Well as you can see from the picture at the top of the page, I have finally succumbed to the double lines of doom. There were four days between the symptoms starting and testing positive. Despite all my reading about omicron having different clinical signs from the original strain, I have had very classic symptoms of fluctuating temperature and a dry cough. The fatigue is very typical too. Fortunately I’m not quite bed ridden. I can sit on the sofa and watch Netflix (no UK channels up here). I’m quite enjoying The Crown.
So I don’t really have much news. It seems unlikely that Andrew and I will get to Tromsø for our short break, though I haven’t yet cancelled the AirBnB. Perhaps I will make a miraculous recovery and we’ll be able to have a night or two, but I’m not holding my breath. (I could still probably technically do so, if push came to shove.)
Last weekend, before the ‘rona hit, John drove us down to Narvik for the day. He did very well with the driving. I’m very proud of how quickly he’s learning. We met an obstacle in the road. Quite an attractive one really. Here it is.
Narvik was pleasant enough. There’s a railway there, as well as a ski slope, but we mostly wandered around, looking for a decent cup of coffee. Along the way, we found a shop which for the time being had been converted into a Lego exhibition. So since I don’t have much else, I’m going to spam you with Lego photos. Hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
The first side was pleasant enough. It always fascinates me how far lego has come from the chunky little blocks I used to play with as a child. There was a busy townscape. Very cosmopolitan.
Lovely transport – trains and boats.
And then I rounded the corner and saw something that made me very happy. My children would all tell you I’m a devoted Potterhead, and this was right up my street.
There was Gringotts Bank and Hogwarts, with Hedwig the owl and Fawkes the phoenix, swooping in from either side.
More, more, more… Which do you prefer?
Dragon or hippogriff?
Wizard Chess or Quidditch?
Hogwarts Express or the Knight Bus?
And for all those who made it this far, here is a picture of Triar looking very heroic! To be fair, he’s risking life and limb by sticking at my side, despite the potential threat of infection. Don’t you just love dogs?
It’s been a busy week, but the days have been warm and sunny. The snow has retreated once again to the mountains and with barely a pause for spring, summer has arrived. I have taken so many photos that this will be an image-filled, whistle-stop tour of my week.
Last weekend, Anna, Triar and I went walking in Ånderdalen National Park. Regular readers will know it’s one of my favourite places. The ground was still brown, but the sturdy fir trees that cling to the shallow soil were bathing in the twenty four hour sunlight. For three or four kilometers, the path is maintained for wheelchair users, but at the end it is possible to go further, up into the hills or down towards a lake. We decided to go down and discovered that the path descended into a peat bog, carefully woven with plank bridges to walk on. As you can see, Triar decided that staying on the planks wasn’t nearly as much fun as taking a peat-pool plunge.
Because of the long winter, and because we were doing limited visits due to coronavirus, there is a lot of catching up to do. I have been blood testing goats with Ammar. We check them for two notifiable diseases: brucellosis and caprine arthritic encephalitis virus (CAEV). Brucella can cause goats to miscarry and can spread to humans and CAEV mostly causes arthritic changes in joints, but can also occasionally cause inflammation of the brain in kids. Ammar works in Tromsø and between us, by next week, we hopefully will have finished this year’s testing in both our areas. We tested two herds on Monday.
Tuesday began early with a trip to the abattoir. As I left the house at about five thirty in the morning, I couldn’t resist taking a picture and I took another of the harbour beside work as I changed cars. As you can see on the top picture, the leaves were beginning to appear, but hadn’t quite opened.
In the afternoon, there were more goats, but when Anna suggested a walk in the evening, I couldn’t resist. We crossed the bridge to Senja and walked down to a little harbour we discovered in winter. How different the little stony beach looked now. The water was so clear and it was so warm that we couldn’t resist going in for a paddle.
On Wednesday, I was back on Senja with Thomas and Håkon, who works with Dyrevernsnemnda. We were following up a welfare report from the public, but when we arrived, everything was fine. It seems to happen that way quite often, but we have to follow everything up. It’s better than missing something bad. There was wildlife on the roadsides, both reindeer and elk, and we stopped at a viewpoint for another photo opportunity.
Thursday was spent in an all day meeting on Teams. I worked from home, learning about the difficult job of dealing with farms and farm-parks who break the law over years. We have many tools at our disposal, ranging from advice at one end, to total bans on animal keeping at the other. Unlike in the UK, where animal welfare cases have to be taken to court, in extreme cases, where animals are suffering, we can remove the right to keep animals. It wasn’t a very cheery day, but important nonetheless. I spent Friday following up on some of the information and on some admin, that was badly in need of sorting out. And then in the evening, Anna, Andrew and I packed the car to go on a camping trip. John was meant to be coming, but in a frustrating twist, having stated at the beginning of last week’s blog that it was easy to get complacent about coronavirus, someone who works in the same office as me has tested positive. Though the risks are tiny (the over-riding rule is still for working from home wherever possible, so there was no contact between me and the affected person) John thought it better not to come this time. I hope my colleague is not too unwell and that nobody else gets it.
We had been planning to camp at Sørvika near the beach, but when we arrived there, several caravans had already taken up residence. We wanted somewhere more private, and so we drove on and found a little track that led up into the hills further around the peninsula. Wild camping is allowed in Norway. So long as you aren’t near houses or on agricultural land, you can pitch your tent anywhere. We found a field, which might be used for hay, and camped on the edge of it, under some trees. It was wonderfully green. We had hoped for a fire, but had to settle for the trusty little gas ring that John and I bought for driving up here last year. Triar particularly enjoyed the hot dogs.
We drove on round to Rossfjord after we’d eaten. Beautiful as it was, the mosquitoes were out in force and being eaten ourselves was not part of the plan. There, we found one of the most beautiful graveyards I have ever seen. On the hillside stretching up from the white wooden church, the gravestones were well tended and new, but in the little corner furthest away from us, there was a much older section, with only a few iron crosses and low grassy mounds marking the graves. It was wonderfully tangled and overgrown, slumbering in the evening sunshine. When I am gone, I hope my resting place is equally peaceful.
As we drove back, the air grew colder and mist began to form over the sound, gathering on the mountains opposite.
It wasn’t very dark in the tent, but somehow I managed to sleep well. I woke a few times and marvelled at the birds singing. Do they sleep in summer at all?
We came home this morning. Someone has to feed the guinea pigs! And as it’s late, I thought I would pop outside to get you a picture of the midnight sun over Senja.
When I’ve clicked on the “Publish” button, I shall go to my bedroom, close the blackout blinds and the curtains and go to sleep. Good night all.
Anyone else love hotels? For me there are few things more pleasurable than travelling somewhere and checking in to a hotel with a comfortable bed with clean white sheets. Better still is waking up in the morning to a lovely breakfast someone else has cooked. I will add that if you have spent a long day working out on farms in cold weather, then stepping under a powerful shower with sweet-scented soap to wash away the chill and the farmyard smells is blissful.
The only imperfection for me, was that I had forgotten to take my book. I am trying to cut down my internet time and take up reading again. There is something about escaping into the world of a book that can never be simulated by online conversation.
Things are, of course, slightly odd at the moment. I spent Thursday night at Vollan Gjestestua (pictured above) with five colleagues from the DyreGo Team, which covers animal health and welfare. Business travel in Norway is limited at the moment, but there is a certain amount of work we have to carry out over the course of the year. The area we cover between us is too large to do it easily and then drive home afterwards. In addition, lockdown and working from home is increasingly wearing, so although we had to all sit at separate tables in the restaurant and communicate by lip reading and sign language, it was good for my mental health to see my working colleagues in the flesh and not just on a screen. Yesterday we had a similarly distanced meeting.
I read a blog entry earlier in the week by Iceland Penny. It draws attention to some of the contradictions in life, things she came across that held both good and bad/beauty and ugliness. Both/And by Iceland Penny. I was reminded of the post by a discussion in the meeting we had about technology.
I have come to Mattilsynet at a time of upheaval. Some of it is driven by the drive to use less paper and more technology, but the process has been speeded up by coronavirus. If you hand over a pen and paper for a signature, you increase the risk of infection.
When we carry out a visit, whatever the reason for it, we summarise our observations on a Tilsynskvittering. This is an outline of the visit and what was checked, split into different sections related to Norwegian law, stating whether the things we saw fulfilled the legal requirements. This receipt, until very recently, was written on paper, which you then photographed before handing it over to the owner. But since December, we have moved over to using an App.
Astrid pointed out that the new technology could be rendered useless if, for example, you were in an area with no phone signal. I would add that with the small screen on a mobile phone, it is hard to do a lot of typing. In theory you could take along your laptop and connect it to the phone, but then you are still reliant on being connected and anyway, there comes a point when you have to remember to take so many things that the entire process becomes unwieldy. “There’s a lot to be said,” she commented, “for pencil and paper.”
I guess this might be partly influenced by age. I mentioned escaping into a book upthread, and said I never managed to escape into another world online, but I know there are immersive games where my children manage to do just that. But most of the DyreGo team, like me are upwards of fifty.
While I can see that all this new technology has benefits, I also see that it’s challenging when change is brought in so fast. There was an older farmer we visited last year who had been asked to make a number of improvements and Thomas had asked him to send photos once he had done so. Having not received any, Thomas arranged a revisit, assuming the work had not been carried out. When we arrived, Thomas was delighted to find out that it had. When he asked the elderly farmer why he hadn’t sent the proof along, the farmer told us he didn’t have a phone with a camera. I think when we are so connected ourselves, sometimes it’s easy to forget that others are not.
Personally I am on the fence. There is increasing connectedness that I feel ought make us more free, but instead sometimes ties us down. In the meeting, I found myself thinking about the issue of traceability in farming and food production. When an outbreak of food-borne illness breaks out, it’s an advantage that we can find out more easily where it came from. But there is an enormous amount of work in ensuring all the information is put into the system within a very short timeframe. To me that seems like a lot of pressure on farmers who grew up in a time when most of the connections were with family, local farmers and the vet, and the only technology was your machinery and the weather forecast on the radio.
There are periods when I find myself hankering after pre-internet, pre-mobile phone times. It was way easier to go “off-grid”. Anyone else remember those announcements on the wireless (BBC Radio 4) appealing to people on holiday to get in touch as their relative was seriously ill?
I worked in large animal practice, and once you were out on your calls, there was a kind of freedom, though of course that could be inconvenient if you went all the way back and then found there was another visit in the same direction. I think there was less pressure in practice to be right all the time and to know everything. You built up knowledge through experience, through speaking to colleagues, through reading books that were probably already out of date as they had been sitting on the shelf in the practice for several years.
Nowadays, if you know where to look online, there are answers to be found and groups you can join. Anaesthetists discuss the intricacies of different protocols, breed and species differences and how to achieve perfect pain relief. There’s good and bad in that. Better specialisation, increased cost. Some things are lost as well, in this new world. A safe path can be equally well achieved with long familiarity with drugs and techniques, built up over a lifetime of experience. Sometimes I feel everything is now moving too fast.
That said, I can’t put aside the positives. I wrote six books while living in Norway with a co-author in Somerset for a company based in London. Victoria Holmes and I batted ideas across the ether in e-mails in a way that allowed thinking time without excessive delays. We couldn’t have done that over a traditional telephone line or in letters. I am also connected to friends I went to school with and teachers who would otherwise only be a pleasant memory (hello Mr Gorski!). I would never have heard from them again without it.
Even so, despite the positives, I find myself wishing that we could insert a grandfather clause into modern life. A grandfather clause, for those who don’t know, is an exemption from following new laws if doing so would be too costly or difficult. The most obvious example would be with building regulations that require new business premises to follow certain rules with regards to toilet provision, but don’t require that older buildings are brought up to the same standard.
I can’t help feeling that if staff who have worked adequately for years with a pen and paper are retiring within the next ten years or so, they could be allowed to continue without it doing a great deal of harm. It would save them a lot of grief. There is an aspiration that wherever you are in Norway and whatever your business, Mattilsynet will assess and deal with your case in the same way. I can see the value in that when it comes to assessing whether legal requirements are fulfilled.
But whether the report is sent online or on paper? When it really comes down to it, that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, in the grand scheme of things.
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.
It’s been an eventful week. As Donald Trump and Joe Biden totter towards a final result in the US presidential election, coronavirus is surging worldwide. On a more personal level, the abattoir season has ended (hooray!) and I had my 2-3 month review.
The review went well. I knew I had done all the online coursework I had been set, but there were one or two tasks I hadn’t really had a chance to get my teeth into. One of my tasks is to find out what my colleagues do. Some of them are involved with aquaculture, others with quality control of drinking water and those in my own small section are involved with animal health and welfare. But with many of us working at the slaughterhouse, there has been limited time for other tasks.
Before my review, therefore, I had a quick look at what my colleagues were up to. Øivind (who works with drinking water) had a trip next Thursday to Husøy, and so I decided I would ask Hilde whether it might be a suitable trip for me. I was unsure where Husøy was. Øy means island and I know that there are some far flung places in our region. If it involved an overnight trip, it was unlikely I could join at this late stage. But Husøy, I discovered, is a small island off the coast of Senja. No ferries required – there’s a bridge across. Hilde told me that Husøy had been the subject of a Norwegian documentary, “Da Damene Dro” back in 2008. All the women on the island were taken off for a ten day holiday in the sun, while the menfolk were left to fend for themselves and their children.
This seemed like the kind of social experiment I could get behind, so a taking a trip there would be fascinating… but it wasn’t to be. When I caught up with Øivind at lunch time, he told me that the trip had been cancelled. With the surge in coronavirus cases, nobody wanted to take any chances and the trip was not urgent.
I left after lunch as Charlie had texted me to let me know he was arriving soon. Charlie is John, Anna and Andrew’s dad and he is here for the weekend. He came up to watch Andrew in a school concert. Andrew has been learning the piano and the music group had put together some songs, which were to be performed in a local café. But that too was disrupted by coronavirus. The venue changed from the café to the school and then the message came through that it would be broadcast online. So Charlie flew all the way up here from Stavanger to sit in the living room and watch the concert on TV. There were advantages though. Charlie and I were going to support Andrew, but with the change in the agenda, both Anna and my parents were able to watch from the UK and Wytske, a friend from the Netherlands also joined us.
The weather this week has been stormy, but despite the forecast, Charlie, Triar and I took a walk this morning in Ånderdalen National Park. It was a wonderful place to explore. There is a trail up into the park which has been made suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs, and beyond that, the tracks are well marked, so even if the weather had taken a turn for the worse, it would have been possible to get back safely.
The park is stunning, even at this time of year, when everything is lowering into winter. Fir trees dominate the landscape and in the distance, snow covered mountain peaks, but the trees are sparse, the landscape shaped by the long winters. There are many dead trees amongst the living, their trunks and branches still rooted deep against the winter winds. The weather was changeable, one moment bright and clear, the next darkening as snow or hail began to descend.
I love trees and found myself as fascinated with these beautiful ghost trees as I am with the living trees that stood alongside them. Lichen caught my eye, and wonderful shapes on the trunks of the bigger trees.
And so, tired and damp we returned home. It was Charlie’s birthday yesterday and there was leftover carrot cake to go with our coffee. And now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day. I’ve taken Monday and Tuesday off and I am looking forward to going back to work fully refreshed.
I saw a post on Twitter bemoaning the appearance of Christmas items in the shops in the UK yesterday, or more accurately someone posted that as they were on COVID lockdown, they were deprived of the pleasure of complaining about it this year. As someone who loves Christmas, the gathering signs that it is on its way are always something I have enjoyed, though I am glad that in Norway, it’s rather low key compared to the UK. I rather smugly commented on the post, saying that I hadn’t seen anything here yet, then went into my local supermarket and saw that the Julebrus had appeared. Julebrus is a Norwegian fizzy drink, only available around Christmas time and much beloved by my children. It has a kind of fruity flavour and comes in red and brown varieties. But enough about that for now!
Back at the start of the pandemic, I was careful to take all possible precautions. I shopped once a week or less and took my breaks at work sitting out in my car. Now I shop more or less daily again and though I use the hand-gel that is liberally available in all public spaces, and try to ensure I keep a metre away from people, it isn’t having much impact on my day-to-day life, though I recognise that could change rapidly. Mattilsynet has its own set of rules, which we are to read at least once a week. Those here in springtime all have home offices set up and it seems likely that at some point, home working might become the norm again.
The main effect on me is that, for the first time since I’ve moved to Norway, I haven’t been to the UK during this calendar year. My daughter is a student there and my parents are in Yorkshire and I miss having the chance to visit them. Strange times we are living through.