Friday 31 December 2010

2010 - how was it for you?

So, today is the last day of 2010. Are you waving goodbye to it with a sigh of relief, or a nostalgic look over your shoulder? I'll certainly be sorry to see the end of it and hope that 2011 is as happy for all of you  as 2010 has been for me.

In terms of comping, 2010 has been one of my best years yet, with some fantastic wins, the circulation of Grape Vine starting to pick up towards  pre-recession levels, the wonderful friendship and  support of my team of "elves" who help me to find all the competitions I bring you, and the company - both real and  virtual - of old  friends I have known for years through the London Competitors club and new friends I have made through Twitter and Facebook.

On a more personal note, it has been a year of travelling- as well as all my prize trips,  we have been to America twice for our younger daughter's weddings - the official one and the unofficial one  - as well as visiting her in France where she now lives.

So here is a brief run down of my year.....


Got off to a great start with a letter  from Blockbuster video to say I had won a holiday to Canada and a phone call from the Daily Telegraph to say I had won a 42" TV and a year's subscription to the top Sky package.  I also won a makeover from a top hairdresser; here is the finished result, one I never seem to be able to reproduce myself!

In February I won a weekend in London, thanks to a competition run on Twitter by Best Western.

March was the month of Fiona's "first" wedding, the official one at City Hall, New York. We spent a wonderful few days with them, and  you can see from the photo just how happy they are!

We hardly had time to unpack before heading off to Ireland for a cookery weekend which I won in a competition on  Irish Beef. We cooked several delicious dishes which have become part of our standard repertoire now - even though it was already so extensive that we seldom eat the same meal twice.

In April I had a prize day out - even though I didn't win it! My comping friend Sharon Buchalter won a day's cookery classes at Fishworks in Richmond but she wasn't able to travel down to this area before the voucher expired, so she gave me the voucher and I went along with my other daughter Emma. We had a brilliant day - at least, I think we did. There was rather more wine than fish involved, if I recall correctly!

 I won another weekend break in London in May - this time from the Emma Bridgewater website. The prize included vouchers to spend in the Emma Bridgewater shop and a suite at Durrant's Hotel. In the same week I won tickets for a play at the Old Vic so we  had entertainment provided too! Later in May I went to Champneys at Forest Mere for a day, thanks to a prize of £100 worth of Red Letter Day vouchers.

June was our Big Month - Fiona's "other wedding" with the first birthday of our granddaughter Lara the day before.  We had an early party for Lara  the week before, for all her family in England, then travelled to America, where the celebrations were to be held in a village in the foothills of the Catskill mountains.

Lara's  birthday was combined with the wedding "rehearsal" dinner, an evening  barbecue

And  the next day was the wedding itself, a huge happy occasion where we all danced well into the night.

July was a quieter month for the family, but I had a lovely win from a text competition on Coca-Cola- another 42" TV, this time with a Blu-Ray player, a set of surround sound speakers and a games console. It was a good month for gadgets as I also won a Wii and two Flip camcorders!

In August we went to visit the newlyweds who by now had left America and were settling into their new home in France - but only just in France,  across the border from Geneva. They are so close to the border that we sat on their balcony and watched a firework display on Lake Geneva! August was also the month that my husband took up blogging - you  can read his blog, about vegetable gardening and the food we love to cook and eat,  here

Our big holiday, the prize trip to Canada, was in September  - it included a breathtaking flight over Vancouver harbour in a sea plane and the spectacular ride up to Whistler on the Sea to Sky railway.

Another month, another holiday! In October I took my friend Rosemary with me on a blissful holiday to Turkey, which I had won from the Sunday Times "Where Was I?" competition. Rosemary had been living overseas, so the break gave us time to catch up on several years' worth of chat in idyllic surroundings.

No sooner was I home from Turkey than I set off to Mickleover in Derbyshire, to stay with Pam Crampton and visit the Derby comping day, where I met up with all my Elves.

November was a quieter month, but we still managed to get away for a few days. First of all an overnight stay close to the NEC, to visit the Good  Food Show with tickets I had won. For those who follow Gower Cottage Brownies on Twitter, here is Kate who makes those delicious creations!

Then we headed north to spend a few days with my mother, who lives near Wigan, and took her to Grasmere to visit the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden where a stone has been laid in memory of my father. Although the snow made the Lake District look beautiful, we were worried that we wouldn't be able to find the stone, but luckily it had been sheltered by some trees.

We haven't done any travelling at all in December - instead, everyone came to us for Christmas. And we could enjoy Christmas Dinner cooked in my new oven, thanks to a Twitter competition run by Stoves.

And now I can look forward to the New Year thanks to my wins from the last few weeks - I have a voucher  for a manicure from Cuticura's Facebook page, £100 of La Senza vouchers from their Advent Calendar competition and £100 worth of H&M vouchers from a competition they ran on Twitter  some while ago  - the vouchers got lost in the post and had to be reissued - so I can have a lovely day out of shopping and pampering. A hamper of £100 worth duck and game is being delivered next week, and  I have a voucher for a night in a hotel on the South coast - all from recent wins.

So while I'm looking  back fondly on  2010 I'm hoping that 2011 will be  great too - and I hope that it will be great for each and  every one of you.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Giving those Christmas Chestnuts a roasting!

Do you remember the days when almost every competition had to be entered by post, with a tiebreaker to be completed in an "apt and original" way? Well,as it's Christmas, I'm going to indulge in a little nostalgia and remind you of some of the phrases that won over  and over again. Hardly original, but they still appealed to the judges, so these old chestnuts kept coming  back year after year, especially at Christmas when  groaning over old jokes is practically compulsory!

So here we go,with a list of my all-time  favourite Christmas Crackers (I hasten to add, these are tiebreakers that have been published on winners lists, not my own entries....) with any product names replaced with a general purpose word like THIS or  IT

  • It's where Santa does his stocking up
  • Wise men know the way to star bargains
  • Prices don't go ding-dong merrily up high!
  • Stuff the turkey, hang the holly, Christmas with this would make me jolly
  • They never reign deer
  • Hark the herald angels sing, This at Christmas  - just the thing!
  • yule enjoy this at prices that won't sleigh you
  • there's a Dickens of a choice to even please Scrooge
  • only a turkey would  shop  elsewhere
  • stable prices  and star value make this the inn place to shop
  • wise men travel from  afar to discover this place's brightest star
  • Liquid assets, that's my reason, investment for the festive season
Can you remember any others?

Wishing you all a very  Merry Christmas and a happy, successful and WIN-derful New  Year

Photo credit
Image: m_bartosch /

Thursday 16 December 2010

Lovely new competitions for you!

The Grape Vine update went out yesterday, and as  so often happens, there has been a flurry of new competitions today!

First of all, if you eat at Pizza Hut  you will be given a gift envelope that GUARANTEES you a prize. There are 25 x family holiday to the USA, 50 x European family break, 10,000 x £20 gift card and over a million food and drink items to be won. But there is a catch - you must NOT open your envelope. You need to go back to Pizza Hut during January and give the sealed envelope to a member of  staff. If you have opened the envelope yourself, the prize becomes void. Yes, even if it is one of the top holiday prizes! Envelopes are being given out until 31 December.

While you are in Pizza Hut, pick up a copy of the  latest children's activity booklet, with a Narnia theme. It contains an entry form for a draw to win a Winter Wonderland Experience with a snow machine visiting your home, a choir singing to you and a Christmas dinner for six cooked and served to you. Yes, even if you take the prize in July! There are 5 digital cameras for runners  up. Although the form asks for your date of birth, there is no age restriction on entries.

Next up is a competition being run on Twitter by Tamba Internet   - there are daily prizes of items of Avon make up. All you need to do is follow them on Twitter and  retweet their daily  competition tweet - the one that reads "Drawn daily til 20/12: #Comp: #Win a selection of Avon stocking fillers. Tweet this: Play our game:  #loveAvon " You can do this simply by clicking on the word "Retweet" below the message on their Twitter page.

This is really a double whammy of a competition because if you follow the link in the message and play the  simple memory game on the Avon website, you will be entered into a draw to win a spa day for four, with one prize being won every week until the final closing date of 04 January. You may enter as often as you like.

And finally a competition that doesn't close until the end of January but you might want to start working on your entry as soon as possible. Autotrader have 10 prizes of £1,000  with one  of  thewinners also spending  a day as an Autotrader journalist to be won. To enter, you must submit a review of a car you have owned. You can find full details of the competition on the site - your review must be between 50 and  2250 characters long. You may submit as many reviews as you like, making sure they meet the guidelines given on the site. Remember they are looking for useful, helpful reviews, not competition tiebreakers! Closing 31 January.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Look after your Twitter account - don't be a jailbird!

Once you get hooked on using Twitter for comping, your account becomes vital to you, not only for entering competitions but for keeping in touch with the new  friends you will make there, so if the time comes that you are unable to use your account, you will understandably be upset. So here are some tips for keeping your account healthy and usable.

There are three ways your account can become unusable
  1. Twitter Jail this is a temporary suspension of your account, preventing you from Tweeting
  2. Not showing up in Twitter search you can still Tweet and your friends may be able to read your messages but if a company is searching for competition entries  yours won't show up
  3. Account suspended if this happens, you can't use your account at all, indefinitely,  and will need to either appeal to  Twitter or start a new  account.
So what happens in each case? What have you done to cause it and how can you prevent or cure it?

Twitter Jail

Twitter allows you to make a maximum of 1,000 Tweets in one day  (that's any 24 hour period, not midnight to midnight) with no more than 100 in any one hour. If you go  over this number, you will suddenly find that you can't Tweet any more, although you MAY still be able to send Direct Messages. You also have a limit of 250 DMs  a day - if you have exceeded this, you won't  be able to send anything at all. Not being able to Tweet is known as Twitter Jail and if you are lucky, will only last for  around  an hour but COULD last for up to 24 hours. While you are in jail, you will still receive Tweets and DMs as normal.

If you find  yourself in Twitter Jail, there is nothing you can do about it. Don't panic, just accept it.  Send your closest friends a direct message telling them  you can't Tweet, if you think they will be missing you, but don't ask them to start posting "Get out of jail" pleas for you. Not only will it not help, it might get them sent to jail for over tweeting too! The only thing you can do is to wait - once Twitter has decided that you have served your time, your account will be back to normal.

You may occasionally find yourself sent to Twitter Jail when you are sure you have not over tweeted. There are other things that Twitter considers to be misdemeanours, although we aren't always told what they are. Some people have been sent to jail for deleting a Tweet then posting an almost identical one.

As a comper, you need to be  very careful of competitions that ask you to post a Tweet or a hashtag as often as possible  - do it too often and you will soon exceed your Tweet allowance.

Something that happens more often - especially if you follow a lot of people - is that you exceed your "API allowance".  This is a rate set by Twitter, that sometimes varies if they are overloaded or having technical issues - connected to your total use over an hour.  When it happens, you will not  be able to send OR receive messages until the hour is up - but as  soon as  your hour is up, everything will be back to normal.  This isn't really Twitter Jail, just a normal occurrence, and if you use a Twitter client such as Tweet Deck, you can adjust the settings for how often you download messages and how  many you download  at once, to help make sure it happens as rarely as possible.

Not showing up in Twitter search

If Twitter starts to think you are a spammer - for the same reasons it may suspend your account (see below) - it may filter you out of the search results. This means, for instance, that if a competition asks you to Tweet a hashtag, and the winner is chosen by searching for that hashtag,  your entry won't show up. This  seems to be quite a common occurrence; in competitions I have run, I have often been puzzled to see that while somebody's entry showed up in my @ replies, it  wasn't listed among all the messages with the hashtag.

The trouble  is, it can be very hard to tell whether this is happening to you because your friends will still see your messages. You may suspect that it is happening if you are a regular winner then find you go for much longer than usual without a win - longer than a run of bad luck would  explain. You can try to check by searching for the hashtag of a competition you have recently entered. If your entry is there, then  you are safe. if it isn't, you can send Twitter a query here  under the "everything else" heading to ask whether you  are being filtered out and why. With luck, your account will be reset within a couple of days, but if you are unlucky I'm afraid you will need to open a new account.

Account Suspended

If this happens to you, there is  no going back - your account is closed for good and you will not be able to use it any more. Twitter does this to prevent abuse, identity theft and spamming, so we should all be very glad they do it, but unfortunately the way some competitions are run puts us all in danger of losing our accounts. There is a list here  of Twitter's rules. Breaking them occasionally can lead to you not showing up in Twitter search - serious or repeated breaking of the rules will lead to your account being closed.

So which of these are of most concern to compers?
  • being blocked by a lot of other people. If  your friends and family get annoyed by your comping tweets, they may block you. One way round this is to have two accounts, one for your non-comping friends  and one for competitions and comping friends. Also if you retweet other people's competition entries,  and don't stop it when they ask you to, they are very likely to block you,endangering not only your competition  entries but your entire Twitter account!
  • your updates consisting mostly of links and not personal updates. If you ONLY use your Twitter account for comping and don't interact with anybody, this could well happen to you. Why not interact with some of the other compers on Twitter? You are always welcome to say hello to me for a start!
  • you post multiple duplicate updates. In most cases you only need to enter a competition once. The T&C may let you post once an hour or once a day - check this. But entering over and over again won't help your chances of winning and might do a lot of damage to your account. Promoters who ask you to "tweet this as often as possible" are themselves breaking Twitter's rules for running a competition, as are those who make.....
  • you tweet hashtags in unrelated updates. If you tweet a hashtag, it MUST be connected  to the text of your tweet. If a competition asks you to tweet the tag  #winathon  and  you were  to tweet "I had baked beans for tea #winathon" then, unless the competition was about baked beans, you would be breaking the rules.
  • you have multiple  accounts and  post the same thing on each. You might think it's smart to have several accounts  with different names so you  can enter every competition several times  - but Twitter is watching!
If Twitter is considering closing  your account,  it may filter you out of search for a time while it investigates you. If it eventually decides to close your account, you will have no option but to start again, building up your list of friends  from scratch - so take care of your account and Tweet wisely!

If a promoter is running a competition that you feel puts you at risk  of breaking these rules,why not send them a link to the rules for running a competition on Twitter?

Friday 10 December 2010

Have yourself a winning little Christmas

You  may have noticed that I haven't posted much to the blog over the last couple  of weeks. That is because like most of you, I've been  rushing around trying to get ready for  Christmas. There is so much to do at this time of year that something has to go - and in many cases, that means less comping.

But for a keen comper, that can be a good  thing - as people cut down on their  comping time at this time of year, competitions tend to get fewer entries. The competition on the Grape Vine website has a ridiculously low number of entries so far this month! Online compers are concentrating on all the Advent Calendar competitions, so if you make an effort to enter ones that are NOT Advent or Christmas competitions, you will have a better chance than usual.

Check your local newspaper to see if they have any competitions. Entry numbers for local  papers are very often low, and sometimes  at this time of year they don't have enough entries to give all the prizes away. And look out in any shopping centres and malls you visit - most will have a Christmas competition and the majority of shoppers will ignore it in the frenzy of last-minute presernt buying.

Everyone needs a little me-time. The busier you are,  the more important it is to set some time aside for yourself, so  give yourself  a treat of some daily comping time to help to keep you sane! And hopefully to help you start the New Year with some unexpected treats.

Thank you to everyonewho has sent Christmas cards to me at Grape Vine. I would love to be able to  send  each and every  one of you  one  of my hand made cards, but there REALLY  isn't time for me tomake so many, so here is a photograph of one of my hand made cards instead.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Have you been bitten by the Advent bug?

I wonder how many of you will actually have time to read this post? December  is  a manic month for compers, with dozens  of websites running Advent Calendar or Twelve  Days  of Christmas competitions,  many of which have a new  prize to be won every day. And this year as well as the usual websites, the competitions are appearing on Facebook and Twitter too.

One  lovely competition I would like to give a special mention to is on the Visit London website which has prizes such as theatre tickets and restaurant meals - lovely treats for those of us  living within easy reach of London.

I'm not going to make  a list of Advent competitions here - there is a wonderfully comprehensive list   at Loquax  which tells you  whether you need to enter on a website or through Facebook or  Twitter.  And Superlucky Di had made a list divided up according to the type of prize on offer. Very useful if you are pushed for time and intend to only enter for the prizes you want to win most of all. And if you do start to feel overwhelmed by them  all, there is some very useful advice on the Loquax blog.

I'm not planning to enter very many this year, although a couple of snowbound days when I couldn't head out to hunt for new competitions for Grape Vine gave  me chance to look at them all and choose which I'm going to be trying to make time to  enter during the rest of  the month. But Advents  or not, I've had a super winning week. My  prizes have included

Two pairs of tickets to the Taste of Christmas exhibition from different web competitions
A  Stoves double oven-  this was from a competition on their Twitter feed and will be wonderful for all my Christmas  cooking
A selection of Christmas crafting goodies from Debbie Cripps
A £5 Love To Shop voucher from  Nivea
A £10 Amazon voucher
A CD of songs for babies
A box of chocolates
A rose facial oil
A pack of windscreen wipes
A lip gloss
A double presentation pack of stamps
A voucher for a £55 manicure  from Cuticura's Facebook page
A £25 voucher  from Spafiners' Facebook page
A nail polish from the Sainsburys Cadburys Bliss  text competition
and finally, a Donkey Kong  game. from the rather puzzling text/WAP competition I mentioned in my post "A Comper Goes to Basingstoke" 

Thursday 2 December 2010

An Arctic expedition?

Well, that's what it felt as if  it was going to be today when I woke up and the garden looked like this:

Now I'm the biggest baby in the world when it comes to driving in snow - but I knew that the December Grape Vines were at the printers ready to be collected this morning, so I had to grit my teeth and tackle the icy roads to collect them, then when they were  all  tucked into envelopes, get them to the Post Office.

So your magazines are all onthe way - but given the current weather conditions I don't know when they will reach you. We didn't have any post today - did you?