A Network of Strong Women

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

I found myself thinking, last night, as I often do on a Friday, about what I would write here today. It’s not been a bad week, in fact, in many ways it’s been positively pleasant. Christmas was very relaxing. Making Christmas dinner for three was very straightforward, though the lack of a table and chairs meant that we ended up eating it in different places around the house. Still, nobody seemed to mind, which is one of the best things about my little family. None of them are precious about things being done “the right way”. I was proud enough of the crackling on my pork ribbe to take a photo, so of course I will share it with you. It tasted wonderful.

Living with John and Andrew continues to bring me happiness. It’s not all sweetness and light. What family is? But there are moments when they fill me with love with their thoughtfulness. This is going back a couple of weeks, but on the day we put up the Christmas tree, I was very down. There were a lot of things weighing on me, Christmas was getting very close, and I wasn’t feeling it at all. On top of that, work had been so tough that the house was quite messy and putting up decorations seemed like a pointless waste of time. I’ve been having therapy for a few months now. I had a session booked for the same afternoon and I left the boys finishing up while I went through to chat. Jill talked me through a lot of things and I was feeling a bit more cheery when the session finished, but when I went through, I was amazed to discover that John and Andrew had spent the hour whizzing round and cleaning the kitchen and living areas. Knowing I was down and that the mess was bothering me, they had sorted everything out and now the room, for me, was properly filled with Christmas magic.

For those who read last week, the roof did get cleared in time for Christmas. Several shops were open on the morning of Christmas Eve and we managed to buy the extension to the roof rake – the last one in the shop, no less! Here’s a photo of John using it. The frame at the end of the rake cuts through the snow and, if positioned right, it slides off in huge chunks down the long strip of slippery material.

I only worked three days between Christmas and today, and it was those days that inspired today’s title – that along with a comment made by my agent, Ger Nichol a few months back. Ger was talking about my (as yet unpublished) book, The Good Friends’ Veterinary Clinic. One of the things she liked about it, she told me, was that Rachel, my main protagonist, who worked in a remote part of Scotland, seemed to have a strong network of women around her, including several old friends that she could phone when she was having difficulty with a case or was wondering about how to handle problems that were coming her way.

The phrase came back to me as I was thinking about this week. As it’s the end of the year, there are letters that have to be sent out to the various places where we do meat inspection. These are some of the inner workings of the meat inspection role that were invisibly done by other people until now, which have now become part of my job. In short, Mattilsynet gets paid for carrying out various different tasks, and somebody has to do the calculations of how much time was spent and then send out the bills.

Living up here, some of these are quite different from anything I would ever have experienced in the UK, or even in southwest Norway where I used to live. As well as the standard “red meat” (beef, lamb, pork) abattoir where we work weekly, there is also a small reindeer abattoir, run by a Sami family, and then there are small outposts where hunters take moose that have been culled out in the field due to injuries from road traffic accidents. The charges for each of these separate entities come under different paragraphs of Norwegian law, so each has to be calculated and written in different formats. This is complicated by the fact that I am trying to work through these processes without much support from local colleagues, as the people who have done it in previous years are not available to show me.

And so, on Thursday morning, with no time left for error, I found myself on several lengthy phone calls to Venche, who works in Bjerka and Helene, who works in Karasjok, trying to iron out the problems that were (in part) a result of the absence of those experienced staff I mentioned above. Fantastically, both Venche and Helene were so patient that I managed to get all three of the invoices sent out, which is good because if they are sent out in January, the process is slightly different again, due to the financial year change.

But my network of strong women isn’t restricted to work (though I will throw in a shout out to Trude, Birgit, Astrid, Anja, Ann and Hilde here who, along with Thomas, make up my local network). This week I have been in contact with a friend I used to work with at Vets Now, when I was still in Scotland. Unlike me, with my Christmas dinner for three, Lara catered for seventeen people, cooking two geese, a turkey and a ham. Honestly, I can’t even begin to imagine how she managed, but Lara is a wonderful example of an inspiringly strong woman. I turned to her when I was quaking in a hotel room in Tromsø as I put in my bid on the house I am now sitting in, and it was Lara who kept me going when I was struggling to write Good Friends.

I have also been in contact with my sister, Helen, a good deal this week. We haven’t had much contact over the past few years, but she came up in the summer when I was staying with mum (another wonderful woman) and dad and we’ve been chatting a lot more on and off. I was pleased to find that she is reading Springtime at Wildacre, which I co-wrote with another of my strong women’s network, Vicky Holmes.

There are many other women I am in contact with now and then, friends from the different places I have lived, such as Wivek, Valerie and Ruth and family, such as my daughter Anna, my mum and my lovely aunts, some of whom I know will be reading this. Your support is appreciated. I am also happy to find that, after a long hiatus due to covid, I am starting to make new friends and not just at work. I was in the queue for the fast boat to Tromsø a few months back, when I heard some women behind me in the queue, speaking English. That was such an uncommon experience here that I turned round and spoke to them, assuming that they were perhaps here on holiday. And so I met my new friend Shirley, who wasn’t on holiday at all, but came here as a nurse for a year, many years ago. She met a Norwegian man and instead of going back at the end of the year, she married him and made her life in Norway. So far, she has been very thoughtful. She doesn’t drive much, so I’ve been to hers a couple of times now to drink tea and hot chocolate. She gave me a loaf she’d just cooked on the first visit. Having texted me about a shop in Tromsø that sells international food, I mentioned that I might try to buy suet there, as I hadn’t made Christmas pudding yet. The next thing I received was a text to say she had made one for me. We had it on Christmas day, and very tasty it was too.

I can’t mention all the women who give me support; there are simply too many of them, but they are an inspiration. Many years ago, I was the archetypal young woman, who fancied herself as being “as good as a man” and was scornful of all feminine things. But with age, I have come to value the different strengths that women carry. So I will carry that wonderful network into 2023.

I’ll finish with some photos of Triar opening his Christmas present. It’s a new version of the same present he had last year and the year before, and by the end of 2023, I expect this one will be sufficiently chewed as to need replacing. He seems just as pleased as ever with it, which is lucky.

And so I will leave you. It’s time to go shopping for food for Hogmanay and New Year’s day. Thank you for reading. It’s lovely to be in contact with so many friends, all round the world. Happy new year to you all!

13 thoughts on “A Network of Strong Women

  1. An inspiring post to read on a gloomy morning here in Wiltshire. My network of strong women is my lifeline and I’m so pleased you have that in your life. Unlike you, I have no children, but do have wonderful niblings (only discovered this word last year and love it) who look out for me. People who care for you are the most important part of life. Happy New Year Sarah and thanks for your weekly blog, I do look forward to it.

  2. Life’s a bag of all-sorts, isn’t it? I’m glad you are able to stay in touch with the good bits, as well as the ones that weigh you down. Here’s to the strong women who enrich your life, and to your own little guy-family as well. May 2023 be kinder to us all.

  3. We have 5 dogs and wrap presents for them to open too! What got me to your blog page was the snowy picture. Here in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, we have been getting a lot of snow, with more coming, and I’ve been getting in great aerobic workouts shoveling it! I guess that makes me a strong woman, of a sort. Chucking snow for 2 hours!

      1. That’s a lot of land! My son is building a fence round the garden for Triar as we’re close to the road, but he didn’t quite get it finished before the snow came. Next year, hopefully there’ll be more time.

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