I mentioned last week that I would be working at the abattoir all this week and that one of the compensations of working there was the beautiful autumn scenery on the journey there. As you can see in the featured image at the top of the page and the picture below, this weeks addition has been a sprinkling of snow on the mountains.
Alongside the chilly mountains, there have been some wonderful sunsets. In the depths of winter, when the sun doesn’t make it over the horizon for weeks on end, one tends to imagine impenetrable darkness, but I am told there is still twilight. Obviously there will be more snow, but as I watched the sun going down a few days ago, I found myself wondering whether it might sometimes look like this.
I am getting better at meat inspection, in sheep at least. My colleagues have been very patient as I have asked them to check when I am unsure of something. Next week there’s a chance I will try my hand instead at a different animal. Our region covers an abattoir that is exclusively used for reindeer. It is owned by a Sami family who are also herders and run shops to sell their produce. It will be interesting to find out more about the way this much smaller enterprise is run.
One of my favourite comedies in recent years was W1A. It was a send up of corporate newspeak and ineffectual pomposity at the BBC and featured Hugh Bonneville as “Head of Values”. Sarah Parish starts series one as “Head of Output”, but during series two is promoted to the newly created position “Director of Better”. To give a taste, this is the job description for that role:
“The Establishment of a Director of Better represents a turning point for the BBC by placing the idea of betterness at its core going forward and beyond.”
“Working with a range of internal placeholders at a senior level, this is an opportunity to re-set the dial for the Corporation either by shining a new light on that dial or by shining the old light but with a new bulb so that no-one can be in any doubt about where the dial is or can have any excuse for not being able to read what it says.”
Imagine my delight then, when the announcement came this week that Mattilsynet’s new health and safety incident recording system has been optimistically named “Better”. Most of the computer programs we use are named using very workmanlike initials, so this is quite the departure. We can only hope that the new, confident branding of health and safety will ensure that we all strive for improvement in this area. Or as Siobhan Sharpe, the BBC’s Brand Consultant in W1A might have said, with commendable exuberance, “Lets nail this puppy to the floor!”
I’m spending more and more time at the abattoir as the season progresses. Next week, I will be there every day. It’s acknowledged that it is a high risk environment. There are big metal hooks overhead, which require helmet use at all times. We wear chain mail to protect our vital organs from errant knives. The knives need to be sterilised as well. This is done by placing them in hot water whenever they are not in use. Despite having read a plethora of H&S documents and watched videos about the risks from the sterilisers, in the first couple of days on the sheep line I managed to lean on the hot metal plating a couple of times. So now I am branded on both hips like an old cow.
I’m working exclusively on the lamb/mutton line for now. Pork and beef inspection are more complicated and there’s no time for me to learn. Though I am starting to feel more confident, at the beginning it felt surreal as I strode up and down, marking the meat that had passed with that all-important EFTA stamp that means it can be sent out into the world for consumption. I was reminded of a chapter in a children’s book: Time Tangle by Frances Eagar. Though it’s an old book, I know it from cover to cover, having read and reread it as a child, then read it aloud to my children every year in the lead up to Christmas. There’s a scene in it where Beth, a girl dealing with some difficult emotions over the yule period, is unwillingly visiting a friend’s house. She is pressed into helping her friend’s mother to make mince pies, and to get through it, she imagines herself in a busy mince pie factory, slapping the pastry lids onto the pies. She also imagines being praised for her prowess and speed. Her bubble bursts when it becomes apparent that the reason for her speed is that she’s forgotten to add the mince filling.
Like Beth, I was rather enjoying working on the sheep line. There had been some doubt over whether I would be ready in time, but the vets I worked with had all been positive, which of course was encouraging. I had my empty mince pie moment though at the end of last week when at the end of my shift, Ronny the Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) took me aside and showed me a carcass that I had stamped that I should have condemned. Several of the joints were massively swollen and she was very thin. It was doubly frustrating as I had noticed she was thin and had taken a very brief second look, but instead of stopping the line, or sending her to the side for a better look, I had allowed her to pass.
I was shocked when Ronny showed me. I had known I was rather distracted as it had been a difficult day in other ways, but even so, I ought to have seen it. A short time after that, right at the end of the day, the man in charge of the line called me over and asked me whether the carcass should be placed in the chill room where the emergency slaughter carcasses are placed for inspection. I agreed that it should, then he looked me up and down, then back at the sheep. “I know you missed it,” he said, “but do you see the changes, now they’ve been pointed out?”
Seeing as the joints on both front and hind legs were not cut through clean and straight, as they should be, but instead resembled a pair of seventies bell-bottom jeans in shape, I half wanted to snap back that of course I could see it. Only an idiot wouldn’t. But in the circumstances, that would have been rather churlish, so I muttered, “Yes,” and to my relief, he began to slide the carcass off in the direction of the chill room.
And mortified though I was to miss something so obvious, the good thing, of course, is the comfirmation of something I’ve known for years.. Experienced technicians (and it applies equally to veterinary nurses in practice) know way more about almost everything than vets who are just starting out in any completely new area.
There are some compensations to working in the slaughterhouse. The world around me is turning to gold and the drive there takes about forty minutes. Back in Rogaland, where I spent my first years in Norway, there wasn’t much autumn. The trees would start to turn and then there would be a storm and by the time the wind and rain stopped, the trees would be bare. Up here though, there’s less wind and as I have to drive through miles of forest every day, the changing colours have been wonderful to watch.
And Andrew and I had a wonderful surprise last weekend when we popped out in the garden to “air the dog” as they call it here in Norway. As we stood there, we noticed there was a green tinge to the sky. We weren’t sure at first, but as it brightened and began to dance, we realised that for the first time, we were properly seeing the Northern lights. It was a wonderful moment.
I arrived home on Wednesday to find John outside, sawing wood. He has designed a new winter cage for the guinea pigs and now he is making it.
Brownie is growing fast. She’s very lively, rushing around, pop-corning all over the place, and it will be wonderful for both her and Susie to have a lovely big cage to run around in.
It’s been another interesting week at work. During a conversation on Monday about car keys, Hilde dropped in the information that the winter tyres would probably go on the work cars this month. Back in Scotland, autumn conversations often start with the phrase, “The nights are fair drawin’ in.” Here, the more Game of Thrones like, “Winter is coming!” is the message.
Hilde asked me what I’d done at the weekend and I had to confess I hadn’t done much, other than having a film night with John and Andrew. She reminded me of it then, “Winter is coming! You should do things now while you can.”
Obviously as it’s my first time, I have no idea how it’s going to feel, but for now I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always loved winter, though of course there will be a lot more of it than I’m used to. Hilde looked thoughtful after telling me about the winter tyres. “Of course this year, they didn’t come off again till June,” she said with a smile.
I decided I should go for it and tell her about our film night. As Dr Sleep had now arrived on Netflix, the boys were keen to watch it and so was I. After all, it is the sequel to The Shining: one of the most iconic films of all time. We had watched The Shining as well for completeness. As far as film nights go, I thought this more worthy of mention than most.
“We watched Dr Sleep… and The Shining,” I said.
Hilde looked at me. “The Shining? What’s that?” she asked.
“Umm… The Shining,” I muttered again, assuming she perhaps had misheard. Surely even in Norway, The Shining was a film everyone would know, but there was no change in her expression. “It’s a… horror film,” I told her (though I didn’t know the Norwegian for horror, and had to ask). “Stanley Kubrik…”
She was still looking blank.
“Steven King?” I added. Hilde was smiling, but there was no dawning recognition.The conversation drew to a halt. For a moment, I considered pulling out my phone and finding an image of THAT photograph… but the conversation around the table was already moving on.
Thursday was a big day for me as I went out on my first welfare visits. Thomas had received three separate messages about animals that were allegedly being mistreated and he had agreed to take me along so I could see what procedures Mattilsynet follow. A good deal of my time recently has been spent on online courses which outlined some of the ways in which we work. For example, every decision we take regarding the cases we see has to be backed up by an explanation of how we are guided by the law, and we have to be very specific, right down to which clause we are invoking.
On the other side of the equation, we need strong evidence, and more and more, this in provided in the form of photographs. Everything has to be recorded, but for privacy reasons, none of it can be stored on iCloud. This had worried me a little when I had read it. I had no idea how to stop photographs going onto the cloud, other than by switching off all internet connections, but surely as soon as you went to transfer them, the result would be the same. The answer, of course, is that there is an app.
Similarly, with the legal aspect, there is a programme on the computer that you go through with regard to each case. You type in the concerns that have been raised and the computer adds specific areas that are covered by the law. A checklist is then created in the form of a table. So there is a lot of work to do before and after any visit, but for now I was interested in the human side of the task.
Only one of the cases turned out to be difficult in terms of animal welfare. I can’t really explain in any detail what it was about as the pet owner in question deserves full privacy. I was, however, reminded of a case I saw many years ago, aged 23 in my very first job as a newly minted young vet. I had been called out to put an old lady’s dog to sleep and I spoke to her first, explaining the injection and the overdose and how it might go. I was kneeling beside her to explain and as I pushed myself upright, she laid a hand on my arm and looked up into my eyes. “Can’t you take me with him?” she asked.
I can’t really remember how I reacted. I had a wonderful mature nurse with me, who spoke to her. I don’t think I managed to say a word, but the moment has stayed with me. So all I will say is that managing the end of life care for the pet of an older person can be one of the most emotional and difficult tasks in a veterinary surgeon’s life. Even though animal welfare has to be at the heart of what we do, it is the more human side of the equation that complicates the picture.
We took our leave and then stopped for coffee and discussion before driving to the next visit. It’s a case that will be complicated to resolve, and anyway, it was good to have a break before we carried on. Fortunately, the other two visits were more straightforward and we drove back to the office. It was time to go home, leaving the remaining work and all final decisions for another day.
Autumn is arriving here in Northern Norway. The leaves on the trees are beginning to fade and on sunny mornings, mist swirls over the lakes and the fields along the valley floor and swathes the mountain sides in ribbons of white. The lower slopes are wooded with silver birch and rowan trees and within the next week or so they will turn to gold.
But for now, it’s still warmish in the daytime. Today it’s 12°C and raining and it was similar on Monday morning when Hilde suggested the possibility of a trip. She had mentioned during my first week that we might go out one day and cook hot dogs (or pølse, as they are called here) but nothing had come of it. I had written it off as one of those conversations where I had perhaps misunderstood something on a subject that wasn’t important enough to raise it after the event… but here it was again.
We were drinking coffee at the time: several of us, sitting together. There was some discussion about the weather as we all looked out of the window, but Hilde was sanguine. “It’s going to clear up this afternoon,” she declared, and held out her mobile with the weather forecast on Yr.no. Though it showed the symbol with the sun peeping out from a cloud, she seemed confident that this was good enough.
And so at twelve o’clock, when lunch was finished, we set out to drive to Sørvika.
It seemed a pleasant place. There were flat meadows where you could pitch a tent, alongside grassy woodland. The sound of waves told me we were close to the shore. But for now, we lifted wood and bags of food from the boot of the car and began to make our way to the place we would light our fire.
Being outdoors is a very important part of Norwegian life. There’s a definite sense that one should not be put off by the weather. But that goes hand in hand with an acceptance that the weather exists and though many of its effects can be offset by the right clothes, sometimes additional protection is needed. The sky overhead was still grey and so I was pleasantly surprised to find that we would actually be lighting our fire inside a little shelter.
Ronny, who had driven Øivind and I to the site, began to pull bark (to use for kindling) off the wood we had brought and within minutes, our fire was burning brightly. He pulled out a kettle, filled it with water, and balanced it on the stones at the edge.
Hilde in the meantime, had helped unpack the bags but had then wandered off. When she came back she was carrying a stick and a knife, so I went to investigate. Any Norwegian schoolchild would have recognised what she was doing. They hand out whittling knives to six year olds here. Most of them survive and by the time they are adults, they have excellent knife skills. But to me, the uninitiated, it was a mystery.
“It’s for cooking the pølse,” she explained as she showed me the long stick she was holding, the end of which was stripped of bark and whittled to a point.
She stopped and inspected her stick, and seemingly satisfied, she nodded, then to my consternation, handed me the knife. “It’s your turn,” she told me with a smile.
I confess that I wandered quite a way off before I found my stick. Hilde had explained that I would have to cut it from a tree as it had to be fresh so it wouldn’t burn. It also had to be long enough that I wouldn’t burn myself and thick enough to hold a hot dog without bending so much that it was in the fire. Quite apart from that, I didn’t want anyone to watch my fumbling efforts with the knife.
Though it wasn’t easy to clip my chosen branch from the tree, the whittling itself was curiously satisfying. The knife was properly sharp and used lengthways with the grain, it didn’t take too long to carve my stick into a reasonable shape. Though it wasn’t as elegant as Hilde’s stick, it certainly did the job.
As we began to cook the hot dogs, and Ronny grilled some burgers, it began to rain. I had half expected that the shelter would not be adequate, but to my pleasure, the roof was perfectly sized to keep all those sitting inside dry. It was very cosy sitting there as the rain dripped outside. The fire was burning bright and warm and there was no wind.
The hot dogs tasted delicious, as you would expect, as did the burgers. And afterwards, when the rain had cleared, we walked through the trees and down the steep path that led to the beach. It truly is a beautiful place.
It was, all in all, probably the most satisfying afternoon I’ve ever had at work. There’s no doubt that doing these things helps to build friendships within the workplace. I will be going back to Sørvika as well. I want to share it with John and Andrew, and Anna my daughter when she comes home for Christmas.
On Monday, Hilde drove me over to the abattoir where I will be spending a good chunk of my working days over the next few weeks. With the short summer and long, hard winter, most of the spring lambs will be brought in before it’s time for the remaining animals to be moved into their winter housing. Vets play an essential part in the process. The health of the animals must be checked before they are humanely killed and the welfare and conditions are carefully monitored.
Afterwards, a team of vets and technicians inspect the meat to check whether it is fit for consumption. This is another chance to check health and welfare. All the information from the checks, both ante and post mortem, is recorded. Nobody could claim it’s glamorous work, but as well as ensuring the animals are treated well in the abattoir, the findings are used to assess whether there might be problems on the farms where the animals were raised. If the animals are too thin, have overgrown feet, or show significant signs of illness, then a message is sent back to the local Mattilsynet office, where their vets will contact the farmer and take measures to improve the situation.
On Monday’s visit I was fitted out with a uniform, boots, a locker and a card to open the door. Hilde brought cake again, and I met a few of the staff.
On Tuesday I drove through again with Thomas. I had met him on my first day at work and he seemed friendly, but I hadn’t seen him since. Now he was to give me my first taste in working in an abattoir in northern Norway.
For my part, I was most interested in the inspection of the live animals. It is hard to spend much time on the internet without seeing horror stories, but my impression over the course of the first week has been that most of the animals coming through are very relaxed. Though the pigs all had balls in their pens to play with, most of them were sleeping when we went to see them. Some of the sheep were more skittish than others, but many of them came and were nibbling on my wellington boots. All animals have fresh water in their pens and any cows that are milking are milked if they are in for any length of time. The surroundings are quite similar to those you’d see on the farm and most farms here in Norway are small, so a lot of the animals are used to being handled.
The slaughter process itself was quick and efficient. Thomas showed me how to time the interval between stunning and bleeding. With the cattle, we checked the animal was unconscious before being moved on to the next stage.
It’s a forty minute drive to get to the abattoir and the road is dotted with warning signs for moose. Thomas told me I would see more of them in the winter, though for now they are elusive. The filling station near the E6 has leaflets explaining what to do and who to call if you hit one. I hope it never happens to me, though it is possible I might be called out to do meat inspection on those too if they are injured and have to be shot.
It’s cooling towards autumn now. It was 4°C when I arrived at work yesterday morning. Though the trees are still clinging to their leaves, they are beginning to fade. The ground flora is wonderfully colourful and intensifying as a multitude of berries appear.
There was only one near miss with technology this week. Thomas handed me over to Ammar on Wednesday and he suggested some reading material. The season (as they call it) will begin very soon, and by then I have to be up to speed with meat inspection for lamb. Back in the office, I had chosen a pin code for the printer. You send your file, retrieve it and then put in your number. I assumed the process was the same in the abattoir, and so I went through the retrieval process and began to put in my four figure number. Luckily Ammar stopped me in time, before I set the printer in action printing out *9250 copies of an eight page document on red meat.
Friday afternoon was rounded off with waffles. In Norway they are traditionally eaten with strawberry jam and soured cream. It took me a while to get used to this combination, but now I love it. And what could be more Norwegian than a mountain of waffles to round off the week?
It’s always an advantage in a new job to make a good first impression and so I arrived on my first day determined to do just that. I am working for Mattilsynet, which is the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. Mattilsynet has a wide remit. As well as working to ensure Norwegian food and drinking water are safe, Mattilsynet oversees all aspects of food production from farm or fjord right to the point of eating. People in Norway will be familiar with Mattilsynet’s Smiley Faces that indicate that the kitchen in the restaurant you’re about to eat in is clean.
My new boss, Hilde, welcomed me into the office at 8am, and introduced me to some of the other staff. Everyone seemed very friendly and the day began with coffee – which took me back years to working in large animal practice in Scotland. The surroundings were much brighter and more modern though, which will be important in winter. As well as the friendly critter at the top of the page, the office has a massage chair, attractive pictures of local scenes and on that Wednesday, in honour of my beginning, there was a large chocolate cake!
There is always a lot to remember when you start a new job and this one was no exception. I was soon knee deep in complicated Norwegian words about how national and local government works, but Hilde had put together a very comprehensive introductory programme to work through, which was reassuring.
The start of day two was marginally embarrassing. I had been given an electronic key fob thing to get in the door… and I had forgotten it. One of my new colleagues let me in with a smile and it was quickly pushed aside. More complicated Norwegian and a lesson in how to book one of the office cars followed and I made up my mind that on day three, all would go to plan and nothing would go wrong.
I had decided to walk in on the third day. One of my aims is to get out and about more and it seemed like a good way to start the morning. I set out at seven to walk down and arrived about half an hour later, feeling pleased with myself. I had remembered everything today – the little electronic fob was in my pocket and the sun was almost shining.
It was dark inside when I opened the office door. I was slightly surprised as I hadn’t expected to be the first there quite so soon. Still, I remembered that Hilde had explained that I shouldn’t turn on the main lights if I arrived first as some of my colleagues liked to have a nice peaceful start to the day. I knew there was an alarm system, but it hadn’t gone off, so I assumed there was someone around. I took a step further into the building and realised my mistake as the bleep, bleep of the alarm system kicked in.
Despite not knowing the code, I still felt very calm. Hilde had sent me a message about getting in the day before I started work, so I put my coat and bag down on the floor, pulled my phone out of my pocket and scrolled quickly up. But though there was a message about getting in, it was about accessing the computer system, not the door.
My heart was beating a little faster now, but I reminded myself it could all be sorted out. All I had to do was call Hilde, but the bleeping was accelerating and within moments, it was wailing loudly enough to deter even the most determined of thieves.
Though I couldn’t remember any code, one thing I did remember was Hilde telling me that if there was an accident with the alarm, there was a phone number on the keypad and in order to stop any further action (I presume it may be linked to the police, or some kind of security firm) I had to speak to someone. Taking a deep breath, I typed the number into my phone. I could call Hilde afterwards, I thought. Better that than having someone rush out and then charging a fee. I put the phone to my ear and could hear nothing due to the screech of the alarm. I would just step outside the door, I thought. Then I could have a conversation. I could remember what I had to say. I could sort all this out and still be sitting at my desk by the time Hilde came.
To my relief, the call was answered quickly and I explained what had happened. The noisy alarm went off and with a sigh of relief, I ended the call and returned to the door… which of course had locked itself behind me. I reached into my pocket… only to realise that I had put down my jacket and bag and everything I was holding on the floor. The little electronic fob was now inside the building and I wasn’t.
Walking back out into the open air, I leaned against the wall and pulled out my phone. There was nothing left to do but wait.
So much for good first impressions! Only day three, and so far, I hadn’t managed to get into the building without assistance. Fortunately Hilde arrived first, and if she thought I was an idiot, she didn’t let on.
And despite all that, my new job shows every sign of being every bit as interesting as I hoped when I first read the advertisement. One of the tasks in my comprehensive introductory programme was to look through my colleague’s calendars, see what they are doing, and perhaps ask if I can go along with them to find out more about what they do. The most interesting item I found was tantalisingly entitled Status Bjørn, so I decided I would ask about it next time we had coffee.
Despite the interesting title, I was half expecting Status Bjørn might be a boring exercise, or similar, but I listened in amazement as Hilde explained that there was a bear in the region, which unfortunately has got a taste for eating the local sheep. Moreover, she is a mother bear with two large cubs. Shooting her is not an option and so the only possibility is to sedate both her and her young and move them to another area where there aren’t any farms for her to raid. This is, however, a very complicated exercise, and one that Mattilsynet, in the shape of Hilde and Thomas (another colleague) are involved in to ensure animal welfare is prioritised.
So there you go. It’s only my opinion I know, but I don’t think veterinary work gets much more exciting than that. Next week I will be doing some work in the slaughterhouse, which is less romantic, but equally essential. Making sure an animal is treated well is just as important at the end of its life as it is at the beginning. And so here I am, aged 51… and on the cusp of what is looking like an interesting and challenging new career.
Wish me luck!
*I thought I should add in sunrise/sunset times and day length at the start of each post. It’s already changing fast and I want to give a sense of that.
We arrived at our new apartment late last Saturday. Arriving without Kiwi was a sad blow, but we set to and unpacked first the car and then began on the boxes, which had arrived several days earlier. We hadn’t seen the flat before. Due to coronavirus and lack of time, we had only seen pictures and a film that Jørn Inge and Ann Helen (our new landlords) had made for us. It turned out to be everything we hoped for and more. This is a picture taken from the back garden – a view we can see from the dining table and the sofa.
Of course, as we’re in Norway, we couldn’t do any shopping on Sunday. There are strict laws here about Sunday opening. John had suggested that we should make life as easy as possible by having washing baskets in everyone’s room (does anyone else have a sock monster that unpairs all their socks and eats half of them?) and of course, as Susie was now alone, we had to think about a new companion for her.
We managed to find a television on Finn. Finn is the go-to website in Norway. Finn literally means find, and you can find almost anything there from jobs to houses, travel tickets to stuffed animals, and even a date, if you feel that way inclined. We drove out to the house of the people who were selling the television and noticed again, as we drove, that there was still quite a lot of snow on the mountainside on the shaded side of the valley. In spite of the summer greenery, the thought leapt into my head that winter never really goes away here. Instead it temporarily retreats into the mountains with the summer sun.
Sunday passed and Monday came round and all the shops were open again. With thoughts of a new guinea pig, we careered round the necessary tasks with a happy end goal in mind. Though I am reluctant to buy pets from a pet shop, there had been an absolute dearth of local guinea pigs on Finn, and so we had decided to buy a baby.
We were aware that it might be hard to find things in Finnsnes. The population is under 5000 – though it is quite spread out. What hadn’t entered our heads was that the rather lovely pet shop would have quite so few animals. There were fish in aquariums, but the small furries section seemed to be filled exclusively with dwarf rats. When we asked after guinea pigs, we were told it was likely they might not have a female guinea pig for a long time.
We retreated home, feeling a little bruised. We had been looking forward to choosing a new friend for Susie, but what now? I rechecked Finn. There were no guinea pigs in the area. Not for hundreds of miles. In desperation, we searched for pet shops a little further afield. Tromsø is a little over two hours away. I didn’t particularly want to start driving again, but Susie seemed sad, so finding her a new friend was a priority.
The pet shop in Tromsø looked good online, but with our recent experience high in my thoughts, I decided to call the shop before we drove all that way. I was glad I did. They had three female guinea pigs… and two of them were already reserved. Feeling breathless, I put a reservation on the last female guinea pig in Tromsø and then headed off to walk Triar.
And so, on Tuesday, we drove to Tromsø and brought home a new addition to our family. This gorgeous little critter is Brownie and she’s a real livewire.
My younger son, Andrew, arrived on Wednesday. He’ll be going to school here in Finnsnes, but that doesn’t start until next week. I began work on the same day and so far, everything bodes well, but more on that in my next post. For now, I will leave you with some pictures from the Polar Park, which as well as being the home of the Worcester Red Socks (as I discovered when I did an online search) is the world’s most northern animal park. Well worth a visit!
Lofoten is a wonderful place to visit. We had a pleasant day exploring, and even managed to fit in a trip on a replica Viking ship. Lofotr museum was fun. As well as sailing around the lake, we tried archery and axe throwing. We didn’t sample the lapskaus cooking in the cauldron outside, but it was interesting to see inside the reconstruction of a Viking chieftain’s longhouse.
The ship we sailed in was a replica of the Gokstad ship that is in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. She went surprisingly well. I was interested to see that unlike the yachts I have sailed in before, which had a boom that swung across, the sheet hung before the mast, forward on one side and further back on the other. When we went about, it was pulled forward on on the other side. She had ballast under the boards – lots of rocks to keep her stable. The guide explained that if she capsized, the rocks fell out and the boat didn’t sink. Not much of a problem when the ballast was stone, less good on the voyage home after a raid on Scotland, when the rocks had been replaced with whisky.
Having looked at the weather forecast, we knew the grey skies were to clear in the afternoon, and so we drove down to Å, at the southernmost tip of the island. There were mountains and lakes, fjords and islands, but for now, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
And now our journey to the north was almost over, but our new life is just beginning.
I had hoped this would be a happy post: the triumphant arrival… journeys end and all’s well, but it was not to be.
Friday began with a giggle. As part of Triar’s training, if I find him chewing on something he shouldn’t, I take it off him and give him something delicious instead. The unintended result is that he likes finding things to chew, not simply because he enjoys doing that, but because he can exchange them for food.
We were staying in an apartment near Gravdal, Lofoten for two nights and already he had brought me a tiny plastic knight from a travel chess set and two rather ornate clothes pegs with days of the week written on them, which I assumed he had found on the floor.
I was somewhat surprised when I found him mouthing a third peg. I knew there was a basket of them in the bathroom, but they were too high up for him to reach and anyway the bathroom door was closed.
I was eating breakfast when I caught sight of movement in the corner of my eye. Triar was standing next to the fridge, moving very slowly, ears down in definite stealth mode. As I watched, he reached out gently and took something into his mouth. I put down my plate and walked over to see what he had and laughed out loud. It was another of the ornate pegs, which were magnetised on one side. Obviously he had found a wonderful source of cleverly disguised fridge decoration, for which he knew I would pay him in food… which of course I did.
We spent the day driving round the southern end of Lofoten with Triar. As we were staying two days, Kiwi and Susie the guinea pigs stayed in the flat for a day off. I have lots of photos, which I will share with you tomorrow. But today’s blog is dedicated to Kiwi.
She was an old lady when we set out. I knew the journey was a risk before we left, but the early stages had gone smoothly. She and Susie seemed so much at home in the car, strolling out and eating as we drove, that I had almost forgotten to worry. I had noticed, back in the cozy hytte a couple of days earlier, that one of her eyes looked watery, but as she was still eating and drinking, and there was very little discharge, I pushed the tiny twinge of concern aside.
But on Friday, late in the evening, as I went to give them a last bit of salad before going to bed, I noticed she was making a strange noise. Every time she breathed out, there was a tiny grunt, and there was a definite effort that hadn’t been there before. We went outside and found her some dandelion leaves – always her favourite. She ate one, then seemed uninterested in taking more. We took her out of the cage and I encouraged her to take some vitamin C from a teaspoon.
She looked a little better on Saturday morning. We gave her more water and vitamin and this time she fought a little, as if she had more energy. The vet practice was closed, but we found a pharmacy not far from the flat which, to my relief, sold us some antibiotic mixture recommended by Guro, a wonderful vet from Tu who specialises in small furries.
We decided to make a run for home. It was only five and a half hours and we would stop a few times and syringe her some water. If I could get her home, and into her own cage with plenty of fresh air, I thought I could nurse her back to health.
It didn’t work out that way. By the time we took her out for the second time, I could see there was something far wrong. The brightness in her eyes was starting to fade and I’ve seen that look before. I wished I had thought to ask the pharmacist for some saline I could have given her under her skin, but even if I had done so, I couldn’t have warmed it up. We got back into the car, and she crawled into the little wooden house I had bought them last winter. Within a minute or two of setting off, she became very still.
By the time I found somewhere else to stop, she was gone. I took her out of her cage and held her a while at the side of the road with tears running down my face.
We left her there, among some beautiful flowers, halfway up a steep little valley. John held me for a moment. I was glad he was so calm. And then we drove on, and now there was no hurry to get home, and no little furry body to nurse and the happy arrival I had in my mind became instead a time of emptiness.
So tomorrow I will post the pictures of Lofoten, and the things we have done since we arrived here in Finnsnes. But this chapter is dedicated to Kiwi, a beautiful, calm, kind little guinea pig with a heart of gold. Goodbye little friend.
We reached the Arctic Circle yesterday. As you can see there was some snow, despite the fact that we are in the later stages of summer.
Our road trip is going well. I hadn’t mentioned it in my last blog, but we met Wivek and Trifli (Triar’s mum) and had dinner together the night before we stayed in Mo i Rana. Here’s the loving reunion (with apologies for the unromantic, muddy car park setting).
The road trip is going well, though repacking the car has proved to be somewhat traumatic. Up until two days ago, I had been cooking breakfast and washing up, and John had been cramming all our worldly goods back into the car, but I could see this arrangement was getting him down. He gladly took me up on my kind offer to swap. Since then, we’ve had a pistachio ice cream cone for breakfast one day and a slice of cheesecake this morning. No complaints from me!
The scenery was beautiful as we descended from the mountain where we had crossed into the Arctic Circle. Within the circle, in summer, there must be at least one day when the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon for 24 continuous hours.
Melting ice and snow rush down the mountainside, carrying their chilly waters into the valleys far below.
And in the valleys the flowers grow so tall they’re almost at head height. The sweet warmth of their scent is wonderful.
We stopped here for an impromptu shower…
…then shivered our way to a campsite on the edge of Fauske in the late afternoon sunshine. This is the view from the cabin where we stayed.
This morning we took a boat to the Lofoten Islands. For now, the mountains are swirling with mist, but I hope that tomorrow the weather will clear.