I’ve been laid low with a cold this week. Fortunately, I started feeling much better yesterday, but I was off work on Monday, then spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday working from home.
I attended an online course over those three days, the subject being animal welfare during transport. It was an excellent course, Europe wide and run by the BTSF (Better Training for Safer Food) Academy . I was one of only two participants from Norway.
Transporting animals can cause huge welfare issues. Even for the relatively short journeys the animals take here when coming into the abattoir (transportation is limited to eight hours – it was quite eye opening how far some animals are being transported within and from the EU) there are significant welfare issues. It’s vital to keep on top of them, so if I’m taking part of the responsibility for that, which I hope I will be within the next year, I want to have as much knowledge as I can. Like the Arctic Council/One Health conference a couple of weeks back, this was also in English. They also gave pointers to several other groups with online information about animal welfare relating to European law (most of the Norwegian welfare rules are based around the EU rules) so I can hopefully engage in some very useful reading.
Next week is going to be very busy. There are some tough cases to catch up on and a couple of goat blood tests that have to be carried out before the end of the year, so I will be out on follow-up visits with Birgit and Thomas this week, as well as visiting some goats to test them for brucellosis (another infection that can pass between animals and people) along with (hopefully) finishing up some paperwork.
I hope that you have been enjoying the advent calendar. It’s difficult to know what to include, but hopefully there will be a mix of scenery and scenes that strike me as I go about my daily life here. My mum has sent me an online advent calendar from Jacquie Lawson which I am very much enjoying.
John has also paid for access to the Norwegian TV2 channel so that we can watch The Julekalender. The Julekalender is a Norwegian advent staple, very much loved here in Norway, but I’ve only seen snippets of it before. It was created in 1994 (following on from a Danish version in 1991) and an episode is broadcast each day in the lead up to Christmas. It tells the story of Nisser (elves) who were driven out of Norway to the US by some evil, vampire like beings called the Nåså. An elder Nisser (good old Gammel Nok) is dying as the key to the music box the keeps him alive is missing. He calls for three, brave, younger Nisser to find it. So far, we have seen these three brave elves returning from the US to Norway and finding an old Nisser cave. Their plane crashed and for some reason, they are carrying around the propeller (which is terribly bent) while speaking in Norwenglish, which is a wonderful blending of Norwegian and English, where the words and sentence structure are mangled together. Oh and they keep breaking into a catchy song about how hard it is to be a Nisserman, despite the fact that they spent much of the first two episodes sleeping. I’m quite glad I’ve been in Norway for fourteen years before seeing it. There are lots of Norwegian “in jokes” that need context. It’s set in Trondelag, for example, which is widely considered to be hillbilly country, or perhaps in terms of England, roughly equivalent to Norfolk. Anyway, I’m already looking forward to the next episode. It’s lovely to do things together in the lead up to Christmas.
I tried to take a picture of the descending snow line this week. It got to about halfway down the slopes of the highest mountains, so probably about five to six hundred metres still. As you can see above, I was hindered by the fact that the mountain peaks were swathed in clouds, but it was beautiful nonetheless. You may have to click on the image to see the mountains!
I have to take the car to Tromsø today. The windscreen washer hasn’t been working properly for a while. Sometimes water sprays, but it seems to be coming from an overenthusiastic headlight skoosher and not on the actual windscreen itself. It was in at the local garage a couple of weeks ago. They changed over the washer motor, which seemed like an odd choice at the time, given that it was sometimes working, but I hoped they were on the right track. Unfortunately they weren’t. They called me and told me I would have to take the car to a BMW garage, and the nearest was in Tromsø, so that’s where we are taking it. I’ll have to drop it off today and pick it up towards the end of the week. Fortunately I’m off to the UK tomorrow, so it won’t be too much of an inconvenience. To my amazement, my local garage haven’t charged me for changing the washer motor. I went in, all ready to be decent about it (because I understand that sometimes, diagnosis can be difficult and time consuming) and was very pleasantly surprised to find I didn’t have to pay for the work. They’ve certainly attached me to them more firmly by doing it!
Tomorrow I fly to Heathrow, to visit Anna in Winchester and see her graduate. We have planned a trip to Stonehenge on Monday and we are hopefully meeting up with Vicky Holmes, my co-author for Hope Meadows afterwards. Vicky and I wrote six books together and have been corresponding for years, but never managed to meet up, so fingers crossed, on Monday we will finally manage it!
I will also be sending off my evidence to Husleietvistutvalget (the rental disputes tribunal) this evening before I go. I will be glad to get that done. After that, I’ll have to wait and see what happens. I think my evidence is more compelling than Mr Abusive’s, so I hope they will see it that way too.
And last but not least, I have a spectacular aurora photo to share with you. I was driving to the airport to collect Andrew last week. It had been raining heavily, but as I drove towards Bardufoss, the sky cleared to reveal both a beautiful moon and some wonderful aurora activity. It will soon be dark for most of the day, so it’s just as well that the night sky sometimes offers some spectacular scenery of its own.
I wrote, last week, of frost and autumn is following fast on the heels of the drop in temperature. Before moving to the north I would have said that spring was my favourite season, but it’s so brief here as to be almost non-existent. Winter, though I love it, is too long, but autumn is sweet and still and very beautiful.
There’s a sense of battening down the hatches for the winter to come. We were driving home on Saturday last week when we saw a tractor at the side of the road in an area where wood was being crated up. We stopped and ordered two crates. As we were only a few hundred metres away, the farmer agreed to deliver, so later that day, this pile of wood was deposited in our driveway. It took some time to stack. It’s not obvious from the photo, but the stack is four layers deep. Seeing it all safely under cover, ready for the wood stove in the depths of the Arctic winter, brought a real sense of satisfaction.
It’s getting darker. We will shortly be at the Equinox and it struck me that the seasonal foods will soon begin arriving in the supermarket. No mince pies here (though our local Europris has started to stock a few Iceland products, so you never know) but rather there will be mørketids boller, which are doughnuts with vanilla cream, topped with darkish chocolate.
And as the Darkness closes in, I am often out walking with Triar in the twilight. As you can see from the picture below and the one at the top of the page, we live in a very beautiful place.
We still don’t have internet in our new home and that tends to mean I don’t follow the news very closely. It’s quite peaceful, not knowing so much about what’s going on in the wider world, other than things that are so significant that they come into conversation or crop up as a part of my job. This week there was a stark reminder of the ongoing war in Ukraine in the form of emergency readiness instructions from work. As someone performing a critical function in the food chain, I received information about what to do in the case of a radioactive incident with fallout spreading over Norway. Even if the government issues a general warning not to go outside, we will be expected to do so, and the guidance explained how to minimise the risks. I already have some iodine tablets in the cupboard for Andrew and John though, being over 50, I have no need to take them. Hopefully the tablets will gradually go out of date and will never be needed.
And I woke at 3am last night, as I often do these days, and glanced at my e-mails on my phone. There was a message from WordPress about a blog I follow, and the title of the blog was “The Death of the Queen”. Of course, I went to explore further and found that Queen Elisabeth II had indeed died on Thursday afternoon. While the news was not devastating, nor wholly unexpected, it does very much feel like the end of an era. I remember when growing up, learning a about the Queen and the Prime Minister, who at that time was Jim Callaghan. I recall assuming both were permanent fixtures and feeling shocked when Jim Callaghan was replaced. How long a year was when I was nine years old!
But the Queen has been a permanent feature as a backdrop to my life. I remember the street parties in 1977 for the silver jubilee, and going on a float in a parade. The eighties were punctuated with a pair of royal marriages, the nineties with their sad endings and the awful demise of Diana. Earlier this year, while recovering from Covid, I watched The Crown, and though I know it’s not entirely historically accurate, it gave me a broader overview of the long life and momentous events the Queen has lived through. As I watched the series, I experienced a degree of melancholy. I feel that the optimism and sense of cohesion that pervaded the UK when I was younger has gone and the Queen’s death feels like a link to that past has been removed. It will take some adjustment to having a king, though living over here, I will be one step removed. I won’t see new coins and notes with the head of King Charles (even that sounds wrong). I won’t hear the national anthem sung. Though the UK still feels like home in many ways, I am gradually becoming further and further from the realities of living there.
The Aurora visited last weekend, in spectacular style. I thought I’d share these with you, though my Facebook friends may have already seen them. Andrew called me outside close to midnight last Saturday. I had just gone to bed, but I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth getting up for.
And finally, another death. We lost our adopted guinea pig, Susie, this week. We’d had her for three years or so and she was three years old when we got her. She drove the length of Norway with John and I two years ago when we moved up here. We sadly had to get her put to sleep on Tuesday. It became quickly obvious that Brownie, who regular readers might recall we bought on arrival here in the north, was lonely and so we bought her a new friend. Meet Millie, the latest addition to the McGurk family,
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.
Next up was the last rays of the sun as it dipped behind the mountains.
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.
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.
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!
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.
In fact, he gives me a lift just by lying around being cute as well.
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.
And I see the snow coming along the sound, banks of invisibility, heading our way.
Sometimes the light shines breaks through the clouds. I could watch the changing sky all day.
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.
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.
One of the UK customs I miss is the celebration of bonfire night on 5th November. It was an occasion I loved when young. My father always loved a good bonfire, and I have wonderful memories from when I was eight or nine, when we moved to a house with a large garden and there was a party with Parkin and treacle toffee, and my dad set off fireworks in the garden. It always felt like the start of winter and meant that Christmas was not far off. In Norway, bonfires are lit to celebrate midsummer, which is very different.
The Norwegian custom for lighting candles against the darkness of winter is something I have completely embraced though. For now, I have autumn coloured candles, but in three weeks time, they will be replaced with an advent crown. There are already purple candles available in the shops. When I first arrived in Norway and took Norwegian lessons for a year, they lit a candle in class at the beginning of each week and left it burning during the lessons that day. Advent will come at almost the same time as the Polar night arrives. I suppose it serves a similar purpose to the British bonfire night, bringing light at the darkest time of year.
The British affinity for queuing is another custom that I have found it hard to shake. I have applied for Norwegian citizenship, as well as reapplying for permanent residency under the new Brexit rules. I hadn’t originally applied for the Brexit pass as I hoped that I might gain citizenship before the Brexit pass deadline, which is the end of December. I initially went to the police to show my documents for citizenship in August (having sent my application more than a year earlier, the offices being closed in the meantime due to Covid) and was told that they couldn’t process it as I didn’t have a valid residence permit. This seemed odd, given that the deadline for the Brexit pass was December. Anna had showed her papers a month earlier in a different office without any problems. Anna told after she’d applied that the waiting list for citizenship applications was eight months. Having handed in my papers last week, I checked the waiting time, which is now eleven months. So no wonder they were insisting I should get the Brexit pass as it’s obviously going to be a long time before I find out if I can get a Norwegian passport.
Another odd thing was that it was possible to get appointments with the police for citizenship, but there were none available to show your papers for the Brexit pass, which is obviously more urgent. I am on a Facebook group for Brits living in Norway, and someone advised me that they had called the number provided for those with problems, and had been offered an appointment within a few days. It seems there are many times when there is little choice but to phone if you want to push your way to the front of the queue, though in fact I took a citizenship appointment and my Brexit pass was processed at the same time and has already arrived. But the need to phone, rather than wait (other than in dire circumstances that require a rapid response) still doesn’t come easily to me. I was reminded of when I was very sick in 2012 and losing weight at an astonishing rate while I waited to get my gall bladder removed. The six weeks they had told me I had to wait had come and gone and I was very perplexed that I hadn’t heard anything. When I asked my Norwegian friends, they told me I had to phone, which I did, and was taken in within a week or so.
It’s the same with job applications. In the UK, I always sent in my CV and whatever else was asked for, then waited patiently (or perhaps inpatiently, but still in silence) for a response. Someone in the Brits in Norway group asked for help as they were having no success with applying for jobs. I told them the advice that was given to me. There are instructions in the advertisements for how to apply, and I had always followed them to the letter, with little success. There was always a name and phone number to contact if you had questions, but as I rarely had questions, I had never called it.
Apparently, there is an unwritten rule that you must call that number for a casual chat, because if you don’t, they assume you’re not keen! This of course, seemed outrageous to my all-too-British, ready to queue soul! Then again, I have also been shouted at once by a doctor’s receptionist for not queuing enough. Doctor’s receptionists here are not behind a sliding screen off the waiting room, but behind a closed door. In my British ignorance, I once went through the door to queue politely behind someone else who was speaking to the receptionist. This was outrageous apparently, as discussions with the receptionist are private.
Customs are very odd things and some of them are invisible until you stumble over them. I love living in Norway, and hope to gain Norwegian citizenship, but I recognise that I am never going to be fully integrated. I will leave that (hopefully) to my children.
I haven’t mentioned my other writing much. My agent hunt is continuing slowly. I have been told that so many people have written books during lockdown that many agents are swamped. I’m not in any particular hurry, fortunately. I have most of the storyline for a second book in place. It did cross my mind however, that I should perhaps do more research regarding one of my main characters who is blind. I therefore contacted the RNIB for help and they have shared my request with a Facebook group. A few people have got in touch with me, which was very cheering yesterday evening. Hearing about other people’s lives is always interesting and rewarding, so I have a pleasant weekend ahead of me.
I will leave you with a picture I took last weekend of Kistefjellet, which I still haven’t reached the summit of. It’s the peak on the left with the mast on it. One day I will get there and when I do, I’ll share it with you. Have a good week.
It crossed my mind this week that perhaps I should try a change of direction in my writing. I don’t really read enough these days (I have six unread books waiting at the moment in my bedroom) but the family Netflix account is filled with dark drama from all parts of Scandinavia. I have all the elements I need. I could set it in the blue Polar Night, when the morning never comes and have a grisly scene in the slaughter house, with a human cadaver hanging among the carcases. There could be people smuggling, with all the season workers coming in, or perhaps the victim(s) could be working in the laundries, washing all those blood stained clothes. Maybe a hand can emerge from one of those huge piles of snow that gather during the winter months, leaving everyone baffled as to when the murder actually occurred.
It’s actually been a quiet week. Andrew has been away, visiting his dad, who lives near Stavanger. Before he went, I asked him to show me how to use the TV. When I was young, the TV was simple to use. Admittedly, you had to stand up to switch it on, and indeed to change the channel, though back then there were only three to choose from anyway. Our first TV was a tiny black and white portable that, rather bizarrely, my parents won in a competition. They also won a small sailing boat on a trailer. I can vaguely remember it appearing in the drive outside our house. Of course, it had to go because they had no car to tow it with. They sold it and bought a little white mini. Anyway I’ve wandered away from the point, which was that I have spent the week alone and quite enjoyed it. I could indulge my taste for true crime and mashed potato. The candles have been lit every evening. It feels comforting to return to having some darkness at a time that my body feels is appropriate.
I went out walking again with Ann and Konstantin last weekend. We went up Falkefjellet. The peak we reached, though not the highest point, was above the treeline, which meant there was a good view all round.
The best thing about it was that, for the first time in a while, I felt I could have walked further. My springtime Fit for the Summer campaign seems a very long time ago. The summer was marred by sickness and it has felt like every time I began to work again on getting back into shape, I was hit by something that stopped me. As I reached the summit of Falkefjellet, I remembered how much I love the feeling of arriving on the top of the world. The higher mountains are now swathed in snow, but perhaps there will be time to get a few walks in before the winter really sets in.
The photograph at the top of the page is of one of the red markers on the walk, though the shape of the rock and the bloody brightness of the paint was one of the things that prompted my Scandi Noir thoughts. Here it is again, the full photo, rather than the cropped version.
Konstantin was full of facts about the wildlife and the landscape. He is interested in geology and occasionally would point out pieces of marble, or rock formations and tell us how they had been formed. For example, here’s another red marker, this time looking a little like a stone dagger, set into fractured rock.
I asked him how the cracking occurred and he pointed to another section of rock just to the left, where there was more rock in the process of arriving there. This had earth in between the cracks, which of course will hold water. It freezes in winter, driving the stones apart, and then eventually the mud gets washed away, leaving the rather mysterious looking holes in the mountainside.
It was windy on the summit, so here is a picture of Triar, looking windswept and interesting.
Konstantin was in the lead with Triar during the walk. I think they look good together!
And of course, as we descended back to the treeline, there were some wonderful views to enjoy, as well as the smaller details of unexpected plants growing underfoot, in nooks and crannies, and on the trunks of dead but unfallen trees.
Andrew was due to return last night in the evening and the airport is close to the abattoir, so rather than driving over there twice in a day, I decided to take Triar in the car, have dinner with John, and then wait. It was a little hair raising, driving over. Until now, the temperature has been well above zero, but a wind from the north has changed that, and when I left for work at 04.45 there was frost on the car. I still have the summer wheels on as I don’t use the car much and up until now, they have been fine. I will change them over next week, but for now I had to proceed with caution in the darkness. I’d had to stop when driving home on Thursday, as there was a moose that thought about crossing the road, though he looked at all the cars which had stopped to let him, and changed his mind. They’re huge when you see them close up, so I was very wary, but we made it there safely. To fill in the time between work ending and collecting Andrew, I took a quick reprise of the spring fitness project. This is how the landscape looks now, as we head into winter. If you look carefully at the second picture, you can see the white peaks in the distance, though they are rather swathed in clouds.
The plane arrived on time and as we arrived back at the house, Andrew pointed at the sky. There they were, the northern lights, greeting him on his return to the north.
I always start the morning with a coffee. I make it, then put on my coat and take Triar outside, warming my hands on the mug while Triar has his first sniff around the garden. Whatever the weather, it always feels like a good start to the day.
It’s not been the most cheerful of weeks. There are riots and insurrection in the US, and round the world COVID19 is on the rise. Looking at previous pandemics, it seems common that when winter returns and the second wave rises, it’s often worse than the first and this one is following that pattern. Cases here are relatively low, but we are locked down along with the rest of Norway and I have spent the past week (and will be spending next week) working from home.
The weather has turned colder again, though there’s still no snow. Locals tell me this is almost unheard of and I have been watching with bemusement as my social media feeds have filled up with lovely wintery pictures from the UK. I’ve found myself having a wry chuckle or two because back in October when I wrote about having a white Halloween, I had it in the back of my mind that I might eventually bore people with my snow pictures.
It was also my birthday this week, and knowing my love of coffee (and my enjoyment of Harry Potter) my children bought me a mug.
I also received a latte glass from Charlie from Steam, one of my favourite coffee shops down in the south of Norway. One of the things I miss most in these pandemic days is going out to cafés. They are still open here and the risk isn’t as high as it would be in the UK, but the easy life we had before, when going out was a straighforward pleasure, seem a long way away. So now, thanks to Charlie, I can have the echo of those days with a homemade latte.
Having started the day in the garden, I often end it there too. At the moment, it is dark at both ends of the day, but there are compensations. The picture at the top was from Thursday evening. Odd the things people see. I thought it looked a little like flames licking across the sky, but I posted it on Twitter and many people commented that there was a goddess looking down at me. The aurora last night was less spectacular, but still there, like searchlights across the sky.
And so, the polar night is ending. On Tuesday the sun will rise for the first time in 2021. I am hoping for clear skies and looking forward to longer days. And whatever happens, hopefully I’ll be able to share it with you.
I’m spending more and more time at the abattoir as the season progresses. Next week, I will be there every day. It’s acknowledged that it is a high risk environment. There are big metal hooks overhead, which require helmet use at all times. We wear chain mail to protect our vital organs from errant knives. The knives need to be sterilised as well. This is done by placing them in hot water whenever they are not in use. Despite having read a plethora of H&S documents and watched videos about the risks from the sterilisers, in the first couple of days on the sheep line I managed to lean on the hot metal plating a couple of times. So now I am branded on both hips like an old cow.
I’m working exclusively on the lamb/mutton line for now. Pork and beef inspection are more complicated and there’s no time for me to learn. Though I am starting to feel more confident, at the beginning it felt surreal as I strode up and down, marking the meat that had passed with that all-important EFTA stamp that means it can be sent out into the world for consumption. I was reminded of a chapter in a children’s book: Time Tangle by Frances Eagar. Though it’s an old book, I know it from cover to cover, having read and reread it as a child, then read it aloud to my children every year in the lead up to Christmas. There’s a scene in it where Beth, a girl dealing with some difficult emotions over the yule period, is unwillingly visiting a friend’s house. She is pressed into helping her friend’s mother to make mince pies, and to get through it, she imagines herself in a busy mince pie factory, slapping the pastry lids onto the pies. She also imagines being praised for her prowess and speed. Her bubble bursts when it becomes apparent that the reason for her speed is that she’s forgotten to add the mince filling.
Like Beth, I was rather enjoying working on the sheep line. There had been some doubt over whether I would be ready in time, but the vets I worked with had all been positive, which of course was encouraging. I had my empty mince pie moment though at the end of last week when at the end of my shift, Ronny the Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) took me aside and showed me a carcass that I had stamped that I should have condemned. Several of the joints were massively swollen and she was very thin. It was doubly frustrating as I had noticed she was thin and had taken a very brief second look, but instead of stopping the line, or sending her to the side for a better look, I had allowed her to pass.
I was shocked when Ronny showed me. I had known I was rather distracted as it had been a difficult day in other ways, but even so, I ought to have seen it. A short time after that, right at the end of the day, the man in charge of the line called me over and asked me whether the carcass should be placed in the chill room where the emergency slaughter carcasses are placed for inspection. I agreed that it should, then he looked me up and down, then back at the sheep. “I know you missed it,” he said, “but do you see the changes, now they’ve been pointed out?”
Seeing as the joints on both front and hind legs were not cut through clean and straight, as they should be, but instead resembled a pair of seventies bell-bottom jeans in shape, I half wanted to snap back that of course I could see it. Only an idiot wouldn’t. But in the circumstances, that would have been rather churlish, so I muttered, “Yes,” and to my relief, he began to slide the carcass off in the direction of the chill room.
And mortified though I was to miss something so obvious, the good thing, of course, is the comfirmation of something I’ve known for years.. Experienced technicians (and it applies equally to veterinary nurses in practice) know way more about almost everything than vets who are just starting out in any completely new area.
There are some compensations to working in the slaughterhouse. The world around me is turning to gold and the drive there takes about forty minutes. Back in Rogaland, where I spent my first years in Norway, there wasn’t much autumn. The trees would start to turn and then there would be a storm and by the time the wind and rain stopped, the trees would be bare. Up here though, there’s less wind and as I have to drive through miles of forest every day, the changing colours have been wonderful to watch.
And Andrew and I had a wonderful surprise last weekend when we popped out in the garden to “air the dog” as they call it here in Norway. As we stood there, we noticed there was a green tinge to the sky. We weren’t sure at first, but as it brightened and began to dance, we realised that for the first time, we were properly seeing the Northern lights. It was a wonderful moment.