Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.
So here we are in the last week of 2020. It has been, I believe, the strangest year of my life. Had you told me in January that by the end of it I would be living in the Arctic Circle, and that I wouldn’t have seen my parents or set foot in the UK for a year, I wouldn’t have believed you. In May, I would have told you I was going to move back to the UK. I had applied for a number of jobs there, but coronavirus was holding everything up. But those of you who know me well will know I was never able to resist an adventure. My eye was caught by an advertisement for a veterinary job in the far north and the rest is history.
In turn, this week has been something of a roller coaster. On Monday, Ann and I accompanied Ammar to the little reindeer abattoir at Hjerttind. I am conflicted, showing you this photograph. Reindeer are beautiful animals and bringing them in to an abattoir might not be considered a happy ending. But the other side of that coin is that these animals have led perhaps the most natural life of any of those that come into the food chain. They have spent their lives outside in their natural habitat. And rather than being brought in by lorry, they were brought in on foot, though I understand a helicopter was used in the herding process. There hasn’t been enough snow, apparently, for them to be brought in with snowmobiles! Traditional Sami methods with a modern twist.
The slaughter process and meat preparation at Hjerttind is very traditional too. The only mechanisation in the process is a hoist. Everything else is done by hand. Every part of the reindeer is used. Outside the window, I could see the skins being spread out on the snowy ground in the gathering gloom. But Ann and I didn’t stay long. We were there to learn the process. The plan was that I would return the next day on my own.
But it wasn’t to be. I woke on Tuesday morning with a mild sore throat and a tendency to cough. I was very torn because usually I would ignore the symptoms and carry on. I didn’t feel particularly unwell. But Anna had arrived from the UK only two weeks earlier. The news was filled with stories of a new, highly infectious strain of COVID. The Norwegian borders had been closed and everyone who had arrived recently was to be tested. Anyone with any respiratory symptoms here in Norway should be tested as well, and so on Tuesday instead of heading to Hjerttind, I went to Senja with Anna to be tested for coronavirus.
The process itself was mildly unpleasant. A swab to the throat, then in through the bony nasal turbinates to the nasopharynx. Waiting for the results was infinitely worse. I had begun to feel more unwell and by Wednesday afternoon, though technically I didn’t have a fever, I was definitely warmer than usual and was feeling rough. They had told us one to three days for the results. I thought they might be delayed by the approach of Christmas and the additional testing involved with the new requirement to test incomers from Britain, but late on Wednesday afternoon, I got a message to say my results were in. I was surprisingly tense as I opened the Norwegian health website. I had been feeling lucky that all my children were safely home, and now there was the possibility that I might have to spend Christmas day isolating in my bedroom. But to my enormous relief, the test came back negative, as did Anna’s, and the worry lifted. Better still was the news from my parents that my dad has had the first of his vaccinations against COVID. I hope this means that I will be able to visit them next year.
But back to Christmas. Though I’m sad I couldn’t be with Mum and Dad, this was the first time in years that all my children could be with me. John has come back from the UK and is living in Norway again. It was lucky that Anna also changed her plans to come home early from university. The borders are closed now and some of her Norwegian friends are stuck in the UK. Britain has also gone into lockdown and many people can’t be with their loved ones.
And yet Christmas brought me joy, as it always has. We put up our decorations gradually and on Christmas Eve, Andrew and Anna put up the last of the fairy lights and now I feel as if I am sitting in a Christmas grotto.
Those of you with sharp eyes might have noticed another strange thing. Having moved inside the Arctic Circle, I had thought we would be guaranteed a perfect white Christmas, but most of the snow melted earlier in the week and there isn’t even enough now to cover the grass.
Triar has been the most hyped up member of the family. He loves unwrapping his presents on Christmas morning.
And of course Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a feast. In Norway, it’s normal to have the main meal and presents on Christmas Eve, but in line with British tradition, we still eat on Christmas day. This year John and Anna helped with preparing the food. We have something of a mixture of Norwegian and British cuisine. While we serve the traditional roast potatoes and honey-roast parsnips with stuffing and gravy and bread sauce, they are served alongside pork ribbe and lingonberry sauce. I was very proud of the crackling on my ribbe this year. It was the best I’ve managed: golden brown and wonderfully salty crisp.
And for dessert, there was Christmas pudding (it doesn’t get more British than that) and Norwegian kransekake, a wonderful, chewy almond flavoured extravaganza.
And now the year is almost done. Thank you to all those who have been following my adventures. I wish you well for 2021.