Puppies

28 March
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Giving up is hard to do. My French fitness challenge!

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.

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.

Hiking in the beautiful volcanic Auvergne region

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.

With a little help from my husband ...

With a little help from my husband …

Instead I have been inspired by another fad – ‘100 happy days’ – that has been crashing Facebook and Instagram of late.  Each day users post a picture of something simple in their life that contributed to making a day joyous for them.  This could be anything from cuddling with the dogs (you know I like that one!) to heading home for mum’s roast dinner.  Get the idea?

Which is when I decided it would make me a lot happier and more joyful if I didn’t have to give up chocolate or pancakes or chocolate pancakes at all, and I could just as well fulfil Lent’s ideals of sacrifice, commitment and willpower by ‘taking something on’ instead.

On yer bike!

On yer bike!

So, picking up and running (as it turns out – quite literally) with the ‘100 happy days’ idea, I (foolishly) had the brainwave for a spin-off.  And so began ‘100 days of fitness’.  Or in instagram/twitter speak {hashtag}100daysoffitness.

Every day I am committing to a different form of exercise.  Anything from hiking or running to weights or cycling.  Or even perhaps YouTube exercise videos which I’ve learnt are called ‘webisodes’.  There are really no other rules.  Depending on the type of training, sessions can be anything from 30 minutes to 3 hours long.  Other than that, as long as I do something, I can check off that day on the way to the magic 100.

I’m unsure whether at this stage whether it’s a help or a hindrance to have a professional sportsman for a husband during this self-imposed challenge.  I am, course, lucky to have an expert opinion on different ways to train.  With a century of days to tick, variety could be my saviour.  However, when I’m struggling for breath on a run, suggestions to incorporate uphill lunges at intervals I can happily dismiss thanks to selective hearing!

Keep on running!

Keep on running!

As I write this I am only on day 5. But as you read this, I will probably be nearer day 35.  Still 65 to go then.  Gulp.  Check my progress on Instagram or Twitter: andreabyrnetv – let’s hope I’m still going if you do!  No pressure then.

28 March
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‘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 bought a little schnauzer named Hank last summer when I arrived in France.  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 turned her into a reality.

Little Marcy - as if by magic!

Little Marcy – as if by magic!

As if on cue, enter scientist Attila Andics.  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 very 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!

Meeting big half-bro!

Meeting big half-bro!

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.

Little and large schnauzers!

Little and large schnauzers!

So, Merci to 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 extension leads, well that mostly ends in a bizarre canine twist on maypole dancing.

Getting them into the sport early!

Getting them into the sport early!

But they make each other very happy.  They told me so themselves. ;-)

Mission complete.  Merci.

25 July
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Two become three ‘en France’… but it’s a puppy not a prince here!

So as we congratulate William and Kate on their new chapter with baby George, Lee and I begin our adventure in France with a new arrival of our own… of the canine variety! Meet Hank the miniature schnauzer (or Schnauzer Nain in French). He’s been with us for a few weeks now and has been keeping me occupied as I bid “Au Revoir” to ITV News for a few months and “Bonjour” to life with my rugby-playing husband in Clermont Auvergne, France.

Hank as a little baby pup - so cute!

Hank as a little baby pup – so cute!

The cute little fella has been settling in well. He’s been chewing everything in sight, except his own toys! We are now fully immersed in pup-sitting and pooper-scooping and, before you ask, yes he is named after Hank in Californication. Lee’s a big fan, I chose the breed so he chose the name. I trust his namesake is a good role model because I’ve never watched the show?!

We were lucky enough to find Hank at a breeder in the heart of the French countryside here. It’s amazing the places you can discover just by putting it out there on Twitter! When we collected him, the lovely family kindly invited us to stay for a BBQ. I was a little apprehensive about a dining experience entirely in French, but with the help of Google Translate and some memory of conversation lessons I’d been taking, we all muddled through: “Bon Appetit!”

 

Hank's breeders

Hank’s breeders

And fortunately, when the chat dried up, the language of sport doesn’t need translation – cue fierce competition of table football.

 

Lee (right) getting competitive at table football

Lee (right) getting competitive at table football

Over dinner they told us that Hank already had his own personality, ‘greed’ being the predominant trait! First in and last out at feeding time, good job I’m already used to a man constantly raiding the fridge then! My only hope is that a Hank is easier to housetrain than a husband…. I’ve made a good start teaching him to hang washing and change the remote to the news!

 

Hank doing the washing

Hank doing the washing

Speaking of la maison, prepping chez nous to be pet-friendly was a challenge all of its own – the language barrier getting the better of us. The French word for puppy is chiot – pronounced ‘she-oh’. Not, as we mistakenly said to the pet shop assistant, ‘she-ott’. The latter translates as a curse word for a toilet! I’ll leave it to your imagination, but it was little wonder she looked dazed and confused!

Hank chilling on the rug

Hank chilling on the rug

I’m glad to say it hasn’t all been dog duties (though it feels like it!). Before Hank took over our lives and Lee had to start pre-season training, we did squeeze in a pre-pup romantic getaway. We drove from France to Lake Como in Italy (where George Clooney hangs out!) and it didn’t disappoint. We stayed in a stunning hotel in Tremezzo with a floating pool and lush gardens.

Selfie of me and Lee

Selfie of me and Lee

Finally, before I go, I’ll let you into a little secret… Anglo-French confusion also caught us out when we chose Hank’s name. He is, in fact, actually called Iggy. Confused? Well in France, unbeknown to us, the rule is that you register any pedigree dog born in the year 2013 with a name starting with the letter ‘I’. Next year it‘ll be ‘J’ and so on and so forth. But our heart was already set on Hank so, whilst officially his first name is Iggy, he’ll be called by his middle name!

Until next time, must sign off now to rescue my flip-flop from the jaws of our furry friend …. Oh the glamour!

Ax

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