It’s almost November and winter has arrived. Last weekend’s rain turned into snow, which shouldn’t have surprised me, but it felt too sudden, having so recently returned from the UK. This weekend the clocks go back. Not that it will make a lot of difference to the daylight hours here. It’s only a month now until the polar night arrives. Though the temperature dropped to minus nine at the beginning of the week, it’s back up again now and hovering just above zero, so John has brought home the fencing kit: not a facemask and foil, but a huge mallet and a metal spike for making holes in the ground. He’s going to build a Triar fence, so that Triar can enjoy the garden without being on a lead the entire time. Obviously we’ll have to check it each morning to make sure a moose hasn’t walked right through it, but Triar loves zooming about (and burying his head in the snow) so it will be great for him. John made a start last night with lining up the posts, despite the fact that it was already getting dark when he got home.
In a rash moment last week, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. It’s an annual event where people who want to write a novel join a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I’ve tried once before and didn’t make it, but I haven’t written anything but this blog for ages and it’s about time I got started again. So now I have only a couple of days to get the rest of my plotline sorted out for my next novel. That is slightly less daunting than it sounds as I had started planning it months ago and have several storylines ready to go. Now I just have to weave them together and make sure they all work together. 50,000 words is just over half the usual number of words I’d expect to write, so even if I haven’t got the plotline worked out right to the end, I can still make a start. More writing, less procrastinating!
Next week is officially the last of the season at the abattoir. This years’ lamb is already appearing in the shops. Farikål is a very popular meal here. It’s a stew made of lamb or mutton on the bone, with cabbage and peppercorns. I confess I’m not a fan. The meat tends to be very bony and though it’s cooked for a long time, until it’s falling off the bone, I generally prefer my lamb slow roasted, rather than cooked in a casserole. Of course, it may be that I just haven’t found the right recipe yet. When it comes to food, I’m always open to persuasion!
Once the season is over at work, Thomas and I are going to have to work very hard to catch up with all the work that has been building up out in the field. There are routine visits we have to complete each year, including visiting set percentages of sheep and cattle farms to check the animals are properly eartagged and to educate about scrapie (a neurological disease in sheep that is similar in nature to BSE in cattle) and also some blood testing to do. All that is on top of responding to messages from the public about potential cruelty cases. Though we often have to slow down for the season, this year both Thomas and I have been at the abattoir daily, because two members of the regular staff have been on sick leave throughout. Our job can certainly be challenging.
Here are a few pictures I took when driving to and from work this week. A dusting of snow lightens the world, even on the darkest winter days.
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,
At the end of last week’s blog, I touched on the subject of the RNIB and on the happiness I felt having been contacted by a number of women who were interested in talking to me about being blind or severely sight impaired (which one of my correspondents described as being “the new term for blind”). As I mentioned last week, one of the characters in my new novel (Gail) is blind. She has a guide dog (Beth). I think there is a common assumption that those with a guide dog have no sight at all, but that isn’t the case. I am also planning a second book in the same series, which will have a major storyline around the relationship between Gail and Beth. I am very touched by the enthusiasm for my book. And it’s been lovely, hearing from new people and learning about different perspectives. A couple of the women have also shared websites that give added insight into their lives and I wanted to share them with you.
The first is a fascinating insight into how Samantha Leftwich sees the world. She uses photography to try to replicate different aspects of her vision. Her artwork was showcased in an exhibition called Windows of the Soul:
The other is a blog by Lynne Nicholson about living with Charles Bonnet Syndrome which she describes as “my brain being deprived of visual stimuli […] inventing it’s own version of the world around me.” Lynne writes about making her way through the world and some of the technology that helps with that navigation. Here’s the latest post on her blog:
The weather is incredibly changeable at the moment. There had been snow, but by last Sunday, it had disappeared again. Looking for somewhere new to walk, I drove up onto the Lenvik Peninsula. (The Norwegian word for peninsula is “halvøy”, which translated literally means half island, which pleased me when I looked it up.) Turning up a random road, I parked the car near a waterfall under a bridge and headed up on a pathway that wove uphill through woodland.
Though the snow was gone, the ground was frosty and the colours muted, but with touches of the glorious autumn still visible.
Triar was very happy, of course. He loves exploring new places.
There was a wonderful fall of snow on Monday night, so of course I took some photographs when I took Triar for his evening walk. As I’ve mentioned before, the light at this time of year has a bluish tinge, even when the sun is up. At night, I was struck by the beauty of the golden light which shone through the snow clad trees and reflected on the water.
Friday ended up being a bit of a wild day. There was an office party planned for the evening and I was taking sausage rolls. It had been a long week, so I asked Hilde on Thursday if I could work from home, and I was planning an early finish to give me time to bake. There were a couple of meetings to get through and then I didn’t have too much left to do.
So much for my carefully laid plans. The first meeting was at 08:30 and was about our ongoing list of farms where we know the welfare needs some work. I had done a lot of work on these cases a while back, checking through the paper trails, creating historic timelines so that it was easy to see what the long-term problems were in each case. In the meeting, I discovered that our team had a new deadline and new Excel sheets to fill in regarding those histories, as well as creating new timelines for how we are going to tackle the cases in the coming months.
It was quickly obvious that I was going to have to go into the office to tackle these new deadlines. Having done much of the legwork, I hoped it would be a case of simply copy and pasting the information, but experience has taught me it’s hard to do that with the limitations of a laptop screen. Anyway, regardless of that, I needed to meet with Thomas to plan the next steps.
So at the end of the first meeting, I grabbed everything and rushed down to the office. The second meeting of the day was about to start and I just had time to get myself a coffee before it began.
The second meeting was our departmental meeting and as I don’t play a leading role in anything yet, I was starting to relax again, when Hilde sent the second curve-ball of the day flying at my unprotected head. There are, apparently, two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the slaughterhouse. Anyone who had been there in the course of the week was to take a rapid test. There was a mask on my desk, put there a while back and discarded, so I slapped it on. I’d been to the abattoir on Tuesday, so that group included me.
After that, I was impatient for the meeting to end so I could go and get the test. Obviously my urgent face-to-face meeting with Thomas was going to have to wait! We didn’t have any tests in the office, so after a brief discussion with Hilde, I headed off to the pharmacy to see if I could buy some. Having done so, I headed home to take the test. The fifteen minute wait before I could see the results felt very long, even though I knew the chances that it would be clear were good. I hadn’t been in close contact with many non-Mattilsynet staff, all of whom had already been tested and were clear. There was more hanging on it than my meeting with Thomas, of course. I have been waiting weeks for the office party and to miss it would have been awful.
Luckily the test was clear. I headed back to the office, calling in at the health centre, on the way, to book an MRSA test that I need to have before I can visit pig farms to check for it. No good me going out to check if the pigs have it, then contaminating the swabs or worse, giving it to them.
The party was fun! Lots of people brought food and so there was a wonderful spread. I wasn’t drinking, but some people were. There was an amazing feeling of a return to something I hadn’t realised how much I was missing. We sat close together at the tables, which in itself felt novel and not normal, as it used to be. Some people were drinking alcohol and unexpectedly, one of them began to get rather “tired and emotional” and that seemed nostalgically wonderful too. He talked at one point about how much he had missed this, and how we must do it more often and the whole room listened and then toasted him.
He really struck a chord when he said we have to create a new normal. The vast majority of people are vaccinated. It’s not perfect as the vaccine isn’t perfect, but likely this is as good as it’s going to get. There are no new developments left to wait for. There are still local lockdowns, where the risks are higher, but so long as the hospitals are not swamped, there’s an extent to which we now need to let it go.
I will leave you with a photograph of Thomas. As regular readers will know, Thomas is from South Sudan and his dazzling white Sudanese outfit was definitely one of the high points of the evening.
I mentioned a couple of weeks back that it was not yet entirely dark, but from Thursday this week there has been full darkness for a short time each night. It’s hard to believe we’re already well into September. The sun is low in the sky for much of the day and the autumn equinox will soon be here.
I took that photo when I was out with Triar, and he very kindly posed for me on an upturned boat, that lies beside the narrow path we walked down.
I’m not sure what the boat is doing here, halfway up a rather steep hill, but I suspect it might be a remnant left over from a children’s play park. They quite often use old boats in playgrounds, when they are no longer any use for fishing.
Though it’s coming up for two years since I’ve been in the UK, I do like to follow what’s happening on social media. So I was interested to see, in the past couple of weeks, that the first mince pies have started to appear in shops over there. Mince pies are one of the Christmas foods I miss most. Of course I could make my own, but it’s nearly impossible to recreate the wonderful cool pastry and spiced mincemeat that you get in the shop bought version.
That said, I was pleased to see the return of mørketids boller to the shop I was in yesterday. Mørketid is Norwegian for polar night, which will not arrive until 30th November, so like the mince pies, they are a little early. But I love the seasonality of the foods in the shops here, and this one is specific to the north of Norway. They aren’t as good as mince pies. It’s really a doughnut with dark chocolate and vanilla filling (I have seen pictures with chocolate fillings, but have never located one). Very pleasant with a cup of coffee.
The shorter days at work also ended this week. For a few months in the summer, we work seven hour days, whereas in winter, we work seven and three quarter hours. The difference doesn’t sound much, but I was pleasantly surprised when it began, how much faster the working day passed. It’s a great perk to have shorter working days when the summer is so brief.
There are also some odd quirks in the working hours over Christmas and New Year and there was some discussion about this over morning coffee this week, when there was only me and two Norwegian colleagues present. For example, on New Year’s Eve, our official working day is only two hours. So if you have built up some time off in lieu (TOIL) then that is a good day to use it. If you take the day as holiday, it counts as a whole day off, regardless of how long or short the day is. So if you do that, you took off two hours when you could have taken almost eight if you’d chosen a different day.
I had been thinking about trying to take my one remaining holiday week between Christmas and New Year, but as most of the days then are only five hours, it is worth looking into taking them as TOIL instead. The only downside being that agreed holiday can’t be removed at the last minute, whereas agreed TOIL can.
There are a lot of differences from the UK in the Norwegian way of working, and it can be difficult to find all of them out. I should imagine it’s the same for anyone who lives in a culture they weren’t brought up in, but there are times when I have the feeling I am living in some kind of twilight zone, where all kinds of things are obscure. Nobody tells you about them as they assume everyone knows and of course, as you don’t know they exist, you don’t ask about them.
One thing that I do know about, that is definitely worse in Norway than the UK for permanent employees (and is illegal in EU countries) is that in your first year in any new job, you are not entitled to holiday pay. Last year I worked for Mattilsynet from August and so I was not entitled to any paid holiday at all from them. Technically, I received holiday pay from my last job when I left, but that was eaten up in the expenses of moving up here. This year, I only have ten days paid holiday. I can take unpaid holiday, but three weeks without pay would be quite a hit and I don’t really want to do it unless it’s unavoidable.
I’m not really sure why this rule persists. I believe it has been challenged in Denmark, which is in the EU, while Norway is technically not. But Norway does adhere to most of the other EU rules, as expected under the EEA agreement, so I am unsure why they have not implemented this one. For my part, it’s a bad rule. Given that the only “holiday” I had last year was taken up with driving up here, it feels like a long time since I’ve had a proper rest. It’s not as easy to bounce back at fifty two as it was when I was younger either. Roll on next year, when I will be back up to five weeks plus bank holidays again. I guess anyone from the US reading this might think I’m a wuss, but there it is!
Fungi are odd things. A rather cute looking mushroom appeared one day under the hedge beside my driveaway. I took a few photos over several days. It looked tasty, and at the same time rather demure, with its closed head, all neat and dry. This was taken on the tenth of September and I think it had been there a few days. I assumed this was its final form. I rather liked it.
So I was bemused to come home on Wednesday to find it had seemingly doubled in height. The cup was now opened and its edge had a grim wet look to it! I guess it had to open as its spores must be inside, but any feelings I had that it might taste good disappeared instantly!
I will leave you with a couple of pictures from my drive home yesterday. There’s a falling down barn that I have been passing every time I drive to the abattoir. I decided I wanted to photograph it in the autumn of last year, but it was difficult to find anywhere to park, and then winter came and the parking possibilities reduced even further. It’s impossible to pull off the road when there’s a wall of scraped snow on either side. I drove past yesterday morning, when I didn’t have time, and thought that by the time I drove home again, the sun would have moved. But I had forgotten that the sun is now permanently in the south and doesn’t move so much from east to west as from south-east to south-west. So here it is in the autumn sun, in all its dilapidated glory. And I’ll throw in one of trees and snow topped mountains for good measure. Hope you enjoy them!
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.
A very brief post to mark the arrival of Mørketid. The sun made it over the horizon today for nineteen minutes, but now the Polar Night has arrived.
It was cloudy today, and the light was blue-grey over the sound, but when the darkness comes, festive Christmas lights are everywhere.
And of course it is the first Sunday advent and in true Norwegian style, we have an advent crown… though over the years I have strayed a long way from the traditional purple candles. This years crown looks like this.
The days are getting very short now and in only one month, the sun will go down for the last time on 2020. It won’t come over the horizon again until almost the middle of January.
Monday started well with another elk sighting. This time, since the snow hadn’t yet arrived, I pulled in quickly and managed to take a photograph, though it’s not the clearest. Difficult to capture a moving target in the pre-dawn twilight.
In other news, the snow arrived properly on Thursday. For the past two days, I’ve had to factor in scraping it from the car before I set off in the morning, though so far I haven’t had to clear the driveway. . Even in those two days, I feel I’ve learned a lot. For example, it’s clear that you should never rent or buy a house in the Arctic Circle that doesn’t have a garage. Equally, if you apply for a job where you are expected to use cars daily from a car pool… make sure you don’t choose a workplace without some kind of covered parking. I expect I will get very efficient shortly, doing it at least twice a day. More if it snows while I’m at work!
Today has been rather lovely. Andrew and I set out this afternoon to go to Silsand on Senja Island. We go there some evenings and there’s a pleasant enough walk up to a lake, but to our surprise, the car park, which is usually empty, was full. Rather ominously, there was a sign up which said “Testing Senter”.
Recalling that I had read somewhere that a specialised centre for COVID was being set up in Silsand, we beat a hasty retreat, then drove north for a short way. A sign directed us towards “Woodland Lodge” and we drove down a little track, which to my delight led to a tiny pavilion and a stretch of woodland.
Andrew found some animal tracks. At first I assumed they were a dog’s, but if they were, it had gone for a walk alone. So we began to follow them. When we got down to the waterline, we found the lovely little jetty pictured at the top of the page. And though we never found the Halloween wolf… or whatever it was, all three of us very much enjoyed roaming around in the snow.
I have been adding the changing daylength at the top of each post for a while now. Those who have noticed might have calculated that over the course of each week, we are losing an hour of light and gaining an hour of darkness. The rate of change is not exactly disconcerting, but it is a little disorienting. I look at the clock expecting it to be late evening and find it is only seven o’clock.
Sometime last week, I noticed two of the trees beside the little pond in the town centre had been decorated with lights. In the UK and in the more southerly part of Norway where I used to live, there were tasteful lights draped in the branches of the trees around Christmas, but this was something different. The whole tree, trunk and branches, seemed to be swathed in lights, and it seemed odd that there were only two. I drove home yesterday and to my delight, saw that now there were lots more trees lit up. I don’t know whether they are finished, or whether there are more to come, but Andrew, Triar and I went for a wander around the pond and it was beautiful.
As well as the changing daylength, there has been another change this week. John has started to do seasonal work at the abattoir. He is working with the sheep shearing squad. There is a technique, of course, to sheep shearing. He tells me it’s important to remove the wool in a smooth manner, ensuring that the length doesn’t get disrupted. If they don’t get it right first time, they are encouraged not to take another cut as the shortness of those segments would degrade the quality and mean the price would be lower. For my part, I’m glad that the wool is used. I remember being told at university that wool was considered so worthless that it was often thrown away. If we breed animals for food, I can’t help feeling that we should do what we can to use every one of the products that creates. Anyway, for now, John has moved out and is living in a house with other members of the team and seems to be enjoying it, which is wonderful.
Andrew has also been away this week, visiting his dad and the orthodontist. He flew back yesterday evening, and as the airport is near to where I was working, I decided I would find something to do there instead of coming home and having to drive back. Rather than leaving Triar at home all day on his own, he came with me in the car. The airport is at Bardufoss, and as Foss is Norwegian for waterfall, I decided to go and look for it. It didn’t take too long to find. I’m sure it was beautiful once… but it was now empty. Norway is famous for its renewable energy. 98% of electricity production comes from renewable sources, and though the number of wind farms is increasing year on year, the majority still comes from hydroelectric.
But of course, where there are mountains, you are never too far from a waterfall. As I was driving, I noticed signs for Målselvfossen and so I followed them. It was well worth the effort. As Triar and I walked down into the valley, sunlight stippled the hills in the distance.
Down beside the river, the roar filled our ears. There was a salmon ladder, currently closed, but well worth a revisit next year as the summer comes round again. We’ll definitely be coming back!