Tag Archives: Photos

Cows in the Field

Sunrise/sunset: 05:15/20:17 Daylength: 15hr01min

Well the flat handover went slightly worse than I expected. Though I had assumed the landlord might be quite fussy and exacting, I hadn’t expected him to go into full rage mode. We looked round the flat together on Sunday evening and for the most part it went quite well. There was a moment of triumph for him when he found I hadn’t dusted on the top of a couple of very high, inbuilt cupboards and heard I hadn’t cleaned out the U-bends in the bathroom, but despite their expressed disbelief that I could have done the cleaning in two days (I was told over and over that it had taken them fourteen days to clean the three bedroom flat before we moved in) they seemed satisfied. It was agreed that I would go back and rectify the dusting and U-bend situation and so we left to go and eat as it was late and there were still three days of the lease to go.

I received a message while we were eating, to say I hadn’t vacuumed under the seats on the sofas (I had forgotten) and that we had removed an office chair (a miscommunication between John and Andrew, who had both removed one) but otherwise I was quite pleased myself. The remaining work would only take a short time to do, and then I would be free. They hadn’t taken a deposit, so I thought that if I could do the work to a reasonable level, and they were adequately satisfied, there would be no further comeback.

Andrew had offered to come and give me a hand on the Monday evening. So relaxed was I about finishing up, that I almost took some of the afternoon off work and went myself, though perhaps it was some sixth sense that protected me. I collected Andrew after school and we went round to the flat. We hadn’t even had a chance to begin, when the front door of the flat was slammed open and the landlord strode into the room and right up to us. It was obvious immediately that he was angry. He told us in a tight voice that not only had we not come close to cleaning the flat well enough, but that we had damaged three items.

I asked him to show me the items, the first of which was the board under the sink in the bathroom. There had been an ongoing problem with the U-bend, which he knew about as I had asked him how to fix it the first time it cropped up. Indeed the very first time I found I had wet feet on running the tap, I had opened the cupboard to find the MDF was already warped, and so I had concluded that it was not a completely new problem.

I politely pointed out this fact and he began to get angrier, insisting that he knew it had been fine when we moved in because he’d replaced the panel before we came. Ironic that it didn’t even cross his mind that his statement was a clear indication that there was a problem with the U-bend if he had to change the board before (without taking the sensible precaution of getting a plumber out to fix the actual problem) but by this time he was working himself up into a full head of steam.

By the time we left the bathroom, he had gone into full ranting mode. Even with Andrew there, I felt uneasy and uncomfortable. The fact that there had been a sock under the cushions on the couch seemed to be a particular point of vexation. Not sure why they found it quite so shocking. He was shouting by this time and I made the decision that we should leave, so I handed him the key and Andrew and I left. By the time we got home, there was a terse message on my phone about the fact that I was “refusing to engage with the process” with ten photographs, which included a cupboard door where the hinge at the top had come slightly loose and a photograph of the drawer under the oven, which I had opened during cleaning, to find that the base was entirely rusted through, with large rust bubbles bursting out through the black paint, which definitely had not occurred over the course of two years.

It ended up with me blocking their numbers. John went round to further tell them, in no uncertain terms, why I had left. Unsurprisingly he was met with much less aggression, as he is about four inches taller and visibly stronger than the ex-landlord. Typical bullying behaviour to yell at a woman and a young man with Asperger’s and be polite to someone who could easily take you out. I guess I wasn’t entirely surprised. A year earlier, he had randomly come out of the house and yelled at Anna and Andrew for some made-up misdemeanour. In fact, it was after that that I started to look for somewhere new to live. In the event though, it was all pretty unpleasant, and utterly unnecessary. Had he engaged in a normal fashion, I would have completed the remaining tasks and probably would even have agreed to pay a small amount for the damage under the sink. Never have I been so glad, however, that the one thing they had neglected to do was to take the sizeable (two month’s rent) deposit from me.

Anyway, with all that said, what I mostly feel is relief that we have moved out and pride in my sons, both of whom helped me handle a difficult situation. I was shaking when John came home, and he was incensed, but he had the presence of mind to take a calming friend with him. It’s a wonderful feeling every time I see something that tells me that I have raised some truly decent human beings who also love me. The best feeling in the world!

The rest of the week has gone much better. I was in Tromsø for a couple of nights, catching up with all my far-flung colleagues from around the region.

Wooden fishing boat in Tromsø harbour

The end of the week has been really very pleasant. I came home from Tromsø to find that John had strimmed the veritable hay field at the back of the house, where the grass had obviously not been mowed for a good long time. John is likely to move back into the house (though he might stay in his caravan outside the abattoir during the long working days of the season) and it is lovely to have so much help. I’ve really wanted them all to feel like this is truly a home they can return to, should they want or need it, and it’s obvious John is enjoying working on making it a truly pleasant place to live. I would enjoy doing it on my own, but it’s even better with family to share it with.

He called me up on the way to work yesterday, to say that there was ground fog over the valley and that if I wanted to take some photos for this blog, now was the moment. And so I drove out to find that not only were there wonderful views over the valley, but that there was frost on the ground and all the leaves were swathed in white.

Sunrise over the Målselv valley with frosted field in the foreground and fog over the river

Yesterday was the only weekday when I was likely to have a chance to take enough time off work to get some things sorted in the house, so I had arranged for the beds to be delivered, a new heat exchanger/air conditioning unit to be installed and, most importantly, a builder to assess the work that needed to be done on the roof and (money permitting, after the roof was fixed) various jobs inside the house. It seems likely that the roof will cost less to fix than the 50,000-100,000 NOK (round 5,000-10,000 British pounds or US$) and so we will hopefully have more to spare for other things.

And all day, as I worked in and around the house, I could see that there were cows in the field across the road. Of all the domesticated animals, dairy cows are easily my favourite. They are such calm, curious creatures. I had a real feeling of “cows in the meadow, all’s right in the world”. I know that’s not a real saying, but it works for me. It won’t be long before the winter arrives and then the cows will be inside, but they’ll be out again next summer and the summer after that and the summer after that. I have a really good feeling about the move we’ve just made. Onwards and upwards!

The cattle on the other side of the road

Confidence

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

It’s been a mixed sort of week. As there wasn’t so much to do here on the 26th and 27th of December, we drove around a good deal during the brief periods when it was light. Though the days are very short, what light there is has a wonderful luminous quality. Coupled with the landscape of Senja, it becomes difficult to know when to stop taking photographs.

I took Anna to the airport and Charlie to the bus on Tuesday. Both arrived home safely. Always a relief, particularly when travelling to somewhere outside Norway, as Anna was doing.

My return to work was abrupt. Anja phoned me on the afternoon of the 29th December. A difficult case that I had dealt with before (and which I believed was under control) has flared up again. I am frustrated not to be able to discuss it more. It comes down to a dispute, as do so many of our cases. And if I judge it wrong, then animals will suffer.

Though I’m not in the UK, I saw a lot about the recently on social media about another child who had been beaten and killed by her mother and partner. The press always goes to town on those cases and reports unquestioningly from all those related people who made reports that were ignored. The subtext is always that the social workers were stupid to ignore such clear evidence.

Though obviously the main grief is for the child, I have a degree of sympathy for those professionals involved. So many of the cases I investigate involve a judgement regarding who is telling the truth. If those reporting were always good people, then it wouldn’t be complicated. But through my work here, I am learning that it is rarely straightforward. Obviously there are those who mistreat their animals. But there are also vindictive people who use the authorities to make lives difficult for others. There are even occasions when those people send in their flying monkeys if they see that they have not been successful themselves. It really isn’t cut and dried that lots of reports mean that there is something seriously wrong.

And so it comes down to a judgement about who is telling the truth, bearing in mind that sometimes it might be both or neither, and that there can also be misunderstandings. I am lucky to have a supportive team around me. I had advice from Torkjell, the regional big boss, and he chatted to Hilde, despite the fact that she was on holiday. I feel fortunate to have had help.

Regardless of difficult cases, family life goes on. The pond in the middle of the town is frozen and a couple of days ago, someone came and cleared away some of the snow, making tracks for ice skating. John and Andrew went and bought some skates, and for the past couple of evenings, they have been out on the ice doing circuits.

Tracks on the pond for ice skating

And of course Triar also needs to go out. John and I took him out for a walk up on the ski slope a few days back. There was fog over the fjord, but as we drove upwards it cleared. It was another of those days when it was hard for me to keep going as the temptation to stop and take pictures was overwhelming.

Triar is wearing his winter boots.

I posted a picture of our kransekake on social media. It’s one of my favourite Norwegian deserts, chewy rings of almond flavoured deliciousness.

Kransekake with crackers and Norwegian flags

Usually, people say how lovely the photo is, but this time someone asked whether it was meant to look like a dalek. And now I’ve seen it, it’s impossible to unsee. Of course, the only thing to do with that kind of information is to embrace it. Next time, the crackers should be placed to point straight out in front, and if I’m feeling really keen, I will create a plunger out of chocolate to give the full effect.

Anyway, I hope that 2022 is a better year than 2021, and that wherever we find ourselves, we can find some brightness in the road ahead. Happy new year to you.

Concerning Welfare

Sunrise/sunset: 09:01/ 16:00. Daylength: 6hr58min

Back in June I wrote a post about complaints from animal rights organisations about Mattilsynet: Trouble in Paradise. Last weekend on my Facebook feed, I found a post from a colleague with a link to a new article from NRK, Norway’s public services broadcaster. It contained the stories of whistleblowers from within Mattilsynet regarding the distress its inspectors are feeling about their inability protect the welfare of the animals they are supposed to oversee.

Link to article in Norwegian: We have to close our eyes to suffering animals. *See note below for translation tips

One of the things I have noticed in my job is that almost every other week, changes are introduced to policies and protocols. There’s a lot to learn in any role and a year in, I feel I’m still picking things up, which would be enough already without the feeling that anything I learn might shift again next week. Then there’s the “paperwork”. Most of it is digitalised now, but there is a whole load of report writing, which often takes up far more time than the actual visit.

I am catching up gradually with some of the politics, and it seems that the current concentration on bureaucracy relates to criticism from the official Norwegian Auditor General in 2019 regarding the poor quality of case processing. It was stated that Mattilsynet lacked good tools and systems to deal with the animal welfare supervision it had to carry out, and that the result was that serious breaches of the animal welfare laws were not being followed up. It also said that Mattilsynet employees were not using the tools they had to penalise those who broke the law, and that it took too long for those who didn’t take proper care of their animals to be banned.

There’s a certain irony to what is happening now as a result of these accusations. I haven’t been here long, but one of the major constraints is the computer system we have to work with when processing cases. We use a system called MATS. I don’t know how old it is, but it is so complicated to use that it slows everything down. It sets out protocols and you have to work through the elements in order and tick off certain actions before you can proceed to the next. So if I receive a message from the public regarding a concern about animal welfare, it comes to me in MATS. I have to process that message and work through various stages on a list, and then at some point I will come to the end of that segment and have to move onto the next.

Once you click through to the new section, you can’t go back and change anything in the previous section if you’ve made an error. Thomas always tells me I have to be very careful before I click onwards, and I often check with him. But as I am trying to stand on my own feet a bit more, there have been cases where I have got as far as writing a report or a response to an animal owner who has asked for permission for something, and then had to go right back to the beginning as I realised I had linked the case to the animal owner’s personal file, and not to their business, or some other easily made system error that cannot be rectified.

MATS is also clunky in other ways. Almost nothing is automatic. Before we leave the farm or home, following an inspection, we have to write a “receipt” with a summary of what we have checked and what our assessments were. This used to be on paper, but now most of them are sent electronically. So we type our observations into an app. This would be very useful if there was an integrated system. If the observations we recorded in the receipt were transmitted automatically into MATS, and then perhaps used in the report, then it would be truly useful. As it is, we have to open MATS and the receipt and copy and paste all the information from one to the other.

The report itself has to comply with strict parameters in how it is set out and before I can send it to the owner, I have to run it past a colleague, and then afterwards past a control team, all the time making amendments, and then often sending it back and forth multiple times until everyone is satisfied.

Instead of rebuilding the system, they are adding things like the receipt system (and another system that allows us to add photo evidence) before the problem of MATS has been addressed. It seems to me, that they are trying to tweak something that is so fundamentally flawed that they are actually making the situation worse instead of better.

Of course all of this really comes back down to funding and monitoring. The argument is that they can’t afford a new system, though not affording it is probably costing millions. I have watched similar events in the public sector in the UK. The health service and school systems have both wandered into this territory where funding is reduced, then criticisms are made, and rather than improving the situation, new systems for monitoring are introduced, which increase the workload in ways that do nothing to correct the problems, but increase the cost of the operation. That the Norwegian government is paying veterinary surgeons to copy-paste long lists of observations and check and recheck whether the reports we write comply exactly with a template, which could presumably be automatically applied if the will and funding was there, seems brainless to me.

In addition, there are certain routine visits we carry out, for example those to check the farmers are following the rules with regard to ear-marks, disease control and traceability. Common sense would suggest that if no breaches of the rules are discovered, the feedback report could be generated automatically. Not only would that save direct work for the vet who did the inspection, but it would sidestep all the report-checks for compliance and would ensure their other aim – that everyone is dealt with the same way, wherever they are in Norway – was met without any effort whatsoever. Reducing the time it takes to process cases would free up time so that we could carry out more inspections. It seems like the system is set up in a way that prevents us from doing the most fundamental part of the job, which should be getting out and checking whether the animals are okay.

Anyway, I’m not going to comment any more on this for now. Our area is actually better off than those in the report, for which I am grateful. The report mentions an area where the inspectors have been told they can’t take on any more cases until the old ones are cleared up and we haven’t reached that stage. Thomas often tells me of his frustration that we are firefighting cases, rather than preventing problems before they start. Because I’ve only been here a short time, I can’t compare it with how things used to be, but he feels things have become more difficult. I am also aware of how much Thomas takes on, in comparison with what I can do at the moment. Though I help as much as I can, I know he is taking responsibility for the worst problems, as I work to follow what he’s doing and ensure the case timelines are kept in order. I am learning a lot about how cases should be handled, but even writing up the timelines shows me how frustrating the system is. There has been a change in government in Norway and the new government is more left-leaning, so I can only hope that some of the budget cuts, that have been happening forever, start to be reversed.

*****

Though the snow has gone for now, it was beautiful while it lasted. Triar and I followed the same trail last Saturday as we had the week before. There were amazing views as I reached the higher ground and I went a little further than last time, though I think I was still only about halfway along the trail to the peak. I need to find someone to go with me before attempting the whole walk.

Looking back at the snowy trail up to Kistefjellet

And on Tuesday evening, there was a snowstorm. Though it was windy, the temperature was around zero. When it’s really cold, the snow is powdery, and when the wind blows, it doesn’t stick to anything. But this snow stuck to everything. I went down into the town centre to get something, and had to stop to take photographs of the trees as they were so beautiful against the overcast sky and the streetlights.

I am looking forward to winter now. Though snow can be inconvenient, I still feel a childlike excitement when I wake up to find the world has turned white. And in a month, the polar night will be here. I hope you will follow and share it with me.

*If you want to read a Norwegian article in English (or any other language) you can paste the URL into Google Translate (set the languages at the top). A link will appear in the “Translation” side. If you click on the link, it should take you to a translated version of the article.

Counting Sheep

Sunrise/sunset: 07:06/ 18:06. Daylength: 10hr59min

Time seems to be rushing by again. Last year, when everything was new, it seemed to move a little more slowly, but I feel I am beginning to feel the rhythm of the place and the seasons, if not yet well, at least with a degree of awareness. We are losing an hour of light each week now. At the end of next month, the Polar Night will be with us again. In the meantime, the progression through autumn continues to be so beautiful that I find myself sighing out loud at just how wonderful it is.

My work is seasonal, as all who work (or have worked) with large animals will understand. This years lambs are being brought in to the abattoir and then their meat is beginning to appear in the shops. That sounds very blunt, I guess, but on some level it feels right that I witness the whole cycle. I have seen a few people on social media express the opinion that all who work in abattoirs (and indeed farming) must be sadistic or macabre, but that isn’t my experience at all. Most of the people I encounter are both down to earth and resilient.

As well as the slaughter season (as it’s called here) I am waiting for the sheep and cattle to be brought in from their summer pastures. Part of our job is to check all aspects of the chain that goes ” frå jord og fjord til bord” (from the land and fjords to the table) and one component of that is traceability. All farm animals must be tagged (or tattoo’d for pigs) shortly after birth, and the tags maintained until they die. All the births and deaths and numbers have to be recorded in the “husdyrregisteret” or livestock register. The vets at Mattilsynet have to go out and check that the farmers are carrying this through, so we will go out and do checks on a number of cattle and sheep farms in the autumn and winter.

As well as looking to see whether all the animals have ear tags, we check the farmers are keeping medical records for all the animals. Medication (and specifically antibiotic/antibacterial use) are much more tightly controlled here than in the UK. We also check that they are entering the details of their herd or flock into the livestock register. Failure to do any of these things results initially in warnings, then fines and (where there is a severe breach of the law) in restrictions on the movement of animals on and off the farm until the traceability requirements are fulfilled. Though we ideally check every farm on our patch over the course of a few years, we also try to integrate these visits with our welfare program. So if we receive a concern message from the general public, or for example one from the electricity suppliers (who give us advance notice if any farmer is at risk of being cut off) and we feel the situation does not sound serious enough to require immediate attendance, then we will try to call them to assess the situation, then add that farm to our list of places where we will carry out “routine checks”.

Life at Mattilsynet can be unpredictable at times, perhaps predictably so! During the season, there are seven members of staff working in the abattoir on any given day. I’m not due there every day, but as well as having the crew of seven, there is always someone listed as back-up. It was me on Monday this week, and so I was not entirely surprised when a colleague called me on Sunday night to explain that one of their children was sick, and therefore they needed me to go in. Because there are so many staff, engaged in different tasks, and we have to cover the whole day (which can often be longer than the standard seven and three quarter hour working day) the start times are staggered. The first vet there, who has to carry out the live animal checks, comes in at 05:45 in the morning. The next wave comes at 06:45, another at 07.45 and the last at 08:15.

I was due to be in with the second wave, starting at 06:45. It takes me about half an hour to get up, and then close to an hour to drive my car to work, grab the keys to one of the work cars from the office (if I haven’t done it the night before) then finish my journey to the abattoir. Rather than starting work at 08:00 locally, I was now going to have to head out at 05:45 and so I had to head to bed almost immediately after receiving the call. I am always worried that I will forget to set the alarm clock on my phone, which of course has a whole range of times to choose from, and so I quickly set it while I remembered, then went to sleep.

It’s always lovely and cool, first thing in the morning, and I enjoy driving in general, and so as I drove in, I was quite happy. As I said earlier, it’s getting dark very quickly, and I found myself musing on the way on just how much darker it was this week. Only a week earlier, on the same shift, I had seen the moose and the detail of its white breath on the air, and I thought that if the same moose was standing there this week, I would barely be able to see it. I even thought that this would be something to tell you in my blog.

It was only when I arrived at the abattoir, that my mind came up against something I thought was odd. When arriving at 06:45, the car park is perhaps half full. But as I drew in on Monday, it was all but empty. It took only a moment to dawn on me that, in my hurry to get to bed the night before, I had selected the 04:15 alarm, rather than 05:15. In fact, I had even arrived before Thomas, who was working that day in Vet 1 position, doing the live animal checks. Thomas was quite surprised when he did arrive, but at least I had already had time to make coffee, which was gratefully received.

Anyway, given that I have raved at the top about how beautiful it is here at the moment, I’d better share some photographs. Seeing the sun out in a perfectly blue sky on Wednesday morning, I decided to use some of my precious flexitime and take Triar out for a walk. We headed up to the ski-slope area and took a walk there. The view was truly dazzling.

Triar seemed to be enjoying himself, rushing through the undergrowth and up and down the rocky outcrops, walking (as ever) four or five times further than me.

As you can see, higher on the mountainside, the trees are already bare, but looking down into the valley, there is still a riot of autumn colour in amongst the huddle of houses.

I awoke to another beautiful day on Thursday, and felt suddenly that I might as well use some more of those hours to take time off while it was still wonderfully light outside. Though I didn’t go on any significant walks, I decided I should make the house look a little better. Triar goes on the sofas in the house, and we do quite often eat while sitting on them, and therefore I try to keep them lined with fleecy blankets. The old ones were rather grubby and still look grey now after washing, so I bought some new ones. I had also accumulated some autumn candles, but was in danger of not getting round to deploying them. So now, as I go into winter, the inside of the house is looking as well as I can make it look. As the evenings are drawing in, and I will shortly be spending a lot of time indoors, it’s important that I have a space that lifts me up when I am there.

Setting out for work on Friday morning, I noted it was five degrees Celsius as I drove through Finnsnes. We live close to the sea, and even this far north, the Gulf Stream stops the temperature from going down as far as it does inland. So as I drove east, I was unsurprised to see the temperature dropping, quickly to three degrees and then further, down below zero and I could see there was frost on the undergrowth on the edges of the forest.

The sun was also rising slowly behind the mountains, giving them the most incredible molten gold edges and so I stopped to try and capture it. Unfortunately, by the time I found somewhere I could pull off the road, where there wasn’t forest in the way, the gold had mellowed into a normal sunrise, but it was still beautiful.

I took a couple of photos of the frost as well, not because it was anything out of the ordinary, but simply because it was the first of the year for me and a reminder that winter will very soon be here.

Colour

Sunrise/sunset: 09:30/ 14:33. Daylength: 5hr 02min

There is so much colour in the world. The changing sky continues to amaze me. I suppose one advantage of living so far north is just how long the sun lurks just below the horizon. And now it has finally risen, there are wonderful shadows and reflected light everywhere. The photo at the top is of the view from our garden, and though I see it every day, it never grows old. This was the first day I’d really seen the brand new sunshine on the snow-covered mountains. How wonderfully pink they are under the arching blue sky.

I was struck by the pink and powder-blue backdrop as I drove home from Bardufoss on Tuesday as well. So wonderful to drive home in the light. Of course, I stopped to take a photograph.

I had hoped to be travelling up to Storslett next week to the northernmost office in our region. I was waiting until the last minute, as the upper echelons of Mattilsynet had a meeting on Friday, but in the absence of any government lifting of the regulations, I will wait a few weeks longer. John tells me that two abattoirs further south in Norway are currently closed, one because a member of staff tested positive and the other because it’s in the area where the biggest outbreak of the English variant has taken hold. They are right to be cautious, but like others everywhere, I am champing at the bit to have a bit more freedom of movement.

Still, there are things to look forward to. I have booked a weekend away in a log cabin on a husky farm near the end of February. It’s only an hour and a half away, so hopefully there should be no travel disruption! And we have designated this weekend as 1980s party-food weekend. Last night there were sausage rolls, ham and crisp sandwiches and chocolate tiffin. Today I will be making pastry cases filled with creamy chicken, scones with jam and cream and it will be followed by ice-cream and jelly.

I don’t have a lot to write this week, so I will leave you with this video that Konstantin sent me. It features overhead footage of reindeer herding. I mentioned a while back that they hadn’t been able to bring the reindeer in before Christmas because of the lack of snow, and this gives an idea of why that would be a problem. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s truly a beautiful spectacle.

Thank you Konstantin. I hear you are coming back in May, which makes me happy. It’s good in the depths of winter to have things to look forward to.

Not Going Out

Sunrise/sunset: 10:07/ 13:53. Daylength: 3hr 45min

Another week working from home. It was only to be expected as the coronavirus figures, though steady, hadn’t begun to drop. The Norwegian government announcement was made on Monday, but they have promised to review it again next week. Numbers are now falling, so I’m hoping that next week I will be able to join some of my colleagues in the office.

That said, working from home has its advantages. The drive to work is shorter and the coffee is better. Aside from that, for the past two days, Storm Frank has been battering the Norway coast and going out hasn’t been so appealing. Luckily our apartment was protected from the worst of the wind by the steep slope that rises up behind it, but minus ten gusting up to sixty miles an hour is really quite chilly!

The company at home is furrier, though the conversation is less varied. Triar looks wistfully out of the window as Frank’s chilly blast keeps us sitting inside for another day.

There is now ice on everything. There is ice on this football field on Senja.

Ice on the pitch. Football… or curling?

There is ice in the ditches and escaping from rocks.

Frozen waterfall.

Even the snow is covered in ice. It cracks as you step on it, the deep sound echoing through the air trapped in the underlying snow: very satisfying to jump into!

All this is treacherous of course, but going out is still sometimes necessary. As well as boots with spikes on the soles, we have a bucket of stones in the porch that we strew on the driveway. These are not like the mealy, red grit-mixed-with-salt that they use in the south. These are serious stones and at minus ten, salt has no benefits. With excellent foreplanning, Anna and I covered the driveway when there was something of a melt last week and now they are well embedded in the minus ten ice.

I had my five month assessment at work this week. It went well. In spite of coronavirus, Hilde is satisfied that I am picking things up quickly enough and working well. My ongoing aims are to start to take the lead when I go out on visits with colleagues and to put forward my opinions more in meetings. I am definitely guilty of not speaking up in meetings. This quotation from verse 27 of an old Norse poem, Hávamál, the Sayings of the High One is pertinent here:

Ósnotr maðr
er með aldir kømr
þat er bazt at hann þegi
engi þat veit
at hann ekki kann
name hann mæli til mart
veita maðr
hinn er vætki veit
þótt hann mæli til mart

Translation by Olive Bray

For the unwise man
who comes among men,
it is best that be he silent.
None know
that he knows nothing,
unless he should speak too much. *
The man does not know it,
he who knows nothing,
whether he speaks too much.

Not that I am especially unwise, of course, but until I have a full understanding of what is going on, I always tend to listen more than speak. Silence among crowds comes naturally to me. But given that a few days back, I heard in a meeting that Anja would be conducting the visits to hens and chickens, and rather than speaking up at the time to say I was interested in chickens, I stayed silent and e-mailed her afterwards to ask if I could accompany her, there are definitely some changes I can make that shouldn’t be too difficult.

And I will leave you with two more pictures I took in the tail end of the storm (the first being at the top of this post). Removing my gloves to take them was painful, but definitely worth it.

Uneasy water in the fjord as back-lit clouds race across the sky.
The bridge to Senja.

Icy New Year

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

We had a quiet start to 2021. Anna and Andrew flew off very early on the morning of the 31st to visit Charlie, so John and I saw in the new year with Triar and the guinea pigs. New year in Norway is celebrated with fireworks, so as midnight approached, John and I donned our hats and gloves and took our celebration outside. There was a satisfying throwback to summer and our trip to the north. We bought a folding gas ring back then: one of those neat purchases that are small enough to throw in the car. Now we found a new use for it as a table-top cooker to heat our gløg.

The fireworks over Senja were spectacular. Ten minutes of intense light and sound punctuating the winter darkness.

Other than the fireworks, the last week has been quiet. Though there is still no snow, there is plenty of ice. Though it has been above zero quite frequently, the pond in the middle of Finnsnes is frozen enough for the local children to use it as a skating rink.

Unfortunately, the same thing is true of some of our usual walks.

And so there has been a tendency to huddle indoors. I hope the snow returns soon. When it is so dark outside, having snow on the ground makes everything much brighter.

I will leave you with a couple of pictures of the moon over Senja. Though I haven’t been out much, my life is still filled with beauty.

Happy New Year to you all!

Julebrus

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

I saw a post on Twitter bemoaning the appearance of Christmas items in the shops in the UK yesterday, or more accurately someone posted that as they were on COVID lockdown, they were deprived of the pleasure of complaining about it this year. As someone who loves Christmas, the gathering signs that it is on its way are always something I have enjoyed, though I am glad that in Norway, it’s rather low key compared to the UK. I rather smugly commented on the post, saying that I hadn’t seen anything here yet, then went into my local supermarket and saw that the Julebrus had appeared. Julebrus is a Norwegian fizzy drink, only available around Christmas time and much beloved by my children. It has a kind of fruity flavour and comes in red and brown varieties. But enough about that for now!

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

Back at the start of the pandemic, I was careful to take all possible precautions. I shopped once a week or less and took my breaks at work sitting out in my car. Now I shop more or less daily again and though I use the hand-gel that is liberally available in all public spaces, and try to ensure I keep a metre away from people, it isn’t having much impact on my day-to-day life, though I recognise that could change rapidly. Mattilsynet has its own set of rules, which we are to read at least once a week. Those here in springtime all have home offices set up and it seems likely that at some point, home working might become the norm again.

The main effect on me is that, for the first time since I’ve moved to Norway, I haven’t been to the UK during this calendar year. My daughter is a student there and my parents are in Yorkshire and I miss having the chance to visit them. Strange times we are living through.

Northern Norway: In Darkness and In Light…

To The North!

“Pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country, and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my  own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss….”  C.S.Lewis.

***

I wonder how life would have gone, were it not for COVID-19. I can recall the fascination I felt, back in late January or early February, searching on social media for information from Wuhan. I watched with interest: those alarming films of people dropping in the street, reading that China (of all places) had gone into a lockdown so tight that people were not allowed to leave their homes.

It filtered through to me, as I watched those posts unfold, that something big was happening, though back then I had little sense of impending doom. That came later, as the virus began to spread. One by one, day after day, new posters appeared at work, telling us how to cough, to wash our hands, to use gel as we entered, notices in Norwegian and English and several other languages I didn’t understand. The canteen shut and then the borders of the country: closed to anyone who didn’t live here.

And as I watched the figures fall in Norway, I watched them rise in the UK.

I miss my parents. That is undoubtedly the worst in all of this. I had been looking for a new job for a while with no success. But with spring, the realisation came that I was no longer tied to Rogaland for my son’s schooling. And in the midst of a wave of homesickness and fear for my parents, who by now were locked down themselves, with no obvious end in sight, the grand idea came to me that perhaps now was the time to return to the UK.

But it was not to be. Though I found a wonderful practice close to my parents, who wanted to employ me, they were unable to make me an offer. They had sold the practice a year earlier to one of the corporates, and the corporate had a moratorium on taking on new staff due to … coronavirus.

But by now anyway, the insanity of a move back to the UK was starting to hit me. With the increased border security, it was unlikely I would be able to get the dog into the UK, let alone the guinea pigs. Juggling quarantine requirements would mean I would have to find somewhere to stay when I returned to the UK. It would need to have furniture, as mine would take a while to arrive. Likely many shops were shut, and even if they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to go. Quarantine with no bed and no TV…

In the midst of all this chaos, a job popped up in the North of Norway. Mattilsynet (the Norwegian equivalent of the UK Food Standards Agency) were looking for a vet. The duties were very wide ranging, as often happens in remote places. Lower population often results in less specialisation… and that has always suited me. Easily bored, I love doing different things. And so I applied.

The interview was tough. I’d had a few by then in Norwegian, but it didn’t get much easier. I’d applied for an old job that I’d done part time before, and had been turned down, I was told, on account of my language skills. This time round I was prepared for the type of question. I had even thought up some possible answers. But explaining the concept of working as part of the management team of a fast growing chain of emergency clinics, covering all the complaints without the expertise of the best (and only specialist) veterinary insurance company in the UK because my boss wanted to prove to them that we could manage without them, is not the easiest thing to translate, not least because veterinary emergency clinics are unheard of here.

Then there was a medical question about cattle. I was sent a text with a scenario and had to answer questions around it. Despite having ten minutes thinking time, I translated one of the words wrongly, and therefore gave a confusing as well as incorrect answer. I think it was at that point I considered just blurting out that there was no point in continuing, because it was obvious we were all wasting our time.

So I wasn’t particularly hopeful. Still, I had a job which was almost full time. We weren’t on the streets, or likely to be. And then, to my astonishment, a contract arrived. No explanation, no welcoming phone call: simply sign here if you want the job.

I signed it of course. It was so precious I didn’t want it to slip through my fingers. And then I contacted them about accommodation and about moving and about how I wouldn’t be able to start on the day that was written on the contract because, with the best will in the world, I couldn’t start there the same day I finished here, because there was 2000 km in between.

All that happened only three weeks ago. And in one week’s time, I will be driving north to take up my new post. It’s a thirty hour journey and I will be taking it with my son John, our dog Triar, and a pair of guinea pigs.

Triar – our wonderful Kooiker

We will be camping! I hope the weather holds. John is planning on walking and lake swimming. I’ve bought a new car to take us up there… well I say new. She’s seven years old, but my first BMW… all wheel drive. I wanted something that could tackle snow.

I am about to move up into the Arctic Circle: Land of midnight sun and interminable darkness.

And I hope to take you with me!