Sunday, 30 January 2011

Keep fit with comping!

Have you ever had a "senior moment"? Yes, even if you are still in your twenties, I expect you get occasional lapses of memory, and common wisdom has it that as we get older they become more frequent. In fact one in ten people over 50 has memory problems, and as many as one in four over sixties shows signs of clinical dementia, which in some cases could be the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease.

When you have a forgetful spell, you may jokingly blame your "grey matter" - and you would be right to do so. The human brain weighs about 1.4kg (3lb) and is made up of nerve cells, or neurones (over 100 billion of them!) connected by pathways called synapses. The neurones are grey, and in a young adult make up about 40% of the brain, so it really is filled with "grey matter". But as you get older, the number of brain cells dwindles until they make up as little as 20% of the brain. So as you get older your grey matter, unlike your hair,  will become considerably less grey!

And yet we all know of people who are mentally alert well into old age. Mary Wesley didn't even start to write books until she was in her seventies, and the late Queen Mother was active in public life until well after her hundredth birthday. Is there anything we can do to improve our chances of avoiding the mental slide into senility?

The factors that cause senile memory decline are many and varied, but there is one thing that has been noted time and time again in studies. Whatever other factors were being tested, the people who showed least degeneration were the ones who were most mentally active. In other words, the brain needs to be exercised just like the rest of your body and the motto "use it or lose it" is vitally important. And we compers just love to flex our mental muscles. Puzzles, crosswords, searching for answers to questions, writing tiebreakers - our brains are always busy. Board and card games such as chess and bridge can also keep you mentally active, but researchers think that the very maximum benefit can be gained from using the language-related areas of the brain. So we compers are in the best position of all!

Much research has shown that exercising the brain regularly, in ways such as solving puzzles and creative writing (e.g. tiebreakers!), can help to slow down the degeneration in the brain, by preserving the links between the brain cells that would otherwise atrophy due to lack of use. Although older people have fewer brain cells, a well-preserved brain can use the links between the cells more efficiently, and one study has even suggested that regular intellectual activity can actually help new brain cells to form. And this doesn't just apply to elderly people - the brain starts to deteriorate long before we notice any problems, so it is important to keep it in trim throughout your life. A recent study showed that those who were mentally active in their forties and fifties were significantly less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's Disease in later life. But even those who only became active later in life showed significant benefits from it - it's never too late to start!

Mental exercise have also been shown many times to help to prevent and even cure depression, so once again comping can be a healthy activity. And on the subject of depression, there is some evidence that successfully completing a puzzle releases the hormone serotonin into the body. This helps to combat stress and depression - yet another benefit of being a comper!

Other chemicals are released into the body during concentrated mental activity too - research in Australia has found that the whole of the immune system can be boosted by doing puzzles and crosswords on a regular basis, helping to improve physical health and potentially adding several healthy years to a person's lifespan.

So, whether you are a couch potato or a gym bunny, don't forget your daily mental work out - one you can do in your comfiest armchair with a cup of tea beside you. Bliss! And remember, unlike your muscles, you can't strain your brain!

Please note that this information, although based on published research, is intended to be light-hearted should not be regarded as a substitute for proper medical advice.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Did you meet your partner in 1981?

Because if you did, you could win a year's supply of flowers - a bouquet every month for a year.

Flying Flowers  have 30 Red Rose bouquets to be won, with the best entry winning flowers for a year - but the competition is only open to people who met their partners in 1981.

If you fit the bill, email your  best romantic story to  - it could be about
  • how you met
  • your wedding day
  • how one of you proposed
  • your partner's romantic gestures over the years
.... in fact anything that makes the Flying Flowers team smile.

Make  sure your entry arrives by noon on February 4th.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Come to a Comping Day!

Some of you may remember   reading about the Derby comping  day last October

After  I wrote about it, several of you asked if there were any similar days coming up,and  I am pleased to be  able to bring you news of one. It's not until October - but don't put off applying for tickets as events like this sell out very quickly.

Compers Mentis are organising a Competition Day on Saturday, 1st October 2011, at

The Campus, Highlands Lane
Locking Castle
BS24 7DX

This is easily found, just off Junction 21 of the M5 with plenty of parking.

Lunch is included in the ticket price. Please let us know when sending for your ticket if you have any special dietary requirements. (Vegetarian, vegan or specific allergies).

There will be table comps, individual comps, raffle, postcard comp, charity raffle, and an entry form exchange amongst other things, as well as lots of fun, chat and laughter!

Everyone welcome.

Tickets are limited to 96 and cost £25.

These are now available.

Money raised will be split between Weston Hospicecare and Macmillan Cancer Support.

For more information and to get details of how to apply for tickets, search Faceboook for Compers Mentis or email queries to

Sunday, 23 January 2011

When numbers count


How often do we see, on Facebook or Twitter, somebody offering a prize to the  1,000th (or 500th, or 30,000th...... from now on I will use "N" to represent whatever number they have chosen) follower, and refer to this as  a competition?

Well, I have a message for anyone thinking of running such a competition - it is NOT a competition. It does not fit the legal definition of a competition. A competition must be either a free draw from among all entrants  (and ONE entrant, your Nth, doesn't make it valid!) or a test of skill and judgment.

And just imagine you have N minus 10 followers when you announce that you are giving a prize to the Nth follower. Anyone who was just about to follow you won't - they will watch and wait, hoping to jump in when you have N minus 1 followers.  You are almost certain to find that you lose followers too -  they will unfollow you in the hope of being able to jump back in at the vital moment.

So advertising a prize to your Nth follower is actually a good way to make your follower  count stay the same or even fall. You'll achieve exactly the opposite of what you sent out to do!

It is only natural to want to reward "milestone" followers - but to stop your numbers dropping, it is better not to mention this in advance at all. Just announce it after the event - say something like "Fred Bloggs was our Nth follower  so we have decided to treat them to a lovely surprise". That way you won't cause any friction among your fans  - and you won't get lots of people unfollowing you once your "competition" is over.  But do check the profile of the lucky person, just in case you happen to have been followed by a spam bot - there are a  lot of them about.

If you want to run a competition to get your follower count up, try offering to do a draw among all your fans when  you reach the magic number,  or on Twitter,  ask them to retweet a certain message and then do the draw when you have the right number.  Both of those will boost your fans - although remember, you have to keep them interested in what you have to say, sell or share if you  are going to keep all those fans!

Readers, I hope you will pass this onto anybody you see offering  "A prize to my Nth follower" competitions.


I've had several questions recently from people who have thought they should have won a prize on Twitter because somebody has said that the first, fifth, or however many retweeters would win. They have searched the phrase and seen they were in a winning position, yet when the winners were announced they weren't there, so they think that something dodgy is going  on.

Unfortunately, though, Twitter  isn't as straightforward as that.   You can only see the entries the  same way as the person running  the competition does if you are  actually logged into their Twitter account and using their set up. There  are  lots of different ways  of searching for tweets  and hashtags, and every one of them throws up different results in  a different order. I can have Tweet Deck, Snaptu and the Twitter web page open at the same time  and see messages arriving in three different orders. They might all be timestamped with  the  same  second, but the order they appear within that second differs according to how I look at it. So when a lot of entries arrive at once, the way the promoter gets them could be very different from the  way you get them.

Also if you are asked to retweet  something and you try to  look at the other retweets, you might not actually be able to see them all, especially those done with the RT button. And you don't know whether the promoter will be looking at the "Retweeted by" list, or their @ messages column.

So I'm afraid that all you can really tell if you try to count up where your entry came is whether you stand a chance of being among the early entries or have missed the boat completely.   You won't know whether you have actually won until the results are announced. After a few disappointments, I no longer try to work out whether I have won competitions of this kind  - I just stay hopeful until I see somebody else announced as the winner.

You may now be thinking "That means it isn't fair" - well, in a way it  isn't but as long as the promoter uses the same method of counting up every time, at least they are providing entrants to all their  competitions with a level playing field. It would  be far better if they drew from among all tweets sent in by a given time,  but the range  of different ways of running competitions on  Twitter is part of its appeal isn't it?

A final note for Twitter compers  - if a promoter says a prize will go to the Nth retweeter, or the Nth person to retweet a certain message, they really mean just that - the Nth DIFFERENT person. Retweeting the same message dozens  of times, as some  people have been doing recently, in the hope  of filling all the spaces on the list of N entrants won't work. You'll still only be on the list once - and if you're not careful you'll be  in Twitter jail  at the crucial moment!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Cupcakes and Champagne

As many of you know, when I'm not comping I'm  either cooking or crafting. So I was delighted to learn that I had won a "Cupcakes and Champagne" from Flora's Facebook page. I'm a terribly messy cook and can never  seem to apply my crafting skills to the things I cook - I hoped that this  day would show  me how.

We met at the Unilever building in Leatherhead, eight of us, all winners of the same competition. The day started with coffee and croissants then we moved in to the gleaming kitchen and the day started with Fiona, the Flora Mum, cooking up batches of three different cupcakes  - Lemon Meringue, Peanut Butter and Chocolate, and Earl Grey Tea (yes,  really!) with a cream cheese frosting.

Once we had seen how to make them, we could each choose one kind to make - I chose the Peanut Butter ones, then we  set to to make a batch each. Oh, how easy it is to cook when somebody has weighed and measured all your ingredients for you and prepared your equipment and baking tins! And they wash up after you  as well! I could get used to cooking like this very easily.

While our cakes cooked, Fiona showed us how to decorate them, with a gorgeous array of sprinkles and sparkles, powders and paints that reminded me very much of my  craft box. I hadn't realised there were so many gorgeous things you could buy to decorate cakes at home with.

We had a  lunch  of sandwiches and champagne  while our own cupcakes cooled, then we  were let loose on the decorations. It was inspiring to see  all  the different ideas people had, and everybody ended up with a dozen very impressive cakes.

The tips and hints we  picked up along the way were great, and  helped me to produce a batch of cakes I was very proud of.

You  can't see  all the lovely girly sparkly bits from  there, so here is a close up:

As well as  a dozen cakes to bring home,  we  were  given very generous goodie bags - stylish Cath Kidston shoppers packed with baking accessories and of course a tub of  Flora, and a  set of stacking cake tins to bring our creations  home in.

It had been a relaxing, informative and interesting day and I got home very happy. Imagine how much happier I felt a few minutes later when my husband told  me that he had taken a phone call for me while I was out and I needed to ring somebody back. The "somebody" told me that I have won a VIP weekend at Masterchef Live, which is in London this November, with two nights in a hotel and £500 to spend at the show, and best of all backstage passes to meet some of the chefs.

The "foodie" theme to my week continues tomorrow, when I am going to  a Masterclass with Atul Kochar at  his restaurant Benares. This time I didn't win it, but  the comping friend who did is taking me along as her guest.

And just  to cap off my foodie winning week, tonight's dinner is one of the ducks from the duck and game  hamper I won last week.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Seven things you might not know about me.

I've been tagged  by @superluckydi @chaoskay and @melspur so the first thing you need to know about me is

  1.  I'm always the person where the chain  letter stops. Even if I want to  pass on a letter, an email or in this case a tag, I can never think of anybody to pass it on to because either they've  already done it or I think they'll be in some way offended. So sorry, folks, but I  won't be passing this on. I don't know very many bloggers, and  those I do know have already been tagged or wouldn't want to be tagged.  Now on to the more interesting bits....
  2. I met my husband while he was teaching me to strip and clean a self loading rifle.  He was my weapon training instructor, and the way he handled his pull-through made my knees  tremble. Not a very sound basis for a relationship? Well, it's almost 37 years since we met and  our 34th wedding  anniversary this year so we must be doing something right.
  3. I used to teach English cookery to Gurkha ladies. Their very favourite  recipe was steamed jam sponge pudding. Why? Because back in Nepal, most of them don't have ovens,  just open fires  or gas rings. But once they'd learned how to make  a sponge pudding, they could serve up something very much like an English cake to their friends and impress  them with their knowledge of exotic foreign cooking!
  4. I have a silver Blue Peter  badge. Well, it's not very silver now - after almost 50 years, the silver ship has worn  off and all I have is the shield-shaped bit of blue plastic. But it's still one of my most treasured possessions.
  5. I collect celebrity chefs and cooks.  I've  met and  spoken to dozens of them, mostly as a result of comping. They are often asked to present prizes  in cookery competitions, or  host events finalists attend. It's getting easier to meet them without being a winner nowadays, thanks to the number of food shows there are around the country. But the patron saint of TV cooks still eludes me - I  have yet to meet Delia!
  6. I hate oysters. I know  this puts a blemish on my claim to be a serious foodie, but raw or cooked, to me oysters have the taste and texture of snot. Yes, even when they are served at The  Fat Duck. As for their aphrodisiac qualities, well, I'm not even prepared to think about that when my head is halfway down the toilet bowl.
  7. I have  an unfulfilled ambition.  When  I  was about 14, I had to write a school essay about my ambitions. Mine included going to Oxford  University. visiting Hong Kong, talking  part in a performance of Beethoven's choral symphony,  having some writing published and learning to play the double bass. So here I am, fortysomething years later, with a Physics degree from Oxford  (where  I joined a choir and performed the choral symphony). I lived in Hong  Kong for about seven years and most of my time is spent writing for publication in one way or another.  That just leaves the double bass.....

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Bringing the Comping Fairy back!

If you’ve ever had a winning streak you’ll know how exciting it can be. But being realistic, that doesn’t happen all that often and most compers go for weeks at a time winning little or even absolutely nothing. And when you first start comping, that first win sometimes seems to take forever to come.

A few years ago I was feeling very discouraged. For many months I’d won nothing more exciting than t-shirts and inflatable rugby players (remember those?) and if it hadn’t been for searching for competitions to put in Grape Vine every month, I might have been tempted to give up comping. But then, without my doing anything differently, I won FOUR holidays within the space of a week!

One of the joys of comping is the surprises it brings – and a winning streak is ALWAYS a surprise. Pay no attention to people who speak disparagingly of “Professional compers” as if you could make a regular income from it. Comping isn’t a profession and never can be – it’s a great hobby that can produce some wonderful bonuses. Bear that in mind when you are having a lean spell, and you will be able to continue enjoying the hobby even when Lady Luck seems to have forgotten your name.

If you are having a lean spell, make sure you keep in touch with your comping friends, either through your local comping club, an online forum, newsgroup or email group, Facebook, Twitter or a postal round robin. Keep up with all the comping gossip, swap news of new comps and share the joy with friends who are winning prizes. Sometimes the news of a friend winning something they really want is just as exciting as winning something yourself. Just staying in the loop can help you through a lean spell, but there area few things to help to persuade the Comping Fairy to start scattering her lucky dust in your direction again.

Try something different. There are so many kinds of competition around now, there must be SOMETHING you’ve not done. Send a text, visit a blog, make a video, invent a recipe – anything you’ve not tried before and is more challenging than just putting your name and address on a form, a postcard or a website.
Get the odds in your favour. Look out for competitions that aren’t likely to have many entries. Some blog competitions only get a handful of entries, and occasionally local papers get no entries at all! Keep your eyes open in local shopping malls, too. Sometimes a poorly positioned box to post entries in means that most shoppers will walk right past it. When entering online, competitions on big, well known websites or those listed on popular forums and portals will have several thousand entries, so the less well-known the website, the better your chances will be.
Make sure your entry counts. You may be winning less than you used to because you have got careless. Always double check that you have got any questions right, have obeyed any rules about the number of entries you are allowed, have included the correct qualifier where one is asked for and provided your details correctly – clearly and legibly for postal entries, and in the correct boxes for online ones.
Increase your output. I know we all have busy lives, but see if you can squeeze in an extra hour or two every week to devote just to comping. If necessary, write it in your diary and treat it as an important appointment. Tell the family you are not to be disturbed. And then use that time to settle down with your computer, your mobile phone or your pile of postcards and comp, comp, COMP. Don’t use the time to reorganise your desk, defrag your computer or sharpen your pencils, devote it entirely to comping.
Think positive! Stop saying to yourself “I’ve stopped winning, I’ll probably never win anything decent again.” Turn it round and say “I wonder when I’ll start to win again? And what will my next BIG win be?”

No winning streak lasts forever – and neither does any losing spell. You WILL start winning again, the only question is…… WHEN?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

When blocking works on Twitter - and when it doesn't!

Almost as soon as you open a Twitter  account, you will probably find you are being followed and/or tweeted by rather dubious looking people, spammers and robots that are just set to automatically follow you.  And as soon as you mention certain terms like spam, weight loss or followers, you may receive unsolicited tweets from complete strangers offering you solutions you don't want.

Why do they do it? Mostly because they hope that you will follow them back without even thinking about it.  Once you have done that,  they will unfollow you - but you have added to their follower count and so they are able to follow more and more people. Or more  unpleasantly, once you are following them, they can send you direct messages that could be full of adverts for things you would be MUCH happier not seeing- or could even contain links to hacking or virus infected sites.

We are all better off without these things, so the best thing to do is hit Twitter's "Block and report spam" button. If enough people do this, their account will  be closed (they will probably open a new account almost immediately but at least it will give you  the satisfaction of inconveniencing them!)

However another way a lot of compers use the "block" function on Twitter  is to block people who persistently retweet other compers' own entries. If you've  blocked people  for doing this - I have bad news for you.  Blocking somebody on Twitter is a one way thing.  You can no longer see their tweets - BUT THEY CAN SEE YOURS. They can't follow you any more, but they can visit your Twitter page, see  your tweets there,  and retweet them if they want to.  Because you can't see their tweets, you can't see any @ messages they send you and what's more, you can't see whether they are retweeting your messages. So if you block them, they can carry on happily retweeting your messages and you won't even know they are doing it!

Also if  they are angry with you for blocking them,  they may block you in return- and if  enough people do this, then Twitter could close your account in the same way it will close a spammer's account if they are blocked multiple times. So blocking other compers is not the answer. If you find somebody keeps retweeting your messages, one thing  that seems to explain  the  system to them is to  tweet them the following message, or something similar :

You  can't enter  a comp by RTing another comper's entry - it's like  posting somebody else's postcard.

And it is in a way- they are  sending the promoter YOUR tweet and YOUR username rather than their own. Just as if they'd picked up YOUR competition entry postcard  in the street and popped it in the post box.

Another aspect of blocking  I am often asked  is "How can I tell if somebody has blocked me on  Twitter?" There are some applications that claim to be able to tell you,  but approach these with extreme caution. Most have been found  to be "dodgy" in some way, by accessing  areas of  your account that should remain private or even putting malicious software on  to your computer. The only safe way to know whether somebody has blocked you is to try to follow them  using New Twitter. If you are blocked,  a message will flash across the very top of the screen telling you so.

But wouldn't it be useful if,  as well as the"following", "followers" and "listed" buttons on our Twitter home page, there  was also a "Blocked by" button? I'd like to know who has blocked me - and I'd like to see that info about other people when I'm deciding whether to follow  them.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Don't do as I do, do as I say....

I wonder how you all imagine MY comping?  After reading all the tips I give,  do you think  I am a model of efficiency, with all my comping organised, everything  entered methodically and in plenty time? Well  you are wrong! When it comes to my own comping, I am very bad indeed  at following my own advice.

Take today for instance. Among my post was what many compers call a "boomerang" postcard - one that had come back to the sender.  I was very angry - after all, I had followed all the advice  I would normally give to another  comper - turn the postcard through 90 degrees before writing your details,  then  make sure you put something below your  address so  the sorting machine doesn't read your postcode as the last thing on the card - so it seemed very unfair that my card had come back to me.

Then I turned the card over to see which competition my entry had been for. And I saw this:

Yes, I'd posted my entry with no address - and no stamp. I'm just lucky that I didn't get surcharged for an unstamped item of mail!

So remember,when you read advice  I give here: Don't do  as I do, do as I say!

Post (card!) Script

This is what I  mean by turning the card through 90 degrees. The back of your  card will look something like this.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Win a pair of running shoes - closing 14 Jan

Right now, my younger  daughter Fiona is training to run the Paris marathon. When  she and her husband visited  us for Christmas, while  the rest of us slobbed out on the  sofa, she was out running in the snow and ice - and she actually seemed to enjoy it!  I hope  you will all wish her the best of luck and  an injury free few  months, as this will  be her  first ever full  marathon. Here she is in a half marathon she ran in NewYork  last year.

The competition I am bringing  you today is aimed at people more like Fiona than like me! Equipio are offering a pair of Asics Gel-Nimbus  12 running shoes. To enter, go to and  submit a review of your choiceof running gear.

The competition closes at 5pm on January 14th and is open to UK residents only. Which is a pity for my daughter, as she lives in France!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Is this a genuine competition?

Wherever there are compers there will be scammers. I’ve already had my first timeshare call of 2011- have you? Seasoned compers soon learn to spot dodgy phone calls and those letters that promise you that you have won something that might (but almost certainly won’t) be wonderful….. if only you spend a small fortune on a phone call to find out what.

But with new ways of comping coming along all the time, the scammers have had to diversify. Recently several comps on Twitter and Facebook have turned out to be scams of various kinds. It can be very hard to tell a genuine comp from a hoax, so here are a few guidelines to look out for.

First of all, let me say that we compers need to be a bit more open minded about the competitions we enter on Twitter and Facebook than we are with more traditional ones. The law still applies to them – but a lot of them are run by individuals and small businesses who themselves are not aware of things like The Lotteries Act, the CAP guidelines and all the other legalese that surrounds competitions. They just want to interact with their customers, have a bit of fun, and hopefully attract some new business. And as long as everybody appreciates that, and the prizes ARE given away, then no harm is done. Think of it like the little old lady who runs the corner shop having a bit of a raffle to boost her profits- she really ought not to, according to the law- but it would be churlish to report her rather than popping in and buying a ticket.

However sometimes compers are deliberately misled into giving their support to an organisation that has no intention of giving away a prize. Why do they do this? Well, on Facebook the main reason is often to get you to sign up to an application which can then access all your personal information and possibly that of your friends too, and on Twitter it is to boost their number of followers as quickly as possible. In both cases, the end result is a nice big list of keen compers which they can sell over and over again to genuine – but possibly unwelcome – advertisers or possibly to spammers or more scammers. As long as they pay for the list, the seller won’t ask questions about how it is to be used.

How do you spot a scam?

On Facebook, if you have to sign up to an application, look at what it asks you to authorise it to do. It will usually ask to access your basic and profile information and may ask to post to your wall. If it asks for permission to do more than this, treat it with caution. And if it asks for a long list of permissions, run a mile!

On Twitter, first of all look at the Twitter profile of the promoter. There should be a link to the associated website – follow the link and look to see if it looks genuine. If there is no website, it may be a scam. Tweet them and ask them to send you a link – another sign of a genuine Twitter feed rather than a mechanised data-gathering system is if there is a real person around to reply to Tweets.

Then ask yourself if the prize matches the size of the organisation – if they have just a few hundred followers and are offering a prize worth hundreds of pounds, what’s in it for them? How can they justify the cost of the prize? Is it one of their own products, that they are looking to publicise? If so, it is probably genuine. But otherwise don’t be too surprised to find the competition fizzles out with either no winner being announced or the winner being an account that has only ever made a single tweet – their entry to that competition, leading you to suspect that it is another account set up by the promoter and was always going to win.

Is the promoter a “proper” business, promoting and selling products that they hope you will buy? If it is just called something like “Tweet and win” take a very close look at their website and try to work out where their money is coming from. There is no money to be made in just giving things away, they need to either be selling something, have a lot of advertising on the website or be collecting your data to sell on.

Is the prize going to be awarded when they get to a certain number of followers? If so, how realistic is it? I have seen a promoter on 100 followers say they were going to give away a prize when they reached 10,000 followers. That would be likely to take several years – are you prepared to wait that long? Whereas a promoter on 950 follower who runs a quick “Help us get to 1000” competition is being far more realistic.

Finally, is the prize an iPad? I’m sure I will get several comments from people saying they have won, and received, iPads from Twitter competitions, and indeed I know a few people who have won them, but a high proportion of the scam competitions that have been around on Twitter have offered them as prizes. After all, not only is an iPad a fashionable and attractive item, also the name doesn’t take up very many of your 140 characters - and on Twitter that is always an important consideration.