My French fitness challenge!

(You can also catch up with me in Cardiff Life magazine each month and on my Hello! Online blog too.)

Most of us love pancakes.  I’ve not done any substantial research but I’m pretty sure this is a statement of fact.  It’s substantiated at the very least by my social media timelines, which were recently scattered with photos of people’s attempts at cooking the batter-based delicacies for Shrove Tuesday.

Hiking the beautiful volcanic Auvergne region

Hiking the beautiful volcanic Auvergne region

Indeed, Pancake Day – as it is now more commonly known – has gradually morphed into solely a festival of eating much like the true meaning of Christmas has gradually been taken over by present giving.  It is designed to be a celebration of food of course, but only because it’s meant to co-exist with a period of fasting which, from a religious point of view, is meant to follow for 40 days and 40 nights until Easter comes around.  Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, therefore, represents your last chance to stuff your face before you starve yourself.  But, whether we like it or not, these days it’s more about the eating than giving much of a thought to the fasting.

Weights (...with a few tips from my hubby!)

Weights (…with a few tips from my hubby!)

Please be aware this is by no means a lecture on Christian values.  I’ve never been one to preach it unless I practice it and the last time I checked, Mardi Gras lived up to it’s literal ‘Fat Tuesday’ translation for me – and meant little more besides whooping at successful pancake flipping and subsequent munching.  So, as lent comes to an end once again and I have failed to give anything up once again, I’ve decided to change my tactic.  Because, after all, giving up – like breaking up – is hard to do. Continue reading

‘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….

 

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.

 

 

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.

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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Horses for Courses: How the horsemeat scandal rescued my home cooking…

It’s just gone 7 pm in the newsroom.  The team draws breath after a busy live show. Some button their coats to leave. The late crew, including me, prepares to tuck into standard ‘ready meal’ fare and chew over the next bulletin.  It’s then that the international horsemeat scandal gallops full speed into Wales.  Positive tests for horse in processed beef products made here.

The tests, you could say, are an example of shutting the stable door once the crisis has bolted.  But, nonetheless, UK officials had chased the horse round the food chain and across Europe to be brought home to their own backyard.  Cue jokes about ‘getting the trots’ from ‘a stable diet’ and suddenly, my microwaveable lasagne was infinitely less appealing.

Remember though, the horse scare is not a health scare. In France, where my husband plays rugby, le cheval is a menu regular and recent ‘publicity’ has, in fact, boosted sales there.  The question for the consumer here is not a medical one, but one of trust.  Many of us may not necessarily be so bothered about eating horse.  We’re more concerned about how it got there and what else might have snuck in along with it.

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White Pants To Win : lucky charms & long distance love

andrea byrne

Andrea Byrne

An oh so alluring aroma of sweaty kit pervades the hallway, the remote appears jammed on sport and strange refreshments of coconut water and beetroot juice are breeding in the fridge.  My husband is home. It must be the Six Nations. Brace yourself.

One thing you can be sure of when the great tournament comes to town: everyone develops a penchant for punditry. From the die-hard rugby addict to the girl – or guy – who simply enjoys a dose of men in tight shorts (no shame – you know who you are!) – every fan becomes a sports critic. And to work in a TV station is to be at the epi-centre of armchair analysis. I have often experienced the awkward colleague avoiding interaction with me on team selection day. When Wales are ‘in camp’, the office is an extraordinary place for me to be. Home, on the other hand, offers the novelty of the ordinary.

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