Tag Archives: Animals

The Good Life

Sunrise/sunset: 04:05/ 21:30. Daylength: 17hr 24mins

I said earlier in the week that if I didn’t post, I’d be swimming in photos by the weekend. Despite doing so, I still have so many things I want to share with you that this will be a whistle stop tour of Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

There are lots of tunnels in Norway. Many roads which used to go through mountain passes, or clung to cliff edges around insane bends, have been rerouted to go through or under. Sometimes, the old road stays open, either because there is a village or walking area, or otherwise to provide an alternative route in the event that the tunnel is closed.

There is a tunnel on the E6 just south of Sørkjosen and Birgit recommended, on Tuesday evening, that I explore the road it replaced. The first section was flat and of the clinging to the cliff face variety. There were road signs reminding drivers not to forget to go round the bends and I wondered how many unwary tourists, distracted by the scenery, had gone over the edge before they decided they really ought to put up notices. The view really was worth looking at. One of the first things I saw was this classic red barn, built into the mountainside above the fjord.

Red barn with fjord and mountains on Jubelen.

The road itself is called Jubelen and Birgit told me that like “Rest and Be Thankful” in Scotland, it was probably named by people who were heartily glad to reach the top of a stiff climb. Shortly after the barn, the road began twisting its way up the fellside. There was a car park at the top, where a frozen lake was surrounded by warnings that it was drinking water and shouldn’t be polluted. The way onwards was blocked for cars and impassable without skis, so I climbed out of the car and decided to take a walk back down the road to take some pictures.

The road onwards was closed to traffic.

I walked quite a way down the road. It was a bright day and the sunshine warmed my back as I tramped down the hill. I have been noticing, for the past week or so, that there are patches of green appearing through the snow, particularly on banks that face the sunlight. Often when snow disappears, there can be weeks where everything looks brown and dead, but some of the ground cover here is so hardy that in places it is pushing its way through the snow. After months of white, these intense patches of colour are very cheering, as is the wonderful chatter of newly flowing streams that fills the air.

Further down the road, there were beautiful views across Reisafjord to the mountains beyond.

Reisafjord from Jubelem
Reisafjord from Jubelem

There was also this wonderful frozen waterfall. I guess it doesn’t get much sunlight, being on the north side of the mountain. A mixed blessing for me as it was hard to photograph with the bright sky above and behind, but I hope you can get some idea of the blue, icy beauty.

It was slower, walking back up the hill. I noticed a few things I thought I’d like to share with those of you who live in warmer places. The roads in Norway are kept remarkably clear, even when there is heavy snow. Gradually the snow builds up on the verges until there are piles so high that in places, you can’t see over them. A friend commented on Facebook that if she was driving here, she’d never get anywhere as she would stop so often, but once the snow arrives, there are very few places you can pull off the road. The laybys and passing places all have to be cleared and side-roads and entrances become narrow and hemmed in.

As the snow has begun to melt, I have noticed that it happens unevenly. Quite often the piled up snow has begun to resemble castle ramparts with regularly spaced clumps of ice perched along the top of the wall.

Winter is obviously hard on asphalt. Lots of the newly-revealed roads have deep holes. During winter, they were filled and masked by the hard packed snow and are only becoming apparent as it melts. Long cracks also appear, many of which look like they were patched up last summer, only to have widened again.

For now, the roads are dry, but when it rains, or the snow melts, there is nowhere for the water to escape. And so as we begin to approach spring, those clearing the roads have begun to create gaps in the ramparts so that some of the water can escape into the ground.

One last picture. As I drove back down and reached the bottom of the hill, I stopped to take another photo, looking back towards Sørkjosen. If you zoom in to the bottom right (thank you Lara!) corner of this picture, you can see the hotel where I was staying!

Zoomed in shot – hotel on the left and the surviving pre-war building opposite

Wednesday night was quite the contrast. As Birgit had warned me on Tuesday, the weather closed in and by Wednesday evening the skies were heavy and there was snow in the air. Birgit had invited me to eat with her at home and so after work, I followed her on the road that led north from Storslett and out to her house.

I have posted about the wonderful red barns here before, and to my delight, Birgit has one of her own.

Birgit’s fjos.

Birgit has a small herd of Lyngshest that she and her partner use for breeding and riding. She tells me that once a week, a group of local pensioners come and ride out with her partner, Geirmund. I have often thought Norway is a good place to grow old (often the ski slopes are free for over 70s) and this sounds like one more wonderful discovery of active retirement. She led me into the barn where we found the farrier working.

This is Rein, who is 22 years old

We went in the house and were greeted by the lovely aroma of food in the oven, and by Birgit’s seven year old Bouvier de Flandres , I Mo. He was as warm and friendly as Birgit herself and very soon, as we stood in the kitchen, he lay down on my feet to keep them warm.

Birgit’s house was wonderfully cosy and filled with photographs of horses and Birgit and Geirmund’s family. Her children, like mine, are mostly grown up, but as we walked into the living room, we were greeted by one of her two cats.

Tigra is three years old.

Once the farrier was finished, Geirmund came in and we ate together. After that, Birgit took me on a proper tour of the barn, or fjos, as it is called here.

It felt like a slice of heaven to me. As well as the older of the Lyngehest tied up in stalls there were chicken and sheep. Lead ropes and sheep-bells hung on the walls and there was the sweet smell of horses and hay.

The younger horses are outside. Despite the patches of snow and the dampness of the ground as it melts, they too seemed to be thriving. Birgit tells me they are very even tempered and cheerful, even when faced with injury or difficulties.

This beauty is Reisa Virko. Virko is Sami and means lively.

Despite the mud and the snow, we went for a short walk afterwards down towards the fjord. I stopped to take the photograph of the tractor and floats. I saw them on top of a bank as we walked past and I couldn’t resist. Farming and fishing, thrown together, old, but probably still working. Note also the boat with the green deck in the background. The far side is filled with holes, but perhaps there are parts that can be used. And you can also see the ubiquitous wires that spread over so much of the landscape in Norway. Often I try to photograph round them, but here I felt they were very fitting.

As we passed the tractor again on the way back, Birgit told me that in winter, there was an otter slide on the bank beside it. Presumably the otters will head into the fjord shortly for the summer, if they haven’t already gone. As for me, I hope that I will be back here very soon. Thank you Birgit for a lovely evening.

Goaty

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

Another interesting week at work. On Monday, Thomas and I made a visit in response to an anonymous “Concern Message”. I was nervous as we drove out. This was, in part, due to the nature of the visit. Obviously nobody wants to be reported and it’s quite possible that some of the recipients might be angry. But it was also because I was unsure whether Thomas would want me to lead the inspection and interview. He had shown me how to print out the point-by-point sheet which we use to guide us through and I went in clutching a clipboard. However, by the time I had struggled into my tissue-thin jumpsuit, huge white foot covers (tied with a bow) mask and gloves he had already begun and so I followed him round, listening carefully as he asked questions and noted down the replies.

I felt much more relaxed on the return journey. The presence of my clipboard was explained when he told me I should fill it in on our next time out as he pointed out having two separate records rather than one makes it less likely that anything will be missed. Next time out, I will also ask any questions that come into my head. There were some I thought of while we were out that I didn’t ask. With hindsight they were genuinely pertinent and could have been useful.

Back in the office, Thomas helped me through the next stage, which was writing a letter to the owner explaining the results of the inspection, and any actions considered necessary. This was another first for me, though I was aware of some of the rules we have to follow. These include all sorts of factors, such as ensuring that every action we ask the owner to take is backed up with the exact clause in Norwegian law that we are relying on, making sure the wording is simple to understand and perfectly clear, and ensuring the language we use is factual and not a value judgement. For example, we can note that an animal has been urinating and defaecating on the floor, but should never state that the house is disgustingly dirty.

I also discovered, as I worked through the response process, that there are many checks and balances in place to ensure we get things right. Once the letter was finished, we sent it to a Norwegian colleague to ensure the language was correct. After that it will be sent for official assessment by a dedicated group… and after that, it will be sent to Hilde, in whose name it will be sent out, assuming she also feels it passes muster. Though this sounds intimidating, I’m very glad that there will be plenty of help ensuring that I don’t make any errors due to the fact that Norwegian is not my mother tongue.

On Tuesday I drove out to meet Birgit, who works in the Storslett office. Our task was to blood sample forty goats to check for brucellosis as part of the annual OK Program. Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that can pass between animals and people and can cause long term fluctuations of fever, joint pain and various other nasty symptoms. As in Britain, there is currently no brucellosis in Norway and hopefully it will stay that way.

While I don’t think I have blood sampled many (any?) goats before, I spent several years in mixed practice in the UK. Back then, all mature cattle were tested for brucella every four years and I found myself quickly falling back into the rhythm of it. The test tubes we use come with a vacuum. If you push the needle through the rubber bung in the top and allow air to be sucked in instead of blood, then you waste the test tube. Brigit seemed very pleased with me as I managed to complete forty samples without losing a single one. On my part, I felt delighted that the skill I learned many years ago was finally being used again.

We are now almost at the end of the first week of the polar night. As you might have spotted in the windows in the picture above, it is not completely dark all day. Indeed for a short time between eleven and half-past one, it feels very much like full daylight. I stopped to take a photograph on the way back from the blood test to share here. This was taken at about 1pm, though a very short time afterwards it started to snow heavily, and the darkness drew back in.

On Thursday, we put up the Christmas decorations in the office and Andrew and I brought out a few of our decorations at home, though the tree will wait for Anna’s arrival on Monday. Most workplaces in Norway put up some decorations. Like the Danes, Norwegians take a lot of pride in encouraging comfort during the dark winter months.

I was struck afresh, when I looked at the photographs, that in some ways they are quite different from British decorations. Pigs play a big part here. A stocking is surely not complete without a marzipan pig. And the little hatted “nisse” are a regular feature. Nisse look a bit like garden gnomes and shouldn’t be confused with Santa. According to tradition, you have to feed the nisse creamed rice or other treats or they will play tricks on you.

On Friday I was on the early shift at the abattoir. We live close to the coast and even this far north, there is some warming effect from the gulf stream, but just a forty minute drive inland can mean a ten degree difference in temperature. I met John in the evening after work and we went out for a pizza, but as the restaurants didn’t open for an hour after we finished, I stopped to fill the car up with diesel and was struck by the beauty of the ice formations that the frost had etched onto the car. And so, being me, I grabbed my phone and took a photo to share with you. Have a lovely weekend.

Decisions

Sunrise/sunset: 05:51 / 19:34. Daylength: 13hr 42min.

I arrived home on Wednesday to find John outside, sawing wood. He has designed a new winter cage for the guinea pigs and now he is making it.

Brownie is growing fast. She’s very lively, rushing around, pop-corning all over the place, and it will be wonderful for both her and Susie to have a lovely big cage to run around in.

It’s been another interesting week at work. During a conversation on Monday about car keys, Hilde dropped in the information that the winter tyres would probably go on the work cars this month. Back in Scotland, autumn conversations often start with the phrase, “The nights are fair drawin’ in.” Here, the more Game of Thrones like, “Winter is coming!” is the message.

Hilde asked me what I’d done at the weekend and I had to confess I hadn’t done much, other than having a film night with John and Andrew. She reminded me of it then, “Winter is coming! You should do things now while you can.”

Obviously as it’s my first time, I have no idea how it’s going to feel, but for now I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always loved winter, though of course there will be a lot more of it than I’m used to. Hilde looked thoughtful after telling me about the winter tyres. “Of course this year, they didn’t come off again till June,” she said with a smile.

I decided I should go for it and tell her about our film night. As Dr Sleep had now arrived on Netflix, the boys were keen to watch it and so was I. After all, it is the sequel to The Shining: one of the most iconic films of all time. We had watched The Shining as well for completeness. As far as film nights go, I thought this more worthy of mention than most.

“We watched Dr Sleep… and The Shining,” I said.

Hilde looked at me. “The Shining? What’s that?” she asked.

“Umm… The Shining,” I muttered again, assuming she perhaps had misheard. Surely even in Norway, The Shining was a film everyone would know, but there was no change in her expression. “It’s a… horror film,” I told her (though I didn’t know the Norwegian for horror, and had to ask). “Stanley Kubrik…”

She was still looking blank.

“Steven King?” I added. Hilde was smiling, but there was no dawning recognition.The conversation drew to a halt. For a moment, I considered pulling out my phone and finding an image of THAT photograph… but the conversation around the table was already moving on.

Thursday was a big day for me as I went out on my first welfare visits. Thomas had received three separate messages about animals that were allegedly being mistreated and he had agreed to take me along so I could see what procedures Mattilsynet follow. A good deal of my time recently has been spent on online courses which outlined some of the ways in which we work. For example, every decision we take regarding the cases we see has to be backed up by an explanation of how we are guided by the law, and we have to be very specific, right down to which clause we are invoking.

On the other side of the equation, we need strong evidence, and more and more, this in provided in the form of photographs. Everything has to be recorded, but for privacy reasons, none of it can be stored on iCloud. This had worried me a little when I had read it. I had no idea how to stop photographs going onto the cloud, other than by switching off all internet connections, but surely as soon as you went to transfer them, the result would be the same. The answer, of course, is that there is an app.

Similarly, with the legal aspect, there is a programme on the computer that you go through with regard to each case. You type in the concerns that have been raised and the computer adds specific areas that are covered by the law. A checklist is then created in the form of a table. So there is a lot of work to do before and after any visit, but for now I was interested in the human side of the task.

Only one of the cases turned out to be difficult in terms of animal welfare.  I can’t really explain in any detail what it was about as the pet owner in question deserves full privacy. I was, however, reminded of a case I saw many years ago, aged 23 in my very first job as a newly minted young vet. I had been called out to put an old lady’s dog to sleep and I spoke to her first, explaining the injection and the overdose and how it might go. I was kneeling beside her to explain and as I pushed myself upright, she laid a hand on my arm and looked up into my eyes. “Can’t you take me with him?” she asked.

I can’t really remember how I reacted. I had a wonderful mature nurse with me, who spoke to her. I don’t think I managed to say a word, but the moment has stayed with me. So all I will say is that managing the end of life care for the pet of an older person can be one of the most emotional and difficult tasks in a veterinary surgeon’s life. Even though animal welfare has to be at the heart of what we do, it is the more human side of the equation that complicates the picture.

We took our leave and then stopped for coffee and discussion before driving to the next visit. It’s a case that will be complicated to resolve, and anyway, it was good to have a break before we carried on. Fortunately, the other two visits were more straightforward and we drove back to the office. It was time to go home, leaving the remaining work and all final decisions for another day.

Brownie

We arrived at our new apartment late last Saturday. Arriving without Kiwi was a sad blow, but we set to and unpacked first the car and then began on the boxes, which had arrived several days earlier.  We hadn’t seen the flat before. Due to coronavirus and lack of time, we had only seen pictures and a film that Jørn Inge and Ann Helen (our new landlords) had made for us. It turned out to be everything we hoped for and more. This is a picture taken from the back garden – a view we can see from the dining table and the sofa.

Of course, as we’re in Norway, we couldn’t do any shopping on Sunday. There are strict laws here about Sunday opening. John had suggested that we should make life as easy as possible by having washing baskets in everyone’s room (does anyone else have a sock monster that unpairs all their socks and eats half of them?) and of course, as Susie was now alone, we had to think about a new companion for her.

We managed to find a television on Finn. Finn is the go-to website in Norway. Finn literally means find, and you can find almost anything there from jobs to houses, travel tickets to stuffed animals, and even a date, if you feel that way inclined. We drove out to the house of the people who were selling the television and noticed again, as we drove, that there was still quite a lot of snow on the mountainside on the shaded side of the valley. In spite of the summer greenery, the thought leapt into my head that winter never really goes away here. Instead it temporarily retreats into the mountains with the summer sun.

Sunday passed and Monday came round and all the shops were open again. With thoughts of a new guinea pig, we careered round the necessary tasks with a happy end goal in mind. Though I am reluctant to buy pets from a pet shop, there had been an absolute dearth of local guinea pigs on Finn, and so we had decided to buy a baby.

We were aware that it might be hard to find things in Finnsnes. The population is under 5000 – though it is quite spread out. What hadn’t entered our heads was that the rather lovely pet shop would have quite so few animals. There were fish in aquariums, but the small furries section seemed to be filled exclusively with dwarf rats. When we asked after guinea pigs, we were told it was likely they might not have a female guinea pig for a long time.

We retreated home, feeling a little bruised. We had been looking forward to choosing a new friend for Susie, but what now? I rechecked Finn. There were no guinea pigs in the area. Not for hundreds of miles. In desperation, we searched for pet shops a little further afield. Tromsø is a little over two hours away. I didn’t particularly want to start driving again, but Susie seemed sad, so finding her a new friend was a priority.

The pet shop in Tromsø looked good online, but with our recent experience high in my thoughts, I decided to call the shop before we drove all that way. I was glad I did. They had three female guinea pigs… and two of them were already reserved. Feeling breathless, I put a reservation on the last female guinea pig in Tromsø and then headed off to walk Triar.

And so, on Tuesday, we drove to Tromsø and brought home a new addition to our family. This gorgeous little critter is Brownie and she’s a real livewire.

My younger son, Andrew, arrived on Wednesday. He’ll be going to school here in Finnsnes, but that doesn’t start until next week. I began work on the same day and so far, everything bodes well, but more on that in my next post. For now, I will leave you with some pictures from the Polar Park, which as well as being the home of the Worcester Red Socks (as I discovered when I did an online search) is the world’s most northern animal park. Well worth a visit!

There are three baby bears in the park at present. This one was very curious.

The reindeer were running loose and seemed unafraid as they passed us.

The animal enclosures were extensive. These elk were enjoying the brief appearance of the sun.

Arctic fox with his summer coat.

 

And all set against a wonderful backdrop of steep mountainsides and rushing rivers.

Blissful Ignorance

Sunday this week: a lovely day, and the day I had arranged to go out and “see practice” with Jan-Arne. I had been hoping to do this for a while, but it had proved difficult to arrange. In the event I ended up seeing only one patient, though Jan-Arne did all that he could to drum up some additional business, first by telephoning the previous days clients to see if they needed a follow-up call, and secondly by driving me around the entire district in a vain attempt to run over an animal (or cyclist).

The single call was to a cow with mastitis. I walked into the barn and as with the small animal clinic, had an immediate feeling of coming home. I miss farm work so much. I love the sense of peace that I experience when I am in the presence of dairy cows. These large animals are so docile; they allow us to stand so close and rarely object to being handled, except now and then when they need to protect their calves and even that is mostly done with a doe-eyed gentleness. But there is also a sense of community in farming that is so very different from city life. Years ago in Scotland, working in a dairy practice, I felt almost (only almost) as if I belonged. I wasn’t born to it, and yet as a vet there was a sense of integration. I was wanted and needed within their society, and it is that feeling of belonging that appealed to me, almost as much as the animals themselves.

There were some interesting differences. Norwegian farms are strict on biosecurity. I was fascinated to see the gigantic pair of wellington boots that the farmer’s wife brought out from a cupboard. They fitted right over Jan-Arne’s trainers and he clomped around with feet like those of a yellow elephant. I had to make do with special plastic wellington boot covers. I had the tremendous feeling that I could just walk back into that lifestyle. It all felt so similar to the old days that I could almost see myself there.

Any delusions about that were shattered later when we visited a farm where Jan-Arne was friendly with the family. We looked at a couple of their bottle-fed lambs and all the time the conversation was rattling on around me. I couldn’t follow a word and the farmer couldn’t speak any English. They had a lovely young daughter though, who kept grinning at me conspiratorially. She wanted to show us her pet lambs and tried various methods to capture them, including an attempt to entice them with some food. Afterwards, she raced around the field chasing them, a streak of pink in a pair of purple wellingtons, childish hair flying everywhere. Finally she managed to catch one, a sturdy black lamb of a traditional Norwegian breed. My biggest regret of the day was that in my haste to leave the house I managed to forget my camera. Jan-Arne very kindly offered to take some shots of the field and the child and the sheep and here they are…

Jan-Arne's Sheep 1

Jan-Arne's Sheep 2

Jan-Arne's Sheep 3

Always difficult to get a good action shot, but it was a beautiful setting on a wonderful day.

The biggest revelation occurred when we got back to the practice where I had left my car. Jan-Arne pointed to the house next door.

‘I wonder if Magne and Gerd are in there, enjoying their day off,’ he said. ‘Did you know they lived there?’

Did I know they lived there? My mind was screaming.’Magne and Gerd are married?’ I managed to croak it out at last.

‘Didn’t you know?’ He was laughing at me.

Amazing the things I fail to register. Everyone else knows presumably and maybe they just forgot to tell me, but more likely I missed it. Perhaps they stand and chat at the desk about what they are going to have for dinner. I have no idea because after so long in Norway, my brain just switches off when other people are chatting to one another. They could be talking about me, and I would remain in a happy state of oblivion.

I realised recently that this was, in many ways, a blessing. When I return to Scotland, it always comes as a shock to overhear conversations which my mind automatically processes. There are so many preconceptions based around accent and word use, instant frustration at the banalities of life. Here I escape all of that. I wouldn’t change it, even if it means that occasionally things pass me by. I wondered recently whether this must be like for a young child, having a mind that passes over incomprehensible things that don’t really matter.

When I discovered Magne and Gerd were married, it leaped into my head that I should be worried about whether I had ever said anything reprehensible about one to the other, but of course I was able to dismiss that in an instant. I just don’t have those kinds of conversations. I would love to say I have never said anything offensive about anyone, but of course, there is Scary Boss Lady. Apparently the other staff found “All Change” so amusing that they had to tell her and she read it. Since then, she has tried to convince me she isn’t scary. She even appeared one day in a poncho with the words “Love Me” woven into it. I left no doubt, she told me over a mammary tumour, that it was her I referred to. In case there was any confusion, I had clearly stated “Dagny, the scary boss lady”. She tells me that it will follow her now. Even at the Christmas party, she is in no doubt that her name-tag will read “Scary Boss Lady”. Still, she can’t have been too offended. Apparently she told her friends in the cycling club about me on a train journey. I can imagine their wide-eyed shock as they asked her, “Did she know you would read it?” Of course, I didn’t know. But I was aware it was possible, because I had already friended some of the others on Facebook. Ah well, it’s always a good idea when starting in a new job to begin on good terms with your boss!

Case Files

Although Summer at Hope Meadows is a novel set in a veterinary practice (as opposed to a novel about a veterinary practice) it was important to me that the background was believable. I have noticed that even writers who are known for thorough research often get small details wrong. For those without a veterinary background, it might not be obvious, but for me those errors leap out.

In addition, anyone who has worked full time in mixed practice will know the job is an integral part of life. It would never be far away from the story. I have tried to reflect that reality throughout the book, though there were times when Mandy definitely had more freedom than the average young veterinary assistant. For those reading this in other parts of the world, veterinary assistant is the normal term for a salaried veterinary surgeon in UK practice.

However, the set-up is unusual, in that they are practising in a family setting. I suspect the lines between who was on call, and who would attend cases out of hours could be blurred. They are living in the same house. It’s conceivable there would be more give and take if one of them felt unwell or had an excessive amount of work coming in.

There were a whole host of different cases I had to describe, from an aural haematoma in a cat, to a back-breaking session finding an abscess in a cow’s foot. One thing I found difficult was to find the balance of expertise. Mandy has been qualified for only a year. I didn’t want to make her unrealistically experienced, but nor could she come across as ignorant.

I blurred the lines a little, by giving her some specialist knowledge. For two years working in Norway, I spent a lot of time in theatre, working as an anaesthetist. When Mandy is faced with an awkward client and a difficult case, I wanted to give her the tools to prove herself. So I added the information that she had an interest in anaesthesia. She proves herself in style…. and for that I must give thanks to the wonderful Veterinary Anesthesia Nerds group on Facebook!

One of the joys of fiction over real life is that I can go back and change what happened earlier. Recently, faced with a situation where Mandy literally had her hands full, I was able to go back to an earlier scene and slip the tools she needed for the job into her pocket when she was leaving the car.

The second book is set even more firmly in mixed practice. I have asked for the third to be set at lambing time and they have agreed. (Hooray!) There is the slight complication that I haven’t worked in mixed practice since 1999. During my years in emergency and critical care, I saw only one lamb. Other than that, the nearest thing to a large animal was the Scottish Deerhound I once saw with a neck injury.

Luckily I have friends who still work in the kind of rural practice that Animal Ark represents. It’s important because working in Norway is really quite different. I am no longer up to date with what is permitted and what is common. Perhaps, some time soon, I will make the time to go and see practice with one of them. Any excuse to get my arm up a cow’s arse should be grasped firmly. Even if it is done with only one hand.

Have a great weekend.

Thanks to Jan-Arne Hagen for the photo