ETCETERA / Home Thoughts

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The Independent Culture
MAYBE IT'S the time of year - bleak, muddy, financially disastrous - that has brought on my current interest in competitions. My main hope so far has been the lavatory paper competition. You may not have noticed it, but it's the one run by the company that makes the soft, strong, very very expensive stuff. Apparently there are three rolls, just waiting to be found, that have special stickers on them. You have to unroll the paper - or use it all up - for the magic sticker to be revealed. If you get a sticker, you get your mortgage paid for ever (or pounds 80,000 in cash).

This is my idea of heaven. No more mortgage, no more fear and loathing. Unfortunately, I haven't found one of the three stickers. Nor have I found one of the lesser stickers, which entitle the winner to mortgage money for a year; nor even one of the really boring stickers, which are for a free roll of lavatory paper. Each time I get to the empty cardboard roll, I feel surprised by the absence of a sticker. One is surely meant for me?

I'm also quite interested in the cream cracker competition, though less convinced that I'll be a winner in this one. Five packets have a 'bullion note' worth pounds 25,000 tucked away inside. The appeal of both this competition and the lavatory paper one is that it depends on a stroke of fate - no skill, no talent, no endeavour is required. I've never been very keen on those tie-

breakers in magazine competitions: when you have to say in 25 words why a holiday to St Lucia would change your life, or why you deserve a de luxe dream pine kitchen.

I know a man who spends a day a week doing those kinds of competitions, and he's always winning things: a trip to Paris, a shiny new washing machine. But it sounds too much like a job to me, composing 25 words of genius week after week. I just want pure, magical, miraculous luck.

I think I was put off the tie-breakers by the WH Smith Win A Pony competition, which I did every year between the ages of six and 10. It didn't matter that we lived in a small flat in the middle of London. I wanted that pony. So every year, I dutifully named the correct breeds of the 10 ponies photographed in the entry form. I'm sure I got them right. I went to the library and looked them up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and so I knew which one was a Shetland and which was a New Forest pony. But then there was that bloody tie- breaker: explain in 25 words why you want a pony all of your very own. Of course I wanted a pony] Couldn't the judges tell?

I never won a pony, and I've lost my five premium bonds (which makes me fret, because how will I know if I've got a prize?) and I didn't even get a free flight to America when I bought a very expensive Hoover washing machine. But the lavatory paper - I just know there's a sticker waiting for me.