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Free Love - the Adventures of a Prize Junkie
Jess Wynne

'Tired of pig races? Our act is unique, fresh …the porkers have been known to eagerly go after soccer balls 30 feet away and to hit “grand ham” home runs off the stage!’

The intention was to compare and contrast websites related to fiction but for reasons of my own (short attention span, shortage of cash) I decided to pleasantly surprise my editor with a, well stranger, take on the internet and what it offers.

And what does it offer I hear you all shouting in anticipation. Oh you didn’t say anything? God its those voices again and they said that the medication should be working by…um well anyway this should arouse your interest because I just spent valuable time trawling the internet searching for FREE stuff! Yes read on and you could win prizes!

Recently this has become a kind of compulsion. I must have been on the dole for too long or something; I will enter any competition to win anything – providing it doesn’t involve those tedious “make you actually think and do some research” type questions. I’m currently waiting to hear if I’ve won one of twenty-six holidays and, although probability calculations were never my forte, I’m positive that I’ll be leaving this country soon. I don’t care if I win the expedition in the rainforests of Brazil or the wine-tasting week in Bordeaux, as long as I leave this county, soon. So with the optimism of someone that is overdrawn by a grand and lives off credit but nevertheless plays the lottery, I threw myself into my mission.

Love is in the air – according to Hallmark anyway. So, I figure, there is bound to be a multitude of Valentine-themed competitions on the net. I go to, type in ‘valentine + competitions’, and the first thing that strikes me is pigs. Valentine’s performing pigs to be precise. A surprisingly well put together site with links to the endeavours of ‘Stage Hams’ such as ‘Nellie rolls right along’, ‘nose assault’ and ‘literate pig’. It’s unsurprisingly irrelevant. Only in America eh? I continue my search ignoring yahoo’s direction to sites informing me of crucial facts such as ‘next season not only is Felicity riding Valentines Dream in RDA dressage competitions but she is also taking her 14.2hh pony Thirkleby…’ This is getting silly I realise, I was envisioning fabulous prizes, weekends in Paris, hotel rooms with Jacuzzis and all that. Luckily Scotland arrives proffering gifts of chocolates, wine glasses and tights.

Ok I don’t want to give the impression that the Scottish are skinflints (certain members of our writing team might lynch me) but this is not entirely what I expected. Nevertheless, Cornwall is currently cold and miserable and a girl can never have too many pairs of tights – that’s ‘luxury hosiery’ to the good people at Scotland Online. I promptly entered all three competitions, which involved answering a question relating to each product. The answers were kindly incorporated in the descriptions of the prizes; this meant that after discovering the nature of the question, I had to click back to read a load of information that I had no interest in whatsoever. A clever marketing ploy but annoying nevertheless. On the whole, however, I liked this site. Its promise of ‘regular competitions’ will attract me back again and it also deals with all that searching for a roof over your head and earning a living stuff which, I suppose, is of equal importance. It would certainly be a useful site – if I lived in Scotland. It is easy to access, having an address that is memorable in its obviousness, and navigate with an unfussy design. The tasteful presentation was a relief after the pink garishness of the Texan pig site. The competitions were simple to access and, most importantly with my attention span in mind, quick to enter – none of that ‘you can’t submit until you have put in a four digit birth date’ frustration.

Moving on, I investigated ZDNet’s Valentine’s special. A good site for cynics with lots of links to articles debunking the occasion. It included a great ‘Romantic Quiz’ with questions and possible answers such as:

When you and your sweetheart fight…
 you try to fight fair, work things out, and not hold grudges.
 you seek online advice.
 you think, “What would Homer Simpson do?”
 you seek advice from Jerry Springer’s audience.

Love means…
 revealing intimacies that no one else will know.
 a joint tax return.
 whatever it says in the dictionary.
 at least twice the laundry load.

When I eagerly clicked on ‘prizes’ however I was directed back to Scotland Online. Disappointing but I did receive some enlightening advice on relationships from this site as a result of answering the quiz.

Tights, crocodile-hunting goody bags, a years supply of liquorice – after entering all these ludicrous competitions I needed a holiday. I wasn’t getting anywhere with the Valentine theme so I decided to widen my search. sounded perfect. It looked perfect. Well-written information on glorious locations, beautifully presented with enticing pictures and, to my delight, incredible holiday prizes. I clicked on a once in a lifetime trip to Egypt and waited. And waited. Went to other areas of the library, did research on other subjects, found some videos, came back, sat down and waited. Being somewhat of a technophobe or at least a techknownothing I can not be sure whether the slowness of this site is the fault of its creators or of Falmouth college’s IT department. Finally, twenty-five cat-related questions later I was ready to submit my details and get out of this site. Rather bizarrely for such a sophisticated set-up there was no way provided for me to do so. Obviously the BBC are on some sort of economy drive; fantasy prizes, impossible to win

The verdict? Best site to get something for nothing? – a site devoted to trawling the sites of a diverse range of businesses and services looking for prizes and freebies. Extremely easy to access and navigate, memorably presented, although obviously aimed at students and twenty-something’s, and humorous in content. A Syncfone (whatever that is), A DVD player (not really sure about this one either), £500, a week in the Algarve - all these things could be mine!

The moral of the story then, you can’t buy happiness but you can certainly attempt to win it. And if you’re still disillusioned with the joys of Valentine’s Day then the Internet offers plenty of opportunities to subvert the ‘soppier than thou’ genre. For £35 pay an online detective to track down you lover’s chatroom infidelities at - of course this is only a viable option if your partner is a computer nerd in which case why not dump him/her anyway. And why not do so online at Hackwriters. Is Valentine’s Day an annual reminder of your inadequacies as a partner? Then heed the advice of ZDNet’s Paul Tatara:

Interpersonal relationships are treacherous mind fields of hope and desire. Casual negotiation could leave your heart hopping around on one foot…laugh at his/her jokes as if you’ve been possessed by the spirit of a hyena. Bathe regularly.

If this doesn’t work then I’m sure there will be some weird Japanese website out there where you can win yourself a partner. Good luck.


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