It’s been an interesting week. I’ll start with an update on the water situation. The temporary fix with the tank and pump failed on Sunday due to an airlock. Sunday wasn’t great, but the main concern was still that it might be tough and costly to get the problem sorted out.
On Monday, the representative for the insurance company came back and quickly fixed the airlock (this time I remembered to ask him how he did it. After that, he went off to speak to the owner of the house nearest the well. He called me back about an hour later. Apparently the other house owner had actually begun to run out of water on Friday evening, but despite having our phone number, he hadn’t thought to tell us. There was an ice bridge blocking the stream further up, which meant the well had gradually emptied. Our water disappeared first because our pipe was highest up. So the mystery was solved and (thank goodness) no major digging works were required. So all in all, a bit inconvenient, but several lessons learned about where everything is and what to check if it happens again!
We had an interesting case at the abattoir on Wednesday. Some animals were sent in that were thin enough to set the alarm bells ringing, not only in me, but in the abattoir workers that work with the live animals. It’s almost a physical punch to see animals that are so obviously struggling. It’s quite a big job when we start to document such a case. I took a number of photographs while the animals were still in the pen, though I was worried enough about them that I didn’t go in and stir them up. The last thing I want to do is cause any additional distress.
I asked the animal handlers to call me back when the time came for the animals to be slaughtered. That way, I could photograph and handle them when they were already restrained. I then went back and sent messages to Hilde and Thomas. This case was serious enough to warrant immediate follow up.
I came back to examine the animals as they were being brought onto the line. It wasn’t reassuring. Close up, the animals were distressingly thin. The animal handlers obviously felt the same as I did and while it was upsetting, at least I was doing my utmost to make sure we had plenty of evidence.
The farm where the animals came from has been on our radar for a while, but things had been improving, so this was a real blow. But there was a curveball on the way, because after the animals had been killed, it was discovered that quite a large percentage of them had very unpleasant looking lung lesions.
Having spent some time inspecting the lungs, it was obvious we needed to find out what disease this was. So having photographed the carcasses and the lungs (evidence of everything must be recorded) I sent off various samples to the lab. It doesn’t sound so much when I write it down, but with all the extra tasks in addition to my normal work, it ended up being a ten hour working day. I spoke to Hilde and Thomas after I had finished and Thomas had already set up a visit for the next day.
I had been planning to catch up on some paperwork on Thursday as Ann was coming in to cover my morning shift, but I really wanted to be involved in the follow-up and so, mentally casting aside the reindeer overtime fees calculation checks I had been sent, I asked Thomas if I could join him and he agreed.
Though the thinness of the animals had been distressing, the farm visit was actually somewhat reassuring. There were thin animals there as well, and though things weren’t perfect, various steps were being taken. The grass is starting to grow now, so some of the problems will resolve once the animals are back outside and major plans for improvement are under way. But now we also have to throw in the possibility of some kind of infection on the farm. Once we know what caused the lung problems, then we will have to work out how to manage the problem. That could involve anything from a new vaccination program, right up to mass culling. Either way, we will be offering whatever support we can to the farmer, who has already expressed himself as being very grateful for any insight we can give on what’s going wrong.
This is the kind of work I signed up for when I chose to be a vet. I know there are times when it is incredibly heavy work, but at the end of the day, this really is what I want to be doing.
But as you can see from the photo at the top of the page, I am now a very long way from all that. I flew into Manchester yesterday, into the chaos of a failure in the electronic passport system. Having survived that, I am now back in beautiful Yorkshire, where the summer is coming in. There are fat, healthy cattle in the field behind the house and everything in the garden is beginning to bloom. And now I can hear that mum and dad are up and the kettle is on, so I will drop a few photos here and then go and join them. Have a lovely week everyone!
Sunrise/sunset: 01:04/00:24 Daylength: Up all day from today
There were two bank holidays this week, on Wednesday and Thursday. The first was 17th May, which is Norway’s national day. This was my first 17th May as a Norwegian citizen, so perhaps we should have celebrated in style and gone out to watch a parade, but it was raining heavily in the morning when we got up and so we decided to celebrate at home. There was a Norwegian flag in the house when we moved in, so we put it into the flag holder near the front door, then we had a relaxing day and ate Norway’s standard fare on 17th May of hotdogs and ice cream!
John’s girlfriend, Joana, came to stay overnight and celebrated with us and she and John made the hotdogs between them, including toasting the rolls, which I confess, we normally never do, but it did add an extra dimension of deliciousness.
On the evening of 17th May, I noticed a concerning change in the water pressure of the taps. I went to bed, hoping that it was a temporary blip and would all be okay in the morning, but it wasn’t. Instead, the pressure fell further, to the point where the toilet cistern didn’t fill and there was only a trickle coming from the taps. Given that it was still a bank holiday, we decided that we would probably be okay until Friday.
Though it was relatively easy to get some drinking water, I was in something of a dilemma about the toilet. I was trying to work out whether I should walk to get some buckets of water from a stream, when I remembered that there was still a source of water, right there in the back garden. Though most of the snow has melted, there was still a pile behind the garage. And so I went out with my bucket and spade, and for the last time this winter, I started digging snow.
Despite the heated bathroom floor, it took a surprising amount of time for the snow to melt, but when it did, we were able to flush the toilet again, thank goodness!
Friday dawned and then began the chase to try and find a plumber who was working. As you can imagine, with bank holidays on Wednesday and Thursday, a lot of people in all walks of life took the Friday off and the local plumbers were no exception. I messaged a few when I woke in the morning as some of them didn’t start until ten, even on a normal Friday, but I got no response and the ones I did phone didn’t answer, even though it was in their normal Friday working hours.
Fortunately, one kind plumber, Hugo Nordaas, actually rang me back. He was working all day in a shop, he told me, but would come out afterwards. I asked him whether I should continue trying to find someone else in the meantime, and he said yes, but to let him know if I still wanted him to come out. I had barely had time to start, when my phone rang again. Hugo had contacted someone else, who was on their way to me.
The young man who arrived didn’t seem very confident, but he assessed the situation and came up with a solution, which, I think, he checked with a colleague on the phone. I guess I’d better explain a bit more about our water system before going further, because I’m assuming the vast majority of you reading this have mains water, so if the supply dries up, workers magically appear and start trying to fix the issue. There is no mains water, out where I live, despite it being on a main road. Our water supply is private and comes from a “well” on someone else’s land. I hadn’t realised, until we went there, just how far away we were from the water source. I guess my house was built when there were very few other houses in the valley, so building a pipe from another house’s well was still probably cheaper than building a separate well.
You are probably wondering why I have put the word “well” in quotation marks the first time I used it. I don’t think there is really another translation for “brønn” than “well” but it isn’t a well in the way I would think of one. In the UK, a well is dug deep in the ground until the ground water is revealed. Usually it’s circular and very deep. Here in Norway, it’s common for water to be taken from an inlet in a stream or river, and that is what our “well” is.
And so, with thoughts that the long pipe bringing water from the well the house might be blocked, the plumber’s first action was to return to base to collect a pump and some water. He then pumped water back up the pipe in the hope that, if it was a frog or a mouse in the pipe, it would be pushed out of the top end and (hopefully) washed away. I thought, for a moment, as water gushed back out of the pipe, that he had been successful, but after a fairly short time, it slowed again to a trickle and we were back at square one.
The next step, he explained to me, was to go up to the well and check the inlet valve, to make sure it wasn’t blocked up with anything. That was a likely scenario, he said, as there has been so much meltwater in recent weeks. The snow certainly has melted fast this year and there was a lot of it. He was going to go away now, he said, and once I had checked, I should call him back if there was still a problem.
I got into the car and drove along to the house of the well owner. We had been there on Thursday and they had told us their water in their house was running as normal. They had also told us that the well might not be easy to access yet, as there could still be snow. It was also Friday now, and a working day, so I wasn’t sure there would be anybody in. Under these circumstances, which meant it could be several hours before we could get an answer, the plumber going away seemed not unreasonable. Quite unexpectedly though, the young man who opened the door told us that he had actually gone up and checked the well. Everything looked okay with it, he said, the entrance to our outlet pipe included.
I had expected it might be hours before we found out (I didn’t know where the well actually was, so we couldn’t have checked it ourselves) but in actual fact it was only a few minutes. Knowing that the plumber wouldn’t even be back in Finnsnes, I called him and told him the news, but instead of coming back, he told me he didn’t know what to do next and would have to consult with colleagues.
I waited for an hour and a half, but hadn’t heard anything. Given that it was now Friday afternoon and the weekend was coming up, with the thought in my head of having no flushing toilet and only a trickle of cold water all weekend, I sent him a message, asking whether he thought we perhaps needed to contact someone with a camera to check the pipe or even just that he could perhaps come back with someone more experienced, but despite the fact that my phone said the message had been delivered, after another hour and a half, I hadn’t heard anything back.
Had he been older, I might have waited longer, but I can remember being a young vet with not much experience, trying out my limited skills and, on not finding a solution, sending the clients home with something to try, and then booking them back for another evening when I wasn’t on duty, so that someone else would (hopefully) deal with it. I understand that feeling of being out of your depth and hoping the problem will resolve itself, and also the lack of client skills that make it easier not to call with updates, even if you are trying to organise something. I didn’t know which it was, but I thought that if I left it, I might well find myself stuck. It had been almost impossible to find someone earlier, and time was getting short. And so I rang the one number that I knew would result in action, which was the emergency number for the insurance company.
Last time I discussed Norwegian insurance, I raved about how good they were and how much better they were at paying out than UK insurance companies. My faith was slightly shaken after the last time, as they decided the problem with my drainage pipes had happened before I bought the house, and therefore they decided that they weren’t liable, however experience said that they would certainly get things moving and indeed they did.
They provide an advisor, who will get in touch with the relevant people for you. They know all the numbers to call and probably warrant more attention from busy workers than an unknown number. In no time at all, the young plumber was back and this time he had someone from another company with him. Now they had lots of water, which I understood they were going to try to pump through again, which I think they did, to no avail. But having not resolved the problem, this time they set up a temporary solution. We now have an 800L water tank in the garden and a pump outside my bedroom window to pump it into the house. It isn’t drinking water, but at least we have enough now so that we can flush the toilet and have showers over the weekend.
Working through the weekend was probably out of the question. I think most British people will probably be raising their eyebrows at that, but in Norway, lots of things have to wait, and here in the north, the pace of life is much slower, even than in the south west of Norway, where I used to live. They did give me a future outline this time, which is something a client should never be left without. On Monday, the advisor will come out and will hopefully explain more about what’s going to happen. It seems that the likeliest scenario is that there has been some shifting of the earth, which has resulted in the pipe becoming kinked or possibly broken. The plumbers seemed to think it might be necessary to dig up the entire length of the pipe, but I am hoping that there will be a better solution. There must be means for finding where pipes run, other than digging all the way from one end or the other. Hopefully on Monday, I will find out.
But for now, as I said before, there is a pump outside my bedroom window, with a plug leading through the window. I have to switch it off at night, but while it’s on, the window has to be open. I’m hoping that they find a better solution before the first big wave of man-eating mosquitoes arrives.
I guess that living up here, with the extremes of the weather, there will always be more wear and tear on property than in more temperate climes. There’s always a risk, buying a house, but it would be a near impossible situation if I end up with a bill running into tens of thousands of kroner, or worse. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the insurance will cover it. I also go on holiday next Friday and John is going away to do some lambing for the weekend, so I hope that I won’t have to leave Andrew on his own without everything being under control. I will keep you updated as things unfold, but for now, I wish you a happy weekend.
There’s only a week and a day to go until we have 24 hour daylight again. I just counted the number of weeks between Polar Night and Midnight Sun and it was only seventeen weeks. No wonder life here is a whirlwind of changing light patterns. The snow is in serious melting mode. There’s a lot of mud now, and puddles, rushing streams and brown, brown grass. The trees are still bare and, until a couple of days ago, it looked as if everything was dead. But in those couple of days, there has been a subtle change. Wherever you look, if the snow has been gone for a few days, there are signs that the regrowth has begun. The coltsfoot flowers at the top of the page are first to arrive, but as well as their yellow, there are tufts of green grassy plants and patches of ruby red. It will still take a bit more time to get going, but by the beginning of June, everything will be growing rampantly. Sadly, this will include mosquitoes that grow to the size of elephants, but you can’t have everything!
I got in touch with a dear friend of mine from Scotland this week and was terribly saddened to hear that she is going through something unimaginably tough right now. I could feel her pain and I so much wish that I could be closer. If you are reading, my friend, you have been in my thoughts all the time since we spoke. It did give me a sense of perspective however, over my own problems and yet my wonderful friend still found the time to say how frustrated she had felt on my behalf in recent weeks. I have made some amazing friends over the years and I its at times like this that I most wish I was back in the UK.
It’s been generally a good week at work, though I had a day and a half off on Monday and Tuesday as my left eyelid suddenly swelled up and turned red and hot. Norwegian doctors are rightly reluctant to hand out antibiotics, but I rolled up at the surgery mid-morning on Monday (as I had started to feel more generally unwell) and I was given topical antibiotics in the form of chloramphenicol eye ointment. I had half expected to be told to try paracetamol (given that physiotherapy – Norwegian doctors’ other staple – probably doesn’t apply here). The ointment does seem to have helped, though my eyelid looks a bit red again this morning. Hopefully it will do the trick, though having smeary gunk all round my left eye for half the day isn’t the best look.
Anyway, back to the rest of the week, I was delighted to be working alongside my new colleague Ingrid. Ingrid has taken over my old job in Finnsnes and will be spending some of her time at the abattoir and some of her time out in the field with Thomas. I hope she’s enjoyed her week with us as much as I enjoyed having her there. Obviously working in an abattoir isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but we try our best to be friendly and welcoming and I am doing my utmost to ensure she gets plenty of help and guidance. Starting a new job can be incredibly tough if you don’t get enough support. She wasn’t originally planning to come back next week, but I invited her to come a couple of days to work with Konstantin and she has agreed, so we must have done something right!
I had one of those 24 hour blood pressure tests done from Thursday to Friday. Surprisingly, having my arm squeezed every half hour didn’t disrupt my sleep too much. I confess that I took a sneak peak at the results and I’m fairly sure the doctor is going to tell me I have to do something about my blood pressure as it’s a bit higher than it ought to be. I hope he will give me practical advice and help me lose weight, get de-stressed and exercise more, rather than going straight for drugs, but I guess it will depend on how bad it actually is. I’ve been comfort eating more than I should in the past months and have been virtually hibernating through the snowy winter, so it’s not that surprising, but working out how to tackle it, while theoretically easy, will be mentally difficult. Still, if anyone needs an incentive to lose weight and get moving, it’s me. I know that if I do, I will feel better. Get the whip out and give me a hand please!
It’s only a couple of weeks now, until I’m going on another holiday to the UK. I am visiting Mum and Dad in Yorkshire, so hopefully we will spend a relaxing week exploring castles and trying not to eat too many fish and chips. April and May have so many bank holidays in Norway that they usually seem to fly by. This coming week, we have Wednesday and Thursday off. Wednesday is 17th May, which is Norway’s national day and Thursday is Ascension Day, which is quite a random day to have off, but no complaints from me. It’s supposed to get up to 19 degrees this week, so hopefully we have had the last of the snow for this winter. I will need to go and get the summer tyres put on my car, and other celebratory summer things!
I have the strangest feeling, at the moment, that the river of life is plunging forwards while I am treading water. Everything seems to be happening at speed and I feel as if I’m being carried forward. I’m keeping my head above water and have been doing so for some time, but that is all I have the energy for. It probably sounds horrible, but somehow it isn’t. I am being carried in a direction I want to go, and if I keep treading water, I will get there.
That probably sounds odd or fanciful, but the reality is that I was dragged quite low by the winter and the whole Mr Abusive saga, but I have coped and now things are heading in a better direction. Having lived quite a long time now, I recognise these feelings: though getting older certainly intensifies the tiredness. When I was younger, it would have taken a much longer time to analyse and recover, I think, but I know that this is what life is like. There are ups and downs, and sometimes we have to ride through them.
There has been so much to do at work recently, that there hasn’t been time to do anything but the basic tasks that keep everything ticking over. I think I touched on the number of people who were signed off sick a couple of weeks back, but my two trustworthy and knowledgeable colleagues, Trude and Konstantin, were both on sick leave at the same time and that was in addition to two other colleagues who have been absent for a long time. So over Easter, I was was first in line with responsibility for everything that went on in the abattoir. All the routine tasks that normally are done without me really noticing them, were mine to remember. There were checklists and post-it notes everywhere!
Konstantin unfortunately become sick with Covid during his holiday. He was due to come back on Tuesday, though I hadn’t put him in the rota until Thursday as I thought he might need travelling time; he had driven home to Latvia, rather than flying. On Monday, I had intended to work in the Finnsnes office as I had a dentist’s appointment, but I knew that if any animals had been emergency slaughtered over the weekend, I would likely have to drive to the abattoir to check them as there was nobody else to do it. When the message came in that there were four cattle that had been brought in over the weekend, it became a certainty that I would have to go. Four is the maximum capacity for the room where the carcases are hung, so leaving them wasn’t really an option. Driving to the abattoir and carrying out post mortem controls on four animals would have taken a massive chunk out of my working day.
Imagine my surprise then, when Konstantin’s face appeared on the screen in the Teams meeting first thing in the morning. He had come back a day early! With Konstantin back, he would take the emergency slaughter cattle and any other bits and bobs that aren’t very big or difficult, but nonetheless are time consuming. There were a million things I probably should have caught up on, but having gone to the dentist’s (my teeth are in good order, apparently – very well cleaned!) and seen what a lovely day it was, I decided to take the afternoon off. The picture at the top of the page was taken on my way home. Not that I did much, but it was lovely just to kick back and relax.
And now, with Konstantin and Trude back, I finally have some time on my hands again. By happy coincidence, Mattilsynet have finally got their act together and have completed the training course to become an Official Veterinarian in the abattoir. The abattoir is officially not meant to run without one, so I have been acting as one anyway, but it will be lovely if I can finally qualify! There are suddenly four new modules to get through, most of which I can tackle in between other work, but the last module was a task that was only announced recently. As part of the role, I will perform various annual audits in the abattoir and this year’s is a hygiene audit. Though I’ve passed the auditing exam, I need to observe at least three audits before I can qualify. I’ve been struggling to find any to observe and so, when I saw the task in the last module was to observe a hygiene audit, I was quite worried that I wouldn’t manage it before the August deadline.
Happily I have contacts down in south west Norway, where I used to work part time for Mattilsynet. I contacted my old boss, who sounded very pleased to hear from me. Better still, there is a hygiene audit next week down in Egersund and so, on Monday I am flying down to Stavanger, then taking the train to Egersund, where I will meet up with some of the lovely people I used to work with. It will be spring down there, I think. I’m hoping for some sunshine. I’ve already started looking through some of the paperwork for the audit and I think I’m going to learn a lot.
The big melt is underway. It has been above zero for more than a week now, although there has been an overnight blip. I woke this morning to a light dusting of snow. I know some people reading this live in snowy places, but most do not. My mum asked me a couple of weeks ago, after a few days of warmer weather, whether the snow was gone yet and I had to tell her that it was still higher than the car roof. It takes weeks for it to go away and afterwards, another couple of weeks for the earth to begin to warm up and for plants to grow, despite the already long days.
The picture at the top of the page was taken yesterday morning, behind the house. It was difficult to photograph, but there is a newly formed river and lake just beyond the garden. No wonder, with the amount of rain that has been coming down. Coupled with the melting snow, there is going to be a significant amount of water gathering for the next few weeks.
Of course, as with any such major change, there is a lot of work to be done. Not particularly for me (I have to decide when to change from winter tyres to summer, which is always a lottery as it can snow into May) but for those fixing the roads, which are badly cracked this year, and also builders and anyone else whose jobs are limited by the weather, the next few months will be crazy. I will have to contact the plumber again soon, to see whether he can fit me in while entry to the foundations is not blocked by a metre of snow . I’ve also contacted an electrician, who hopefully is coming out to look at my museum-piece fuse box, with a view to installing something a bit more up-to-date! The current one is not as old as Per and Tor, as the house was only built in the early 80s, but perhaps they’d have been more familiar with its design than I was when I moved in!
I don’t really have much idea how much it will cost, and perhaps it won’t be possible now, but there are a few fixes I would really like to get done, and this is one of them. At the moment, we can’t run the washing machine twice in a short period and if we use the oven and plates too enthusiastically, dinner ends up being very slow.
I’m going to give what will probably be the final update in the Mr Abusive saga. I didn’t mention last time, but about ten minutes after the electronic letter arrived, Mr Abusive’s wife sent a demand for the money on my phone. This, I recognised, was the first part of a process, by which they have to give various warnings before contacting the bailiffs. As far as I can work out, they have to send a demand first, with two week’s notice, then a warning that they will be referring me for debt collection, with another two week’s grace. That is the minimum, but they are allowed to send various letters, ramping up the charges with each, and for every day I don’t pay, interest would be added on. The bailiffs in Norway are the police, and they have the power to take money from my bank, so Mr Abusive had the full force of Norwegian law and power behind him, based entirely on Husleietvistutvalget’s faulty decisions.
I hope you are not bored, but when I say faulty, I do mean it. The clearest example was that, for carrying out cleaning himself (rather than employing a professional company) he charged me 600kr per hour. This seemed a huge amount, when an inexperienced cleaner in Norway only earns 210kr per hour. My feeling that this was off, was backed up when I read various other Husleietvistutvalget cases. Most landlords only ask for between 200 and 250kr per hour. In another case, the landlord asked for 350k per hour and was firmly told that was too high. His fee was reduced to 212kr per hour. The other decisions were also faulty. For example, Mr Abusive alleges he had to throw out a rug because of ingrained dog hair, but the picture he staged (presumably by emptying the vaccuum cleaner over it) showed a mass of unvacuumed hair and dust. Legally, he is required to attempt to clean it before throwing it out, but there was no evidence he had. It really was like that through the whole case.
Currently, a group of students in Oslo have the papers and I hope they will give me their thoughts on the legalities, but I will be making a complaint, one way or another. Not that it is easy to do so. Every letter I send out from Mattilsynet contains details on how to challenge the decisions I’ve made. There is literally no official pathway to complain about Husleietvistutvalget, and even the information about which government department might have some responsibility for overseeing it is carefully obscured. That the only official channel for challenging it is taking it to court means that those without money are unable to get justice. I hadn’t expected to find myself here in Norway. There’s an assumption that tenants (and women) are well protected here, but this is the second time I’ve found out that I am not and I can’t deny that it has changed my view of Norwegian “justice”.
Anyway, unless my complaint results in something positive happening, I won’t be updating again. Though it’s enough to have an impact on what I can do to improve the house, I am not about to go bankrupt. I will move on, given time, but that’s a story for another day.
It’s not a very beautiful time here, when the snow is melting, but I took some photos anyway. As the huge piles of scraped snow melt, they turn black as the grit that was scraped up with them is left behind. There are a lot of septic tanks around here (I have one) and I should imagine that, as the water levels rise, they must all flood. There was something very brown deposited on the ice in a melting river I found yesterday. No smell, but I did wonder. Snow is beautiful. Its retreat: not so much!
I am not going to say much about last week’s case. Thank you so much to all of you who reached out to me with both comfort and bracing advice. One lovely friend advised me to “Shake the dust off [my] sandals and move on.” Given my job, I think that “Hose the bullshit off your wellies” might be a more apt version, but the advice is good. As a quick summary, I haven’t paid yet. I shall pay at the last possible moment. I know it isn’t clear cut enough for a court case, but I have in mind a complaint as the person who was supposed to represent me was obviously as much use as a leaking wellie boot in an undrained pig pen. I have therefore reached out to two sources who know Norwegian law well and will (hopefully) give me free advice. My therapist suggested I should do as much as I felt was reasonable before moving on and that is what I am doing.
I had planned a much more upbeat post last week, before the doomsday judgment arrived, so I shall revert to what I was talking about, which is that, exhausting though it is, I am increasingly enjoying my job. There are parts of it that probably don’t seem too attractive to many. Back in the UK, I quite enjoyed filling in forms neatly, creating clear, useful instructions for how to perform complex activities and writing reports. Though it’s more challenging to do all that in Norwegian, it does make up quite a chunk of my job. It pleases me though, that I am quite efficient at it. Some of my colleagues don’t like to write reports, but have other, complementary skills. We have to carry out inspections in the abattoir, for example. I don’t (yet) have the knowledge that others who have worked there long time have, but I am delighted to follow them and learn from them, and then write up the summary of findings afterwards.
I also like problem solving and don’t mind responsibility. I qualified as a vet at 22. Suddenly I found myself out in the real world, having to take huge responsibilities that I hadn’t even considered when I was training, probably because I was too young. It was a gruelling experience, but young minds adjust, and adjust mine did. And it’s not like I am alone, as I often found myself in veterinary practice in the UK. If there are things I need to find out in order to resolve a case, I have a whole team of people round me. Better still, I have a boss who believes in me, gives pragmatic advice and is generally supportive if something goes wrong. Those things are beyond price when the job you do includes significant power and comes with high moral obligations.
But as well as all the heavy stuff, there are brighter moments, when I feel I am being paid to do something that is so light that I could happily do it on holiday. At the end of last week, we had a gathering of Team Dyrego, which is the team responsible for animal health and welfare out in the field. We are scattered far and wide – Birgit and Astrid are in Storslett, which is nearly four hours driving from Finnsnes. Thomas and I work in Finnsnes and Anya and Annik work in Tromsø, which is perhaps half way between, though also not on a direct route between the two. These team meetings generally take a similar format. We drive to meet on Thursday, taking some inspections along the way, spend a night in a hotel, then hold a meeting the next day to share information and plan for the coming season. Some of the team were covering heavy cases on the way there, but as I am now mostly working in the abattoir, my inspections were routine. In order to comply with traceability regulations, we have to check a certain number of farms each year to see if they are eartagging their animals in line with European law. And in order to maintain our disease status for TSEs (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy – which can occur in many species, but the most famous is “mad cow disease”) we have to go out, inform about the symptoms and remind 10% of our sheep farmers of their obligations for testing.
I almost didn’t go. Due to people being signed off sick, I thought I would have to work in the abattoir, but my lovely colleague, Kaj, stepped in. On Tuesday, I was quailing as I didn’t think I had enough time for preparation for a day’s inspections, but he also stepped up on Wednesday, so I threw some stuff together, spent an hour on Thursday morning compiling a list of possible farms and phone numbers, and then headed out on a delicious sunny day to visit some farmers. Because of the short notice, I hadn’t warned them I was coming. We are now allowed to do so if there is a good reason (the sheer distance and the chances of sheep farmers being out as most have day jobs is reason enough) so I had no idea how successful I would be, but I had planned for six and hoped for at least two or three.
I had a hit with the first farm I went to. I knew it was a smallholding, so I thought it would be a nice one to start with. The farmer was in and what’s more, she was very welcoming. I have commented before that we are considered by some to be rather like the police. When we turn up at the door, it can be a worrying experience for an animal owner. But quite a few farmers seem to regard us as an agency they can look to for help and advice, and that is part of our role as well. So I asked her some questions and she asked me some, and then we looked at her sheep. They were a traditional Norwegian breed (Gammel Norsk Spælsau) with wonderfully thick wool and a hardy nature. They lived mostly outside, all through the winter, though with a sturdy, dry shelter, good food and clean water. Seeing well looked after animals is a pleasure for me that goes very deep.
After that, I didn’t have so much success. The GPS in the car had died, but I made my way round with Google Maps, taking care to ensure I didn’t drain my phone’s battery too much. It was minus twenty in places, so if the car broke down altogether, being stranded would be unsafe. I finally tracked down another farm with someone who could show me round. The farmer himself was away moving snow, but he had employed a young Dutch woman, who was available. She showed me the sheep, which were also well cared for and gave me warming coffee. I left there at about two in the afternoon and, hoping to get one more, I visited another two farms, but one had only a very old lady on crutches present and the other had moved to keeping cattle, due to living in close proximity to a bear that liked eating sheep (mentioned in my very first post here).
And so, having enjoyed a very pleasant day at work, I drove up to Vollan Gjestestue, where we spent the night in comfort (see pictures of cake and fruit from our meeting below). It was lovely to meet up with my colleagues and one of my aims is to improve the links between the abattoir team and the team out in the field. Together, I think we will have a great knowledge base and it’s a way that I can focus on improving animal welfare, which should surely be the aim of any vet.
The past week has also been satisfying. Konstantin is now on holiday, so he has been intensively teaching me about all the routine work he does in the abattoir. I had assumed I would assimilate these routines over time but, with everyone who knows how to do them now absent, it will be up to me to keep things ticking over for the next two weeks.
It was looking like things were going to be quiet, but there has been heavy snow and wind over the last few days. There was news last night of some horrifying avalanches in our area and I know that some farms and farmers have been affected. Where there are welfare issues, I know Mattilsynet will be involved. We are second in line to be called in, after the emergency services. So I am not sure what is on the way, but I sent a message to my boss last night that I was available if I was needed. She was still working, despite being on holiday. That is how it is and I can honestly say that I would always want to help, when there are people and animals in need. Despite occasional frustrations, doubts, and wishes for a quieter life, I know I am in the right job. Bring it on.
I don’t know how many of you watch the daylight hours at the top of each post (I know my dad does, because I suggested leaving it out at one point and he said he found it interesting). Anyway, as I filled it in today, I noticed we now have nine full hours of proper daylight. Given that only a month and a half ago, we had none, that seems quite amazing. It does take the weather a long time to catch up though. This was the scene outside my front door at half past six this morning.
I noticed something about the snow, yesterday, that I hadn’t thought about before. As you can see, the fence posts are decked in snow on one side. I had always assumed this occurred because the wind blew the flakes against one side and they stuck, but actually, it’s the opposite. The prevailing wind here comes from the side where the posts are bare and the snow is collecting in the lee of the poles. Odd how the brain works, because I have carried that misconception around for a while, and it only struck me now because I know which way the prevailing wind is because whenever I walk Triar, it’s always blowing in my face on the way home and I wish it was the other way round! Silly really, because I know drifts form in the lee of things, but hadn’t really thought of the snow collecting on poles as a kind of drift!
I have been waiting for the response from Husleietvistutvalget/Rent Disputes Tribunal (previous update here: Soot on the Wall). They were supposed to assess the case within ninety days, which was a week or two ago now. I got an update yesterday evening, which said that Mr Abusive had called them and asked for a progress report. It was rather oddly worded, implying he had asked for an update for “the parties” which might imply he asked for me to get one too. That might sound silly, but the last letter I got from them was also sent on his insistence and I could see no reason why he had insisted, other than to cause distress; I had stated in an earlier statement that I experienced it whenever I receive these letters.
I felt sick to the point of faintness when I saw there was a letter, only to be faced with it being nothing of importance. I don’t know why I have quite such strong reactions to this and I wonder whether it’s down to the feeling of being trapped. I wanted to move out for a whole year before I managed to find somewhere suitable, mainly because I had a sense of unease about this man, but the feeling was never that extreme. It’s looking likely that the response will come when I’m on holiday though, which I could do without. It crossed my mind yesterday, that if I had the money to do it, I would just put the whole case in the hands of a solicitor now, and let them deal with it, but I haven’t, so I can’t. If I was still married, I’d have someone else to help me deal with it too. Sometimes, I do feel very alone, even though I’m not.
Anyway, this time next week, I will (hopefully) be sitting in the airport waiting to fly to Oslo and from there to Heathrow. Almost everything is booked, including hotels, AirBnBs and a car. The waiting area at the airport here is quite funny and old fashioned. I think the seats are purple and green, or some other such garish colour. I did discover last time though, that they had new baked chocolate boller (cardamom flavoured rolls) at a very reasonable price, so that will perhaps be my last taste of common Norwegian cuisine before I head to the UK. I may pop in here with some photos of the UK, or to update on the case, but other than that, I will be taking a blogging break for the next two weekends. See you on the other side.
Last week was all about the snow. When it was coming down and down and down, it was almost as if it was lying heavily in my mind, rather than just on the roof; there was a real feeling of never-ending work coming at me. I took a photo of a snow drift that had formed beside the garage, that was both beautiful and daunting in its sheer volume.
As you can probably see, the drift reached almost to the roof. There are still huge piles of snow along the front and back of the house. It gathered on the roof, then partially melted and fell off in huge quantities, to the point where we couldn’t keep up with it. Doubtless there will be more before the winter is out, but as summer time comes nearer, and the sun returns it has begun to feel less daunting.
It’s been very much milder this week and though there is still a thick covering of snow, the relentless feeling has gone. Quite apart from anything else, Andrew and I are going on holiday in two week’s time and it’s finally close enough that I can begin to properly look forward to it. We are heading to the UK. I expect there will be signs of spring there, in the south at least. We are also meeting Anna and Lauren, as well as my parents and hopefully, my sister Helen. I expect it will whizz by, but by the time we return, we will be well into March.
I had an interesting case at the abattoir this week. A batch of pigs came in and two of them had clear signs of a bacterial disease: erysipelas (rødsyke in Norwegian). I’ve never seen it before, but some of its symptoms are so distinctive that I remember them from university. The pigs I saw had very classic, diamond-shaped, raised red patches on their skin. The other thing I remembered from university is that it is a zoonosis – it can spread to different species, including people. The bacteria can survive a long time in infected meat, even if it’s kept chilled, so it’s important that infected pigs are kept out of the food chain. I also had to call the farmer and make sure he understood the risks and would take suitable precautions.
There was also an article on the front page of Mattilsynet’s intranet this week about the fact that tuberculosis had been picked up a some time ago in an abattoir further south. The investigation and (hopefully) eradication process is ongoing, but the article pointed out that though meat inspection is often seen as the poor relation in terms of importance when it comes to animal health and welfare, it can play a hugely significant role in keeping people and animals safe.
I have also been out on some welfare visits this week for the first time since the autumn. It was good to get out and about, and happily both the animals we went to see were not at risk. Thomas and I also went out to pick up a stray cat, only to find it had been picked up by Dyrebeskyttelsen (a Norwegian animal welfare charity) two hours before we got there. Our travels took us over to the far side of Senja, where the snow was largely gone at ground level. It is amazing how much difference in temperature the gulf stream brings, even this far north, though you can see the thick ice on the left, where the snow has been flattened in a car-parking area. Ice takes a lot longer to melt than snow.
With the higher temperatures outside, the temperature in the house has also been more stable. The larger, more powerful heat exchanger I bought on moving in still wasn’t enough to keep the house properly warm when it was minus twenty outside. The wood stove has been wonderful though, and has been of particular interest to Triar. For most of his life we have lived in apartments in the cellars of other people’s houses, which is relatively common in Norway. Neither of our flats had fires or stoves and so he has always curled up on the couch beside us. But I had begun to notice that, now and then, he would go and lie in front of the wood stove when it was on. He didn’t lie there for long though and it crossed my mind that, in the UK, almost everyone I know has some kind of rug in front of the fire and a rug would be much more comfortable to lie on than laminate. And so, we have got Triar a sheepskin to lie on near the fire. As you can see, he loves it very much. Hope you all have a good week.
Okay, I admit it! Even for me, lover of snow extraordinaire, it’s a bit over the top this year. It’s February, and from my limited experience of living in the Arctic, I would expect it to be minus twenty for most of the month and for the snow coming down from the sky to be very limited. There should be some on the ground, obviously, but falling… No!
When it falls below minus ten or so, humidity normally falls away. The amazing hoar frosts we sometimes get occur when the temperature drops quickly and all the water particles in the air attach themselves to anything and everything. But it also means that in the colder months, snow is generally quite limited. Much of the snow that falls tends to fall later, in April perhaps, when the sun’s rays begin to carry some heat and the world begins to warm again.
It is mesmerising, of course, and very, very beautiful. Unfortunately, it is heavy enough at the moment to create some significant problems. I drove John’s car to work yesterday as he went away yesterday to a farm up a long, heavily rutted road. I bought an SUV before I came here for exactly that type of scenario, so we have swapped for a couple of days. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem. John’s car is lovely and I’ve driven it before. But unlike mine, his car is very low to the ground and long and requires significant care when turning into driveways or car parks with any kind of camber or slope. In addition, it is manual and I haven’t driven it often enough to be familiar with the controls, all of which would have been fine if it wasn’t for the addition of a blizzard that went on and off all day.
I left work in time to get home in daylight yesterday, but even then, conditions were difficult. Visibility was poor. This was partly due to the whirling snowflakes, but also because of the cloud cover, which obscures the sun, meaning there are no shadows. When everything is white and the edge of the road is blurred by snow drifts sending their deadly fingers across the asphalt, it becomes almost impossible to see where the edge of the road is. There are snow poles, which you can follow of course, while trying not to go too close. If you go into those drifts, they can drag you in and send your car into a spin. So I limped home at 50km/hr (30mph), trying not to think about the queue of more confident drivers behind me. I was very relieved to get home.
It’s been snowing quite a lot since then. This is what I saw when I opened the front door this morning to let Triar out.
I am going to have to do something about it, because John will be coming home from the farm later, and even in my car, I think he might struggle to get into the driveway. He suggested, last night, that I move his car over nearer to the garage (to make it easier to clear the driveway with the snow blower) and I thought I would do it today, when it got light, but that’s now a very big task!
And so, I’d better go out and make a start. The first step will be to take a shovel and dig a pathway to the garage where the bigger snow pusher and the snow blower reside. Then I have to decide whether to try to start the snow blower (not easy, it’s physically tough to even pull the rope fast enough) or whether I should just resort to pushing enough out of the way in the more traditional way. I just hope that John actually manages to get home. He’s working on the farm next weekend, feeding and caring for the sheep while the owners go away for the weekend. They’re rushing through showing him everything last night and this morning, as the long, rutted road is also in an avalanche area. There are early warning systems, so he’s unlikely to get caught in the avalanche, but if there is one, he will be trapped there until the road is cleared.
Anyway, that’s a reasonable summary of this morning. It’s snowing again now, but even so, I’d better go and make a start. Have a good week everyone!
I’ve seen the sun! I wasn’t even looking for it, but went outside at work on Monday just after ten o’clock and, to my amazement, there it was!
I don’t think the feeling of joy this gives can be understood until you’ve lived somewhere where there is a significant period when the sun doesn’t come over the horizon at all. Long cloudy spells, even in the south of Norway, were not the same. I had a visceral feeling of joy at this moment. When the sun isn’t out, the light here is still super blue. I will add some other photos later, taken on a couple of different days this week, and you will see what I mean.
This winter has been hard. The snow came early and there has been a lot of it and on top of that, the temperature changes have been crazy. One day it’s minus twenty, the next it can be above zero. We badly needed the wood that Ann brought because this year has demonstrated that our house is not really insulated well enough. At super-cold temperatures, even the lovely new, powerful heat exchanger I bought doesn’t really cut it and the electricity bill last month was heinous. On the coldest days, when we come home, it can be thirteen or fourteen degrees in the house, which isn’t super-freezing, but isn’t comfortable to sit in. The wood stove solves the problem, but it takes a couple of hours to really start warming the place up. Before next winter, I will be getting new insulation in the loft and I hope that will make a significant difference.
As regular readers will know, I am in the process of moving jobs at the moment, though still within the Norwegian Food Safety Authority: Mattilsynet. I have spent most of this week working in the abattoir, where I am rapidly learning how to do new tasks, in particular to do with administration. The two main aims are to ensure that the food produced is safe and to ensure that animal welfare is high and though the first is very important, it is the second that interests me more.
For the first time this week, I have come across a situation where I am going to have to issue a fine. In Norway, it is illegal to send cows to the abattoir within the last month before they are due to calve. As their pregnancy progresses, the ligaments around the pelvis begin to loosen, and obviously as the calf gets bigger, it’s more likely that loading and unloading and travelling in general can result in pain or injury. In an odd coincidence, having not come across a case before, this week there were two.
In one of these, in my opinion, the farmer seems not to have been careful enough, though I believe he does still care about his animals. It’s not entirely up to me and Thomas explained that I will need to involve the animal welfare advisor before I make the decision, but it seems likely he will be fined. The other case was even sadder to deal with. I called the farmer and he told me that he’d had a vet out to check the cow for pregnancy and that the vet had got it wrong. It happens, of course. Mistakes do occur, but for the farmer it was a significant blow. He won’t be charged a fine as he sent me evidence, but his cow was pregnant with twins and he sounded very upset as he told me she was a good cow. Farming has to be one of the toughest professions there is.
Andrew is in his last year at school. He has known for a while that he wanted to go to folk high school for a year (before probably going on to university), but this was the week when many of them started accepting applications for next year, and to his enormous delight, he got into his first choice of school to study film. We had previously looked at ones closer to home, but the courses local t ous didn’t seem as well suited to what he wanted, and so he is going to move back to southwest Norway for a year. It will be strange without him, but I am delighted with how excited he seems. Anna spent a year studying computer game coding near Trondheim and I think she would agree it was one of the best years of her life so far – an uncomplicatedly happy time. As well as studying computing, there was an unexpected sideline at Torshus where they sang sea shanties and the culmination of the year was to sail a tall ship from Bergen to Shetland and back. It will be very interesting to see how Andrew’s school compares.
Last but not least, my mum is eighty years old today. I hope you have something lovely planned and I’m looking forward to celebrating with you in March when we come over. Happy birthday Mum!