I tried to take a picture of the descending snow line this week. It got to about halfway down the slopes of the highest mountains, so probably about five to six hundred metres still. As you can see above, I was hindered by the fact that the mountain peaks were swathed in clouds, but it was beautiful nonetheless. You may have to click on the image to see the mountains!
I have to take the car to Tromsø today. The windscreen washer hasn’t been working properly for a while. Sometimes water sprays, but it seems to be coming from an overenthusiastic headlight skoosher and not on the actual windscreen itself. It was in at the local garage a couple of weeks ago. They changed over the washer motor, which seemed like an odd choice at the time, given that it was sometimes working, but I hoped they were on the right track. Unfortunately they weren’t. They called me and told me I would have to take the car to a BMW garage, and the nearest was in Tromsø, so that’s where we are taking it. I’ll have to drop it off today and pick it up towards the end of the week. Fortunately I’m off to the UK tomorrow, so it won’t be too much of an inconvenience. To my amazement, my local garage haven’t charged me for changing the washer motor. I went in, all ready to be decent about it (because I understand that sometimes, diagnosis can be difficult and time consuming) and was very pleasantly surprised to find I didn’t have to pay for the work. They’ve certainly attached me to them more firmly by doing it!
Tomorrow I fly to Heathrow, to visit Anna in Winchester and see her graduate. We have planned a trip to Stonehenge on Monday and we are hopefully meeting up with Vicky Holmes, my co-author for Hope Meadows afterwards. Vicky and I wrote six books together and have been corresponding for years, but never managed to meet up, so fingers crossed, on Monday we will finally manage it!
I will also be sending off my evidence to Husleietvistutvalget (the rental disputes tribunal) this evening before I go. I will be glad to get that done. After that, I’ll have to wait and see what happens. I think my evidence is more compelling than Mr Abusive’s, so I hope they will see it that way too.
And last but not least, I have a spectacular aurora photo to share with you. I was driving to the airport to collect Andrew last week. It had been raining heavily, but as I drove towards Bardufoss, the sky cleared to reveal both a beautiful moon and some wonderful aurora activity. It will soon be dark for most of the day, so it’s just as well that the night sky sometimes offers some spectacular scenery of its own.
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.
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.
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.
It crossed my mind this week that perhaps I should try a change of direction in my writing. I don’t really read enough these days (I have six unread books waiting at the moment in my bedroom) but the family Netflix account is filled with dark drama from all parts of Scandinavia. I have all the elements I need. I could set it in the blue Polar Night, when the morning never comes and have a grisly scene in the slaughter house, with a human cadaver hanging among the carcases. There could be people smuggling, with all the season workers coming in, or perhaps the victim(s) could be working in the laundries, washing all those blood stained clothes. Maybe a hand can emerge from one of those huge piles of snow that gather during the winter months, leaving everyone baffled as to when the murder actually occurred.
It’s actually been a quiet week. Andrew has been away, visiting his dad, who lives near Stavanger. Before he went, I asked him to show me how to use the TV. When I was young, the TV was simple to use. Admittedly, you had to stand up to switch it on, and indeed to change the channel, though back then there were only three to choose from anyway. Our first TV was a tiny black and white portable that, rather bizarrely, my parents won in a competition. They also won a small sailing boat on a trailer. I can vaguely remember it appearing in the drive outside our house. Of course, it had to go because they had no car to tow it with. They sold it and bought a little white mini. Anyway I’ve wandered away from the point, which was that I have spent the week alone and quite enjoyed it. I could indulge my taste for true crime and mashed potato. The candles have been lit every evening. It feels comforting to return to having some darkness at a time that my body feels is appropriate.
I went out walking again with Ann and Konstantin last weekend. We went up Falkefjellet. The peak we reached, though not the highest point, was above the treeline, which meant there was a good view all round.
The best thing about it was that, for the first time in a while, I felt I could have walked further. My springtime Fit for the Summer campaign seems a very long time ago. The summer was marred by sickness and it has felt like every time I began to work again on getting back into shape, I was hit by something that stopped me. As I reached the summit of Falkefjellet, I remembered how much I love the feeling of arriving on the top of the world. The higher mountains are now swathed in snow, but perhaps there will be time to get a few walks in before the winter really sets in.
The photograph at the top of the page is of one of the red markers on the walk, though the shape of the rock and the bloody brightness of the paint was one of the things that prompted my Scandi Noir thoughts. Here it is again, the full photo, rather than the cropped version.
Konstantin was full of facts about the wildlife and the landscape. He is interested in geology and occasionally would point out pieces of marble, or rock formations and tell us how they had been formed. For example, here’s another red marker, this time looking a little like a stone dagger, set into fractured rock.
I asked him how the cracking occurred and he pointed to another section of rock just to the left, where there was more rock in the process of arriving there. This had earth in between the cracks, which of course will hold water. It freezes in winter, driving the stones apart, and then eventually the mud gets washed away, leaving the rather mysterious looking holes in the mountainside.
It was windy on the summit, so here is a picture of Triar, looking windswept and interesting.
Konstantin was in the lead with Triar during the walk. I think they look good together!
And of course, as we descended back to the treeline, there were some wonderful views to enjoy, as well as the smaller details of unexpected plants growing underfoot, in nooks and crannies, and on the trunks of dead but unfallen trees.
Andrew was due to return last night in the evening and the airport is close to the abattoir, so rather than driving over there twice in a day, I decided to take Triar in the car, have dinner with John, and then wait. It was a little hair raising, driving over. Until now, the temperature has been well above zero, but a wind from the north has changed that, and when I left for work at 04.45 there was frost on the car. I still have the summer wheels on as I don’t use the car much and up until now, they have been fine. I will change them over next week, but for now I had to proceed with caution in the darkness. I’d had to stop when driving home on Thursday, as there was a moose that thought about crossing the road, though he looked at all the cars which had stopped to let him, and changed his mind. They’re huge when you see them close up, so I was very wary, but we made it there safely. To fill in the time between work ending and collecting Andrew, I took a quick reprise of the spring fitness project. This is how the landscape looks now, as we head into winter. If you look carefully at the second picture, you can see the white peaks in the distance, though they are rather swathed in clouds.
The plane arrived on time and as we arrived back at the house, Andrew pointed at the sky. There they were, the northern lights, greeting him on his return to the north.
I saw a post on Twitter bemoaning the appearance of Christmas items in the shops in the UK yesterday, or more accurately someone posted that as they were on COVID lockdown, they were deprived of the pleasure of complaining about it this year. As someone who loves Christmas, the gathering signs that it is on its way are always something I have enjoyed, though I am glad that in Norway, it’s rather low key compared to the UK. I rather smugly commented on the post, saying that I hadn’t seen anything here yet, then went into my local supermarket and saw that the Julebrus had appeared. Julebrus is a Norwegian fizzy drink, only available around Christmas time and much beloved by my children. It has a kind of fruity flavour and comes in red and brown varieties. But enough about that for now!
Back at the start of the pandemic, I was careful to take all possible precautions. I shopped once a week or less and took my breaks at work sitting out in my car. Now I shop more or less daily again and though I use the hand-gel that is liberally available in all public spaces, and try to ensure I keep a metre away from people, it isn’t having much impact on my day-to-day life, though I recognise that could change rapidly. Mattilsynet has its own set of rules, which we are to read at least once a week. Those here in springtime all have home offices set up and it seems likely that at some point, home working might become the norm again.
The main effect on me is that, for the first time since I’ve moved to Norway, I haven’t been to the UK during this calendar year. My daughter is a student there and my parents are in Yorkshire and I miss having the chance to visit them. Strange times we are living through.
I’m spending more and more time at the abattoir as the season progresses. Next week, I will be there every day. It’s acknowledged that it is a high risk environment. There are big metal hooks overhead, which require helmet use at all times. We wear chain mail to protect our vital organs from errant knives. The knives need to be sterilised as well. This is done by placing them in hot water whenever they are not in use. Despite having read a plethora of H&S documents and watched videos about the risks from the sterilisers, in the first couple of days on the sheep line I managed to lean on the hot metal plating a couple of times. So now I am branded on both hips like an old cow.
I’m working exclusively on the lamb/mutton line for now. Pork and beef inspection are more complicated and there’s no time for me to learn. Though I am starting to feel more confident, at the beginning it felt surreal as I strode up and down, marking the meat that had passed with that all-important EFTA stamp that means it can be sent out into the world for consumption. I was reminded of a chapter in a children’s book: Time Tangle by Frances Eagar. Though it’s an old book, I know it from cover to cover, having read and reread it as a child, then read it aloud to my children every year in the lead up to Christmas. There’s a scene in it where Beth, a girl dealing with some difficult emotions over the yule period, is unwillingly visiting a friend’s house. She is pressed into helping her friend’s mother to make mince pies, and to get through it, she imagines herself in a busy mince pie factory, slapping the pastry lids onto the pies. She also imagines being praised for her prowess and speed. Her bubble bursts when it becomes apparent that the reason for her speed is that she’s forgotten to add the mince filling.
Like Beth, I was rather enjoying working on the sheep line. There had been some doubt over whether I would be ready in time, but the vets I worked with had all been positive, which of course was encouraging. I had my empty mince pie moment though at the end of last week when at the end of my shift, Ronny the Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) took me aside and showed me a carcass that I had stamped that I should have condemned. Several of the joints were massively swollen and she was very thin. It was doubly frustrating as I had noticed she was thin and had taken a very brief second look, but instead of stopping the line, or sending her to the side for a better look, I had allowed her to pass.
I was shocked when Ronny showed me. I had known I was rather distracted as it had been a difficult day in other ways, but even so, I ought to have seen it. A short time after that, right at the end of the day, the man in charge of the line called me over and asked me whether the carcass should be placed in the chill room where the emergency slaughter carcasses are placed for inspection. I agreed that it should, then he looked me up and down, then back at the sheep. “I know you missed it,” he said, “but do you see the changes, now they’ve been pointed out?”
Seeing as the joints on both front and hind legs were not cut through clean and straight, as they should be, but instead resembled a pair of seventies bell-bottom jeans in shape, I half wanted to snap back that of course I could see it. Only an idiot wouldn’t. But in the circumstances, that would have been rather churlish, so I muttered, “Yes,” and to my relief, he began to slide the carcass off in the direction of the chill room.
And mortified though I was to miss something so obvious, the good thing, of course, is the comfirmation of something I’ve known for years.. Experienced technicians (and it applies equally to veterinary nurses in practice) know way more about almost everything than vets who are just starting out in any completely new area.
There are some compensations to working in the slaughterhouse. The world around me is turning to gold and the drive there takes about forty minutes. Back in Rogaland, where I spent my first years in Norway, there wasn’t much autumn. The trees would start to turn and then there would be a storm and by the time the wind and rain stopped, the trees would be bare. Up here though, there’s less wind and as I have to drive through miles of forest every day, the changing colours have been wonderful to watch.
And Andrew and I had a wonderful surprise last weekend when we popped out in the garden to “air the dog” as they call it here in Norway. As we stood there, we noticed there was a green tinge to the sky. We weren’t sure at first, but as it brightened and began to dance, we realised that for the first time, we were properly seeing the Northern lights. It was a wonderful moment.