Tag Archives: North Norway

Darling Buds of May

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

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

Snow falling over the bridge to Senja

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

Gisundet and Senja on a sunny day when spring is approaching

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

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

Another compare and contrast. Remember the ice bridge?

Ice bridge over the Malselva river at Karlstad

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

Malselva river with dirt road disappearing into the water

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

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

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

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

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

Fish and Chips

Sunrise/sunset: 03:36/21:58. Daylength: 18h22min

I didn’t update last week. I was too busy wallowing in the nostalgia of my UK visit. The past two weeks have also been filled with movement and travel, some further afield, but others involving more local discoveries.

Ten days ago, I travelled back down to Rogaland, where I used to live. I was bound for a Mattilsynet meeting about the important communication on welfare between abattoirs and the vets out in the field that I talked about in this post: The Ever Changing Sky

I emerged into the 11pm darkness at Sola Airport to be greeted by the ever present smell of slurry. It’s a very famous phenomenon. Jo Nesbø even mentions it in one of his books. Anyway, I had completely forgotten until I stepped outside into the warmish night air.

Knowing I would arrive so late, I had toyed with the idea of staying in an airport hotel and travelling onwards on the morning of the meeting, which didn’t start until eleven. But I had found a bus that would take me to Sandnes – the number 42 – and so I thought I’d risk it. I remembered the airport buses from when I used to live there, so I assumed I would be able to pay on board, but when the driver only opened the doors in the centre of the bus, it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to buy one. Scrabbling online, I found I had the Kolumbus App already. Crossing my fingers that there would be no inspectors at that time of night, I finally bought a ticket for what I thought was the correct area, just as we pulled into Sandnes.

By this time it was midnight. Technically, I was still working, still on the clock, which I had switched on in the office when I arrived in the morning. Logging onto my computer to clock out, I thought I would check tomorrow’s meeting, so I opened up the Teams app to check the calendar. There was no venue listed. In fact, it was listed as a Teams Meeting. For a long, sweaty moment, I thought I had just travelled 2000km for a Teams meeting. A check of the e-mails confirmed that I had not. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had!

But the meeting was a success and I’m very glad I went. One of the tasks I struggle with at work is speaking up in meetings, but I had some valid points to make, based on both experience and reading around the topic. It was also great to meet some of the other Mattilsynet staff from other areas of Norway.

I flew back on Thursday afternoon and arrived home almost as late as I’d arrived in Sandnes. There was no rest though, as I had arranged an inspection with Gry on the Friday (post about Gry). The tour took me on an exploration of a part of Senja that I had never visited. Indeed it’s a small corner of the island that I had missed in all my driving around. We stopped in Gryllefjord for a surprisingly tasty chunk of pizza from the local shop. *

Surprisingly tasty pizza

Gryllefjord is an amazing place. It’s ramshackle collection of houses, clustered on the edge of the fjord, under a brooding overhang of mountains, with a small harbour. It was a cloudy day, and the tops of the mountains reached up into the mist.

We also drove to a nearby village, reached through a tunnel in the mountainside. The old road, which went over an exposed ridge, was often blocked in winter.

It’s always a joy finding new places near to where I live. There was also a restaurant in Gryllefjord, which was closed at the time of our visit. I had heard from others that it was a good restaurant, and when I checked online, it appeared that there was fish and chips on the menu.

For anyone living in the UK, that probably seems like a non-event. Fish and chips is the original British fast food. I can remember before Chinese and Indian takeaways became common, and well before the invasion of the US burger craze, that fish and chips was a staple. But in Norway, fish in batter is rare. So when John came over the next day, which was also his birthday, I suggested that we should take a tour out to Gryllefjord to try out the Skreien Spiseri and he jumped at the chance.

It was a much brighter day and we stopped along the way at Hamn to take a few photos. There were also some reindeer by the road, looking surprisingly defenceless without their antlers.

The fish and chips was delectable. We will definitely be back.

Fish and Chips from Skreien Spiseri

As you can see from the photos of John’s birthday, the weather was almost spring-like. I was hoping for a smooth segue from winter to summer, but it wasn’t to be. It started to snow again a couple of days later. I went to Tromsø on Thursday this week to go on an inspection with Line, who works there. Arriving back on the fast boat at five thirty in the afternoon, I walked back through Finnsnes centre and paused to take a couple of photos.

Still, I enjoyed the walk, even if it was a little more “refreshing” than I would have predicted a couple of weeks ago.

And as you know, there’s one member of our household, who always welcomes the snow! Hope you have a great week everyone.

Triar, looking cheery at the new snow fall

*I forgot to say that I also drank a cup of black coffee from the shop, when I was out with Gry. Perhaps, in time, I will indeed be truly integrated into Norwegian society. Maybe if I tell the authorities that I managed it without milk, they will give me a Norwegian passport faster.

Gry

I’d like to tell you about a wonderful woman I sometimes work with called Gry. She works as a nurse in the community, as well as running a sheep farm with her husband. She also works with me now and then on animal welfare cases as a member of dyrevernnemnda – people from the area with experience with animals and an understanding of their welfare needs.

Red rocking chair with white sheepskin

We were out together on a visit on Monday. I love having her there as she is very knowledgable and can talk to anybody. She also knows a whole lot more about sheep farming in the Arctic than I do!

The visit had gone well – always a relief, so as we drove away, I asked her if she’d like to go somewhere for coffee. Our options were limited. We wandered into the local hotel, but the bar was empty. We resisted running off with the Peach Schnapps and climbed back into the car.

An old coffee grinder in brass and wood

Gry suggested we could buy a sandwich at the garage and go back to her barn and she would make coffee. Her barn is wonderful. They built it in 2016 and it has a living area that’s almost as big as my flat. They sleep there during lambing time so they can keep an eye out at night.

Ewer and basin, standing on an old-fashioned wash stand

She took me in and I sat down at a big wooden table with a cosy red table cloth. As she made the coffee, I sat looking around at all the wonderful objects she has collected. This is an old waffle iron.

Waffle iron – one of three

But there was one object that I didn’t recognise, and so I asked her about it. This, she told me, is an old gadget for separating out the milk from the cream. Those of us who are old enough to remember milk in a bottle on the doorstep will also remember that the cream is lighter than the milk, and so it rises to the top.

Milk separator

Gry told me that she works with dementia patients, and sometimes she brings them back to the barn. They see the old things and respond with pleasure.

She was at a museum with an old man. They had a milk separator there too, which they had taken apart.

It has seventeen separate components inside and they have to be fitted together correctly for it to function. Despite being often confused, the old man’s face lit up. He set to and in minutes had reassembled the separator, with everything in place.

Some days my job can be tough. Few things are more distressing than animal cruelty.

But then there are other days when everything goes right. And just now and then, I discover that alongside the animals, I am also working with some of the most warm-hearted people in the world.

The Ever Changing Sky

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

I thought I would dedicate this post to the wonderful skyline over Gisundet and Senja (Gisundet being the sound between the mainland and Senja, which is the second biggest island on the Norwegian coastline). I am incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful view from my garden. With the changing lights and the boats that come and go, it never gets old. In the past week, I’ve taken three photographs on three separate evenings. The first was the one at the top of the page, where I caught the very last glow of the sunset, a new moon rising, and the aurora borealis in the same picture. I don’t think I’ve ever seen all three at once before. Here’s the full version.

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

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

The last rays of sun over the mountains of Senja

And the last was taken last night, as the sun dropped behind the mountains, lighting up the clouds and the water with its burnt orange glow.

Sunset lighting the sky and the water of Gisundet

It’s been a good week. There’s been a case hanging over me from since before I was ill with covid. The general rule is that we have a month, from receiving a report from the public, in which to take action. I missed the deadline, but the visit has been done now, and the report will hopefully be sent out on Monday. I’ve another two cases pending, both fairly serious, but having taken advice from Birgit, Hilde, Thomas and Line (as well as a discussion during our weekly meeting) I feel ready to tackle both. The process, as a whole, is daunting, but I am learning to break it down into steps, and I can get advice at any stage, which is reassuring.

Having not travelled anywhere in nearly two years, I now have two more trips booked in quick succession. This coming week, I will be taking a flying visit to the UK to visit my daughter Anna at university. I’ll only be there a couple of days, but Anna said she’d love to get out and about, so we are planning a trip to a castle, and will stay at a Premier Inn overnight nearby. Those two things are filled with nostalgia for me. When the children were young, we lived in central Scotland, where there were many castles within reasonable driving distance. We joined Historic Scotland and over the course of a year or two, we visited lots of them, staying overnight at various Premier Inns nearby. I have wonderful sunny memories of those times, when the children were young to hare off around the castle grounds while Charlie and I explored more quietly.

The second trip is the week after Easter and is an unexpected treat. I say treat – it’s actually a work meeting, but it’s also in the area of Norway where I used to live, so when it popped up last week, I jumped at the chance, and fortunately was selected to go.

The area isn’t the only attraction, however. I have felt for a while that building up the links between the welfare vets out in the offices and the staff who work in the abattoir would be very helpful in dealing with farm animal cases. I have been working for a while on a project where we at Mattilsynet are trying to tackle the chronic cases out on farms, where welfare isn’t good enough, and no real progress is being made. Having worked closely with Ann and Trude at the abattoir, I’ve come to appreciate how much of an oversight they have built up over the farmers that send their animals in.

The live animals are checked when they come in, and then the meat is inspected, so picking up signs that might indicate poor welfare (animals which are very dirty or very thin, for example) are picked up. The same names come up again and again throughout the years, and so those working at the abattoir come to build up a mental map of which farmers treat their animals well, and which are, perhaps, not so good.

The meeting down in Rogaland is about honing the process by which the abattoir staff report signs of poor welfare to the vets out in the field. We will try to address whether there are areas that are currently difficult to report. There are categories, for example, for reporting overgrown feet and dirty cattle, but no category for reporting eye injuries or inflammation in sheep, which might indicate a farmer hasn’t been keeping a close enough eye on the flock.

I understand we will also be discussing where the lines should be drawn. For example one sheep that’s just been brought in from pasture with a sore eye might be less than ideal but is probably just one of those things, whereas several affected sheep, that appear to have longer term damage, might be an indicator of a welfare issue. It feels odd to have found something that interests me so much. Up until recently, I have been scrabbling to find my feet, which might seem strange after eighteen months in a job, but is the reality as my job specification is so broad. Suddenly I feel really fired up about an issue, where I really want to make a difference. I have only a short time to collect in the information, but I am trying to gather evidence from every colleague with an opinion or with an experience to share, and I hope to carry all that collective knowledge with me to a meeting where I am determined to have some input.

Exciting times!

Next weekend I will be in England, but hopefully I will find time to pop in with some very different photographs. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some snowy trees from this morning. Have a good week!

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

Zoomies!

Sunrise/sunset: 06:38/ 20:06. Daylength: 13hr27min

I woke up to a thick new layer of snow this morning. Beautiful as it is, I confess that in my mind, there wasn’t unqualified enthusiasm going on, but rather a number of calculations about whether I’d be able to get the car out of the drive (yes) and whether I would be wise to remove it (not sure). I mean, in January, you might as well clear it, because the chances of it melting are tiny and the chances there will be more on the way are high, but now the melting odds are very much more in my favour. Triar had no such reservations. He pelted outside, buried his face in it, then rushed around, doing zoomies all over the garden.

My working time was punctuated this week with a trip to Tromsø. Andrew has been attending BUP, Norway’s version of the child and adolescent mental health services as there was a suspicion he might have some autistic traits. Up until now, the investigations have been done locally, in Senja, but to get an official diagnosis we had to go to the hospital in Tromsø. This involved two days of intensive interviews and tests.

There were many searching questions about his childhood, a lot of which I found very difficult to answer. I have vague memories of him making solemn announcements in non-childlike language when he was very young, and one of their questions (about whether he’d ever held my wrist and indicated that he wanted me to switch things on and off) triggered a memory that he had done just that (I merely regarded it as cute at the time). I can’t remember the exact details of when he first spoke, though I guess if it had been significantly late, I would have done something about it at the time. Nor do I remember whether he played with toy cars, or studied them instead, but at the end of the two days, they concluded that he probably has some form of high functioning autism.

They haven’t given a definite diagnosis yet. They are being very thorough and want to interview Anna (who was five years older and acted as a kind of mini-mum to him when he started school) and his favourite teacher, before they reach their final conclusion. They did also ask why we were seeking a diagnosis and that has been Andrew’s choice. Though I’ve known for a long time that he thinks and reacts in different ways from his elder brother and sister, I’ve always felt he functioned well enough that I wasn’t worried about his future. I have also always been aware that there are some circumstances and careers where a diagnosis might hold you back, though I think those are getting rarer. However Andrew decided about a year and a half ago that he wanted to find out why he was different, and so we started the process.

I will be interested to see, once the diagnosis is finalised, where it will go from there. I would hope that there might be some focus over making it easier for Andrew to function in the world, though I feel he already functions pretty well. The doctor who spent a day investigating did, at one point, start trying to tell Andrew that if he didn’t feel comfortable looking into people’s eyes, that he could disguise that by looking instead at the part of their nose in between their eyes, and oddly, that was the only part of the day that jarred for me. I understand that it might make others a little uncomfortable when someone doesn’t navigate the world of body language in the same way as others, but I’m not sure faking it is exactly the right way forward, though I guess such techniques might be useful if Andrew was upset by how others treated him and wanted to fit in better. But as Andrew himself commented afterwards, looking at someone’s nose doesn’t help much, as his real problem is knowing how long to do it, and when to glance away.

He really has a great deal of insight and understanding of the way he navigates the world. He told me, for example, that he knows he spoke too loudly all the time when young, and has learned to moderate it and speak more quietly, so he has already made a lot of adjustments on his own. And he has a strong inner world, that he sometimes shares with me. He wants to write, and has created a new universe inside his head. He has crafted a story that takes in huge sweeping concepts of good and evil, light and dark, that I feel is way beyond anything I could imagine. If he can hone his writing skills to a point where he can share his vision with others, I think he will end up creating something astonishing.

Anyway, to go back to the real world, the centre where all the action took place was very pleasant. As Andrew and I were there for two days, we were provided with a private apartment to sit in between tests, with its own bathroom facilities and a living area with comfortable chairs and a kitchen area with a table. There were also bedrooms, though we didn’t stay there overnight. Presumably, those are used sometimes for inpatients and their families. The centre was in a small building in the hospital grounds, and we walked down at lunchtime to the main hospital building to buy sandwiches, passing these little huts along the way.

Though it was snowing a lot of the time, we drove out onto Kvaløya – the bigger island that lies beyond the small island that the main city of Tromsø occupies.

Map showing Kvaløya and Tromsø

Kvaløya was beautiful, though there were times when the snow was coming down so fast that visibility was reduced almost to zero, and even when you can see, all colour seems to drain from the landscape.

We went into the centre of Tromsø in the evening for a curry. That probably sounds like a routine possibility for anyone living in the UK, but I haven’t been to an Indian restaurant since I moved here, just over a year and a half ago.

We wandered around Tromsø for a while. There are some older buildings and features, interspersed with many newer ones.

One day, we will go back and explore more, and we will definitely be paying a visit to the little sweet shop. Its window was filled with Easter goodies – a reminder that the long Easter weekend, which stretches right through from Maundy Thursday until Easter Monday will shortly be upon us. I’ve managed to get tickets to fly over to the UK. My first time in over two years, and my first visit to Anna at university, during her last year – another odd reminder of the strange times we’re living through.

Thank you for reading, see you next week!

A Very Positive Start to the Weekend

Sunrise/sunset: 06:54/ 17:06. Daylength: 10hr11min

Well as you can see from the picture at the top of the page, I have finally succumbed to the double lines of doom. There were four days between the symptoms starting and testing positive. Despite all my reading about omicron having different clinical signs from the original strain, I have had very classic symptoms of fluctuating temperature and a dry cough. The fatigue is very typical too. Fortunately I’m not quite bed ridden. I can sit on the sofa and watch Netflix (no UK channels up here). I’m quite enjoying The Crown.

So I don’t really have much news. It seems unlikely that Andrew and I will get to Tromsø for our short break, though I haven’t yet cancelled the AirBnB. Perhaps I will make a miraculous recovery and we’ll be able to have a night or two, but I’m not holding my breath. (I could still probably technically do so, if push came to shove.)

Last weekend, before the ‘rona hit, John drove us down to Narvik for the day. He did very well with the driving. I’m very proud of how quickly he’s learning. We met an obstacle in the road. Quite an attractive one really. Here it is.

A reindeer on the road and it’s not even Christmas!

Narvik was pleasant enough. There’s a railway there, as well as a ski slope, but we mostly wandered around, looking for a decent cup of coffee. Along the way, we found a shop which for the time being had been converted into a Lego exhibition. So since I don’t have much else, I’m going to spam you with Lego photos. Hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

The first side was pleasant enough. It always fascinates me how far lego has come from the chunky little blocks I used to play with as a child. There was a busy townscape. Very cosmopolitan.

Lovely transport – trains and boats.

And then I rounded the corner and saw something that made me very happy. My children would all tell you I’m a devoted Potterhead, and this was right up my street.

There was Gringotts Bank and Hogwarts, with Hedwig the owl and Fawkes the phoenix, swooping in from either side.

More, more, more… Which do you prefer?

Dragon or hippogriff?

Wizard Chess or Quidditch?

Hogwarts Express or the Knight Bus?

And for all those who made it this far, here is a picture of Triar looking very heroic! To be fair, he’s risking life and limb by sticking at my side, despite the potential threat of infection. Don’t you just love dogs?

Hope you all have a great week. See you soon.

Rivers of Ice

Sunrise/sunset: 07:25/ 16:37. Daylength: 9hr11min

I feel I may be writing this in the shadow of another huge event in history. I grew up in the latter years of the Cold War and remember the time when Mikhail Gorbachev brought the concepts of glasnost and perestroika to the world and then the Berlin wall came down and Europe opened up. I don’t want to see that go into reverse, but there is fear in the air as Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine.

All of my memories are from the perspective of a westerner, of course. I have a number of friends from the Eastern Bloc now, and the former Soviet Union. It’s not something I’ve discussed with them in a big way – language still tends to get in the way – but I realise these events must affect them in a different (very likely much more intense) way than they do me.

As well as that, another very different historic event is finally coming closer to home. For much of the covid epidemic, the north of Norway has been a place of relative isolation, but the inevitable wave I spoke of a few weeks ago has finally arrived both in my office in Finnsnes and in the Mattilsynet office in the abattoir in Andslimoen.

For months before Christmas, I was planning to go to Yorkshire to visit my parents during Andrew’s winter holiday the week after next. I thought it might be stable enough then to go. A few weeks back, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of booking tickets. It’s not so much that I couldn’t go to the UK; I could. The borders are open now. But if I did, I couldn’t do much more than chat to my parents in the garden. What would be the point of them keeping themselves safe all this time, only for me to pop over from Norway and bring the infection right into their house? I have begun to think about a plan C, which will involve taking three weeks off in the summer. That way, Andrew and I can go over and isolate before visiting them. How odd it all seems. Life is now more complicated than it has been for a very long time.

Back to more local events. Those still bring joy into my life, which I want to share. Earlier this week I went for a doctor’s appointment in Tromsø. Nothing serious at all. Just a routine test, which for various reasons is proving difficult. Apparently it still didn’t go to plan this time and I may have to take another trip to the hospital so they can use a different method. The hospital is in Tromsø as well, so that will involve another long day of driving. Not that I’m complaining. I love a good drive.

Anyway, the small thing that brought me pleasure this week was the discovery of the ice bridge. I had seen this mentioned online once before when looking at houses for sale. This is probably best illustrated with a map!

Currently I live in Finnsnes, which is marked with a blue dot with a white border on the far left. The abattoir where I sometimes work is a little bit south of the green circle near the bottom on the right. When I drive there, I follow the road west to Karlstad (in the centre near the red spot) then south until it meets the E6 (which is a major road that runs the length of Norway and goes into Sweden).

Houses in Karlstad aren’t too expensive. Houses where the red dot is on the map are, however, very cheap, because that area is relatively isolated. The little white road on the map on the west side of the Målselva river doesn’t really go anywhere. In summer, to get to Finnsnes (which though it’s tiny, is still the biggest “city” in the area) you have to drive all the way south to the E6 to cross the river, then backtrack all the way to Karlstad, which was very close to where you started, but inaccessible because of the wide river in between.

Karlstad then, is a place where I would consider buying a house. It’s an easy drive from there to both Finnsnes and Andslimoen. But because of the way maps work, when I look up houses in Karlstad, properties on the other side of the river also pop up in the search. It was on one of these that I first saw mention of the ice bridge. The area might be cut off from Finnsnes and Senja in the summer, it said, but in the winter, the ice bridge was a great connection.

I read it, then forgot about it, as you do, but I was driving John to work last week, when he suggested that we could perhaps go over it, as it wasn’t too much out of the way. He had been over it with a friend, he told me.

There’s a big bend in the road in Karlstad, and almost on that bend, there’s a road off to the left that I have taken a couple of times. Turn left again and there are farms along that road. But I had never gone straight on. This time we did, and to my amazement, immediately over the brow of the hill, I got my first glimpse of the ice bridge. Having seen it, I will definitely go and have a look in the summer. I hadn’t realised the river was so close. It must be beautiful. But now I was greeted with this amazing sight.

Ice bridge over the Målselva river

Ice bridge – drive at your own risk, reads the sign. And so we did. It’s quite an amazing experience to drive over such a wide expanse of ice. We didn’t stop that day because John needed to get to work, but when I was driving to Tromsø on Tuesday, I reached that corner in Karlstad and couldn’t resist taking another trip over. This time, I stopped the car in the middle of the river and got out to take some photos.

An incredible feeling to stand in the middle of a river, but it was also quite chilly at around minus twenty, so with my fingers nipping, I got back in and carried on. It didn’t take long to get to the main road.

It was really a little bit too cold to spend a lot of time wandering round Tromsø and I sat for quite a while in a coffee shop as I had set out way too early. I did pause to take a photo of this little fellow outside an outdoor sports shop. Last time I was there, he had a tent. Now he he is keeping warm inside a natty grey hoodie.

I also stopped to take some pictures of a mural; a nod to my fellow blogger, Iceland Penny, who writes the Walking Woman blog.

Even though my appointment was in the afternoon, it was still light for part of the drive home, so when I saw these beautiful ice formations, I had time to stop and take some pictures.

Blue icicles on a rock face
Another mass of icicles, formed over months of cold weather

And that’s about it for this week, I think. I hope that you are all managing to find small things that bring you joy. Only one week to go now, before my holiday. We’re only going to Tromsø, so no flights to worry about, and if we have to cancel, it won’t be a disaster.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I’m very glad you’re here.

Don’t Panic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Konstantin in PPT

Searchlights

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

It’s been another week of near hibernation, though I have been out to the office a couple of times, and of course I have to take Triar out every day. He continues to provide many of the high points in my hibernatory days. I was standing outside, throwing his ball and watching him dashing cheerily away to grab it, then rushing back to drop it at my feet, when I thought to myself that this was one of those moments of easy happiness with which he lifts my days.

Triar and his squeaky ball

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

Triar – almost asleep

We’ve had some fresh snow this week. Though this does mean more work (there was so much on Thursday night that it took me about forty minutes to dig the drive yesterday morning) it also has the effect of freshening everything up.

If you’ve never lived (or perhaps visited for a while) somewhere where there’s a lot of snow, you might never have thought about how dirty snow can get. I don’t mean inaccessible country snow, which remains beautiful, but snow in cities can end up being grim. Triar himself has quite the habit of decorating the garden and the roadside with yellow artwork and he’s not the only dog in the neighbourhood. If there are fast food places, quite often someone will toss out a half-drunk cup of coffee or drop a slice of tomato, which quickly gets frozen in. If there is no more snow to cover them up they can lie there for weeks.

Even if they are covered up, they can reappear months later when the snow melts. I guess in warmer climes, the coffee and pee stains would dry, and rain would wash them away and the food would be cleaned, or perhaps snaffled up by a grateful rat. So anyway, the idea that snow makes everything look clean and wonderful only holds when it’s freshly fallen. It is quite deep now though. This is the view from my bedroom window. My landlord takes his snow blower through the garden to keep a pathway open, so you can get an idea of the depth.

I have been working again on my audit course, though I’ve also spent a couple of days updating the timelines on our chronic cases. I quite enjoy doing that as it’s mostly excavating official letters from the archives and copying condensed information on what was observed and what actions we took onto the timelines.

My annual review is coming up next week, so I was looking through the tasks I had been set in the last one. They include speaking up more in meetings. I think that one has improved a little. As I get more involved in the cases, I automatically have more to say, as I have to ask for help. Speaking up to offer my opinion on other people’s cases remains a rare occurrence. I am still the most recent addition to the team, so whatever my experience level, someone else probably has several years more.

The other specific task was to start to take on responsibility for my own cases, and I think it’s fair to say that I have fulfilled that one and more. I wonder what Hilde will set me for the next year. Personally, I think just getting through my audit exam will be the next big challenge. I have to pass it before I can become an Official Veterinary Surgeon at the abattoir, which is something I very much want to achieve.

Konstantin is getting on well at the abattoir. He’s starting to take responsibility for some of the tasks there, which is good to see. He sent me a copy of the European Regulation on BSE yesterday. It was written in English, so I spent a bit of time looking through it. Norway isn’t in the European Union, but does have an agreement that means we generally try to follow the rules and it was interesting to see how they filter down to our work on the ground.

Point number 9 in the Regulation (EC) No 999/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001, which lays down rules for the prevention, control and eradication of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies reads:

Member States should carry out an annual programme for monitoring BSE and scrapie and should inform the Commission and the other Member States of the results and of the emergence of any other TSE.

On the ground, this means that we take BSE samples from cows that go for emergency slaughter that are over four years old. I was interested to find that we diverge from the rules quite considerably, because the specifics listed included sampling all animals going into the food chain that are over 30 months old, and we definitely don’t do that. I have no idea if that happens in the UK, or whether they get round it by throwing away the parts that might be affected. I did find a Mattilsynet page that confidently announces “Norway has the best status for BSE” which amused me: one of those translations that sounds more acclamatory than any dry announcement any British “competent authority” would make.

In addition to testing cows, Norway also test sheep and goats. In the abattoir, this means taking a certain number each year, and on the ground there are regulations that farmers must send off any animals over 18 months that died or were euthanased for testing. My part in that is to visit 10% of our sheep and goat farms every year to educate the animal owners on the rules. That’s one of the better parts of my job as it means going out to farmers, looking at their animals, and talking to them.

Finally, we also test adult reindeer (technically not wildlife as they are all owned by Sami groups) and also any moose over a year old that are killed on the road. I find myself wondering how those rules translate in different countries. Given Europe covers such a huge area, they must vary a lot. Living in Norway certainly offers me a hugely different perspective on life than I ever would have had if I had remained working as a regular vet in Scotland, which was what I expected I would do when I qualified thirty years ago.

I haven’t so many pictures this week, and those I have are all close to home. There were moments of brightness yesterday, when the clouds broke and the daylight penetrated, but always there were snowstorms on the way. I love the clear lines of white against a truly iron grey sky.

White painted house with snowy roof under a dark cloudbank

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

Snow storm approaching along Gisundet sound

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

Light breaking through the clouds over Senja

And then there is the night time. I walked Triar yesterday evening. It was snowing on and off, and the trees looked wonderful against the night sky, which was cloudy and clear in turns.

And I took this to show how much snow we’ve had in the past couple of days. Bins are in regular use, so these snow-caps are new, though the dug-out area around them has been months in the making.

Wheelie bins with thick caps of snow

And last but not least, I went out one evening when it was supposed to snow all night, and found that half of the sky had briefly cleared. There was the aurora, green searchlights across the heavens, flowing out from behind the clouds through the moonlit sky. This really is a magical place.

Sky scene with moon, clouds and aurora

The Light Fantastic

Sunrise/sunset: 09:02/ 15:02. Daylength: 6hr00min

I’ve had a peaceful week, working from home. Though the sun is still low in the sky, it is amazing how cheering it is to see its light ON things. It’s hard to describe, but during polar night, the shadows disappear, and though the air is clear and it can be very beautiful, the snow covered mountains lose their shape and everything looks flatter with less definition. I took some pictures of the sunlight from my garden while the house itself was still deep in shade. The camera on my phone doesn’t have a real zoom function, but hopefully you can get an idea. The effect is most distinctive on the mountains, but the bridge columns are golden, where they are normally grey concrete. The lift it gives me to see these things is quite visceral, even though I am not directly aware of missing the sun during the polar night itself.

I touched on the difficulties of writing official reports in Norwegian last week and this week, I came across another way the language barrier affects my performance. As a part of my job, I will eventually be expected to carry out audits. These are company audits to check for compliance with the law, but rather than an inspection, where I go out and look directly at animals and check they are being treated well, this will be an assessment at a higher level. For example, there are audits in the abattoir, not so much to assess how things are on the ground, but to check the management systems that are in place, whether they are appropriate and whether they are working as they should to ensure the law is upheld.

In order to start doing this, there’s an exam I need to pass. It’s a notoriously difficult exam, with exacting questions that require technically complex answers, and it’s limited to an hour, which means there is no thinking time. To give context, several people, including my boss, told me I wouldn’t pass it first time and I didn’t.

I’ve been so busy for several months that I hadn’t had time to think about having another bash at it, but this week, with my complicated case on the back-burner and another case that can wait a week or two, I thought I’d make a start. My brain doesn’t retain random information as well as it once did, so I will try to get through the entire course again and sit the exam as soon as possible afterwards.

Going through the course is exhausting. Though quite a lot of the language is becoming more familiar (writing those reports does actually help) there are still a lot of unfamiliar words in the revision texts, so it takes a while to look them up and understand what they mean in the context of an audit. So I have to flip backwards and forwards from the PowerPoint presentation to Google translate whenever there’s a word I don’t understand. It probably takes me twice as long to do that as it would if I was working in English, and possibly more.

I was quite pleased to have got through the first two (of ten) sections, particularly as the first contained all the basic words regarding the structure of the audit. So when I started section three, I was rather taken aback to find that I was having even more difficulty following the text. Bizarrely, it took me several minutes to realise that this was because the new presentation was written in Nynorsk and not Bokmål.

I’ve probably touched on this before, but there are two official types of written Norwegian: Bokmål and Nynorsk. For a long time, Norway belonged to Denmark and the official language was very much influenced by Danish. As Norway became independent from Denmark, efforts were made to document the way Norwegian was spoken and how that differed from Danish, and eventually those efforts became recognised as Nynorsk.

Both versions of Norwegian are taught in Norwegian schools, though when children start school, they will learn one or the other, and add the second in at a later date. Between 10 and 15 percent of Norwegians have Nynorsk as their official language form. Adult language schools also teach one or the other and I learned Bokmål. As an aside, this made it very difficult when Andrew started school as he learned Nynorsk, so helping him with homework was traumatic for both of us.

But back to the audits. As I read, I began to notice some of the basic words I had learned in section one were spelled differently. Other words I was familiar with in Bokmål had been changed to words I didn’t even recognise. So I found myself in the ridiculous situation of having to paste sections of Nynorsk into Google Translate, translate them into English, and then translate the English back into Norwegian so I could make notes. I will have to do the exam in Norwegian, so making notes in English wouldn’t help. Fortunately for me, Google Translate mostly gives the Bokmål version of things. Much as I approve of Norway’s attempts to preserve both forms of the language for reasons of fairness, there are times when it does make everything very complicated indeed.

Anyway, enough of that, and back to the topic of the returning light. On Tuesday morning, the sky was such a beautiful colour that I couldn’t resist going out and taking some photos.

Working from home has the advantage that I can see this wonderful view from my windows, and in my breaks I can take Triar out into the garden and play with him. Watching him enjoy the games is one of those small joys that makes the day much better. As you can see, the snow is really quite deep.

Triar loves his squeaky ball

And in that picture, up in the top corner, you just see the edge of the skrei cod my neighbours are drying. They very generously brought me down some fresh cod as well. The little hut isn’t an outside lav, by the way, it’s for smoking salmon in the summer.

Skrei cod hanging up to dry in the cold air

And on Thursday, I went out at lunchtime to discover that the sun had finally made it over the hill and was shining down on me. It was a wonderful feeling.

And now, with the sky clear, the aurora has become visible again. I will leave you with the glorious arc that greeted me on Thursday night when I took Triar out for his last evening stroll in the garden.