‘Mission Marcy’: Dogs have feelings too!

Scientific proof, as any good politician knows, is very helpful to any successful campaign.  How kind then of boffins in Hungary to make a scientific discovery about dogs’ emotions just as I’m campaigning for ‘Mission Marcy’?

Regular readers will know that my husband and I have a schnauzer named Hank.  Lee named him after a character from the TV show Californication.  He’d not been with us long when my husband floated the idea that maybe Hank should have a Marcy (another character from the series) to keep him company.  Well, of course, that light-hearted mention is all a girl needs.  Like a dog with a bone (excuse the pun) I took the idea of Marcy and wouldn’t let it go until persuasion had conjured her into a reality.

Conjuring up Marcy!

Conjuring up Marcy!

As if on cue, enter scientist Attila Andics.  For background – his team were so determined to prove their canine emotion theory, that they first had to spend time training eleven dogs to lie motionless in an MRI scanner long enough for them to be able to record their canine brain response.   That’s dedication for you.

What they wanted to show was that our furry friends have some kind of emotional response to vocal sounds.  They played noises to them ranging from barking and whining to crying and laughing.  Then they compared them to how a human reacts to the same sounds.  What they found was that doggy brains respond in vey similar ways to humans’ when they hear happy sounds or sad sounds.  The science boffins concluded that humans share a very similar social environment and claim it explains why vocal communication between the two species is so relevant.  In other words, (as we’ve always believed but never known for sure) dogs have feelings too!

Best buddies!

Best buddies!

Why is this so important to ‘Mission Marcy’?  Well, from being a cute squeaking bundle of puppy fluffiness, Hank fast progressed to adolescence.  His voice broke. And he become an enthusiastic vocal communicator when he felt the need.  One of his favourite one-sided conversations, which started recurring whenever we left him on his own at home, was the howl of a lone wolf.   Well, on my (loose!) interpretation of the scientific evidence, I think I can safely say that this was Hank telling us he didn’t want his ‘pack’ to leave him on his own.  Ok, it may be a little far-fetched to translate ‘dogs brains react to vocal sounds like humans’ as ‘dogs can talk’.  But it served my purpose perfectly.

 

Playtime!

Playtime!

So, thank you Attila Andics and your crew, we now have double schnauzer trouble!  Marcy has settled in nicely and Hank is her best buddy.  There are twice the number of odd socks being stolen from the wash basket, twice the beggars for dinner scraps… and, as for taking the pair of them for walks on their extending leads, well that mostly ends up as a bizarre canine twist on maypole dancing.

The Maypole Dance

But they make each other very happy.  They told me so themselves. 😉  Mission accomplished….

 

‘Tis the season to be merry. What makes your Christmas a tradition?

You can also read my blog in Cardiff Life magazine monthly.

With my October birthday, Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ night all duly celebrated, it’s finally time to look forward to Christmas.  I have made it my tradition to wait until December 1st before I allow myself to begin seasonal preparations.  This is no doubt why, each year, I am consumed by a panic of online ordering and lost in a clutter of wrapping, bows and gift cards whilst clambering on various furniture pinning mistletoe and balancing angels.

But, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without our traditions to uphold and too little time to organise them all would it?  And talking to my husband made me realise that the magical thing about everyone’s festivities is that we all celebrate with slightly different quirks.  Those unique customs that merge and evolve with every marriage created and each new family formed.

Merry Christmas! Our REAL tree.

Merry Christmas! Our REAL tree.

Here’s my top ten from growing up in the Benfield household – which I hope will have an influence on many a Byrne Christmas to come.  Some you will no doubt share, some you probably won’t! But that’s what makes them special:

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Pen to paper: letter writing in a digital age

You can also read my columns in Cardiff Life Magazine every month. 

Each year when the kids return to school in the autumn sporting the latest funky fashions in pencil cases, folders, pads and pens I am a just a little envious of their new stash.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to find when browsing Cardiff Life mag last month, a fab selection of fashionable stationary for us adults too (and slightly more sophisticated than Bob the Builder of course!).  A colourful double page spread dedicated to pretty post-its and pens, neon satchels and even a good old paperweight.  I was reassured to see that even in a digital revolution, there is still some care for the practice of putting pen to paper.

After all, it’s that time of year when we all start to consider whether or not to buy multiple boxes of generic seasonal greetings cards, spend several hours writing each one and then a little longer sticking down the envelopes.  Oh, and then there’s an evening or two leafing through the address book only to discover half of those we have in there, are out of date.  And so being forced to revert back to texts and emails just to make sure the festive lengths we’ve gone to aren’t just returned to sender.

For all the bother it might involve, I am actually a big fan of the annual Christmas card ‘faff’.  It’s precisely the fact that someone has gone to that bother that makes it special when it lands on your mat.   I’m an even bigger fan of people actually bothering to write something inside that amounts to more than just a sign-off.  And thank goodness I’m not alone.  A quick unscientific poll (via Twitter) suggests a good percentage of you are still slaves to the Christmas card effort and many of you go so far as to include a note as well – or perhaps my followers have all just bought shares in Royal Mail?

Either way, despite these Christmas exertions, the hand-written traditional letter is becoming a dying art at most other times of the year.  It’s a far cry from when I was a child and the international pen pal network thrived.  Whilst my bundles of mail may now be stuffed gathering dust in a drawer at my mum’s, I still find it comforting to know they’re there and form part of the record of my childhood.

Me & hubby: accustomed to long-distance love in a digital age.

Me & hubby: accustomed to long-distance love in a digital age.

These days, even when I found myself in a long distance marriage when my husband moved to play his club rugby in France, it was Skype, Watts App, text and email that became our communications of convenience, rather than cards and letters.  In fact, the last time I can remember writing him a letter was when I sneaked 3 envelopes in his kit as he left for the World Cup in New Zealand.  They came with instructions to read them as the tour progressed with the hope I might provide a little love, motivation and inspiration with my carefully scribed words.  Well, he found them at the airport and opened all of them on the flight out!  So, it’s fair to say perhaps not everyone shares my literary sentimentality…

Yours Sincerely

Mrs Andrea Byrne

Encs. Christmas greetings in advance!

 

 

 

 

Photo Finish! Why the ‘selfie’ is sending me back to the future.

(Remember you can find my column in Cardiff Life Magazine monthly too)

Warning! This blog contains the thoughts of a grumpy woman! At the risk of being labelled a luddite after previous rants on the pitfalls of smartphones, my new mobile moan is the selfie: ‘ A strange phenomenon, in which the photographer is also the subject of the photograph, usually conducted because the subject can’t locate a suitable photographer to take the photo, like a friend. ‘

Devotees of the selfie, many of whom are celebrities with millions of devotees themselves, have ensured this fad is now a fashion.  There are selfie competitions run by big mags, celebrity video guides to taking the perfect selfie and we have the selfie to thank for the belfie or the bottom selfie. Oh yes, it’s now in vogue to snap your own rear.  Really?  Wow.

No rears, I promise.  But for the purposes of research, I did feel obliged to snap a selfie or two just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on an unsurpassed sense of self-satisfaction.

'Selfie' experiment

‘Selfie’ experiment

The conclusion – I wasn’t.  Aside from anything else, I have to admit I’m just too vain to enjoy it!  By the time I’d got images I was happy with, I could have set up my own dark room.

Ah yes, those were surely the days!  Back when cameras clicked, flash bulbs burst and film actually got developed.  One famous documentary photographer Dorothea Lange once said of her art, ‘ Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion … the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.’  Well, love certainly plays it’s part in the selfie phenomenon. To be loved or ‘liked’, ‘shared’, and ‘followed’ is the aim of the game, of course.  Though I think Dorothea would be turning in her grave.

So, is the selfie ever acceptable? Perhaps, when it’s a selfie that’s not a selfie it is. In other words, if you want to capture a special moment with somebody else and there’s simply no one extra to take the picture then technically it’s not a selfie as it’s not just your self in it.  And there’s also dispensation for extreme circumstances.  For instance, if you’ve just skied solo across the Antarctic with not an insect, let alone a human, for company for hundreds of miles then indulging in a photo of yourself for the archives is permissible.  Indeed, history would not forgive you.

After all, when did photography start being more about self-adoration and less about capturing a moment, saving a memory and recording a history.  It’s time to breathe life back into the traditional album, before we click our way into a photographic narcissism.  But if, like me, your photos are destined to an eternity in your smartphone because thoughts of uploading, downloading, editing, and cropping push ‘Order prints’ to the bottom of your to-do list, then there is a compromise.  And it’s polaroid.  Yes, the new digital version of the iconic camera is a goal for the futurists and traditionalists.  It posts – and it prints instantly.  You can still always use your app to give your pic a ‘classic’ 70s hue or you can print it straight out and simply wait a few decades for it to age authentically!

 

New digital Polaroid! Back to the future....

New digital Polaroid! Back to the future….

 

For me, no selfie, belfie, or online snap can ever replace the nuances held in a photo album. They will never build the same relationships with family and friends as opening a dog-eared book and pouring over memories of a past to be remembered for the future.  So, however you decide to do it, make sure get your magical moments printed, mounted and archived to leaf through with your children and grandchildren, the way we did when we were young.  Just promise me one thing – selfies stay in the camera.

 

 

Par vélo! Getting on my bike in France…

Hello, and welcome back to my blog from France.  If you haven’t already seen it at Hello! Online than catch up here instead…!

Thanks for taking the time to log on.  Last time I blogged, I was welcoming some visitors from the UK.  Not so absorbed with entertaining now, so I’ve had the chance to do some dedicated exploring of the Auvergne, and improve my tour guide credentials for the next time I have guests!

The ‘Tour de France’ has not long departed from this region – passing through a town about forty-five minutes away from Clermont – and producing another Brit winner in Chris Froome.  So, I decided it was time to break my 2-decade bike veto… and buy a ‘vélo’. Regular readers of my blog and Cardiff Life columns will know I’ve already indulged in a little pedalling practice on a friend’s (just to check the old adage really is true).  It is.  And so now I have invested in my own two-wheeled transportation and there is no stopping me…!

Par vélo ... !

Par vélo … !

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Puppy Love: Hank settles in

First, just to say, you can now read about my French adventures at Hello! Magazine Online. Maybe you have already!  If not, then here is a an update!  And my column/blogs can still be found in Cardiff Life Magazine too every month.

Right, now, you might remember that, not long ago, Lee and I went along to pick out a four-legged addition to our household: a Miniature Schnauzer puppy named Hank.  The breed chosen by me, because I’m allergic to nearly every other ‘make’, and the name chosen by Lee. I’m told it’s after a character in the US TV series ‘Californication’.  I’ve never seen it so I trust his namesake is a good role model!

Hank at just a few weeks old!

Hank at just a few weeks old!

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Channel hopping: From the news to ‘la vie en France’.

After 18 years working, 14 in journalism and 9 in ITV, I am for the first time in my life taking a break. Enrolling on a short term contract as a housewife. There it is in black and white. Although until I’ve started my new job, it will not really seem true.
You may not be so surprised to read that the primary reason for vacating the news anchor hot seat for 6 months was not so much a desire to bake cakes (at which I’m useless) or throw Tupperware parties (if they even exist now).  It was a more a decision motivated by the importance of nurturing the personal and the professional in equal measure.
We spend so much of our early careers competitively chasing ambitions sometimes it’s all too easy to find ourselves taking the most important things in life for granted.

Cheerleading Duties: Dublin, dogs, dentistry and the black stuff.

As regular readers will know, when I’m not in the news hot seat in Cardiff or London, I’m usually heading to France to tend to my long distance marriage!  Hubby Lee plays his club rugby there, so I’m no stranger to an airport terminal and I take very seriously my other full-time job of cheerleader wife.  This month has proved exceptional for journeys in the name of Team Byrne and the oval-shaped ball.

The Clermont Auvergne Wives' supporters club on the road in Dublin.

The Clermont Auvergne Wives’ supporters club on the road in Dublin.  All smiles before kick off.

The stage was set for a Dublin Heineken Cup final for my husband’s team.  Opponents Toulon were always going to be tough and I knew it was time to strap in for a turbulent ride. The game itself provided joy (when Clermont went over the line twice), fear (when Toulon did) and ultimately sheer disappointment.  After a match dominated by Lee’s team, suddenly the opposition managed to turn it around and it was them – not the favourites – who took the championship.  And by just one point.  Needless to say, watching my husband’s cup ambitions slip away was excruciating.

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On yer bike! Rediscovering two-wheeled transportation.

My experiences with motorised transport have been somewhat mixed of late.  What I had imagined as a pleasant, sunny weekend popping to Montpellier in the south of France to watch Lee play in the Heineken Cup semi-final, turned into an epic coach journey, traffic-cursed and plagued with sleet, snow, drizzle and ‘les travaux’.  The only thing that provided a sunny disposition was the happy result.

Safety first. Before setting off on our 'Tour de Cardiff Bay'

Safety first. Before setting off on our ‘Tour de Cardiff Bay’

Meanwhile, in the car in Wales, the problem wasn’t so much clouds, but my head being in them.  Driving to the studios, my seatbelt warning signal kept pinging at me.  It was intermittent as if there were a fault, rather than repetitive, as if someone were not strapped in.  Irritated, I assumed it needed fixing.  Then the penny dropped – or should I say the bag.  Yes, my overloaded handbag, was overloading the passenger seat.  So bulging was it, that the car thought it might be a small passenger. I felt silly.  But it did create some office laughs.

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Spring Awakening! After the longest winter, it’s going to be the hardest haul from hibernation.

 Yes, it may be May.  But the weather has taken a while to get the message.

The start of last month was the coldest on record since the 60s; it’s only been a matter of weeks since I last reported severe snow in Wales; and it’s fair to say most of us are hardly out of overcoats and thick tights.  Winter has so hogged the limelight this year, that Spring has barely yet sneaked a turn on the seasonal stage and Summer is still somewhere in the wings, learning its lines.

It hasn’t always been so shy of attention.  Unless my memories are belied by nostalgia, I’m sure I remember long, hot adolescent summer times played out to the soundtrack of Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.  So why has balmy Britain retreated to the shadows?  Well, science is working on that.  Recently, a hardy ITV news crew visited a small research station in the Arctic.  There they spoke to experts who believe that rapid melting of the ice may be responsible.  A smaller temperature difference between the Arctic and us, means a slower jet stream and longer spells of colder temperatures here.

The result: weirder winters and a nation deficient in Vitamin D.  With reserves in short supply, we’ve all been in extended hibernation until things warm up a degree or two.

Tortoises, perhaps, can teach us a thing or two about this.   Continue reading