I now come across, but the competition is now down to a straight popularity contest, and I need your votes!

I have until June 11th to get as many votes as possible from all quarters; I have so far been utterly stunned by the kindness of strangers – people have gone above and beyond the call of duty in getting their friends, family, workmates and people they haven’t seen for 30 years to vote for me, but as with all of these things, I need more.

As you can see from the run-down of the past decade of my life above, I am just a normal bloke; I’m not a singer, a dancer or a model and I don’t have a massive online entourage of followers to carry me through to the finish line, all I have is the general public. Some people would see this as a disadvantage, but not me – after all I am basing my entire campaign on the fact that you don’t have to be extraordinary to do the extraordinary.

If this seems like the sort of manifesto you could get on board with, or if you want comping to change my life twice, please, please vote for me using the link below – I hope that I have given a little bit of hope to some, entertainment to others, and maybe an excuse to “change a life” to even more. Thanks again!

To vote, please go to: http://www.lowcostholidaysbigsearch.com/Finalists/Profile/6 and click Vote – no registration, no long forms to fill in (you can also see the original Cardiff Video here).

There are also several other ways of staying in touch with how I am campaigning between now and 11th June:

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/voteduncan – if you are on Twitter, please follow and RT the voting link!

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vote-Duncan/122312404454658 – please join and invite all your friends to join and vote.

Blog: http://www.voteduncan.me.am/ – keep up to date with me as I campaign around the country!

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