Is Skiing Skiving? Affiliate Marketing Jollies…

Skiing in Austria
In my ongoing quest enjoy life more I’ve come to realise affiliate jollies are vital research.

My latest jaunt was a week in Austria with Prezzybox organised by Barney Edwards. Barney is Zak “The Mighty Box” Edwards’ younger brother and shares the same “Joie de vivre” and easy going nature which immediately put us all at ease. I was chuffed to learn Gulshan, my roomie from last summer’s Barbados trip, was also coming along so we shared a room again and picked up the banter and drinking where we left off! It was also great to meet Luke, Ben (The Ginger Ninja) and Andy (The Machine) who keep us amused with CB radio chat.

The skiing and boarding worked out well because Barney and Luke were both good skiers, Gulshan and I signed ourselves into ski-school and Ben and Andy hung onto the slopes as best they could.

After my ski-trip to Whistler last year I knew I needed more lessons so ski-school was perfect for me and Gulshan and I joined an intermediate group and as we worked our way up the slopes our gang developed a great team spirit – it turned out most of us were staying at the same hotel, Hi to Helen and Pete, Andrea and Hennrik and top ski instructor Stefan.

By the fourth day we skied from the top to the bottom of the HartKaiser mountain on blue and red ski runs which was an achievement I’m really proud of but the highlight of the trip was stopping for lunch up a mountain at a tiny place run by an elderly couple who still cook traditional Austrian food on a wood fired stove right next to our table. I think we all really enjoyed the food, drink, each others company, ambiance and exhilarating (OK, scary) ski trip back to basecamp through whiteout conditions on the mountains.

As the feelgood factor wears off I think I’ve cracked a rib which is a souvenir I could have done without BUT I’ve just found out Barney broke his wrist on the trip so respect to him for carrying on – he’s hardcore! I suspect we’d both still do it all over again though so no complaints from me.

So What Have I Learnt About Affiliate Marketing From This Trip?

Affiliate jollies throw into sharp relief the difference between working from home and my working life in general. I always find sitting at my desk after affiliate trips and get2gethers a real struggle. I’m pretty sure it’s the routine rather than the tasks themselves and sitting at my desk does focus my mind so perhaps it’s a necessary evil – I’m still having an internal dialogue about it and I’d be interested to learn whether other affiliates can get by without a desk.

I’ve learnt I can run my business from a laptop in a bar with a beer in well under an hour a day. For a business that’s paid me a decent salary for years I’m still impressed by that. However affiliate marketing is a fast moving industry so to maintain a decent income going forwards it’s important to spend, at least, some of my “free time” working – doh!

Research and creative thinking are both things I’ve always done, paid or not, so from my perspective I’m just playing at work which means I don’t really have a life-work balance as such – there’s just life and striving to live it the way you want to live it.

I’ve proven to myself again that all I need is a laptop, an internet connection, something to play with – snowy mountains or waves preferred – and some company to share the experience with.

Living life the way you want to live it sounds a bit selfish on the face of it because we all have responsibilities and I’m mindful and content with mine but I do wonder where the person that owns a house full of possessions and craved all the latest gadgets went?

My “tai chi journey” is part of the answer. Tai Chi has improved my health and spiritual well being, it’s something I do together with my wife, Deb, and it’s given me the inspiration to take on new challenges, appreciate my family and friends and be open to new possibilities.

Several months on from the blog post where I talked about “letting small bad things happen” here’s an example which also ties in nicely with my “black box approach to affiliate marketing” blog post. Before I set off for Austria I turned off my last remaining Adwords campaign so I didn’t have to worry about site downtime while I was away and of course, me being me, I forgot to turn it on again until I had a site outage a few days ago and went to turn my Adwords off and they were already off. Great, I thought – I’d been meaning to black box experiment whether Adwords was adding anything to my profit margin but I couldn’t bring myself to turn them off for an extended period to find out.

The black box result is I’m leaving my PPC ads off – for now. I could analyse the stats and improve the campaign but black box me says put it on the back burner and if times get hard then will be the time to take another look at it.

I appreciate this laissez-faire approach wouldn’t be possible if I was starting my affiliate business today but for now I’m content to settle for a little less money, a little less hassle and have some built-in slack to fall back on.

So where next? I’m off body boarding the week Existem have organised their beach party which is bad planning but I am meeting up with the IWOOT guys later this month so the next affiliate jolly is just around the corner.

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How to Break the Research then Failure Cycle or …

Research then failure cycle… Joe’s Black Box Approach To Affiliate Marketing Success.

So there I was posting to Kirsty’s (excellent) blog mentioning my binge personality and how I try to ride my positive waves of enthusiasm and resist those pesky stat checking urges when I realised I’d made my own personal breakthrough in time management and that inspired me to put this blog post together.

Back in the day I was a product designer. Coming up with designs for complex products on demand for products we could never hope to fully understand is a creative process punctuated with dry spells and brain freeze. To work around problems I used to “black box” them which basically means leaving what goes on inside the box to take care of itself and moving onwards towards your final design.

I’ve just realised I’ve been using this same black box technique to work smarter as an affiliate, except the ultimate goal is to make more money in less time.

If you have to “think inside the box” get someone in to help – in affiliate marketing projects that could be a coder, graphic designer, SEO service, PR agency, etc. The benchmarks I use to gauge my success are the output from three black boxes:

  1. The PPC black box: How much I’ve spent on PPC (if any) in a month.
  2. The Commission black box: How much income I’ve made in the same period.
  3. The Bank account black box: The bottom line in the bank account.

So long as I’ve spent (a lot) less on PPC than I’ve earned in commission and the bank account shows a general upward trend that’s usually enough analysis for me so while I’m moving on with my global domination plan hopefully you’re all trying to work out the answer to affiliate marketing success (which, to save you wondering, is 42) buried deep inside those black boxes.

As Kirsty points out in her 13 Reasons You’ll Fail At Affiliate Marketing in 2009 blog post this is where many people fail.

I used to carefully research niches but using my black box approach, which appears to be the exact opposite approach to Smingle’s (also excellent) help and advice for newbies and people who need a kick up the backside in 2009 forum thread, I can get something online within minutes of coming up with a new idea without doing ANY research.

Sometimes it’s a blog or a simple website but so long as it’s live you can jump straight to measuring whether the idea works or not and come back to it on the next wave of enthusiasm – or not. As a wise man once said “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

Go On, Open The (Black) Box!

I remember being unemployed during the 80’s recession so it was easy for the credit crunch to infect my thinking and I’m prepared to admit there are times when more detail is useful.
I’ve opened the Bank account black box, analysed my outgoings, and cut costs.
I’ve also opened the PPC black box, chopping some PPC networks altogether, and reduced the cost per click and squeezed some extra traffic out of the same budget on others.
I’m still keeping the lid firmly shut on the Commission black box because I can be really anal about stats and I’ll get very cross if I start looking too closely in there!

Instead I’m going to keep my SAD symptoms at bay by pushing ahead with all my projects and coming up with new ideas – failure is not an option.

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Only Send Me Junk Mail From Now On!

I was having one of those days where whatever I started went wrong or led to three other things that needed doing more urgently so when Hannah Swift popped up on MSN asking why I hadn’t replied to her recent email about a bean bag I’d won courtesy of Bean Bag Bazaar and I had to confess it was just one more thing which went wrong – I hadn’t seen the email.

Like many affiliates I get hundreds of emails to multiple email accounts every day from networks, agencies, friends, ads, spam and other nasties. I use the excellent Mailwasher Pro (exclusive promotional code) to monitor email live on my mail servers which makes it easy to react in near real-time to any incoming mail needing urgent attention BUT only if I’m at my desk and on the case. When I’m out of the office or not paying attention and I run a send/receive/delete email cycle without checking for urgent emails first everything ends up in Outlook where mail rules organise them neatly into black holes and hyperspace folders containing in excess of 35 THOUSAND unread emails.

The only way I can find emails in Outlook now is to do a google desktop search and frankly things are so bad I’m giving up on email.

I’ve been trying to improve my workflow and productivity and have been inching ever-closer to a paperless office. As part of that process I’ve been using online services like Google Apps, Evernote and Mobile Me so I can work online anywhere and still have access to my resources from anywhere on a laptop – which in itself is part of a longer term plan to be entirely mobile at around the same time my kids all leave home.

Tim Ferriss’ inspirational blog includes a similar tale of email woe. Tim’s solution is to “accept that small bad things will happen” and not to worry about it. That’s certainly an interesting approach but what about the small good things? If two wrongs don’t make a right surely ignoring bad emails risks the wrath of the karma gods and the good emails will dry up too?

So my new cunning plan is to tell everyone NOT to send me important emails any more which just leaves unimportant emails and spam which I can safely ignore – tada!

I must admit I’m feeling quite pleased with myself so please don’t go picking holes in my plan.

Getting rid of email is just the latest in a long line of hermit-like strategies I’ve deployed to free up more “me time.” My fax machine ran out of paper years ago so I put it in the loft, feel free to try and communicate with it if you like.

The telephone is another comms device I’ve mentally consigned to history. I do still have one, but I generally don’t answer it unless I know who’s calling (of course I have caller ID enabled and an answerphone) and I do sometimes have a weak moment listening to anyone brave enough to leave an answerphone message and pick up but it’s usually just to abuse and taunt hapless callers.

The answerphone message relayed by digital Dorothy says I’ll get back to you but she’s telling porkies. After several attempts at recording my own message inviting people to leave a message I decided she/it strikes just the right blend of FOAD I was looking for.

If you REALLY need to tell me to do something or NOT to do something I’d like to encourage you to chat with me by MSN, it’s immediate, I usually reply if I’m about or later when I have time – it’s a virtual post-it slapped on my monitor so there’s no better way to grab my attention. MSN also keeps a record of conversations so there’s every opportunity to incriminate or contradict yourself and my blackmail folder is growing steadily! My MSN address is joe(at)cantbarsed.com.

I also like to communicate sporadically on the a4u forum where I post as renegade, on Twitter and on Facebook so there are still plenty of ways to get hold of me pretty much anytime.

I believe Howard Hughes became a recluse suffering from OCD after accumulating his millions so now I’m washing my hands even more often and restricting myself to virtual human contact it’s surely only a matter of time before I accumulate some millions too?

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CSS – Oh No I’ve Got Can’t Shop Syndrome!

Looking after mega shopping directory (CantBarsed.com) and monster discount codes website (DiscountCodes.tv) means I always know which stores are holding Events, Mega days and Spectaculars and where to look for pretty much anything from LCD TVs to pants – which is how I feel about online shopping at the moment!

Even my wife consults me for shopping advice – that’s just WRONG! I’m suffering shoppers burnout and there’s still another couple of juicy shopping weeks to go before I can get off to sleep without seeing my christmas list, promo codes and catwalk models wearing lingerie before my eyes – oops did I write that last bit out loud?

CSS, aggrevated by post traumatic shopping stress disorder, has rendered me incapable of making a purchasing decision – even after doing my due diligence comparison shopping on my own sites, and Froogle, and BillyBargain (shameless plug) when I get to the store checkout I come over all rabbity-headlighty when I see that field where you can enter a promotional code or discount voucher.

Yeah, I know it’s my business to know all about codes but even when I’m sure there isn’t a code I can’t bring myself to complete the purchase so I waste hours looking around other code sites and forums just to make sure I haven’t missed the bargain shopping saving opportunity of the century and the end result is another abandoned basket, yep, I’ve definitely got CSS.

Then there’s trigger levels. It all seems innocent enough with teasers like “get an extra 10% discount when spending over £50” so there I am working out whether to split my order into two, maybe across 2 or more stores, and before you know it I’ve got half a dozen store checkouts open and another bunch of abadoned baskets and every day is one less shopping day and if I don’t get help soon I’m going to have to head into town and shop in person!

I could start a victim support group “CantBarsed to Research All Purchases”, CRAP for short. Then when I get to the checkout and think “Oh CRAP” I’ll know who to call. CRAP advocates an alternative take on the IAB best practice:

When there really, really, really isn’t a promo code, freebie or deal just plainly state:

There are NO codes today. Don’t waste your time looking elsewhere. Don’t Worry, Be happy!

The CantBarsed Affiliate Marketing Lifestyle Experiment…

lifestyle experimentI’ve been around the UK affiliate marketing industry since the early days and there are so many great things about the industry every now and then I take time out to have a look around and see what other affiliates are up to and to remind myself not to take anything for granted because standing still really is going backwards in this industry.

Learning new stuff and trying out new ways of making money are two of my favourite things and two of the most important qualities anyone interested in making a living from affiliate marketing will need along with determination – lots of determination.

It’s not easy to think outside the box, especially on demand, but my background as a product designer means I’m adept at coming up with alternative ways of achieving the same result and when I suffer from designers block I buy other websites and take a look under the bonnet which gives me an insight into someone else’s mindset. Because they’re selling up there’s every chance it turns out to be a cul-de-sac but nevertheless it’s always fascinating.

My fascination with websites extends to domain names and I’m always on the lookout for new domains to support existing projects and inspire new ones so feel free to pitch yours to to me!

I’m not a domainer but I can spot a good deal when I see one. I recently enquired about a domain which the current owner thinks is worth a lot more than I do – nothing new there if you read my earlier post about domain name haggling. I asked one of my favourite web developers with domain name expertise Paul Lasikiewicz for his opinion and he reckoned the asking price was about double what I felt the domain was worth. The owner isn’t budging so I’m content to let the credit crunch bite and have another go later. Learning to play the long game is another essential skill affiliate marketeers need to learn.

Affiliate Marketing feels like a game of Monopoly to me. On the roll of the dice (my google rankings) I cruise the board buying web properties which I develop adding houses and hotels on them in the hope that people will eventually land on them I and make money.

I got chatting with Paul (this means typing in MSN in JoeSpeak) and it turned out he has been busily developing his own web properties including a nice discount code related domain Discount.org.uk and we struck a deal and now I have another code site to look after – it’s good to type!

I tend to look for domains with two keywords or something catchy that’s brandable and I’ve never been a fan of generic domains. I also hadn’t really considered org.uk domains as worthwhile properties until that purchase but Paul explained the site could rank well for searches like “[retailer] discount” and “discount for [retailer] and I can see his point so I learned another important affiliate marketing skill – listen to what other people have to say and adapt to prosper and stay in the game. I’ve since registered a few org.uk domains including billybargains.org.uk, renegade.org.uk etc.

We chatted about SEO and I realised not being a domainer isn’t my only lack of expertise – I’m no SEO expert either! It just goes to show that however much you learn about affiliate marketing (and I’ve learnt a helluva lot) you must never stop learning. I make a decent living as a jack of all trades but the challenge is to do even better. I love being my own boss, I get to choose when I work and I’m a tough taskmaster.

My conversations with Paul really inspired me and I’m working on new projects and looking forward to battling with my fellow affiliates for those top slots on all the search engines.

It’s the a4u Expo this week so I’ve been working flat out to get things done before my head explodes to free up some headspace for new stuff at the Expo sessions. I’ve already picked the sessions I want to attend and have added them to Evernote so I can read or change my itinerary from any machine or my beloved iPhone. It all depends how quickly my cold clears up, how much beer I drink and whether I’ll be able to get in or stay awake to all those sessions! I managed to soak up some useful stuff last year without any planning or effort, doffs hat to Mr Lee Mccoy, so my plan is to be just a little bit more professional this year.

For starters I’ve got some shiny new business cards to give out, assuming I remember to carry them with me, and the in/famous cantBarsed booby lady remains a key feature – after seeing her traded for poker chips at a previous a4u event I know she has legs! However, in my quest for professionalism on these overly PC times I’ve cut up some post-its and censored the sensitive areas by hand so peel to reveal or not – the choice is yours! I’ll cover them with a scratch panel next time. If you do see me wandering the Expo or asleep in the sessions do say Hi and ask me for a card.

Affiliate marketing CantBarsed style really does suit me and, like the best experiments, it’s much more exciting when you don’t know the final outcome.

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Affiliates to Give 200% Cashback to Charity

Affiliates Give Cashback to Charity
If that got your attention perhaps you’ll also be snagged by a new breed of spam emails featuring incredulous and witty subject lines. I’ll admit I was enjoying this spam and I was a bit disappointed when they dried up as spam filters around the world sussed the format so for posterity here’s a few highlights:

  • NASA to use Space Shuttles to kill birds
  • Switzerland To Be Devoured By Black Hole (one for James Avery there)
  • Home Office to deport anyone with IQ below 100
  • ICAN To Shut Down Email Services World Wide
  • Obama Captures Osama
  • Mccain vows to withdraw all troops from the US
  • Paris Hilton to operate new atom smasher
  • Paris Hilton’s Vagina Bites Penguin

A different email spammer is sending out more believable subject lines which just don’t have the same appeal:

  • Ronaldo leaves Man Utd
  • Cancer cure from American plant
  • UFO sighting in downtown NY
  • Steve Jobs to resign from Apple
  • London Olympics cancelled

…and so on
It really goes to show the importance of your email subject lines and for affiliates sending out newsletters there are lessons to be learnt.
I filter my incoming mail by subject line into folders and when I send out my weekly newsletters I always start each email with “CantBarsed.com” to make it easy for my newsletter subscribers to do the same and now I’m wondering if I would get a better open rate if I mixed up the subject line so it wasn’t so easily filtered or maybe that would just annoy my subscribers?

Witty one line comments welcomed 😉

Is Less More?

Is less more?Salesperson: “Hello Sir, Mobile XYZ here phoning about your mobile phone contract, we…”
Me: “It’s an iPhone.”
Salesperson: “That’s lovely sir, anyway about your mobile…”
Me: “They’re exclusively with O2, you’re wasting your time… and mine.”
Salesperson: “…”

It’s happened twice already.

In my vision of an Apple inspired future I hadn’t foreseen the welcome side-effect of the demise of mobile phone contract parasites (or that being scewed by O2 would have an upside) and it got me wondering what else in our lives would be better if we had less choice?

Do we really need to choose which company sends us a bill for our electricity, gas, water etc? If comrade Stalin-Brown nationalised the lot again we’d have less choice but we’d all pay exactly the same and we wouldn’t have to endure those pesky comparison website TV adverts.

Do we really need so many separate remote controls with myriad buttons we’ll never use? I don’t. Apple’s remote control is an marvel of self-restraint which everyone can use without a manual, it just works. There’s even an Apple iPhone App(lication) which lets me control iTunes from anywhere in the house. All we need now is some smarty pants to come up with a box of tricks which let’s me control everything from my iPhone and I can throw all my remote controls away – I see there’s already a company working on this, but I’d rather Apple took charge and did the job properly.

Less is more was always my favourite design philosophy but it hadn’t occurred to me having less choice might also be a good thing. I’m certainly losing brain cells quicker than I’m making new ones these days so working smarter is good but working simpler is where it’s at.

Given a free choice I choose less choice.

Apple iPhone iOS 2.0 Updated At Last

Apple iPhone iOS 2.0After my earlier rant I finally managed to upgrade my iPhone to iOS 2.0 at around 8pm Friday evening.
It wasn’t a good user experience and days later the MobileMe service is still a bit clunky so it’s hard to get a handle on how useful it will be to me.
I’ve just discovered there’s now a Windows MobileMe control panel to set sync preferences and now my email, contacts and calendars on iPhone, Mac and PC are all in sync which is cool.
I’ve just spent some time in my happy place (new tech toys to play with) browsing around the new Apple Apps Store downloading and playing with some of the excellent Apps.
Here’s my first thoughts:

The Facbook App The original web app was great and although this app doesn’t really offer anything new it feels more seamless and it’s cool to instant message with other online Facebook users.

Apple iPhone 2Shazam Load this up and play any piece of music and in around 15 seconds it’ll tell you the track, the artist along with links to YouTube videos and more – perfect for setting arguments and combating brain freeze. The only downside is this is a time limited version – so how much they want for it will decide whether it remains on my iPhone.

Remote Control your Apple TV and iTunes music libraries from your iPhone. It’s free and works really well but I also want to be able to play the music on my iPhone via remote speakers. There’s also a remote control web app which replicates the Apple remote features and I’d like to see these two remotes combined into one killer app.

Twittelator Twitter on the move from your iPhone and it will also update your Facebook status (if you have this set this up in your Twitter account preferences).
In addition to posting twitters you can add photos from your camera roll or take a snap. There’s a “panic” feature which posts your location along with a shout for help which is bound to save someone’s life before long.
There’s also Twitterific which is available as a free ad sponsored version or a premium version costing £5.99 which removes the ads but Twittelator gets the job done for free so I’m not sure there’s a future for a paid version.

Shanghai Mahjong I’m not into console games but I do have a weakness for Mahjong when I need to chill for half an hour. There are already 6 different Mahjong apps on the Apps store priced from £0.59 to £5.99 so I plumped for this version from MobileAge which cost me £2.99 and it’s an excellent implementation with some great features and a wide range of tile designs and backgrounds. I do need a zoom feature for this app because my eyes soon became tired of staring at tiny tiles.

iPhone Stuck In Hyperspace!

iphone stuck in hyperspaceThe problem with being right about the popularity of the new iPhone is I didn’t get one and now my 1st generation iPhone is useless too!

For me the trouble started with Apple’s decision not to sell the new iPhone online and I buy all my Apple gear from the UK Apple Store online and I didn’t want to queue at a shop for their PR benefit.

Then O2 sent me an text message upgrade invitation, excellent I thought, I can still upgrade online and get an iPhone delivered to my door this Friday morning.

Then the O2 website broke due to overwhelming demand (event though O2 had been testing their servers all week to cope with a 250% increase in demand).

By the time I managed to get a working website the O2 online store had sold out and I decided to wait and have a play with the new 2.0 iPhone software on my 1st generation iPhone since I do most of my browsing via WiFi at home the 3G and SatNav features are not top of my priority list.

So I kept trying to download the new software via iTunes and eventually managed to download it mid-afternoon only to find after backing up and restoring my iPhone that the iTunes upgrade activation servers are down so now even my existing iPhone is stuck in Hyperspace.

Way to go Apple to piss off one of your most loyal customers.

Barbados – Message In A Bottle

Barbados message in a bottle
I had several other working titles for this blog post:

“Barbados – The Pleasure & The Pain”
Pleasure because it really was a pleasure to spend time in the company of some of the nicest people around the affiliate marketing scene, some I’d known for years like Pete, Lee, Chris, Ian, Keith, J Lil with apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten and new friends Gulshan (my roomie), Nic, Meisha, Neil, Tom, Aldo, Elizabeth, Naomi, Hannah, James Avery, Mike, Sinéad, Siri, Ben, Sarah(s), Mark and quite a few others whose names I can’t spell until you get in touch with me. I think we’re all agreed Barbados is a beautiful island and it was a pleasure to explore and interact with the locals who are generally chilled, mild mannered, intelligent, respectful and delightful people.

Pain because I managed to badly sunburn myself the first afternoon. In my enthusiasm to go body boarding, one of my favourite things to do wherever I go in the world, I picked up some waterproof SPF50 lotion slapped it on all over but it clearly didn’t work as advertised because I ended up bright red for the rest of the week and now my skin looks like a contour map of the island! And there were the hangovers!

“Barbados – Mixing Business With Pleasure”
I can’t imagine any better way for a network to switch me on to their message than jetting me off to Barbados and Affiliate Future have evolved this winning formula over several years which works remarkably smoothly. There were no formal presentations, no hard sell, just plenty of suggested outings and things we might like to participate in. The only onslaught is alcohol which, as an affiliate, is beer off a ducks back. AlcOClock usually kicked off after breakfast with a poolside bottle of Banks, the local lager, followed by Rum & Cokes (Barbados is famous for Mount Gay Rum which has to be the smoothest rum in the world) leading inexorably to Happy Hour and strawberry Dacaries before heading out for the evening – and we had some great evenings.

My highlights of the week were:
Scuba diving: I was really nervous about scuba diving, I’m comfortable in the sea hanging off my body board but trusting technology to help me breath underwater is huge leap of faith and thanks to Andrew at Eco Dive and Frostie for making that leap a little less scary. We dived down to a shipwreck at around 15m and I also saw a sea turtle, octopus, shoals of fish, all in all a fantastic first experience and I can’t imagine a better place for a first dive.

Touring the island in a Suzuki Jeep: We hired a bunch of vehicles and headed off to explore Barbados which is just 166 square miles (by my reckoning about the same size as the Isle of Wight) which means you can get around the entire country in a day! We headed off to a silver sanded beach up the west coast, stopped for lunch at an excellent restaurant, then headed up to the Flower Caves situated at the most northerly point on the island before making a mad dash down to Crane Beach on the Atlantic coast where we arrived at dusk. Don’t ever follow Lee, or try to overtake him, which left me in an awkward catch 22 situation as he made an unorthodox maneuver just as a bunch of local schoolchildren started to cross the road off to my right. Ian shouted “KIDS IN THE ROAD” so I slammed on the brakes and stopped just a few feet away from half a dozen of them as Lee hurtled past in the opposite direction. Neither the kids nor Lee (aka “Team Fun”) seemed in the least bit concerned so we put the episode behind us and we had our very own catchphrase for the rest of the island tour.

Bodyboarding on Crane Beach: We organised a gang in a local Taxi for an afternoon of boarding therapy. The waves were very messy with no opportunity to do anything other than hang onto them and ride straight up the beach or get wiped out. These waves were really mean – I got dumped unexpectedly more times here than anywhere else and I ended up banging my head on the bottom for my troubles – not the best place for beginners to learn but I had a fab time.

Karaoke: In the spirit of doing something outside my comfort zone I ended up singing Karaoke in the hotel bar. I joined in with James Avery, Ian and Lee for an interesting variation on “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and after a succession of Mancunian anthems I roped in Ian, Tom and Lee for my choice of “Puff The Magic Dragon” and by the end of the evening there was incriminating video evidence on most of us.

Fish at Oistins: Great food after dark on the beach mixed with lively music and great company is my recipe for happiness and the Marlin and macaroni pie was the best food I ate on the island. I had planned to do a bit of shopping but I think it was Nic that put a stop to that with a bottle of Mount Gay rum and we started on Rum & Cokes. As I’ve grown older I haven’t really got any wiser and that evening I went for it. I don’t remember travelling back to the hotel, I do remember having a fab time in the hotel bar with Nic, Neil, Ian, Kieth, Tom, Sinéad, Chris, Sarah and Ben – who went to bed early and consuming a brain shrinking quantity of Rum & Cokes. I don’t remember eating street meat and I don’t remember how I ended up in bed face down with my clothes still on but it was a great night.

I also enjoyed a couple of drinking sessions at The Ship Inn and a Bajan evening at Harbour Lights where the “young bloods” of the gang really made a lasting impression – one I’m still trying to forget!

Anyway, I settled on “Message In A Bottle” partly because my blog posts have a running theme of song titles and I can imagine sitting on a secluded beach somewhere spamming the oceans with messages in empty bottles of Banks:

“Please tell Deb to come and join me and give our kids the site logins so they can pay their way through university.”

“THANKS to Affiliate Future for stranding me on Barbados and rescuing me from my daily routine”