Tag Archives: Autumn

Counting Sheep

Sunrise/sunset: 07:06/ 18:06. Daylength: 10hr59min

Time seems to be rushing by again. Last year, when everything was new, it seemed to move a little more slowly, but I feel I am beginning to feel the rhythm of the place and the seasons, if not yet well, at least with a degree of awareness. We are losing an hour of light each week now. At the end of next month, the Polar Night will be with us again. In the meantime, the progression through autumn continues to be so beautiful that I find myself sighing out loud at just how wonderful it is.

My work is seasonal, as all who work (or have worked) with large animals will understand. This years lambs are being brought in to the abattoir and then their meat is beginning to appear in the shops. That sounds very blunt, I guess, but on some level it feels right that I witness the whole cycle. I have seen a few people on social media express the opinion that all who work in abattoirs (and indeed farming) must be sadistic or macabre, but that isn’t my experience at all. Most of the people I encounter are both down to earth and resilient.

As well as the slaughter season (as it’s called here) I am waiting for the sheep and cattle to be brought in from their summer pastures. Part of our job is to check all aspects of the chain that goes ” frå jord og fjord til bord” (from the land and fjords to the table) and one component of that is traceability. All farm animals must be tagged (or tattoo’d for pigs) shortly after birth, and the tags maintained until they die. All the births and deaths and numbers have to be recorded in the “husdyrregisteret” or livestock register. The vets at Mattilsynet have to go out and check that the farmers are carrying this through, so we will go out and do checks on a number of cattle and sheep farms in the autumn and winter.

As well as looking to see whether all the animals have ear tags, we check the farmers are keeping medical records for all the animals. Medication (and specifically antibiotic/antibacterial use) are much more tightly controlled here than in the UK. We also check that they are entering the details of their herd or flock into the livestock register. Failure to do any of these things results initially in warnings, then fines and (where there is a severe breach of the law) in restrictions on the movement of animals on and off the farm until the traceability requirements are fulfilled. Though we ideally check every farm on our patch over the course of a few years, we also try to integrate these visits with our welfare program. So if we receive a concern message from the general public, or for example one from the electricity suppliers (who give us advance notice if any farmer is at risk of being cut off) and we feel the situation does not sound serious enough to require immediate attendance, then we will try to call them to assess the situation, then add that farm to our list of places where we will carry out “routine checks”.

Life at Mattilsynet can be unpredictable at times, perhaps predictably so! During the season, there are seven members of staff working in the abattoir on any given day. I’m not due there every day, but as well as having the crew of seven, there is always someone listed as back-up. It was me on Monday this week, and so I was not entirely surprised when a colleague called me on Sunday night to explain that one of their children was sick, and therefore they needed me to go in. Because there are so many staff, engaged in different tasks, and we have to cover the whole day (which can often be longer than the standard seven and three quarter hour working day) the start times are staggered. The first vet there, who has to carry out the live animal checks, comes in at 05:45 in the morning. The next wave comes at 06:45, another at 07.45 and the last at 08:15.

I was due to be in with the second wave, starting at 06:45. It takes me about half an hour to get up, and then close to an hour to drive my car to work, grab the keys to one of the work cars from the office (if I haven’t done it the night before) then finish my journey to the abattoir. Rather than starting work at 08:00 locally, I was now going to have to head out at 05:45 and so I had to head to bed almost immediately after receiving the call. I am always worried that I will forget to set the alarm clock on my phone, which of course has a whole range of times to choose from, and so I quickly set it while I remembered, then went to sleep.

It’s always lovely and cool, first thing in the morning, and I enjoy driving in general, and so as I drove in, I was quite happy. As I said earlier, it’s getting dark very quickly, and I found myself musing on the way on just how much darker it was this week. Only a week earlier, on the same shift, I had seen the moose and the detail of its white breath on the air, and I thought that if the same moose was standing there this week, I would barely be able to see it. I even thought that this would be something to tell you in my blog.

It was only when I arrived at the abattoir, that my mind came up against something I thought was odd. When arriving at 06:45, the car park is perhaps half full. But as I drew in on Monday, it was all but empty. It took only a moment to dawn on me that, in my hurry to get to bed the night before, I had selected the 04:15 alarm, rather than 05:15. In fact, I had even arrived before Thomas, who was working that day in Vet 1 position, doing the live animal checks. Thomas was quite surprised when he did arrive, but at least I had already had time to make coffee, which was gratefully received.

Anyway, given that I have raved at the top about how beautiful it is here at the moment, I’d better share some photographs. Seeing the sun out in a perfectly blue sky on Wednesday morning, I decided to use some of my precious flexitime and take Triar out for a walk. We headed up to the ski-slope area and took a walk there. The view was truly dazzling.

Triar seemed to be enjoying himself, rushing through the undergrowth and up and down the rocky outcrops, walking (as ever) four or five times further than me.

As you can see, higher on the mountainside, the trees are already bare, but looking down into the valley, there is still a riot of autumn colour in amongst the huddle of houses.

I awoke to another beautiful day on Thursday, and felt suddenly that I might as well use some more of those hours to take time off while it was still wonderfully light outside. Though I didn’t go on any significant walks, I decided I should make the house look a little better. Triar goes on the sofas in the house, and we do quite often eat while sitting on them, and therefore I try to keep them lined with fleecy blankets. The old ones were rather grubby and still look grey now after washing, so I bought some new ones. I had also accumulated some autumn candles, but was in danger of not getting round to deploying them. So now, as I go into winter, the inside of the house is looking as well as I can make it look. As the evenings are drawing in, and I will shortly be spending a lot of time indoors, it’s important that I have a space that lifts me up when I am there.

Setting out for work on Friday morning, I noted it was five degrees Celsius as I drove through Finnsnes. We live close to the sea, and even this far north, the Gulf Stream stops the temperature from going down as far as it does inland. So as I drove east, I was unsurprised to see the temperature dropping, quickly to three degrees and then further, down below zero and I could see there was frost on the undergrowth on the edges of the forest.

The sun was also rising slowly behind the mountains, giving them the most incredible molten gold edges and so I stopped to try and capture it. Unfortunately, by the time I found somewhere I could pull off the road, where there wasn’t forest in the way, the gold had mellowed into a normal sunrise, but it was still beautiful.

I took a couple of photos of the frost as well, not because it was anything out of the ordinary, but simply because it was the first of the year for me and a reminder that winter will very soon be here.

Season

Sunrise/sunset: 05:47/ 19:39. Daylength: 13hr52min

Autumn is in full swing now and there is a chill in the air. Every year in Norway, there comes a time when winter is approaching and bright red snow poles suddenly appear along the sides of the roads. I have often wondered how they are put up and as I was driving John home from his evening class this week, we saw a brightly lit lorry in front of us. It was stopping and starting, and it was on our side and we ended up stuck behind it for a couple of minutes.

It had an arm on the side, overhanging the edge of the road. There was the sound of a jack hammer as it created holes and then it moved on and the poles were dropped into them. I would happily have watched for a bit longer, but the cars coming the opposite way had passed and there was no excuse to linger. If you look in the photo at the top of the page, you can see one of the poles. I also wanted to photograph that section of the road as I love the two tone effect of the taller pine trees, which are still green, and the smaller silver birch and undergrowth, which are autumn yellow.

I mentioned the Covid roller-coaster last week, but hadn’t expected the drop to be so steep. There’s an outbreak at Andrew’s school, which seems to have spread through the students who board. The school runs an international baccalaureate program which attracts pupils from overseas. Additionally the school covers a huge area, some of which has no public transport that would allow daily access, so those students board too. Information seems difficult to come by, but last weekend there were nine confirmed cases out of one hundred and fifty students, all in different classes and streams.

I half expected to hear the school would close, but discovered instead that even close contacts of the infected students would be in school, and would be tested three times over six days instead of quarantining. Within class groups there is no social distancing or mask wearing and vaccination of sixteen and seventeen year olds had only really started a week earlier, which seemed rather rash. Why not take stronger precautions, at least until the first vaccine dose starts to have an effect? After more than a year of disruption, would two more weeks be a big deal?

Half way through the week I was still assuming there might be a change of course, and I spoke about it to a friend who lives in Rogaland, where I used to live before we moved here. She has a daughter in the same school year as Andrew. I told her about the nine confirmed cases and the lack of precautions, hoping to hear what she thought would happen. She told me instead that in her daughter’s class there are four students off with Covid and even there, they are taking no precautions other than frequent testing.

There’s a definite irony to all this. The government website is firm in that they feel that Norway’s young people have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and that from now on, they want things to be as normal as possible for them. But having sold the idea that vaccines are the answer to protect people, then having given the first dose of vaccine to those between 12 and 17, why would you then not wait until that dose at least had a chance to give some protection? My friend tells me her daughter’s year feel instead, after more than a year of lockdowns and quarantine, that the government are abandoning them to their fate because the older people are now protected, and who can blame them? Of course logically that age-group are at low risk from Covid, but it’s the ultimate in mixed messages to a group the government claims they want to protect.

Anna will return to the UK tomorrow for university. She had to brave the local Covid test station, with its potential queue for sick people, but fortunately it was very quiet (which I hope is a good sign for the more general situation). I’ve printed out her vaccine certificate, and now hope that everything goes smoothly for her.

As well as the changes in the weather, it is now also “season” in the abattoir, or in other words, the time when the spring lambs come in for slaughter before the adult sheep are taken inside for the long, hard winter. It’s a busy time, with all kinds of people coming in from different countries to work on the line. For the rest of the year, Mattilsynet provides two or three staff on days when the line is running, but from next week, when the season is in full swing, there will be seven.

So I’m likely to be a little more at the abattoir in the coming weeks. Konstantin and Vaidotas, who were here last year during the season, have returned. Already the office has a busier feeling and better still, there might be a bit more social life on offer. Having spent a year social distancing and having a general rule that the office should be avoided unless going there is essential, that is definitely something to look forward to.

Recovery

Sunrise/sunset: 05:20/ 20:11. Daylength: 14hr51min

And so it’s September and already autumnal here in the far north. Though I enjoyed the summer, it had a frenetic feel to it. I had heard, before I moved here, that many people found twenty four hour daylight more troublesome than the darkness of winter and I can understand why. Even with blackout blinds and curtains, it’s disconcerting to wake at four in the morning to see bright sunlight around the edges. Too easy to lose track of time and unexpectedly difficult to go back to sleep when your brain is telling you it’s morning and time to get up.

It’s also interesting to note, as I check timeanddate.com, that it still isn’t fully dark. At the moment, during the darkest part of the night, we are still in something called “astronomical twilight”. It’s a bit of a technicality, related to where the sun is in relation to the horizon, but we won’t experience full darkness for another week and a half. Either way, it’s reassuring to see it getting dark outside the window in the evening, though odd to have to get used to putting lights on again. The rapidity of the change is taking some getting used to.

Not much has happened this week and I don’t have so many photographs. I worked for about an hour on Monday (at home) and attended a meeting on Teams about half an hour in. Though I was there in spirit, my woolly brain was having trouble following what people were saying. Hilde was there too and asked how I was. I explained I was still tired (at that stage, I was still waking at least once through the night to cough for an hour) and proposed working limited hours each day and taking time off using some of the hours I’ve accrued. But she told me if I was still sick, I should use my last day of self-reported sick leave and perhaps get a doctor’s note.

Obviously being ill hasn’t been pleasant, but it has been instructive. The standard legal requirement in Norway is that employers must allow you three days of self-reported sick leave before you have to get signed off by a doctor. You can take up to three days, four times a year. I had assumed that was my entitlement, but Hilde told me that Mattilsynet have signed up to a better agreement (recommended by the state, but not enforced) that we can take eight days sick leave before we have to see the doctor and have up to twenty four days in a year. I was glad to hear it, having already taken two of the four lots of three days. I hope I won’t have to take any more this year, but with Covid on the rise, nothing is guaranteed.

I am signed up to get updates on the Covid situation from Folke Helse Instituttet, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Covid is rising rapidly in Norway at the moment and the children are now back at school, so it is likely to escalate. Yesterday I received two messages from them regarding the figures. It seems that, like the UK before them, Norway have decided that, as the most vulnerable people have now been fully vaccinated, they are going to let Covid run its course. I knew this was going to happen at some point. There has to be an end to lockdowns. And of course, more general measures to slow down the spread, like working from home and keeping your distance from others are still in place. But I do still have an edgy feeling when I think about how the next few months might be. A bit like teetering on the brink of a properly scary roller-coaster. I wonder what the world is going to look like on the other side of all this.

Speaking of vaccinations, I had my second on Wednesday. Having researched the reasons for not getting it when unwell, I reckoned that I was recovered enough to get it done. It would also mean that if I had any side effects, I would be at home already. I was sitting in the queue when my phone went twice. Ann was trying to call. I didn’t answer, but a few minutes later I got a message from John to say that he’d been in an accident at the abattoir and had hurt his hand. He was coming over to get an x-ray at the emergency doctors’ clinic here in Finnsnes. It’s very well equipped because of the distance to the nearest hospital.

And so after my vaccination, I went to collect him. Fortunately, his wrist was not broken, but he too was signed off for the rest of the week. As Anna was now unwell, it didn’t seem a good idea for him to stay with us, and so I took him shopping, we ate lunch in the car, and then I drove him home. I am used to driving when tired and sick (in the small, rural practices I worked at in Scotland, unless you were bed-ridden or actively vomiting, you were expected to be at work) but I did have to stop for a rest break on the way home. There has been a lot of weather this week: sun and rain and dramatic skies. The photo at the top of the page was where I stopped and below is a rainbow that appeared while we were eating lunch.

Other than that, I’ve not been out and about much. I’ve been hanging around at home, cuddling the dog, eating jelly and looking out of the window which, fortunately for me, is a view well worth looking at. And so I will leave you with a pictorial summary of the last few days and hope for more variation next week, when I will be fully back at work.

Northern Light

Sunrise/sunset: 06:18 / 19:02. Daylength: 12hr 44min.

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.

Sausages on Sticks

Sunrise/sunset: 05:24 / 20:05. Daylength: 14hr 40min.

Autumn is arriving here in Northern Norway. The leaves on the trees are beginning to fade and on sunny mornings, mist swirls over the lakes and the fields along the valley floor and swathes the mountain sides in ribbons of white. The lower slopes are wooded with silver birch and rowan trees and within the next week or so they will turn to gold.

But for now, it’s still warmish in the daytime. Today it’s 12°C and raining and it was similar on Monday morning when Hilde suggested the possibility of a trip. She had mentioned during my first week that we might go out one day and cook hot dogs (or pølse, as they are called here) but nothing had come of it. I had written it off as one of those conversations where I had perhaps misunderstood something on a subject that wasn’t important enough to raise it after the event… but here it was again.

We were drinking coffee at the time: several of us, sitting together. There was some discussion about the weather as we all looked out of the window, but Hilde was sanguine. “It’s going to clear up this afternoon,” she declared, and held out her mobile with the weather forecast on Yr.no. Though it showed the symbol with the sun peeping out from a cloud, she seemed confident that this was good enough.

And so at twelve o’clock, when lunch was finished, we set out to drive to Sørvika.

It seemed a pleasant place.  There were flat meadows where you could pitch a tent, alongside grassy woodland. The sound of waves told me we were close to the shore. But for now, we lifted wood and bags of food from the boot of the car and began to make our way to the place we would light our fire.

Being outdoors is a very important part of Norwegian life. There’s a definite sense that one should not be put off by the weather. But that goes hand in hand with an acceptance that the weather exists and though many of its effects can be offset by the right clothes, sometimes additional protection is needed. The sky overhead was still grey and so I was pleasantly surprised to find that we would actually be lighting our fire inside a little shelter.

 

Ronny, who had driven Øivind and I to the site, began to pull bark (to use for kindling) off the wood we had brought  and within minutes, our fire was burning brightly. He pulled out a kettle, filled it with water, and balanced it on the stones at the edge.

Hilde in the meantime, had helped unpack the bags but had then wandered off. When she came back she was carrying a stick and a knife, so I went to investigate. Any Norwegian schoolchild would have recognised what she was doing. They hand out whittling knives to six year olds here. Most of them survive and by the time they are adults, they have excellent knife skills. But to me, the uninitiated, it was a mystery.

“It’s for cooking the pølse,” she explained as she showed me the long stick she was holding, the end of which was stripped of bark and whittled to a point.

She stopped and inspected her stick, and seemingly satisfied, she nodded, then to my consternation, handed me the knife. “It’s your turn,” she told me with a smile.

I confess that I wandered quite a way off before I found my stick. Hilde had explained that I would have to cut it from a tree as it had to be fresh so it wouldn’t burn. It also had to be long enough that I wouldn’t burn myself and thick enough to hold a hot dog without bending so much that it was in the fire. Quite apart from that, I didn’t want anyone to watch my fumbling efforts with the knife.

Though it wasn’t easy to clip my chosen branch from the tree, the whittling itself was curiously satisfying. The knife was properly sharp and used lengthways with the grain, it didn’t take too long to carve my stick into a reasonable shape. Though it wasn’t as elegant as Hilde’s stick, it certainly did the job.

As we began to cook the hot dogs, and Ronny grilled some burgers, it began to rain. I had half expected that the shelter would not be adequate, but to my pleasure, the roof was perfectly sized to keep all those sitting inside dry. It was very cosy sitting there as the rain dripped outside. The fire was burning bright and warm and there was no wind.

The hot dogs tasted delicious, as you would expect, as did the burgers.  And afterwards, when the rain had cleared, we walked through the trees and down the steep path that led to the beach. It truly is a beautiful place.

It was, all in all, probably the most satisfying afternoon I’ve ever had at work. There’s no doubt that doing these things helps to build friendships within the workplace. I will be going back to Sørvika as well. I want to share it with John and Andrew, and Anna my daughter when she comes home for Christmas.

A barbecue in the snow? Sounds good to me!