Sunrise/sunset: 02:31/ 23:11. Daylength: 20hr40min
It was on this day last year, that John and I set off to drive To The North. In a week’s time, I will have been here a year.
It’s been a strange time, all in all. Not that it hasn’t been wonderful in many ways; it has. But coronavirus has had an effect on all our lives that would have been difficult to imagine only a few years ago. In the past year, I have lost an uncle: a wonderful man, larger than life, of whom I have many wonderful and cheering memories, and also an aunt – not technically mine, but an aunt by marriage who was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I could never have imagined that I would be unable to attend their funerals. Nor that I would have been unable to visit my mum and dad for a year and a half, with no definite sign of an end to restrictions amid continuing reports from around the world that the virus is continuing to spread and mutate, despite (or perhaps even because of) the vaccine.
So here I am. Logically coming was the right decision. John has settled nearby and has a permanent job and friends with whom he goes climbing and walking. Andrew has settled into school and has taken up the piano. Anna has been with us since she came home for Christmas and wasn’t able to return to university in the UK. We have a lot of freedom to go out locally. The Norwegian government have done a sterling job in limiting the spread of the virus and we are so remote that often it’s hard to remember during everyday life that we are in the middle of a pandemic.
But it’s odd to think that I have been here a year, in an area I had never visited before I drove up here in a few chaotic days one year ago. I haven’t been home to Yorkshire or Scotland. I am hoping to see my parents at Christmas, but everything seems so unstable that it is impossible to make firm plans.
Still, life goes on. While on a grand scale, everything is filled with uncertainty, on a small scale, I am thriving. This week at work has been special. When I started work a year ago, I was given a list of tasks to complete. One of them was to engage with colleagues who worked in other sectors within Mattilsynet. We cover everything from drinking water to cosmetics as well as food safety on all levels between farm and plate. It had been discussed occasionally, but due to the strict coronavirus rules, where nobody was meant to go anywhere that wasn’t essential, it was always put on hold. But last Friday, alone in the office with Randi and Øivind, I decided it was time to seize the opportunity and I asked whether they had anything planned for this week.
The result was that I went out with Randi on Wednesday for some Smilefjes tilsyn and Friday with Øivind to inspect some waterworks.
Smilefjes is Mattilsynets system for inspection of restaurants and food outlets. When you enter an eatery, there’s generally a certificate on the door showing a happy Smiley. If the inspection didn’t go so well, the Smiley might be less cheerful, but the kitchen we inspected was well organised and clean. I was shown around the restaurant and communal areas of the guesthouse as well, while Randi wrote her report. It was a lovely place: an old building in an area where few old buildings exist. There was a huge fireplace in the restaurant and comfortable couches in front of a large television, which the owner proudly told me was the only one in the building. There were photographs too, black and white pictures of years gone by. I felt nostalgic for the times when staying in hotels was a casual weekend activity and I wanted so much to stay overnight. I took a photograph out of the window as Randi was finishing up her report. The book in the foreground is to record the weight of the fish you catch in the river outside.
On Thursday, quietly melded between the restaurant and water inspections, I carried out my first solo animal welfare inspection. I say solo as I had no other inspectors with me and the responsibility for the case lay with me, but I had support from a fabulous member of Dyervernsnemnda (a little about Dyrevernsnemnda here) called Berit. Berit drove down from Tromsø and she was wonderfully helpful and reassuring. Thanks must also go to Birgit, who made sure I followed the correct procedures beforehand.
Afterwards, I went out for some fish and chips with Ann to celebrate in the cafe that serves the ski slope at Fellandsby.
Yesterday, Øivind took me out to inspect some waterworks. If that word conjures up an image of a huge building with pipes and filtration, then like me, you will have to think again. We drove out onto Senja and headed south to a remote village, where we met the group of men who organise the water supply for the few houses in that area. We sat outside in the sun, as Øivind asked a series of questions about cubic metres of water per year and how many people are supplied. It was an interesting discussion, partly because of the logistics. In summer, there might be fifty people there, whereas there are only four permanent residents. But for me, it was a stark reminder of social changes and history. The four permanent residents are all over 80. The rest are a mix of tourists and very likely people whose parents used to live there, who have moved away, but return at weekends and for the summer. I found myself wondering about those still living there: all of them are in their eighties and nineties. It’s a very long way to the hospital if anything goes wrong.They likely still have families on Senja who look after them. But when they are gone, will the village only exist as a holiday place? There was an old schoolhouse, which is now used for social events. But once upon a time, there must have been families and people who worked the land and/or lived from the sea. Did the four people still living there attend the school, all those years ago? It was a reminder of how much things can change within a lifetime.
After the conversation, we walked up to see the water source. No filtration in sight and the small pipe that carries the water to the village was underground. The water comes from a river. I found myself surprised that it doesn’t freeze in winter, but the water must continue to run underneath all the snow and ice.
This was where we walked to. It was perhaps a kilometer up a grassy track from the village.
Such a peaceful place. I could have passed a happy few hours, listening to the water rushing over the rocks.
And here is the “waterworks” we inspected!
So the village is supplied from the water that runs down from the mountain. It’s not filtered or cleaned and technically, it is a water supply and not a drinking water supply. Øivind made some recommendations. The water source cover should be locked with a padlock, just in case. And the quality should be checked at least once a year. Likely times for the check would be after heavy rain, or when the snow is melting, preferably at a time of year when more people are arriving.
But those who run the system assured us that nobody had ever been unwell from the water in the fifty years since the pipes were installed. It was another reminder of the differences in the lives people in Norway lead. The idea that everyone in Norway should be treated exactly the same (one of Mattilsynet’s aims) is challenging, to say the least. There has to be flexibility when dealing with a country where the ways of life are so very diverse.
And to finish up, here’s are some pictures from Tuesday, when we met one of Anna’s old teachers, who was up for a holiday in the north. We took Triar for a walk in Ånderdalen afterwards. It really has been a very good week.
4 thoughts on “Strange Days”
Awesome piece! Oh this is exhilarating! Thank you so very much, Sarah. Brilliant weave!
I have been off grid and online for 3months+…it so refreshing to have come back to this ELIXIR!
Grace abounds to you. As your days so shall your strength be!
Thank you. Good to see you back and I’m glad you enjoyed it.
You’ve expressed the “both/and” of your strange year so very well… I relate to missing family: recently I had an outdoor lunch with family members I hadn’t seen in person for almost a year and a half. (new topic) I’m impressed by how you & your colleagues seek to enforce the standards with common-sense adaptations wherever possible.