Category Archives: Vet

Always Vet in Norway – A Blog

Tough Week

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

So much for trying to take a week off. The photograph of the ice bridge at the top of the page was only taken last Saturday, but it feels a very long time ago. John and I drove across it (just for fun) when we went to buy parts to try and fix the snow blower. It’s not quite working yet as one of the belts keeps jumping off, but John thinks he will be able to resolve that shortly. After working on it for several hours in significantly sub zero temperatures last weekend, he has made a lot of good progress.

My week off didn’t go as planned though. I was on my way to buy some gifts for John and Andrew’s stockings, on Monday morning, when I received a phone call from Thomas asking me to attend a meeting. Fortunately I have Teams on my phone, so I was able to join the meeting as I drove home. It was, of course, regarding last week’s tragedy, when one of the farmers in our district was shot by the police. I can’t share any details of the case itself, but Thomas and I spent a very long day out, in very low temperatures (round -15°C) working together to ensure that all the animals at the farm were either moved or would receive ongoing care until they can be.

I think the worst thing was the mental toll. Hard to deal with a case where it was so obvious that this was a person who had been badly failed by the system, but it was physically challenging as well. I hadn’t realised we would be there so long, but when I was preparing to go out, the only gloves I found were thickish waterproof gloves with no lining. Thomas, generous as ever, on seeing this lent me one of the two pairs he had brought. In fact, I think he lent me the warmer pair and that meant a lot. Sometimes it’s the small things that really help. It was a long and difficult day though, and we didn’t get back to Finnsnes until about midnight. I left Thomas working, with the agreement that I would go to the abattoir next morning, to oversee some ongoing work with the case.

The next morning’s trip didn’t go to plan either. I had taken one of the Mattilsynet lease cars. They are all quite new, and I wasn’t expecting any trouble, though one of the tyres was registering as having slightly low pressure, as sometimes seems to happen when it’s very cold. I was about half way there, when the car suddenly lost power and began to slow down. I was on a main road, where stopping would be dangerous, so I pushed the accelerator down further and the car speeded up a little, but was obviously not normal as it surged and slowed. I know the road very well, fortunately and knew there was a large bus stop up ahead where I could pull in. By this time, a message had popped up to say the motor was overheating. I managed to coax it into the layby before I turned the engine off.

My situation, even then, was precarious. I couldn’t run the engine to keep the car warm and the outside temperature was -25°C. I called the breakdown services and got through to a central line, who said someone local would call me back. I had a warm Mattilsynet jacket and hat in the car, which I quickly put on and fortunately, within a few minutes, I was talking to someone from Viking rescue, who was only about half an hour away. He wouldn’t be able to pick up the car, he told me. He already had one on the lorry, which he had to take to Tromsø ( a two hour drive) but he could pick me up and drop me off at the abattoir. I can honestly say, I have rarely been more grateful. I had been contemplating ringing Trude to collect me, but there was no guarantee anyone would be available for a while.

So I limped on to the abattoir, but then without a car, I couldn’t get back to collect my own from Finnsnes, so had to wait until my colleague was finished on the line. I also didn’t make it to the blood test I had booked in that afternoon.

Wednesday, I actually did manage a day off, though I was so exhausted by this time that it wasn’t really enough. I also received a phone call from work to ask if I could take Thomas’ shift at the abattoir on Thursday, starting at 05:45. Thomas had been working continually throughout and was even more exhausted than I was, so of course, I said yes. It was just one of those weeks!

On Thursday, just as I was contemplating the fact that I might manage to get home a little bit early to start my long weekend, which would be good as the weather forecast was awful, my phone rang. It was John, who often calls to tell me he’s going to be late home, or ask whether I want him to get anything at the shop, so I answered without any concern. John sounded a little bit shaky though, as he told me he was at the local doctors’. He had fallen and hurt his ankle, and as there was no longer an x-ray facility in Finnsnes, he had to go to the hospital in Tromsø. He was waiting for a taxi, he told me. Fortunately my generous colleague Konstantin said they would manage without me.

There was heavy snow forecast, but we made it to Tromsø in good time. It was a nightmare trying to find a place where I could park near an entrance to drop John off though, given that he couldn’t bear any weight on his foot. The doctor in Målselv had told us to take him to Accident and Emergency, but there didn’t seem to be any access there for ordinary cars. Eventually, we went to the main entrance, where there were wheelchairs available, but even then it wasn’t straightforward. Manoeuvring a rickety wheelchair in snow and ice isn’t easy. Then we couldn’t find anyone to tell us where we needed to be. I know the UK health service is on its knees, but I was thinking fondly of the old days in Scotland, where every hospital I ever attended had A&E department where you could drive up to the door, and walk in to find a receptionist who, one way or another, would register you and get you into the system.

We finally managed to find our way to the right place, but after the x-ray was taken, we had quite a long wait. I spent the time worrying about the fact that my phone was (uncharacteristically) low on charge, I didn’t have a charger with me, and that finding a hotel in Tromsø with parking at five or six at night would be difficult as well as heinously expensive.

To our relief, John’s ankle wasn’t broken and he didn’t need to stay in, but as we set off to drive back, it started to snow heavily. Visibility was awful and for a while, I couldn’t manage to limp along any faster than 40km/hour. The headlights clogged up with snow and the windscreen wipers were icing up and smeary and I had been up since four in the morning. Once again, we limped along until we could find a place to get off the main road. Fortunately, John had declined to take any strong painkillers and even more fortunately, it was his left ankle that was damaged and my wonderful, workhorse car is an automatic. In any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have let him drive, but driving onwards felt almost impossible. Still, we contemplated stopping at Vollan Gjestestue, which would be halfway home. By some miracle, the snow stopped at Nordkjøsbotn and John felt able to carry on and we made it home at about nine in the evening.

The storm finally hit properly yesterday and I was super-glad we had made it home on Thursday evening. It took a very long time to dig out the car yesterday. Have a good week all.

And so here I am, after my hoped-for week off ended up being anything but. We haven’t decorated for Christmas yet and I haven’t done the edits to my book that Ger, my agent, has asked me to do. I am now very much hoping that I can use some of my flexitime hours to take some shorter days next week, but of course it will depend what work comes in. When I decided, forty years ago, that I wanted to be a vet, I had no thought at all, and no understanding of how tough it can be to work in a profession where you never know what the next days, or even hours might bring. It’s mentally so much tougher than I could ever have imagined too, but one thing I can say about my life is that it is rarely ever boring.

So here’s hoping that there isn’t too much more snow and that I have a bit more time this week. This was the view from my kitchen window yesterday, during the short, twilight hours.

End of Season and Emergency Plumbers

Sunrise/sunset: 08:28/14:33 Daylength: 6hr04min

Yesterday was officially the last day of the season at the abattoir. It’s rather sad to think that the vast majority of the lambs that were born in the spring time are now processed and ready to be eaten, but that is the end result for almost all animals that are bred for food. My job, as ever, is to ensure that the animal welfare during that process is as high as it can possibly be, and also to check that the quality and cleanliness of the meat produced is up to scratch.

Though the season officially ended yesterday, lots of the season workers flew home (including twelve who had decided to desert early in order to get cheaper flights). A quick change of plan meant that instead of being on the sheep production line, as I had expected, I was suddenly free to make a start on all the work that’s been building up while I’ve been busy. Every year, the season overshadows all the other work we do and I guess it’s the busiest time of the year.

It felt good to be making a start on the backlog. Hilde has given me some new tasks at the abattoir as I will eventually be moving there on a permanent basis. As with any other business, there’s a lot of paperwork to do behind the scenes and with my predecessor having left a year ago, and the other permanent vet (Ann) on sick leave, I am in the sink or swim phase of a new job, where things are thrown at me and I have to work out how they are done before a (fortunately mostly reasonable) deadline. That sort of thing can be somewhat stressful, but I can remember, all those years ago as a brand new vet, being thrown into a consulting room with clients when my knowledge of how to do the job was sadly lacking, and that was way worse! Ultimately, I will swim. I always do. Life experience is a wonderful thing.

John’s Triar fence isn’t quite finished. He and I had measured before we began and had estimated we needed 100m of lamb netting, but it seems we were out by a few metres and will need to buy some more lamb netting. I was amazed by John’s expertise though. One of the beautiful things about having adult children is that they learn to do things you never expected them to. Before I married, I was always impressed with the young farmers I had to work with, who were so wonderfully practical and seemed to be able to turn their hands to anything. I can do lots of things, if taught to do them, but often fear messing up (though obviously, reading my own words higher up the page, that doesn’t apply to things that are thrown at me at work!). John reminds me of those young farmers. He has no fear of taking things apart and putting them back together, or building a fence and sorting out any problems that come up. I am immensely proud of the young man he’s turned into.

Here he is wielding a mallet to put the posts in place, banging them down with a post knocker, sawing a notch for the stay (posts that go in at an angle to stabilise the corner posts) hammering in a stay and finally, tightening up the lamb netting (wider holes at the top, smaller gaps lower down). As you can see, he did it all with snow on the ground. That snow is mostly gone again for now, but winter is definitely here.

After we had been working on the fence, John went inside to have a warm shower, while I did some washing up. The washing machine was also on. While I was standing at the sink, I got something of a shock when I found my feet were suddenly wet. We have a dishwasher, but it isn’t plumbed in yet (it needs a new pipe and, you guessed it, it’s on John’s list of things to tackle). This means that there is an uncovered hole in one of the pipes under the sink. Up until now, the water has drained away normally despite this, but now it wasn’t. John also came out of the shower to say there was water all over the bathroom floor. It’s a wet room, so that wasn’t a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t normal either.

Norwegian insurance companies are great. In the UK, most seem to spend their time trying to get out of paying out, but here in Norway, I phoned mine (Gjensidige) immediately, and within a couple of hours there was a plumbing expert, who ran a self propelling hose up the pipes from the septic tank, then put in a camera to see what was wrong. It seems a previous occupier has thrown a load of solid fat down the drains, which has attached to the pipes and not only blocked them, but has done significant damage. For now they are unblocked, but will need to be replaced.

I’m not sure yet whether this is going to involve digging up huge sections of the garden (there might be a quicker fix under the house as the pipe from the toilet is large and still intact) but either way it’s a big job. It may be that it will have to wait for next year, as when the snow comes and the ground freezes, it will become impossible to dig, or indeed to access the “creep cellar” under the house, which is accessed from outside and will shortly be under a metre of snow. Still, for now it’s all working okay and it will be sorted out eventually. I’m just glad we found it early. The person that sold me the house also bought insurance for unexpected things happening after she’d moved out, so I will, if at all possible, shift the claim from my own insurance onto hers, but either way, I feel confident that this will all be sorted out.

Anyway, I have to go. My car has a major fault which is going to take three days to fix (something called the wire harness has a fault) and there’s nobody nearer than Tromsø with the expertise to fix it. I’ll take it today and collect it next weekend. One thing I can certainly say is that life here is rarely boring!

Grey Skies and Falling Leaves

Sunrise/sunset: 06:09/19:13 Daylength: 13hr04min

Autumn is progressing fast, and earlier this week, I saw some early snow dusting the top of the mountains. It was only on the highest peaks, so the (now disappeared again) snow line was probably about a thousand metres above sea level, but it will return and gradually descend. I think there are many areas in the UK where there is no snow from one year to the next. It suddenly struck me as odd to live somewhere where it was inevitable that there will be many months of snow on the ground. It never really crossed my mind, growing up, that I would ever live anywhere other than the UK. I never had a burning desire to do so, yet here I am.

John bought a new car this week. He’s been driving an old banger since he passed his test, but the clutch has been slipping towards oblivion ever since he got it. He’s bought a five year old Ford Mondeo, which will hopefully be more reliable. They don’t use salt on the roads here, so there’s less of a problem with rust. The stunning autumn colours and the new car prompted me to suggest a road trip this weekend. Campsites in Norway often have cabins to rent at very reasonable prices, so I had booked one in Alta, but John called me at work yesterday to say he thought he was coming down with a cold, so we cancelled. Alta is a six hour drive, so doing it after work on a Friday night would ideally only be done with both of us fit and well. We’ll probably go somewhere next weekend instead – perhaps somewhere in Sweden – though as Triar doesn’t have a doggy passport, he’ll probably have to sit that one out.

Projects with the house are ongoing. I’m still waiting for quotations for work to be done by the builder. In the meantime, we are still putting stuff away after the move and trying to get some smaller tasks done. For example, the living room is quite large and only has one overhead light and two small wall lamps. If it was only for use in the evenings, we could probably get away with a standard lamp or a couple of table lamps, but as there are months in the winter when it’s dark almost all day, it’s necessary to provide enough light to mimic daylight, otherwise it is all too easy to go into hibernation mode. We’ve invested in some smart bulbs from Philips. Some provide different shades of white (bright and warm) while others also can be coloured. We finally got internet earlier this week, so we will be able to get Alexa up and running so she can turn the lights on for us. We’ve also found a stand to put firewood into, so hopefully we will be able to get the living room into better shape this week.

I’ve been at the abattoir most of this week. We are already short staffed, but when the call came in from the reindeer abattoir that they wanted to open for a day or two, we realised that we were going have to manage with one person less. Konstantin said he was happy to go, so though it was somewhat chaotic on Thursday and Friday, we managed to get through it. The reindeer abattoir is small and run by a Sami family. I’ve written about it before, but it’s difficult to plan around as the reindeer are often herded there on foot, rather than being transported in lorries.

Something of a hammer blow fell on Thursday afternoon. We were sent an e-mail to say that there was a suspected case of CWD in a reindeer that was slaughtered in Bjørgefjell in Helgeland. CWD (chronic wasting disease) is a prion disease, somewhat similar to Scrapie in sheep and BSE in cattle. There are two possible forms, one of which crops up occasionally in individuals. The other form is infectious and could potentially lead to huge problems and a great deal of suffering, if allowed to spread.

So for now, there are preparatory actions being set in motion. It’s likely that all the meat produce from that herd will have to be traced, but that is minor in comparison to working out all the reindeer that might potentially have been in contact with the affected one. Reindeer are not fenced in, but herded loose on pastures that are traditionally used by various Sami families. In wild reindeer, the infection can be passed on through infected saliva, and prions are very difficult to remove from the environment.

Norway is incredibly strict about disease outbreaks in animals, the consideration being that if a disease becomes endemic, the suffering over time will be worse than that caused by a cull. Back in 2016, infectious CWD was found for the first time in Europe in wild reindeer in Norway. The entire herd of over 2000 reindeer was culled in an attempt to stop it spreading. The devastation that will occur if there is an outbreak in domesticated reindeer will be cataclysmic. Relations between the Sami and the powers that be in Norway are already strained. And so, we wait for answers. Hopefully the wait will not be too long.

Autumn scene with trees and mountain

The Rest is History

Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.

It was hard leaving Yorkshire. I left just after midday last Saturday and the last few hours were melancholy. I travelled to Gatwick on the train: a frustrating journey as I misbooked my tickets on the Trainline App and though I realised my error moments after I had done it, it couldn’t be undone. And so I walked through Leeds station and watched an almost empty train to Kings Cross leave ten minutes after I arrived there, then travelled to York, where two more trains to the same destination left before the one I was booked onto pulled in. Still, I stayed overnight in a Premier Inn near the North Terminal and set off at a civilised time on Sunday morning to fly home.

That day’s journey was somewhat hair-raising. I flew from Gatwick to Bergen, then from Bergen to Tromsø. The original plan was that John was to collect me from the airport, but as he was stuck in the UK due to the SAS strike, I planned on getting a bus from the airport to the fast boat and taking the last boat of the day, which left Tromsø at 8pm. All the connections were a bit tight, but despite a couple of delays and an almost interminable wait, while they unloaded the baggage for four planes onto the two, smallish luggage carousels in Tromsø, I arrived safely at around 10pm. Just as well as I was due in the abattoir at 6am on Monday morning. Had I not made it, I would have been faced with the interesting dilemma of which of my colleagues might be willing to take the two and a half hour drive to Tromsø at an unspecified time on a Sunday evening.

It’s been a fairly typical summer week at work. I was at the abattoir Monday to Wednesday, then on Thursday I set to, tackling the six new cases I’ve been sent. Fortunately, the abattoir is closed next week, so hopefully I will get at least half of the investigations under way then, and keep my fingers crossed that I don’t get another six in the meantime. The good news is that Gry is sacrificing some of the first week of her holiday to come out with me.

I haven’t been out and about too much this week, but Triar and I did take a tour down the pathway at the back of the house and round to the little harbour that lies near the bottom of the hill. I’ve commented before on the fact that most of the small paths are blocked in the winter due to the snow. When it’s a meter deep and regularly added to, they rapidly become impassable. But this is a land of extremes. While the long dark spell brings a blanket of white over the landscape, the light brings so much life that even the floors of dense pine forests are swathed in green. This was the path Triar and I took. The undergrowth is at shoulder height.

Rampant plants almost obscuring the path

And here’s Triar on the harbour wall.

Triar

Of course, all that growth means there are lots of insects. In particular, I love watching the bumble bees.

Bumble bee on a violet flower

The last two photos are from a trip to collect John from the airport yesterday evening. I set off for Tromsø before his plane left Oslo and before the hour and a half delay was announced, so I took my time (and a small detour) driving up. The tops of the mountains were swathed in clouds, but now and then I would catch sight of a rocky peak.

Rocky peaks on the far side of a fjord

And as ever, where the mountains are so steep, there are stunning waterfalls along the roadside. Though technically today is the last day of 24 hour daylight, there was a brief period around 1am where it was definitely twilight. Due to the mountains, though the sun is still technically above the horizon, the reality is a little different.

And though it was hard leaving Yorkshire, and Mum and Dad, now I am back, I am not homesick. The week after next, I will get the keys to my new house, and then a whole new chapter will be beginning. Have a lovely week all!

Looped moving image of a waterfall

Winging It…

Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.

I’m going to start with a couple of photos this week. I need to find a way to stop myself huddling inside through the winters here. Having just lived through my second, I have come out the other side hopelessly unfit again. Still, I have made a start, and Triar and I took our first outing up the track that leads to Kistafjellet, which I discovered at the end of autumn last year: Changing Wheels, Changing Weather

Triar waits for me as I take a picture of the fjord and mountains beyoned

I won’t make it up Kistafjellet before I go on holiday in two week’s time, but hopefully I will when I get back. It’s a long walk, but not technically difficult and there’s a good track all the way up, so it’s a good mountain to start on. I walked for about half an hour, which isn’t that much, but the track is pretty steep. I got as far as this river, before turning to come back.

In other news, I have found an agent who wants to sell my book. Having written the Hope Meadows books with Vicky Holmes, I have been hoping to write something that would be all mine and published under my own name. This is part of the letter I sent the agent last Friday, along with part of the manuscript.

“The Good Friends’ Veterinary Clinic” is an exploration of the life of a recently widowed veterinary surgeon and how she deals with the consequences of a lifetime of putting her family before herself. I was aiming for a cross between James Herriot and Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax). It is set in rural Scotland and is filled with diverse women and their animal friends, from the partnership between receptionist Gail and her guide dog Beth, to butch lesbian, Mags, who loves her crazy mare, Strumpet, almost more than life itself.

I finished writing a while back and had been looking for an agent, but hadn’t been very active in pursuing it. After something of a break, I looked through The Writers’ and Authors’ Yearbook last Friday and something about this agent caught my eye, so I sent off a submission. Since then everything has happened at high speed. Anyway, I don’t want to say any more right now as we are at the contract stage and it’s not quite complete. Suffice it to say, I think I’ve found someone I can really work with, which feels brilliant!

More pictures now. Thomas, Gry and I were driving back from a case yesterday when we noticed the almost-perfect reflection of mountains in Skøvatnet, the lake we were driving beside. It was so still and so beautiful that Thomas actually turned the car round so we could all go back and take some pictures.

There was something of an unexpected coda to last week’s post about the dead eagle. Line, who oversees our animal health and welfare team, commented on my Facebook post last week to say “Good job”. I was slightly surprised then, when she called me midweek to talk about it. She sounded a little tentative as she opened up the OK Program instructions for the year and asked me which protocol it was I’d followed. She opened up the familiar sheet with the instructions and polite dissection photos and I told her that yes, that was what I had done.

It turns out that though I had very carefully read and translated the instructions, I hadn’t given the same attention to the explanation at the top, which said that this form was for the use of hunters who found birds when they were out hunting. My eagle had been found by someone out hunting, but apparently the form I should have filled in, as a Mattilsynet vet, was actually to be found on MatCIM, the emergency monitoring channel that we use to track outbreaks and emergencies. Had I found the instructions on MatCIM, I would have discovered that there was no need to take the wing at all, and the swabs alone were enough. Still, she said, probably the Veterinær Institutt down in Ås were pleasantly surprised to have received my carefully packed eagle wing…

She apologised for laughing, but I actually thought it was funny enough to relate it to the three colleagues with whom I sat and ate lunch a few minutes later. They all thought it was hilarious too. So I was laughing for what remained of the day and was still giggling to myself as I drove home. After all, there was no harm done, it had certainly been an adventure and anyway, I love things that are just too ridiculous. The lab haven’t got back to me yet, so I still don’t know whether the poor old eagle died of bird flu, but don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted.

And finally, I’ll leave you with another midnight sun picture. Have a good week!

Troubled Waters

Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.

This is going to be a difficult post to write, not least because of all the things I can’t say. It’s been a long week, despite the fact that Thursday was a bank holiday in Norway. The case started last week with a phone call, took up most of my working hours this week, and doubtless will be going on for some time. As regular readers will know, I deal with animal welfare issues, and obviously that can sometimes be harrowing. Very occasionally, Mattilsynet’s employees have to deal with cases that are so tragic that it’s almost unbearable. Back when I started, I read a case so awful that just reading about it made me cry, and it took more than one session before I could read it right through to the end. I found myself hoping it would never happen on my watch, hoping that I could prevent it by listening to everything and acting fast, but despite all those thoughts, it happened anyway.

The police are involved, and so in a lot of ways, the case is currently out of my hands. My task (with others from Mattilsynet and Dyrevernnemda) has mostly been around collecting evidence. Thomas has taken charge, and for that I am eternally grateful. One of the oddest things has been the way the world just keeps going on. Summer is moving in and the world is filled with life and growth. I sat in the car, gazing out at a snow-capped mountain behind lime-green spring trees, as I took a break to drink some water and gather myself together between sessions in the barn. I could hear the birds singing and the gentle summer sound of sheep bells in the fields nearby and the only jarring note in the beautiful scene was the fluorescent yellow of the police car parked on the farm road in front of me.

Yesterday, I drove to Tromsø with some samples in the car and the world looked more beautiful than ever. The whole thing is surreal. Oddly enough, there was a jarring note along the way. As the sun heats up the world, the snow up on the mountains starts to melt. The water rushes down, faster and faster and I saw many swollen waterfalls cascading down the steep slopes that rose up, sometimes almost vertically from the roadside. They sparkled in the sunshine, clear water, rushing down to the sea. So when I saw what was almost a flow of mud flooding down a rock face, it gave me pause. It wasn’t a lot, but it was very different from all the other water I’d seen.

I live in a house in an area where there are obviously concerns about landslides. There are metal monitors sticking up out of the ground all along the road, and very close to the house I live in. I have read about possible warning signs, one of which was when muddy water is coming out of the ground. The problem with reading things online, as I know from working as a vet, is often one of scale and context. I think most people know that if you read about headaches online, you might easily conclude you have a brain tumour, when actually you’re stressed or dehydrated. I called a friend who is a geologist and asked if I could send a video for him to look at, but he advised me it was better to call the police and let them assess it. Better a warning for something not serious, than failing to warn when it was. Being on the other side of that equation, I know that there can sometimes be a danger in too many warnings as they can lead to complacency, but the possibility that there might be houses below was in my mind, and so I called the police and offered to send a video.

I then drove on, dropped off my evidence at the lab and checked my e-mails, only to find that the one I had sent to the police hadn’t gone. I must have taken down the address wrongly. I called my friend back – I had sent the video to him as well, but there was no reply. I had given the police the exact geolocation (thanks to a photo app that I use to record cases at work) but I had realised I had wrongly mentioned the E6, when I had left that and joined the E8. Where does public duty begin and end? Always a difficult question, and at the moment, my mind is unquiet enough to be clouding judgement. I was in Tromsø and it wasn’t far to the police station. Should I go in and correct what I had said and give them the picture and film I had taken?

Fortunately, my friend got back to me quite quickly. From a quick viewing of a four second film, he was able to tell me that the rock face itself had been blasted extensively, and was therefore probably solid, that the soil cover above the rock was thin, that the trees and plants looked young, so perhaps the land had undergone a slip only four or five years earlier and that the undergrowth was thick, which would help with stability. He said it was good to have reported it, as I had no way of knowing what was going on higher up the slope, and that it was better that it could be assessed by someone local, but that the location details I had given were probably good enough. He didn’t think there was a serious risk at the moment. How good it was to speak to someone with genuine knowledge. I was truly grateful and felt the extra weight lift from my mind.

I haven’t many photos, but I did take some driving home yesterday, including this one of a north of Norway traffic jam.

Reindeer crossing the E6 road south of Tromsø

I had thought of using it as the photo at the top of the blog, but it seems unfair to lure people in with a photo of something so cheery in a blog that’s filled with troubled thoughts, so I went with a calm picture of the late evening sun over Senja. I won’t be looking at that view for too much longer, and so it seems precious right now. The dissonant feelings grew as I listened to the news flash on the radio. “Police in are dealing with a case where more than seventy dead animals were found on a farm in Mid-Troms”. My case. My responsibility. Bad enough to make the national news.

I don’t know how to deal with these feelings, other than letting time pass. Bizarrely, I felt a sudden desire to play the piano, which I haven’t really done since I left home, thirty five years ago. There was an old music sheet in the piano stool at home. My parents hadn’t bought it, at least not directly. They bought a piano, with one of those old-fashioned stools where the seat lifted and the previous owners had left some music inside. “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” was one of them and I wanted to play it again. It’s a beautiful song and easily arranged. My sister has the piano now, and though it was a long shot, I e-mailed her and asked if that old sheet music was still there. It was.

And so she scanned it and sent it and I went to the office and printed it out, and so I sat last night on the electric piano I bought for my son after we’d moved up here, and I played music from years ago, and somehow it was a comfort. My sister and I hadn’t spoken for ages, but now we are chatting again, and that’s a comfort too. I have a wonderful family, and in that I’m very lucky.

Anyway, there’s no good way to round this off, so I will leave it here for now. Sometimes life is difficult, but the sun comes out again. All I can do at the moment is gather the best evidence I can and help the police and hope that something good comes of all of this, which it might. There will probably never be a day when there isn’t some bastard who sees animal life as expendable and suffering as irrelevant, but all we can do is keep on fighting it, one case at a time. Thank you for reading.

Fish and Chips

Sunrise/sunset: 03:36/21:58. Daylength: 18h22min

I didn’t update last week. I was too busy wallowing in the nostalgia of my UK visit. The past two weeks have also been filled with movement and travel, some further afield, but others involving more local discoveries.

Ten days ago, I travelled back down to Rogaland, where I used to live. I was bound for a Mattilsynet meeting about the important communication on welfare between abattoirs and the vets out in the field that I talked about in this post: The Ever Changing Sky

I emerged into the 11pm darkness at Sola Airport to be greeted by the ever present smell of slurry. It’s a very famous phenomenon. Jo Nesbø even mentions it in one of his books. Anyway, I had completely forgotten until I stepped outside into the warmish night air.

Knowing I would arrive so late, I had toyed with the idea of staying in an airport hotel and travelling onwards on the morning of the meeting, which didn’t start until eleven. But I had found a bus that would take me to Sandnes – the number 42 – and so I thought I’d risk it. I remembered the airport buses from when I used to live there, so I assumed I would be able to pay on board, but when the driver only opened the doors in the centre of the bus, it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to buy one. Scrabbling online, I found I had the Kolumbus App already. Crossing my fingers that there would be no inspectors at that time of night, I finally bought a ticket for what I thought was the correct area, just as we pulled into Sandnes.

By this time it was midnight. Technically, I was still working, still on the clock, which I had switched on in the office when I arrived in the morning. Logging onto my computer to clock out, I thought I would check tomorrow’s meeting, so I opened up the Teams app to check the calendar. There was no venue listed. In fact, it was listed as a Teams Meeting. For a long, sweaty moment, I thought I had just travelled 2000km for a Teams meeting. A check of the e-mails confirmed that I had not. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had!

But the meeting was a success and I’m very glad I went. One of the tasks I struggle with at work is speaking up in meetings, but I had some valid points to make, based on both experience and reading around the topic. It was also great to meet some of the other Mattilsynet staff from other areas of Norway.

I flew back on Thursday afternoon and arrived home almost as late as I’d arrived in Sandnes. There was no rest though, as I had arranged an inspection with Gry on the Friday (post about Gry). The tour took me on an exploration of a part of Senja that I had never visited. Indeed it’s a small corner of the island that I had missed in all my driving around. We stopped in Gryllefjord for a surprisingly tasty chunk of pizza from the local shop. *

Surprisingly tasty pizza

Gryllefjord is an amazing place. It’s ramshackle collection of houses, clustered on the edge of the fjord, under a brooding overhang of mountains, with a small harbour. It was a cloudy day, and the tops of the mountains reached up into the mist.

We also drove to a nearby village, reached through a tunnel in the mountainside. The old road, which went over an exposed ridge, was often blocked in winter.

It’s always a joy finding new places near to where I live. There was also a restaurant in Gryllefjord, which was closed at the time of our visit. I had heard from others that it was a good restaurant, and when I checked online, it appeared that there was fish and chips on the menu.

For anyone living in the UK, that probably seems like a non-event. Fish and chips is the original British fast food. I can remember before Chinese and Indian takeaways became common, and well before the invasion of the US burger craze, that fish and chips was a staple. But in Norway, fish in batter is rare. So when John came over the next day, which was also his birthday, I suggested that we should take a tour out to Gryllefjord to try out the Skreien Spiseri and he jumped at the chance.

It was a much brighter day and we stopped along the way at Hamn to take a few photos. There were also some reindeer by the road, looking surprisingly defenceless without their antlers.

The fish and chips was delectable. We will definitely be back.

Fish and Chips from Skreien Spiseri

As you can see from the photos of John’s birthday, the weather was almost spring-like. I was hoping for a smooth segue from winter to summer, but it wasn’t to be. It started to snow again a couple of days later. I went to Tromsø on Thursday this week to go on an inspection with Line, who works there. Arriving back on the fast boat at five thirty in the afternoon, I walked back through Finnsnes centre and paused to take a couple of photos.

Still, I enjoyed the walk, even if it was a little more “refreshing” than I would have predicted a couple of weeks ago.

And as you know, there’s one member of our household, who always welcomes the snow! Hope you have a great week everyone.

Triar, looking cheery at the new snow fall

*I forgot to say that I also drank a cup of black coffee from the shop, when I was out with Gry. Perhaps, in time, I will indeed be truly integrated into Norwegian society. Maybe if I tell the authorities that I managed it without milk, they will give me a Norwegian passport faster.

Gry

I’d like to tell you about a wonderful woman I sometimes work with called Gry. She works as a nurse in the community, as well as running a sheep farm with her husband. She also works with me now and then on animal welfare cases as a member of dyrevernnemnda – people from the area with experience with animals and an understanding of their welfare needs.

Red rocking chair with white sheepskin

We were out together on a visit on Monday. I love having her there as she is very knowledgable and can talk to anybody. She also knows a whole lot more about sheep farming in the Arctic than I do!

The visit had gone well – always a relief, so as we drove away, I asked her if she’d like to go somewhere for coffee. Our options were limited. We wandered into the local hotel, but the bar was empty. We resisted running off with the Peach Schnapps and climbed back into the car.

An old coffee grinder in brass and wood

Gry suggested we could buy a sandwich at the garage and go back to her barn and she would make coffee. Her barn is wonderful. They built it in 2016 and it has a living area that’s almost as big as my flat. They sleep there during lambing time so they can keep an eye out at night.

Ewer and basin, standing on an old-fashioned wash stand

She took me in and I sat down at a big wooden table with a cosy red table cloth. As she made the coffee, I sat looking around at all the wonderful objects she has collected. This is an old waffle iron.

Waffle iron – one of three

But there was one object that I didn’t recognise, and so I asked her about it. This, she told me, is an old gadget for separating out the milk from the cream. Those of us who are old enough to remember milk in a bottle on the doorstep will also remember that the cream is lighter than the milk, and so it rises to the top.

Milk separator

Gry told me that she works with dementia patients, and sometimes she brings them back to the barn. They see the old things and respond with pleasure.

She was at a museum with an old man. They had a milk separator there too, which they had taken apart.

It has seventeen separate components inside and they have to be fitted together correctly for it to function. Despite being often confused, the old man’s face lit up. He set to and in minutes had reassembled the separator, with everything in place.

Some days my job can be tough. Few things are more distressing than animal cruelty.

But then there are other days when everything goes right. And just now and then, I discover that alongside the animals, I am also working with some of the most warm-hearted people in the world.

The Ever Changing Sky

Sunrise/sunset: 06:16/ 20:24. Daylength: 14hr07min

I thought I would dedicate this post to the wonderful skyline over Gisundet and Senja (Gisundet being the sound between the mainland and Senja, which is the second biggest island on the Norwegian coastline). I am incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful view from my garden. With the changing lights and the boats that come and go, it never gets old. In the past week, I’ve taken three photographs on three separate evenings. The first was the one at the top of the page, where I caught the very last glow of the sunset, a new moon rising, and the aurora borealis in the same picture. I don’t think I’ve ever seen all three at once before. Here’s the full version.

The last of the daylight meets the new moon and the aurora over the island of Senja

Next up was the last rays of the sun as it dipped behind the mountains.

The last rays of sun over the mountains of Senja

And the last was taken last night, as the sun dropped behind the mountains, lighting up the clouds and the water with its burnt orange glow.

Sunset lighting the sky and the water of Gisundet

It’s been a good week. There’s been a case hanging over me from since before I was ill with covid. The general rule is that we have a month, from receiving a report from the public, in which to take action. I missed the deadline, but the visit has been done now, and the report will hopefully be sent out on Monday. I’ve another two cases pending, both fairly serious, but having taken advice from Birgit, Hilde, Thomas and Line (as well as a discussion during our weekly meeting) I feel ready to tackle both. The process, as a whole, is daunting, but I am learning to break it down into steps, and I can get advice at any stage, which is reassuring.

Having not travelled anywhere in nearly two years, I now have two more trips booked in quick succession. This coming week, I will be taking a flying visit to the UK to visit my daughter Anna at university. I’ll only be there a couple of days, but Anna said she’d love to get out and about, so we are planning a trip to a castle, and will stay at a Premier Inn overnight nearby. Those two things are filled with nostalgia for me. When the children were young, we lived in central Scotland, where there were many castles within reasonable driving distance. We joined Historic Scotland and over the course of a year or two, we visited lots of them, staying overnight at various Premier Inns nearby. I have wonderful sunny memories of those times, when the children were young to hare off around the castle grounds while Charlie and I explored more quietly.

The second trip is the week after Easter and is an unexpected treat. I say treat – it’s actually a work meeting, but it’s also in the area of Norway where I used to live, so when it popped up last week, I jumped at the chance, and fortunately was selected to go.

The area isn’t the only attraction, however. I have felt for a while that building up the links between the welfare vets out in the offices and the staff who work in the abattoir would be very helpful in dealing with farm animal cases. I have been working for a while on a project where we at Mattilsynet are trying to tackle the chronic cases out on farms, where welfare isn’t good enough, and no real progress is being made. Having worked closely with Ann and Trude at the abattoir, I’ve come to appreciate how much of an oversight they have built up over the farmers that send their animals in.

The live animals are checked when they come in, and then the meat is inspected, so picking up signs that might indicate poor welfare (animals which are very dirty or very thin, for example) are picked up. The same names come up again and again throughout the years, and so those working at the abattoir come to build up a mental map of which farmers treat their animals well, and which are, perhaps, not so good.

The meeting down in Rogaland is about honing the process by which the abattoir staff report signs of poor welfare to the vets out in the field. We will try to address whether there are areas that are currently difficult to report. There are categories, for example, for reporting overgrown feet and dirty cattle, but no category for reporting eye injuries or inflammation in sheep, which might indicate a farmer hasn’t been keeping a close enough eye on the flock.

I understand we will also be discussing where the lines should be drawn. For example one sheep that’s just been brought in from pasture with a sore eye might be less than ideal but is probably just one of those things, whereas several affected sheep, that appear to have longer term damage, might be an indicator of a welfare issue. It feels odd to have found something that interests me so much. Up until recently, I have been scrabbling to find my feet, which might seem strange after eighteen months in a job, but is the reality as my job specification is so broad. Suddenly I feel really fired up about an issue, where I really want to make a difference. I have only a short time to collect in the information, but I am trying to gather evidence from every colleague with an opinion or with an experience to share, and I hope to carry all that collective knowledge with me to a meeting where I am determined to have some input.

Exciting times!

Next weekend I will be in England, but hopefully I will find time to pop in with some very different photographs. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some snowy trees from this morning. Have a good week!

Icy river, melted, cracked and refrozen.
Snowy trees against the dawn sky
Fir trees in the snow

Lillehammer

Sunrise/sunset: 06:16/ 19:32. Daylength: 12hr53min

This week I have been to Lillehammer, to take part in Den norske veterinærforening‘s fagdager. Den norske veterinærforening is the vets’ union in Norway. Fagdager translates as “subject days” and this was a veterinary congress with lectures separated into different streams for vets working with pigs, horses, small animals and (for me the most important) veterinary public health.

It’s a very long time since I have been to such a big meeting, and it was my first time in Norway. There were about five hundred people there, so it was the biggest gathering I’ve been to in a while as well. Having recently had covid was actually a boon. Had I not had it, I would probably have been much more wary of picking it up. I should add that I’m feeling very much better, which is a huge relief.

The trip has led to something of a cascade of emotions. I couldn’t help reflecting on the fact that I knew almost nobody. The veterinary world is a small one, both in the UK and Norway. Back in the UK, I worked for Vets Now, who run emergency clinics in the UK, and for several years I worked at their head office, and had contact with vets and nurses all over the UK. I also worked in a few different places and knew people from university. If I attended a big meeting in the UK, there would probably be loads of people there to catch up with. There was a party night on Thursday, and all around me, other people were doing just that. There were also random outbreaks of singing, including the Norwegian Toasting Song, which I came across for the first time at the Christmas Julebord back when I was working at Tu veterinary clinic back in Rogaland. In fact the only person I did run into was Dagny – Scary Boss Lady from Tu – who gave me a cheerful hug, but was naturally catching up with lots of people herself.

The food was good, though with five hundred people being served it took about three hours from the fish starter to the pannacotta dessert.

I travelled down with Astrid, who works in Storslett. We flew from Tromsø to Oslo and then got the train to Lillehammer. Both those things were something of a novelty, as was leaving northern Norway, which I haven’t done since moving here in August 2020. Coronavirus has turned me into something of a hermit. There was definitely a feeling of opening horizons, both from travelling, and from the lecture streams themselves.

One of the major themes in the veterinary public health stream was sustainability. I guess this might seem somewhat odd, as those two things don’t immediately appear to be strongly linked, but sustainability is something of a theme at the moment in farming, as it probably should be. The European Union is in the process of introducing its Farm to Fork Strategy (“aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly”) and because Norway is integrated with the EU (though not a member state) we will be taking on board some, if not all, of the new regulations and initiatives. Norway, as I have mentioned before, has more stringent rules on animal health and welfare than the EU, which it is unwilling to compromise to make food cheaper, or “competitive” as officials in the EU put it.

The most interesting lecture, from my point of view, was one which covered an interesting mix of discussion over the relative amounts spent preventing new variant CJD (BSE related prion disease) and coronavirus and whether insects might be integrated into the food chain in order to minimise the long term impact in the fight against BSE/prion disease.

Regarding the relative costs around the reactions to both diseases, it is difficult to estimate the price of lockdowns, but the argument was that the amount spent on fighting BSE was way over the top. Given the number of samples we take on sheep and cattle, but also on reindeer and even wild animals such as moose, the amount spent in the whole of the EU must be colossal. Given that there are still under 300 diagnosed cases of the new variant of CJD (which spread from BSE in cattle) in the world it does seem odd to still be spending so much. It can, of course, be argued that the campaign to prevent vCJD has been successful in terms of disease prevention. As always, it’s difficult to know, when looking at the cost of something where intervention HAS taken place, what the costs would have been had no actions been taken.

But the other side of this discussion was around the fact that the use of meat and bone meal from ruminants in food fed to other animals is still banned, and how these could possibly be used. The suggestion was made that perhaps what is currently mostly a waste product could potentially be used to feed insects, which would produce protein that could then be fed back into the food chain which is an interesting, if rather bizarre thought. We are living through astonishing times, where the world is changing incredibly fast, compared to what went on for probably thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Sometimes I wonder where it will end.

Anyway, back to the more mundane! I enjoyed the train journey from Oslo airport to Lillehammer. I took some photos from the train window. Apologies for the glass reflections. The days when you could open windows on long distance trains are long gone.

The hotel in Lillehammer was pleasant. I guess that if you’ve heard of Lillehammer, it’s probably because the Olympic Games were held there in 1994. I say the Olympics, because though in the UK and elsewhere, generally people refer to the Olympics and the Winter Olympics, here in Norway it’s the other way round. Here we have the Olympics and the Summer Olympics. Anyway, there was a ski jump just visible from the back of the hotel, and this chap was caught in an eternal gymnastic leap on my bedroom wall.

Picture of a ski gymnast on the hotel wall in Lillehammer

Because there were no flights back to Tromsø or Bardufoss on Friday evening, I spent the night in a hotel at Oslo Airport. I was greeted in the entrance by a red plastic moose in sunglasses, but the most pleasing sight greeted me in the room, and was much more down to earth. Most British hotels have a kettle in the room, but in Norway, it’s so rare that I actually took a photograph!

So now I am home, but going away has been a wonderful boost. Things are beginning to change and the world, which has felt closed in for the past two years, may be opening up again soon. And to that I say, bring it on!