Tag Archives: Mattilsynet

A Road Trip… and a Walk

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

A lot to get through this week, but come with me first on a road trip. Thomas and I took off into the darkness on Tuesday morning on a three day mission. With coronavirus, the Mattilsynet team that covers Troms and Svalbard was a little behind on one of the annual campaigns that had been set at the end of last year. The plan was to roll up unannounced at a number of farms to check whether the animals had their full complement of ear tags . In Norway, farm animals are closely tracked from the time they are born until the time they die. All of them should have two tags, one in each ear, and that was what we were going to check.

Being efficient, Thomas had added other parameters onto the list. If we were lucky enough to find some sheep or goat farmers in, we were to check whether the farmer knew the symptoms of scrapie (a disease like BSE that causes neurological problems) and what systems they used to monitor the movements of animals on and off the farm.

It’s a bit of a hit and miss affair rocking up at farms unannounced. Farming is a job with irregular hours and it’s common here, where farms tend to be much smaller than those in the UK, for farmers to have other jobs in addition to their animals. Nonetheless, by the end of a fairly long day, we had managed to get round two herds of cattle and three flocks of sheep. I hadn’t reckoned on it being quite so exhausting. When I worked in the UK, we travelled round farms pulling on the same pair of waterproof trousers and wellington boots at each place. A quick wash at the end and good to go. Here, before entering each barn or byre, we have to enter what’s called the sluse, step over a bench or line of some sort in your stockinged feet, then pull on a papery jumpsuit, big white boot covers and a face mask. For all those who wear glasses and have worn a mask in cold weather, you will appreciate how hard it is to check anything once your glasses are well and truly steamed up. What with that and the freezing air and rough snowy roads, I was very tired by the time we arrived at the hotel where we were to meet Birgit who had been on a similar expedition of her own.

It may have been the best shower I’ve ever had. By the end of it, I could feel my toes again and the aroma of animals had been washed out of my hair. Birgit had retired early, so it was just Thomas and I that met in the hotel restaurant for dinner. After that, we retired as well, having arranged to meet for breakfast to plan the next day’s manoeuvres.

We set out in darkness again on day two. When the light did come it was lacklustre and overcast with the kind of distant, undefined sky that often heralds snow. Though the countryside was beautiful, it was close to monochrome with only the occasional splash of colour of the traditional red-painted barns.

One of the farms we visited was very impressive. As well as some 250 well-kept Norwegian white sheep, there was a brand new barn where they are building a glassed in warm room with leather armchairs for watching the sheep overnight at lambing. You can see the window of it here on the right of the picture.

I had been intrigued on the drive north to see a layby that was designed for lorry drivers to stop and put chains on their lorries, but I was even more fascinated to see that even tractors need them here.

Back at the hotel, more of Mattilsynet’s staff were arriving. There was a departmental meeting in the morning where the work would be planned for next year, but tonight the plan was to enjoy some food together.

Everyone was very cheery as we sat down and enjoyed a fairly traditional Norwegian Christmas feast: two different kinds of fish pate, a selection of meats including ribbe (a cut of pork from the flank) pinnekjøtt (salted lamb cutlets and ribs) mutton sausage and various vegetable accompaniments, then rice pudding with raspberry sauce.

Social distancing with Anya, Astrid, Ann, Birgit, Ammar and Thomas

It was great to meet up with other staff from the offices in Tromsø and Storslett and I returned after all the visits and the meetings feeling I had a better understanding of how everything works.

And to finish off, let me invite you for a walk on Senja with John, Triar and me. Imagine the still, frosty air and the crunch of snow underfoot. The sky in one direction is a cool duck-egg blue. The other way there’s a wonderful sunrise that melts into sunset without the sun ever making it over the horizon. There is hoar frost on the trees and animal and bird tracks in the snow. And after that, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Goaty

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

Another interesting week at work. On Monday, Thomas and I made a visit in response to an anonymous “Concern Message”. I was nervous as we drove out. This was, in part, due to the nature of the visit. Obviously nobody wants to be reported and it’s quite possible that some of the recipients might be angry. But it was also because I was unsure whether Thomas would want me to lead the inspection and interview. He had shown me how to print out the point-by-point sheet which we use to guide us through and I went in clutching a clipboard. However, by the time I had struggled into my tissue-thin jumpsuit, huge white foot covers (tied with a bow) mask and gloves he had already begun and so I followed him round, listening carefully as he asked questions and noted down the replies.

I felt much more relaxed on the return journey. The presence of my clipboard was explained when he told me I should fill it in on our next time out as he pointed out having two separate records rather than one makes it less likely that anything will be missed. Next time out, I will also ask any questions that come into my head. There were some I thought of while we were out that I didn’t ask. With hindsight they were genuinely pertinent and could have been useful.

Back in the office, Thomas helped me through the next stage, which was writing a letter to the owner explaining the results of the inspection, and any actions considered necessary. This was another first for me, though I was aware of some of the rules we have to follow. These include all sorts of factors, such as ensuring that every action we ask the owner to take is backed up with the exact clause in Norwegian law that we are relying on, making sure the wording is simple to understand and perfectly clear, and ensuring the language we use is factual and not a value judgement. For example, we can note that an animal has been urinating and defaecating on the floor, but should never state that the house is disgustingly dirty.

I also discovered, as I worked through the response process, that there are many checks and balances in place to ensure we get things right. Once the letter was finished, we sent it to a Norwegian colleague to ensure the language was correct. After that it will be sent for official assessment by a dedicated group… and after that, it will be sent to Hilde, in whose name it will be sent out, assuming she also feels it passes muster. Though this sounds intimidating, I’m very glad that there will be plenty of help ensuring that I don’t make any errors due to the fact that Norwegian is not my mother tongue.

On Tuesday I drove out to meet Birgit, who works in the Storslett office. Our task was to blood sample forty goats to check for brucellosis as part of the annual OK Program. Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that can pass between animals and people and can cause long term fluctuations of fever, joint pain and various other nasty symptoms. As in Britain, there is currently no brucellosis in Norway and hopefully it will stay that way.

While I don’t think I have blood sampled many (any?) goats before, I spent several years in mixed practice in the UK. Back then, all mature cattle were tested for brucella every four years and I found myself quickly falling back into the rhythm of it. The test tubes we use come with a vacuum. If you push the needle through the rubber bung in the top and allow air to be sucked in instead of blood, then you waste the test tube. Brigit seemed very pleased with me as I managed to complete forty samples without losing a single one. On my part, I felt delighted that the skill I learned many years ago was finally being used again.

We are now almost at the end of the first week of the polar night. As you might have spotted in the windows in the picture above, it is not completely dark all day. Indeed for a short time between eleven and half-past one, it feels very much like full daylight. I stopped to take a photograph on the way back from the blood test to share here. This was taken at about 1pm, though a very short time afterwards it started to snow heavily, and the darkness drew back in.

On Thursday, we put up the Christmas decorations in the office and Andrew and I brought out a few of our decorations at home, though the tree will wait for Anna’s arrival on Monday. Most workplaces in Norway put up some decorations. Like the Danes, Norwegians take a lot of pride in encouraging comfort during the dark winter months.

I was struck afresh, when I looked at the photographs, that in some ways they are quite different from British decorations. Pigs play a big part here. A stocking is surely not complete without a marzipan pig. And the little hatted “nisse” are a regular feature. Nisse look a bit like garden gnomes and shouldn’t be confused with Santa. According to tradition, you have to feed the nisse creamed rice or other treats or they will play tricks on you.

On Friday I was on the early shift at the abattoir. We live close to the coast and even this far north, there is some warming effect from the gulf stream, but just a forty minute drive inland can mean a ten degree difference in temperature. I met John in the evening after work and we went out for a pizza, but as the restaurants didn’t open for an hour after we finished, I stopped to fill the car up with diesel and was struck by the beauty of the ice formations that the frost had etched onto the car. And so, being me, I grabbed my phone and took a photo to share with you. Have a lovely weekend.

Waiting

Sunrise/sunset: 08:06/ 16:58. Daylength: 8hr 51min.

I was hoping to share the first snow pictures of the winter with you today. The weather forecast was for sleet, and I know these things can be wrong in either direction. I am, at last, beginning to feel I might be prepared. Yesterday I bought snow scrapers for the car windscreen and the driveway as well as some bags of environmentally friendly, reusable grit. But for now, there is only rain outside my window, as there has been for days. The picture at the top of the page was taken on my drive to work on the last day before the rain began. It was so beautiful, I couldn’t resist stopping. I sometimes wonder whether people will see the Mattilsynet logo on the side of the car and wonder what I’m up to!

There isn’t much of interest to report at work. The seasonal meat inspection is still in full swing and I have been working there every day this week, though the drive over is often a pleasant experience. Yesterday, I glimpsed what I thought were some horses or cows in a field. I turned my head at the last minute, as something was hammering in my brain about them being the wrong shape. To my pleasure, I saw it was a moose with two almost grown calves. I still feel a frisson of delight in seeing wild animals. By the time I realised, it was too late to stop for a photograph, but hopefully it won’t be the last time.

The basement flat where we live is feeling more and more like home. Anna and Andrew bought me an Alexa for Christmas last year, and other than wrestling with her for a while as I tried to get her to play Tir n’a Noir I haven’t used her very much. But John, having researched a new lighting system that is voice activated, has set her up so that we can now ask her to turn on the lights and she does so. The bulbs are heinously expensive (I bought a new one last night which was reduced by 114kr or around around £10 [16 Canadian dollars for Iceland Penny!]) but they can be set on different brightness levels and also to warm or bright light. We also have strip lighting on a shelf beside the TV which can change colour. When it is properly dark, and especially if I work from home at some point, the lighting is going to be very important.

Anyway, John is home for the weekend, and he and Andrew need to go shopping for winter boots, so I will leave you with another photograph of misty mountains at dawn. Have a great week everybody.

Julebrus

Sunrise/sunset: 07:11 / 18:00. Daylength: 10hr 49min.

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!

I haven’t said much about coronavirus lately. I see a lot on the news about it – this is the week when President Trump has been confirmed positive and a previously obscure SNP member of parliament travelled to Westminster then back to Scotland after having a test that was found to be positive while she was in London. The situation here in Norway remains relatively stable, though rates are higher than they were between May and July. The criteria for testing are extensive. Anyone who has signs of a new respiratory infection is asked to present themselves, alongside anyone who knows they have been exposed to infection with COVID-19. Two colleagues were off work this week while waiting for results and I guess if everyone with a cold has to go through this, it’s going to be a common feature of the next few months.

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.

Northern Norway: In Darkness and In Light…

Better

Sunrise/sunset: 06:44 / 18:31. Daylength: 11hr 46min.

I mentioned last week that I would be working at the abattoir all this week and that one of the compensations of working there was the beautiful autumn scenery on the journey there. As you can see in the featured image at the top of the page and the picture below, this weeks addition has been a sprinkling of snow on the mountains.

Alongside the chilly mountains, there have been some wonderful sunsets. In the depths of winter, when the sun doesn’t make it over the horizon for weeks on end, one tends to imagine impenetrable darkness, but I am told there is still twilight. Obviously there will be more snow, but as I watched the sun going down a few days ago, I found myself wondering whether it might sometimes look like this.

I am getting better at meat inspection, in sheep at least. My colleagues have been very patient as I have asked them to check when I am unsure of something. Next week there’s a chance I will try my hand instead at a different animal. Our region covers an abattoir that is exclusively used for reindeer. It is owned by a Sami family who are also herders and run shops to sell their produce. It will be interesting to find out more about the way this much smaller enterprise is run.

One of my favourite comedies in recent years was W1A. It was a send up of corporate newspeak and ineffectual pomposity at the BBC and featured Hugh Bonneville as “Head of Values”. Sarah Parish starts series one as “Head of Output”, but during series two is promoted to the newly created position “Director of Better”. To give a taste, this is the job description for that role:

“The Establishment of a Director of Better represents a turning point for the BBC by placing the idea of betterness at its core going forward and beyond.”

“Working with a range of internal placeholders at a senior level, this is an opportunity to re-set the dial for the Corporation either by shining a new light on that dial or by shining the old light but with a new bulb so that no-one can be in any doubt about where the dial is or can have any excuse for not being able to read what it says.”

Imagine my delight then, when the announcement came this week that Mattilsynet’s new health and safety incident recording system has been optimistically named “Better”. Most of the computer programs we use are named using very workmanlike initials, so this is quite the departure. We can only hope that the new, confident branding of health and safety will ensure that we all strive for improvement in this area. Or as Siobhan Sharpe, the BBC’s Brand Consultant in W1A might have said, with commendable exuberance, “Lets nail this puppy to the floor!”

Decisions

Sunrise/sunset: 05:51 / 19:34. Daylength: 13hr 42min.

I arrived home on Wednesday to find John outside, sawing wood. He has designed a new winter cage for the guinea pigs and now he is making it.

Brownie is growing fast. She’s very lively, rushing around, pop-corning all over the place, and it will be wonderful for both her and Susie to have a lovely big cage to run around in.

It’s been another interesting week at work. During a conversation on Monday about car keys, Hilde dropped in the information that the winter tyres would probably go on the work cars this month. Back in Scotland, autumn conversations often start with the phrase, “The nights are fair drawin’ in.” Here, the more Game of Thrones like, “Winter is coming!” is the message.

Hilde asked me what I’d done at the weekend and I had to confess I hadn’t done much, other than having a film night with John and Andrew. She reminded me of it then, “Winter is coming! You should do things now while you can.”

Obviously as it’s my first time, I have no idea how it’s going to feel, but for now I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always loved winter, though of course there will be a lot more of it than I’m used to. Hilde looked thoughtful after telling me about the winter tyres. “Of course this year, they didn’t come off again till June,” she said with a smile.

I decided I should go for it and tell her about our film night. As Dr Sleep had now arrived on Netflix, the boys were keen to watch it and so was I. After all, it is the sequel to The Shining: one of the most iconic films of all time. We had watched The Shining as well for completeness. As far as film nights go, I thought this more worthy of mention than most.

“We watched Dr Sleep… and The Shining,” I said.

Hilde looked at me. “The Shining? What’s that?” she asked.

“Umm… The Shining,” I muttered again, assuming she perhaps had misheard. Surely even in Norway, The Shining was a film everyone would know, but there was no change in her expression. “It’s a… horror film,” I told her (though I didn’t know the Norwegian for horror, and had to ask). “Stanley Kubrik…”

She was still looking blank.

“Steven King?” I added. Hilde was smiling, but there was no dawning recognition.The conversation drew to a halt. For a moment, I considered pulling out my phone and finding an image of THAT photograph… but the conversation around the table was already moving on.

Thursday was a big day for me as I went out on my first welfare visits. Thomas had received three separate messages about animals that were allegedly being mistreated and he had agreed to take me along so I could see what procedures Mattilsynet follow. A good deal of my time recently has been spent on online courses which outlined some of the ways in which we work. For example, every decision we take regarding the cases we see has to be backed up by an explanation of how we are guided by the law, and we have to be very specific, right down to which clause we are invoking.

On the other side of the equation, we need strong evidence, and more and more, this in provided in the form of photographs. Everything has to be recorded, but for privacy reasons, none of it can be stored on iCloud. This had worried me a little when I had read it. I had no idea how to stop photographs going onto the cloud, other than by switching off all internet connections, but surely as soon as you went to transfer them, the result would be the same. The answer, of course, is that there is an app.

Similarly, with the legal aspect, there is a programme on the computer that you go through with regard to each case. You type in the concerns that have been raised and the computer adds specific areas that are covered by the law. A checklist is then created in the form of a table. So there is a lot of work to do before and after any visit, but for now I was interested in the human side of the task.

Only one of the cases turned out to be difficult in terms of animal welfare.  I can’t really explain in any detail what it was about as the pet owner in question deserves full privacy. I was, however, reminded of a case I saw many years ago, aged 23 in my very first job as a newly minted young vet. I had been called out to put an old lady’s dog to sleep and I spoke to her first, explaining the injection and the overdose and how it might go. I was kneeling beside her to explain and as I pushed myself upright, she laid a hand on my arm and looked up into my eyes. “Can’t you take me with him?” she asked.

I can’t really remember how I reacted. I had a wonderful mature nurse with me, who spoke to her. I don’t think I managed to say a word, but the moment has stayed with me. So all I will say is that managing the end of life care for the pet of an older person can be one of the most emotional and difficult tasks in a veterinary surgeon’s life. Even though animal welfare has to be at the heart of what we do, it is the more human side of the equation that complicates the picture.

We took our leave and then stopped for coffee and discussion before driving to the next visit. It’s a case that will be complicated to resolve, and anyway, it was good to have a break before we carried on. Fortunately, the other two visits were more straightforward and we drove back to the office. It was time to go home, leaving the remaining work and all final decisions for another day.

Sausages on Sticks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A barbecue in the snow? Sounds good to me!

Killing Time

Sunrise/sunset: 04:57 / 20:37. Daylength: 15hr 40min.

On Monday, Hilde drove me over to the abattoir where I will be spending a good chunk of my working days over the next few weeks. With the short summer and long, hard winter, most of the spring lambs will be brought in before it’s time for the remaining animals to be moved into their winter housing. Vets play an essential part in the process. The health of the animals must be checked before they are humanely killed and the welfare and conditions are carefully monitored.

Afterwards, a team of vets and technicians inspect the meat to check whether it is fit for consumption. This is another chance to check health and welfare. All the information from the checks, both ante and post mortem, is recorded. Nobody could claim it’s glamorous work, but as well as ensuring the animals are treated well in the abattoir, the findings are used to assess whether there might be problems on the farms where the animals were raised. If the animals are too thin, have overgrown feet, or show significant signs of illness, then a message is sent back to the local Mattilsynet office, where their vets will contact the farmer and take measures to improve the situation.

On Monday’s visit I was fitted out with a uniform, boots, a locker and a card to open the door. Hilde brought cake again, and I met a few of the staff.

On Tuesday I drove through again with Thomas. I had met him on my first day at work and he seemed friendly, but I hadn’t seen him since. Now he was to give me my first taste in working in an abattoir in northern Norway.

For my part, I was most interested in the inspection of the live animals. It is hard to spend much time on the internet without seeing horror stories, but my impression over the course of the first week has been that most of the animals coming through are very relaxed. Though the pigs all had balls in their pens to play with, most of them were sleeping when we went to see them. Some of the sheep were more skittish than others, but many of them came and were nibbling on my wellington boots. All animals have fresh water in their pens and any cows that are milking are milked if they are in for any length of time. The surroundings are quite similar to those you’d see on the farm and most farms here in Norway are small, so a lot of the animals are used to being handled.

The slaughter process itself was quick and efficient. Thomas showed me how to time the interval between stunning and bleeding. With the cattle, we checked the animal was unconscious before being moved on to the next stage.

It’s a forty minute drive to get to the abattoir and the road is dotted with warning signs for moose. Thomas told me I would see more of them in the winter, though for now they are elusive. The filling station near the E6 has leaflets explaining what to do and who to call if you hit one. I hope it never happens to me, though it is possible I might be called out to do meat inspection on those too if they are injured and have to be shot.

It’s cooling towards autumn now. It was 4°C when I arrived at work yesterday morning. Though the trees are still clinging to their leaves, they are beginning to fade. The ground flora is wonderfully colourful and intensifying as a multitude of berries appear.

There was only one near miss with technology this week. Thomas handed me over to Ammar on Wednesday and he suggested some reading material. The season (as they call it) will begin very soon, and by then I have to be up to speed with meat inspection for lamb. Back in the office, I had chosen a pin code for the printer. You send your file, retrieve it and then put in your number. I assumed the process was the same in the abattoir, and so I went through the retrieval process and began to put in my four figure number. Luckily Ammar stopped me in time, before I set the printer in action printing out *9250 copies of an eight page document on red meat.

Friday afternoon was rounded off with waffles. In Norway they are traditionally eaten with strawberry jam and soured cream. It took me a while to get used to this combination, but now I love it. And what could be more Norwegian than a mountain of waffles to round off the week?

*Not my actual PIN.

Piece of Cake

*Sunrise/sunset: 04:27 / 21:10. Daylength: 16hr 43min.

It’s always an advantage in a new job to make a good first impression and so I arrived on my first day determined to do just that. I am working for Mattilsynet, which is the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. Mattilsynet has a wide remit. As well as working to ensure Norwegian food and drinking water are safe, Mattilsynet oversees all aspects of food production from farm or fjord right to the point of eating. People in Norway will be familiar with Mattilsynet’s Smiley Faces that indicate that the kitchen in the restaurant you’re about to eat in is clean.

My new boss, Hilde, welcomed me into the office at 8am, and introduced me to some of the other staff. Everyone seemed very friendly and the day began with coffee – which took me back years to working in large animal practice in Scotland. The surroundings were much brighter and more modern though, which will be important in winter. As well as the friendly critter at the top of the page, the office has a massage chair, attractive pictures of local scenes and on that Wednesday, in honour of my beginning, there was a large chocolate cake!

There is always a lot to remember when you start a new job and this one was no exception. I was soon knee deep in complicated Norwegian words about how national and local government works, but Hilde had put together a very comprehensive introductory programme to work through, which was reassuring.

The start of day two was marginally embarrassing. I had been given an electronic key fob thing to get in the door… and I had forgotten it. One of my new colleagues let me in with a smile and it was quickly pushed aside. More complicated Norwegian and a lesson in how to book one of the office cars followed and I made up my mind that on day three, all would go to plan and nothing would go wrong.

Met this little family as I walked home from work.

I had decided to walk in on the third day. One of my aims is to get out and about more and it seemed like a good way to start the morning. I set out at seven to walk down and arrived about half an hour later, feeling pleased with myself. I had remembered everything today – the little electronic fob was in my pocket and the sun was almost shining.

It was dark inside when I opened the office door. I was slightly surprised as I hadn’t expected to be the first there quite so soon. Still, I remembered that Hilde had explained that I shouldn’t turn on the main lights if I arrived first as some of my colleagues liked to have a nice peaceful start to the day. I knew there was an alarm system, but it hadn’t gone off, so I assumed there was someone around. I took a step further into the building and realised my mistake as the bleep, bleep of the alarm system kicked in.

Despite not knowing the code, I still felt very calm. Hilde had sent me a message about getting in the day before I started work, so I put my coat and bag down on the floor, pulled my phone out of my pocket and scrolled quickly up. But though there was a message about getting in, it was about accessing the computer system, not the door.

My heart was beating a little faster now, but I reminded myself it could all be sorted out. All I had to do was call Hilde, but the bleeping was accelerating and within moments, it was wailing loudly enough to deter even the most determined of thieves.

Though I couldn’t remember any code, one thing I did remember was Hilde telling me that if there was an accident with the alarm, there was a phone number on the keypad and in order to stop any further action (I presume it may be linked to the police, or some kind of security firm) I had to speak to someone. Taking a deep breath, I typed the number into my phone. I could call Hilde afterwards, I thought. Better that than having someone rush out and then charging a fee. I put the phone to my ear and could hear nothing due to the screech of the alarm. I would just step outside the door, I thought. Then I could have a conversation. I could remember what I had to say. I could sort all this out and still be sitting at my desk by the time Hilde came.

To my relief, the call was answered quickly and I explained what had happened. The noisy alarm went off and with a sigh of relief, I ended the call and returned to the door… which of course had locked itself behind me. I reached into my pocket… only to realise that I had put down my jacket and bag and everything I was holding on the floor. The little electronic fob was now inside the building and I wasn’t.

Walking back out into the open air, I leaned against the wall and pulled out my phone. There was nothing left to do but wait. 

So much for good first impressions! Only day three, and so far, I hadn’t managed to get into the building without assistance. Fortunately Hilde arrived first, and if she thought I was an idiot, she didn’t let on.

And despite all that, my new job shows every sign of being every bit as interesting as I hoped when I first read the advertisement. One of the tasks in my comprehensive introductory programme was to look through my colleague’s calendars, see what they are doing, and perhaps ask if I can go along with them to find out more about what they do. The most interesting item I found was tantalisingly entitled Status Bjørn, so I decided I would ask about it next time we had coffee.

Despite the interesting title, I was half expecting Status Bjørn might be a boring exercise, or similar, but I listened in amazement as Hilde explained that there was a bear in the region, which unfortunately has got a taste for eating the local sheep. Moreover, she is a mother bear with two large cubs. Shooting her is not an option and so the only possibility is to sedate both her and her young and move them to another area where there aren’t any farms for her to raid. This is, however, a very complicated exercise, and one that Mattilsynet, in the shape of Hilde and Thomas (another colleague) are involved in to ensure animal welfare is prioritised.

So there you go. It’s only my opinion I know, but I don’t think veterinary work gets much more exciting than that. Next week I will be doing some work in the slaughterhouse, which is less romantic, but equally essential. Making sure an animal is treated well is just as important at the end of its life as it is at the beginning. And so here I am, aged 51… and on the cusp of what is looking like an interesting and challenging new career.

Wish me luck!

*I thought I should add in sunrise/sunset times and day length at the start of each post. It’s already changing fast and I want to give a sense of that.