“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.
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!