Category Archives: Vet

Always Vet in Norway – A Blog

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!

Searchlights

Sunrise/sunset: 08:29/ 15:36. Daylength: 7hr06min

It’s been another week of near hibernation, though I have been out to the office a couple of times, and of course I have to take Triar out every day. He continues to provide many of the high points in my hibernatory days. I was standing outside, throwing his ball and watching him dashing cheerily away to grab it, then rushing back to drop it at my feet, when I thought to myself that this was one of those moments of easy happiness with which he lifts my days.

Triar and his squeaky ball

In fact, he gives me a lift just by lying around being cute as well.

Triar – almost asleep

We’ve had some fresh snow this week. Though this does mean more work (there was so much on Thursday night that it took me about forty minutes to dig the drive yesterday morning) it also has the effect of freshening everything up.

If you’ve never lived (or perhaps visited for a while) somewhere where there’s a lot of snow, you might never have thought about how dirty snow can get. I don’t mean inaccessible country snow, which remains beautiful, but snow in cities can end up being grim. Triar himself has quite the habit of decorating the garden and the roadside with yellow artwork and he’s not the only dog in the neighbourhood. If there are fast food places, quite often someone will toss out a half-drunk cup of coffee or drop a slice of tomato, which quickly gets frozen in. If there is no more snow to cover them up they can lie there for weeks.

Even if they are covered up, they can reappear months later when the snow melts. I guess in warmer climes, the coffee and pee stains would dry, and rain would wash them away and the food would be cleaned, or perhaps snaffled up by a grateful rat. So anyway, the idea that snow makes everything look clean and wonderful only holds when it’s freshly fallen. It is quite deep now though. This is the view from my bedroom window. My landlord takes his snow blower through the garden to keep a pathway open, so you can get an idea of the depth.

I have been working again on my audit course, though I’ve also spent a couple of days updating the timelines on our chronic cases. I quite enjoy doing that as it’s mostly excavating official letters from the archives and copying condensed information on what was observed and what actions we took onto the timelines.

My annual review is coming up next week, so I was looking through the tasks I had been set in the last one. They include speaking up more in meetings. I think that one has improved a little. As I get more involved in the cases, I automatically have more to say, as I have to ask for help. Speaking up to offer my opinion on other people’s cases remains a rare occurrence. I am still the most recent addition to the team, so whatever my experience level, someone else probably has several years more.

The other specific task was to start to take on responsibility for my own cases, and I think it’s fair to say that I have fulfilled that one and more. I wonder what Hilde will set me for the next year. Personally, I think just getting through my audit exam will be the next big challenge. I have to pass it before I can become an Official Veterinary Surgeon at the abattoir, which is something I very much want to achieve.

Konstantin is getting on well at the abattoir. He’s starting to take responsibility for some of the tasks there, which is good to see. He sent me a copy of the European Regulation on BSE yesterday. It was written in English, so I spent a bit of time looking through it. Norway isn’t in the European Union, but does have an agreement that means we generally try to follow the rules and it was interesting to see how they filter down to our work on the ground.

Point number 9 in the Regulation (EC) No 999/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001, which lays down rules for the prevention, control and eradication of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies reads:

Member States should carry out an annual programme for monitoring BSE and scrapie and should inform the Commission and the other Member States of the results and of the emergence of any other TSE.

On the ground, this means that we take BSE samples from cows that go for emergency slaughter that are over four years old. I was interested to find that we diverge from the rules quite considerably, because the specifics listed included sampling all animals going into the food chain that are over 30 months old, and we definitely don’t do that. I have no idea if that happens in the UK, or whether they get round it by throwing away the parts that might be affected. I did find a Mattilsynet page that confidently announces “Norway has the best status for BSE” which amused me: one of those translations that sounds more acclamatory than any dry announcement any British “competent authority” would make.

In addition to testing cows, Norway also test sheep and goats. In the abattoir, this means taking a certain number each year, and on the ground there are regulations that farmers must send off any animals over 18 months that died or were euthanased for testing. My part in that is to visit 10% of our sheep and goat farms every year to educate the animal owners on the rules. That’s one of the better parts of my job as it means going out to farmers, looking at their animals, and talking to them.

Finally, we also test adult reindeer (technically not wildlife as they are all owned by Sami groups) and also any moose over a year old that are killed on the road. I find myself wondering how those rules translate in different countries. Given Europe covers such a huge area, they must vary a lot. Living in Norway certainly offers me a hugely different perspective on life than I ever would have had if I had remained working as a regular vet in Scotland, which was what I expected I would do when I qualified thirty years ago.

I haven’t so many pictures this week, and those I have are all close to home. There were moments of brightness yesterday, when the clouds broke and the daylight penetrated, but always there were snowstorms on the way. I love the clear lines of white against a truly iron grey sky.

White painted house with snowy roof under a dark cloudbank

And I see the snow coming along the sound, banks of invisibility, heading our way.

Snow storm approaching along Gisundet sound

Sometimes the light shines breaks through the clouds. I could watch the changing sky all day.

Light breaking through the clouds over Senja

And then there is the night time. I walked Triar yesterday evening. It was snowing on and off, and the trees looked wonderful against the night sky, which was cloudy and clear in turns.

And I took this to show how much snow we’ve had in the past couple of days. Bins are in regular use, so these snow-caps are new, though the dug-out area around them has been months in the making.

Wheelie bins with thick caps of snow

And last but not least, I went out one evening when it was supposed to snow all night, and found that half of the sky had briefly cleared. There was the aurora, green searchlights across the heavens, flowing out from behind the clouds through the moonlit sky. This really is a magical place.

Sky scene with moon, clouds and aurora

Sacrifice

Sunrise/sunset: 09:36/ 14:26. Daylength: 4hr49min

Triar woke me up at six o’clock this morning. He was barking at something in the living room and I rushed through so I could stop him before he woke the neighbours. And what was it, you ask, that was so threatening at six in the morning? I was expecting it would be something outside the window. Maybe a bird in the garden or some snow falling off the roof, but no. Andrew and I had a carry out last night. This is a rare occurrence for us, because eating out is prohibitively expensive here. But Andrew had left the empty paper bag standing on the electronic keyboard and Triar had apparently just seen it and registered it as a threat to household safety.

This was easily resolved. I moved it onto the kitchen table and all was well, so I headed back to bed. Unfortunately, I hadn’t turned on the light in the hallway and I had left my bedroom door open. It opens into the hallway, and as I headed back into my bedroom, I walked into it. Doors are really quite solid things, especially first thing in the morning. Fortunately, I don’t have a black eye, so I’m not going to have to spend next week telling people I walked into a door and have them disbelieve me.

We started our working week with an emergency readiness exercise. Regular readers will know that we do this twice a year, putting on and taking off the protective clothing that we would have to use if faced with an outbreak of a highly infectious animal disease like foot and mouth, or worse, a highly infectious disease that can spread between animals and people, like bird flu. This time round, I was acutely aware that my colleagues down in Rogaland had been doing this for real this year. This time though, it wasn’t me who had to don all the gear. Konstantin was the sacrificial victim. Here he is with Thomas.

Konstantin and Thomas – emergency PPT

I took a photograph on the way home. There’s nowhere to safely stop the car, and so I took advantage of the fact that Thomas was driving. It’s a curved section of road, where there are deciduous trees on one side and fir trees on the other, and I love the way the fir trees stand out against the skyline. I’ve been wanting to photograph it for ages. It’s not perfect because it was taken through the car windscreen and I couldn’t choose the day, but here it is: one of my favourite places on the road to Finnsnes.

My favourite road curve with an even line of fir trees reaching into the sky.

On Wednesday, the sky finally cleared after weeks of clouds and snow and rain. We live in the lee of a hill, which is very useful when it’s stormy, but it does mean it takes a long time for the sun to reach the house in winter. And so at twelve o’clock, when the sun was reaching its high point for the day, Triar and I walked up to the top of the hill and saw it for the first time since the end of November. It was somewhat obscured by a line of cloud, but no less beautiful for that.

On Thursday, I finished what I hope will be my final report in my difficult case. There are tail ends to finish up, but I hope those will go smoothly. It did have one last sting in the tail however. One of Mattilsynet’s aims is that all the reports we send out are well constructed and consistent, and so they undergo several checks before they are sent out. For me, this usually includes sending it to a Norwegian member of our team (despite all my efforts, there are usually some grammatical errors in my writing) and then after I’ve cleared mistakes, it gets sent to a control team, one of whom rechecks it and points out any errors in construction, or other sundry things that might be a little awry.

Because this was such a complicated case, I had asked Thomas for help before I began, to make sure I used the right template. There are several different forms, depending on whether there are actions we feel the animal owner must take to comply with the law. Once I had written it, I sent it to Astrid and discussed the case with her, including a couple of things that concerned me about how I was handling it. Astrid is a member of the control team, so I felt it was particularly useful to get her help. She told me the people to ask to clear up a couple of outstanding points, and I did what she suggested.

Then, because Hilde is now involved and helping, I sent it to her to check whether she agreed with the approach taken. She added a couple of items in and then sent it back to me. Both Astrid and Hilde had told me that my report was good and I felt proud of the way I was managing the case, even though it’s been difficult and I have been quite troubled by it along the way.

Therefore I assumed, when I sent it to the control team for checking, that it would be a slam dunk: that it would pass muster and that any required changes would be very minor indeed.

I got it back after lunch, and found there was a note attached. It didn’t relate to the format or any grammar, but instead it was a comment on the tone.

After toiling so much with this case, and having felt satisfied with what I had written, this felt like the final straw. I don’t think I have ever written a ranty e-mail to my boss before, but I did this time, sending it to both Hilde and Astrid. Not least, I had it in my head that both Astrid and Hilde had seen it, and neither of them had noticed any problem.

On occasions like this, I often think that the person making the criticism or suggestion has no thought of how they might feel if they had to write something similar in a language that wasn’t their mother tongue, and that the suggestion they made, that probably seemed minor to them, might feel insurmountable to someone else. It can be the same with other tasks. “Just do a little checking round it” might seem like a small request. I know it would be if I was working in English. Just a little extra task that I would be able to follow up easily if I knew the landscape and reading was effortless. Instead, such suggestions can seem huge. I know it will get easier and it already is, but I often think that life would be very different if those obstacles were not in the way.

Hilde phoned me immediately, and we talked it through. If I was writing the report in English, might I have done it a little differently, she asked, and I agreed I might possibly have done so, though it’s not certain. Most of the sentences would actually have been quite difficult to construct differently, even in English, though there was one I picked out that I could have changed.

Still, she said, I should think on the fact that any incident like this counts as a learning experience: something I could bear in mind if I had to write something similar in future. In the end, she overruled the member of the control team and sent it as I had written it. I had, through the course of the case, spent a lot of time building up a polite relationship with the animal owner and any report I sent would seen through the lens of the rapport we had built, she said.

Despite the frustrating ending, I am glad that the report has now been sent. As I said, there are some tail ends that need to be followed up, but I hope that all will be resolved without me having to intervene further.

I will finish with some photographs. The sky finally cleared on Wednesday, and I have already shown a picture of the sun, but even where the sun is not visible, even if it’s lightly cloudy, there is still that wonderful light which reflects from the snow as the sky changes, minute by minute.

And here’s my trusty car, which so far hasn’t failed to make it out of the driveway, even though some days it has been so icy it was difficult to walk. I didn’t choose it because of its all wheel drive. I bought it because it looked sturdy for the harsh conditions I knew we would meet up here, and because though it was quite old, it didn’t have too many miles on the clock. German engineering. No regrets.

And finally to finish the week, I went out in the garden last night with Triar and was greeted by the wonderful slow dance of the aurora. As ever, it grounded me, a reminder that mankind has been looking up at the sky in awe and wonder for millennia, and that everything that happens in my life is really very small. Goodbye for now, my friends. Hope you too can find some peace in the night sky.