Tag Archives: Mattilsynet

Darling Buds of May

Sunrise/sunset: 02:11/ 23:24. Daylength: 21hr13min

There are signs that spring is finally arriving here in the far north. Last week, I took this picture from the window of my apartment. It was snowing heavily and wetly enough that even Triar didn’t want to go out and play.

Snow falling over the bridge to Senja

Compare and contrast with this picture from yesterday, where the sun is out, the snow is gone from the roofs, and Gisundet sound is so calm that there’s an almost perfect reflection of the island on the waterline.

Gisundet and Senja on a sunny day when spring is approaching

The trees in the photo above still look lifeless, but there are signs everywhere that the earth is stirring after the long freeze.

That little flower breaking through the icy snow is amazing. Life on the edge!

Another compare and contrast. Remember the ice bridge?

Ice bridge over the Malselva river at Karlstad

Nobody is going to be driving across it any time soon!

Malselva river with dirt road disappearing into the water

A few weeks back, Triar lost his favourite ball over the edge of the garden. The snow was so hard packed at that point that it rolled over the edge, bounded across the pathway and on down the hill. I let him run down to try to find it, but he returned empty mouthed and sad. Yesterday the path down the hill was finally passable, and to Triar’s joy (picture at the top of the page) we found his ball at the foot of the steep slope!

In my ongoing campaign to challenge myself at work, I have volunteered to go to Tromsø next week. Someone is coming up from head office on Thursday and Friday and is to be taken out on some welfare visits. Fortunately for me, Line is coming out with us on Friday, but on Thursday, I’m shall be out on my own (with the esteemed visitor) to do the postponed traceability inspection at a hobby goat establishment. Bear in mind that the animal health law still hasn’t been updated on the computer system, that I have never done a traceability visit without Thomas or Birgit, and that all such visits have to be chosen based on risk (we’re supposed to select those we assess as having a higher risk of law breaches) and it seems like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge and competence! What could possibly go wrong?

John is out on a farm lambing at the moment. He seems to be enjoying it, and I’m very happy for him and also proud. When he left home a few years ago, I imagined he would spend his life working in an office, but he is embracing the world of farming more and more. I don’t suppose he has any conscious memory of coming out on farm calls in his baby car seat, though perhaps he remembers being allowed to drive a tractor as a small boy. Either way, it’s wonderful to see. I’ve always been drawn to that world, even though as a Mattilsynet vet, I’m peripheral to it at best. Andrew and I are going out to visit later today.

I was also out at a farm earlier this week and saw a stoat. Apologies for the poor quality of the images, but this tiny creature was dragging a rat it had killed across a patch of grass. The rat was definitely more bulky than the stoat itself. What an amazing animal!

Anyway, I think that’s all for this week! Hopefully after today there will be lamb pictures and Tuesday is 17th of May, when Norway will be decked out in red, white and blue to celebrate their national day. Seven hour working days and 24 hour daylight! Tune in shortly for the next exciting update! Have a good week all.

A Jacuzzi with a View

Sunrise/sunset: 02:57/22:36. Daylength: 19h39min

This week marked the official change in Norway from the old Animal Health Law to a new version. The changes stem from changes in the EU’s legal requirements. Norway isn’t in the EU, but we do follow their rules and these particular rules are mostly based around the protection from, and prevention of, infectious diseases in the animal population. The regulations cover everything from wild boar to fish, and even extends to bees.

My own special interest this week was goats. Mattilsynet have designated hobby goats as a particular point of interest this year, following an outbreak of sheep scab (caused by mites) in small herds of pet goats. Movement of pet animals tends to be much less well controlled than with larger, commercial herds, where professional farmers are generally more aware of the law. We had an animal health and welfare team meeting planned for Thursday and Friday at Malangen. The intention was to carry out inspections on traceability and TSE (Scrapie) on the way to the conference centre, have a lunch to lunch meeting, then do more visits on the way home.

Thomas and I were to do these inspections together and Thomas was busy, so on Monday I set to with planning. I started by printing out information sheets about the symptoms of Scrapie and the legal requirements goat owners had to follow if their animals died unexpectedly. There’s a whole lot of official paperwork involved in any visit. It was only when I was halfway through this project, with seven TSE inspection kits underway, when I realised that the law changes had not been updated in MATS, the computer system we use for recording such inspections.

I rang Line, who was arranging the team meeting, and asked her whether there were any contingency plans in place, to which she replied there weren’t. She asked if I had time to look at it, which fortunately I did. So then, my task for the week was to try and work out how to manage the situation, and then explain it all to the rest of the team, so they could do some inspections on the way home, even if they hadn’t been able to do any on the way there.

And so, I spent the early part of the week tracking down the wandering regulations. Norway has tended to be ahead of EU law anyway, in terms of keeping out infectious diseases and in biosecurity on farms, and what I found was that most of the law remained exactly the same, but was now in a different order.

Whenever we carry out an inspection, we have to relate it to one law or another: we can’t just go out and give our opinion on whether things are being done right. If the animal owners are complying with the law, then we don’t give much detail on which laws we checked in the reports we send. If we do observe something illegal, we have to quote the section of law which covers it, explain what it was that we saw that we consider breaks the law, and lay out what the animal owner has to remedy. In some instances that’s quite straightforward. If the law says that all goats have to have ear tags by the time they are a week old, and there are adult goats without ear tags, then the solution isn’t difficult. But the finer details of those laws are currently covered by the Animal Health Law and all its supporting regulations, and now I was unable to use those laws because the system was out of date.

Assuming there must be a back-up plan, I fired off an e-mail to our local advisor on such topics and then carried on setting up the packs I had begun. I was hoping that someone else had started to put something together and I could be pointed in the right direction. If I dived in blind, it seemed likely that I would end up duplicating work someone else had already carried out. I got a reply back quite quickly, pointing me not to the specific situation I was dealing with, but on some more general considerations about what to do if you found something that broke the law while the new law was not yet in the system.

The general instruction was, that in the absence of specific Animal Health Laws, we should use Matloven – the Food Act. This is a more reasonable suggestion than it might appear on first sight. Much of our law around animal health is governed by the fact that many animals end up in the food chain: in order to produce safe food, you need to deliver healthy animals.

The downside was that compared with the animal health law, the Food Act is very non-specific in terms of animal health. I spent a lot of time reading through, and though it gave overarching instructions, it was low on detail. I was still tempted to go ahead with the inspections. After all, it wouldn’t really matter too much… but then I realised I was assuming that all the visits would go well. If we discovered a significant problem, we would find ourselves trying to to bend a law designed to safeguard the consumer by ensuring the traceability of a pack of hot dogs to the specifics regarding the ages of animals when their ear tags should be in place.

Further complications were brought to my attention when it was pointed out that, to be covered by the Food Act, the animal owners had to be from registered premises where they were sending their produce into the food chain. That doesn’t cover people who are keeping their goats as pets! And so, after three days trying to find ways and means, I concluded that the health of the hobby goats of mid-Troms would be better left uninspected until our systems are updated.

I was of course, slightly concerned. Line had confidently written in the meeting plan that I was going to update everyone on the checking, and now my update was that there was to be none, at least for now. I needn’t have worried. As I am gradually realising, the one constant when working for Mattilsynet is that any plan you make is likely to change from one moment to the next. In a minor twist, I had discovered that though Norway’s law had changed, Svalbard’s has not. My suggestion in the meeting, that we should simply relocate to Svalbard and do all our routine testing there was greeted with smiles. Our region is, after all, Troms AND Svalbard. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know if there are any hobby goats on Svalbard. Moreover, we had the sauna and jacuzzi at Malangen booked for Thursday evening. So, with everything considered, we reluctantly concluded we would just have to do the inspections later.

Malangen Resort was lovely. Now that the Covid restrictions are lifted and we are able to meet in person again, I am discovering that there’s a definite advantage in working in a location where there are so few of us covering such a large area. In smaller regions, everyone would drive to a central office and meet there. Here, because of the distances involved, we tend to meet in conference centres or hotels, and some of them are in stunning locations.

So this was my hotel room overnight, and the view outside. Just wonderful, although in true Norwegian style, there was no decaffeinated coffee or milk with the beautifully arranged coffee cups.

Of course, I could have asked for milk, but I was too busy enjoying myself in the jacuzzi and sauna. Thanks to Line for arranging it all. I should say, we paid for those ourselves – my job is stressful, but even in Norway, there are limits!

There may not have been milk for the coffee in the bedroom, but the food was modern, with a definite flavour of Norway. Reindeer stew, reindeer carpaccio, cod and mushy peas, and lemon cake.

Much as I loved the hotel and the views and the jacuzzi, the best thing about the lifting of the Covid restrictions is getting to meet people again. Always difficult to say at what point colleagues become friends, but even with the wonderful surroundings, the best part for me was the conversation and companionship. In a tough job, those things are beyond price.

Birgit and me, enjoying the water and the view

The Ever Changing Sky

Sunrise/sunset: 06:16/ 20:24. Daylength: 14hr07min

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.

The last of the daylight meets the new moon and the aurora over the island of Senja

Next up was the last rays of the sun as it dipped behind the mountains.

The last rays of sun over the mountains of Senja

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.

Sunset lighting the sky and the water of Gisundet

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.

Exciting times!

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!

Icy river, melted, cracked and refrozen.
Snowy trees against the dawn sky
Fir trees in the snow

Don’t Panic!

Sunrise/sunset: 07:57/ 16:07. Daylength: 8hr10min

I awoke this morning to see that there was light shining around the edges of my blind. Admittedly it was five past eight, so later than I normally get up for work, but it was cheering nonetheless. Within the next couple of weeks, it will be light every day when I get up. We are gaining more than an hour of daylight each week.

I’ve been trying to kick my hibernation habit as well. John came over last weekend. He’s learning to drive, and so we spent a good few hours of Saturday and Sunday driving around. My car is an automatic and very easy to drive, so I’m not sure how much it benefited him, but it’s lovely to be driven around the area, rather than driving myself. Technically, I’m in charge of the car, so I can’t wholly disengage, but I did see more of the scenery than I usually would.

Before he can sit his test, he has to move through four stages. Some of the stages are theoretical. He went to evening classes in which he learned about how to recognise road signs from their shapes when they are covered in snow and which parts of a moose you should aim for if you can’t avoid hitting it altogether. Later on, he has to sit an ice-driving course and also complete a “long drive” lesson which must be a minimum of two hours. I have no idea how it compares with UK lessons (though presumably British learners don’t hear much about jay-walking moose) but it does seem to be quite thorough.

After you’ve done your test, you are on probationary status for two years. If you are caught breaking the law in any way, you are placed back in the learner category and have to complete the whole thing again. Probably quite a good deterrent against messing around in your first two solo years behind the wheel.

One of the places John drove to was Senja Roasters. I haven’t mentioned it before, but I lost my much-loved, heavy, wool coat a couple of months back, so I was delighted to find it hanging there on a rack. Being reunited with a piece of adequately warm clothing while it’s still three months till spring was a joyful event. They had decorated the place with hearts and flowers, for Valentine’s day, and Norwegian Mother’s day, which was last Sunday. Valentine’s day can be very tacky, but in true Senja Roasters form, the handmade decorations were understated and tasteful.

My working week has been quite cheering. Despite the occasional difficult case, I am generally heartened to find that the majority of people love their animals, and even if they are sometimes a little misguided (aren’t we all?) mostly they want their pets to thrive. I was lucky enough to go out with Berit this week. Berit works with us as a member of Dyrevernnemnda, so she is a knowledgeable member of the public who helps to give balance to my own specifically veterinary point of view.

She’s a very forthright woman. For those old enough to remember Barbara Woodhouse, I’d say Berit has an equally assertive style, though her dog training methods are more up-to-date. Her no-nonsense approach makes my job very much easier. I am also hoping she will meet with me and Triar in a couple of weeks when Triar, Andrew and I are in Tromsø for a few days holiday.

There are other cases in my region which don’t currently involve me, but are interesting. Thomas is dealing with a crisis situation with the “domestic” reindeer in both Troms and Finnmark – the most northerly regions of Norway. All reindeer here are classed as domestic animals, but they generally live a very nomadic life, where they are taken to different areas, depending on the season.

This year, due to cold weather early in the winter, followed by thaws and refreezing, many of the traditional winter pastures are now covered in ice so impenetrable that even the reindeer can’t find enough food. The situation will now have to be monitored until spring comes. In the meantime, it might be necessary to supplement their feed – something that usually doesn’t happen.

In addition, for the first time since I got here, bird flu has been isolated from a dead bird – a sea eagle, no less. It was probably always a matter of time. There have been cases in wild birds in many other areas in Norway and migratory patterns mean there was always a strong possibility it would happen here. We don’t have many domesticated birds in the far north, and almost no big flocks, so that is an advantage. It does mean that people should be cautious though, if they find dead birds.

So far I haven’t been sent out to do any testing, so that’s something I need to find out about. There was some discussion in our departmental meeting yesterday about how to tackle the situation without causing unnecessary panic. It doesn’t pass particularly easily to humans, but if it does, it’s serious. I’ve mentioned all the PPT we would potentially use if we know we are dealing with an outbreak in earlier blogs, but hadn’t particularly considered what would happen before it’s confirmed. If you are collecting a dead bird from a beach where children are playing in the sand, you could start all kinds of panic, were you to stride onto the scene dressed like this! Working as a Norwegian Government vet may be many things, but it certainly isn’t boring.

Konstantin in PPT

Searchlights

Sunrise/sunset: 08:29/ 15:36. Daylength: 7hr06min

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.

Triar and his squeaky ball

In fact, he gives me a lift just by lying around being cute as well.

Triar – almost asleep

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.

White painted house with snowy roof under a dark cloudbank

And I see the snow coming along the sound, banks of invisibility, heading our way.

Snow storm approaching along Gisundet sound

Sometimes the light shines breaks through the clouds. I could watch the changing sky all day.

Light breaking through the clouds over Senja

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.

Wheelie bins with thick caps of snow

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.

Sky scene with moon, clouds and aurora

Logistics

Sunrise/sunset: 10:14/ 13:45. Daylength: 3hr30min

More than halfway through January and I still haven’t seen the sun. The snow is getting deep now, though it hasn’t quite reached the bottom of the windows in my living room, perhaps because there has been periodic rain in between the blizzards!

Hopefully a moving image of snow blowing past outside my window
Picture of my garden from the living room window. The hedge has all but disappeared.

The snowfall was especially extreme last Sunday. I was out three times during the day to clear the car and driveway, which typically takes twenty minutes to half an hour.

The wall of snow on the left side of my driveway is getting quite high

I had been wondering about the logistics of snow clearing for a while. Last winter, there was relatively little snow, the year before that (before I moved here) masses. I have what is, in effect, a large spade with which I clear the driveway. There is other equipment I could possibly purchase. You can get much larger tools that are for pushing the snow around and also snow blowers, that have a motor, but for now I still rely on my spade. The only problem with that, is that I am gradually having to throw the snow higher and higher in order to get rid of it. There is a low hedge (now buried) on the right hand side of my driveway and I can push the snow off the top of that one, but the snow wall is getting wider and wider, so that has a limited timespan as well!

But last Sunday was complicated by the fact that Andrew and I had to go to Tromsø in the morning. I had a doctor’s appointment and he had an appointment to get his wisdom teeth taken out. We didn’t have to be there until eleven, but it’s more than two hours driving on a good day. It was worrying me that, if we awoke to a buried car then had to drive through a blizzard, we might be struggling to make it in time, especially as I don’t know my way round Tromsø yet.

So at about three in the afternoon, with heavy snow still whirling all around, I decided that as the driveway was still relatively clear, we should make our escape now and get part of the journey done on Sunday night. Rather than spend a sleepless night at home and getting up early, we could drive to Vollan (which is about half way to Tromsø).

It wasn’t an easy drive. It snowed most of the way, and there were times when the snow was blowing over the road, taking visibility down to a couple of metres.

I got Andrew to take a picture through the windscreen of the snow in the headlights

We stopped high up on the moors for a break. There is a Sami shop here in the summer, but now just a whole load of snow around the wooden strutts that are the bare bones of the lavvo tents that make up the shop.

We made it safely to Vollan. Had I stayed at home, I know I would barely have slept, but even with Triar in our room, I got a reasonable night’s rest and was able to have a relaxed hotel breakfast before setting out from a car park that someone else had mostly cleared!

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Andrew was naturally nervous getting his wisdom teeth removed, but the first side was done successfully. He slept for most of the drive home. It was still snowing intermittently, but wasn’t completely dark. At one point half of the sky cleared and to my amazement I saw what looked like a small area of cloud that was brightly lit up with rainbow colours. It looked a little like the rainbow created when there is oil in a film lying on top of water, only it was dazzlingly intense. I stopped as soon as there was a layby to take photos, (the picture at the top of the page was the best) but the picture doesn’t do it justice. It was properly stunning. A few minutes later, the sky opened up more and there was a huge area of indescribable waves of colour, but by then I was driving again, there was nowhere to stop, and given that Andrew had just had an operation, I didn’t want to wake him up.

I looked up the phenomenon when I got home and found out that these are nacreous clouds, which form when the air is very cold and the sun is just below the horizon. Another beautiful discovery about my adoptive home here in the north.

Thomas, Hilde and I had a meeting with the police yesterday, which was interesting. A new initiative was introduced a few years ago, where there are members of the police force who are dedicated to fighting animal crime. It was a useful experience, and one that made me think. Part of our job in Mattilsynet is to stop animal suffering by using various legal powers to push people into treating their animals better. There are various tools we can use, ranging from low level advice, up through setting them targets to reach by a certain date, escalating to fines if they don’t comply and ultimately banning them from having animals if they fail to improve over a period of time.

Most of what we do is designed to improve the situation for animals, but we can only use our powers when there is an active situation where the law is currently being broken. The police, however, can take on cases where the law has been broken before, even if the current situation the animals are in is not illegal. So having stronger links between the police and Mattilsynet is very helpful and (for me) reassuring.

Anyway, I will leave you with a screenshot of the weather forecast for this week. As you can see, there are avalanche warnings and all sorts, though luckily I live in a sheltered place, where the risks are low. I also have two pictures of a Jeep. I saw it last night and it was halfway buried, so I took a picture. Having taken it I discovered on my phone, when I got home, that I had taken a photo of it the week before. What a difference a week makes!

Here Comes… More Snow

Sunrise/sunset: 11:03/ 12:51. Daylength: 1hr47min

So here we are, almost half way through January. In theory, the sun heaved its way over the horizon for the first time in a month and a half on Thursday. As there are mountains in the way, I knew it would take a few more days for it to appear, but it’s a moot point since it’s been sleeting and snowing for most of the week. The weather forecast says there will be more of the same for at least the next week. Keep on taking the vitamin D!

Difficult case update: the first of my reports is written and sent. I hoped to have the second done by the end of the week, but Hilde suggested before doing so, that I should write out a timeline of everything that’s happened. This turned out to be a very useful process. There are a couple of things hanging over what happens next and a few things we still need to find out. Writing out the timeline has revealed a couple of things that I had missed the first time round. I guess our memories put things together rather chaotically – at least mine does when I’m going through something stressful. Now I have a much clearer idea of what we are still lacking and a couple of new thoughts crossed my mind regarding what might have actually occurred. I still don’t know whether we’ll ever resolve it completely. Life isn’t like a detective novel with a perfect tidy ending and all the loose ends sorted. I do feel more ready to keep working on it though.

We did get to Nordkjosbotn for our meeting. I took the two pictures above on the way there on Monday morning. I was only there for one day as I was at the abattoir on Tuesday, but I did get my night in a hotel! Some people travel a lot for work, and I guess for them staying in hotels must become routine, but for me it’s always been special because it’s rare. I love Vollan Gjestestue with its clean, comfortable rooms. Norwegian hotel rooms are generally small, but I love them nonetheless.

Hotel rooms aside, the most important thing for me was seeing other people. My social circle remains tiny, but meeting up with colleagues from Storslett and Tromsø is always enjoyable. I left early on the Tuesday morning and Astrid got up to have a cup of coffee with me while I was having breakfast. It was a good end to a pleasant trip.

I had a lovely restful weekend last week. It was snowing for much of Saturday, but in the evening I took Triar out for a stroll around the harbour next to where I work. It’s a small, quiet place. I believe you can buy fresh prawns from one of the fishing boats, but at this time of year, there isn’t much coming and going.

If you want to, you can sit and have lunch overlooking the harbour, but I don’t think many people will be taking advantage for a few months yet.

I returned to a birthday cake Andrew had made for me. It had two layers of sponge cake, one with raisins and the other chocolate chips. It was topped off with chocolate icing and was easily as delicious as it looked.

When the sky is clear, I do try and get out during the brightest part of the day, so last Sunday, I took Triar out to one of our favourite haunts just outside Silsand. The snow was too deep to walk far (once it’s at mid-calf level, it becomes difficult for me to navigate) but we wandered around the areas where the snow had been cleared earlier, where it wasn’t too tough. It was minus fifteen and when Triar first got out, he very quickly looked apprehensive, standing with his back arched and holding up his paws. I scooped him back into the car, where he shivered as I put his little socks on. I wondered whether he would decide he didn’t want to get back out, but he did, then ran around quite happily, so despite not being very thick, the socks give enough protection to make a difference.

From Monday, I’m going to try to cut down on all the Christmas and birthday extravagance, but for now, with the snow outside, it’s still perfect hot chocolate weather. Mum sent me some chocolate balls, filled with marshmallows, for Christmas and I had the first one last night. January should definitely be a month for cosiness. Have a good week all!

Winter Whites

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

It’s snowing again today. Perhaps later I will feel like going out, but for now it seems like a good time to huddle indoors and wait for the return of the sun. In theory, it should reappear over the horizon five days from now, but I know it will take a little longer to reveal itself because of the mountains that surround us.

My difficult case is still ongoing, and now a bewildering array of other people are being brought in, some to assist with the investigation, others for the purposes of troubleshooting. I am tired, but very grateful to Hilde, Birgit and Line who have been giving unsurpassed support throughout, as have the rest of the team.

I worked a couple of days at the abattoir this week, which gave me a couple of days of calm, though getting up at four in the morning to check whether it has snowed overnight (it had, both nights) doesn’t tend to result in peaceful, unbroken sleep. Rather, I wake often, worried that I have missed the alarm, or perhaps forgotten to set it. It takes twenty minutes or so to clear the car and the driveway, a little over five minutes to drive to the office, another five to ten to defrost and clear the Mattilsynet car, then round forty to forty five minutes to drive over, depending on the driving conditions.

There is some pressure, because the abattoir cannot legally start working until a vet has checked the live animals. If they notice I’m not there by six (when I officially start the check) then call me at that point, it would take me a minimum of an hour to get there if I was still sleeping. I do, however, get to drive home before it gets dark at two in the afternoon.

On Tuesday afternoon I also took a detour to Rossfjordstraumen on my way home, to carry out meat inspection on a moose that had been hit by a car. It was an unusual way to spend my birthday, but it’s a beautiful drive in the snow.

On Monday, all being well, I will be meeting Team Dyrego (the animal health and welfare team) at Nordkjosbotn. Definitely something to look forward to. I have at least two reports to write, information to send to various different people, and another case lurking in my inbox. Still veterinary work is always like that. Some days, there’s very little to do, others can be overwhelming. It’s easier to cope psychologically than it was when I was young, but my body isn’t as reliable as it once was. Swings and roundabouts.

I will leave you with a few more images from my life. I long for a garage, and if my car had a mind, I’m sure it would too. The boot has so much ice and snow stuck to it that it is getting heavy to lift when I’m opening it. John very kindly chipped away the ice that was covering the sensors that warn me that I’m about to reverse or drive into something. This was a great relief as before that, there was a siren going off inside the car every time I reversed out of the drive.

Icicles on my car bumper

Though the weather is cold, the water in the sound remains warmer, due to the gulf stream. This means that it tends to stay warmer here than inland, but also means that sometimes fog rises up from the water. This can be very beautiful.

Night fog rising up from Gisundet around Senja bridge

Sometimes I can watch as the snow clouds head towards us from the northwest.

Blue-grey storm clouds over Gisundet

And the last one is John, whose beard has turned prematurely grey after a skating session! Have a good week everyone!

John with an icy beard

Wet, Wet, Wet

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

I was sure we were going to have a white Christmas this year. There has been snow on the ground for weeks and the temperatures were securely in double minus figures, or so I thought. And then a day of rain appeared on my weather forecast app. The temperature was to bounce right up, round about the date that Anna was due to come home on Wednesday the 15th. When the first day appeared, I hoped they’d got it wrong. And the temperature wasn’t to go that high. Wholly possible they’d be out by a couple of degrees and we’d have snow instead.

But then another day of forecasted rain appeared and another. The temperature was higher too. This was the screenshot I sent to Anna last Sunday.

They don’t use much grit on the pavements and roads round here. Mostly they concentrate on keeping them relatively clear of snow. So when I went out on Wednesday morning and saw that the pavements, roads and carparks were densely strewn with the small stones they use in place of salt and grit, I knew that they thought that a major thaw was on the way. This was the carpark at work. They may not grit often, but when they do, they do a proper job!

Still, life had to go on. Monday and Tuesday this week were a little hair-raising. On the Friday of the week before, I felt like everything was well on track. I’d done three visits and written two reports. We have to send them past a colleague first for quality control and then an official quality control team checks them. After that, they go to my boss, who sends them out. These two reports were past the checks and I’d sent them to Hilde, so all I had left was one report to write. It was complicated and I would need help, but I had four days to do it. So when Line sent a shout out to see if someone could translate an official document from Norwegian to English, I said that I would be happy to do so. Kristen, my colleague in Storslett had got in first, but I indicated that if anything cropped up, I would be more than willing to step in.

My peace was slightly disturbed late on Friday afternoon when, for the first time ever, Hilde sent back my two reports for amendment. It didn’t sound like anything too major, but I had to include a short summary of what Gry had observed. Still, hopefully Thomas would help me with that.

So I wasn’t too worried when I opened up my case inbox on Monday morning. I had two reports to amend and the complicated case to write up, but I had until Thursday. But when I looked through the list, I saw another case had come in. Some cases you can leave for a few days. For example, if someone isn’t walking their dog often enough, it’ll probably be okay if you leave it a week or two. But if someone is leaving their animals outside in all kinds of weather, without food or water, then “It’ll be fine, I’ll leave it until after my holiday,” really isn’t an option. And of course, it was one of those cases.

To make matters worse, Kristen had bowed out of the translation. So now I had three reports, a new case, and a complicated document to wade through.

Thomas came to the rescue. He could fit in my new case on Tuesday, if I wanted. Hilde was on holiday by now and he was having to sort out all the paperwork around an outbreak of strangles in a horse in our region, but he could fit me in between that, a bunch of reindeer rampaging around a housing estate over Tromsø way, and a case of his own that he was tackling on Wednesday. He also found the time to help me sort out my two returned reports.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I stayed late on Monday evening to get the translation done. I asked Line to help me with my complicated case report and she made everything so wonderfully clear that by the time I sent it off for the first check with another colleague, there were almost no errors. Hooray for that! And to my relief, the case on Tuesday turned out to be much less complicated than I had feared. So I was able to collect Anna from the airport on Wednesday afternoon.

And all this was going on against the backdrop of increasing rumblings about locking down again due to Omicron. From next week, Andrew will be homeschooling. Working from home is now the norm again. And when I went to the gym, I was surprised to see notices on some of the running machines that said not to use them. For a bizarre moment, I wondered whether they had been contaminated somehow. Had someone with Covid used them? Should I leave quickly and rush home? And then I remembered that it was nothing to do with that. It was just a return to the stricter distancing rules. The machines were too close together. Similar notices will have reappeared on pub and restaurant seats and in the waiting room at the doctors. Life can continue for now… but don’t get too close.

So there are no lovely pictures of pink and blue skies this week. The garden is a muddy mess. There is a tiny ray of hope on the weather forecast. It’s to turn cold again from Monday and there might be a little snow on Wednesday. I live in hope! Even if it doesn’t snow, Anna got here safely from the UK. And I’m on holiday for a week and there are presents to wrap and cakes to make.

I’ll leave you with a picture I took on Thursday evening when I was out walking Triar. It had been raining, but the ground has had weeks to become very chilly and huge chunks of ice take a long time to disperse. The sky cleared briefly and the moon was shining through. I loved the way the blue moonlight gleamed on the frozen waterfall. Whatever the weather, there is always beauty to be found somewhere.

People and Parties, Blue and Gold Light

Sunrise/sunset: 09:11/ 13:52. Daylength: 4hr41min

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:

https://www.windowsofthesoul.art/samantha-leftwich

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:

Was that a dinosaur?

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.

Waterfall as it emerges from an old arched stone bridge

Though the snow was gone, the ground was frosty and the colours muted, but with touches of the glorious autumn still visible.

Blue and pink sky behind bare trees on a frosty hillside
Frosted autumn leaf

Triar was very happy, of course. He loves exploring new places.

Triar at the top of the hill

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.

Thomas looking magnificent in clothes from his homeland, South Sudan