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.
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.
I posted a picture of our kransekake on social media. It’s one of my favourite Norwegian deserts, chewy rings of almond flavoured deliciousness.
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.
It was on this day last year, that John and I set off to drive To The North. In a week’s time, I will have been here a year.
It’s been a strange time, all in all. Not that it hasn’t been wonderful in many ways; it has. But coronavirus has had an effect on all our lives that would have been difficult to imagine only a few years ago. In the past year, I have lost an uncle: a wonderful man, larger than life, of whom I have many wonderful and cheering memories, and also an aunt – not technically mine, but an aunt by marriage who was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I could never have imagined that I would be unable to attend their funerals. Nor that I would have been unable to visit my mum and dad for a year and a half, with no definite sign of an end to restrictions amid continuing reports from around the world that the virus is continuing to spread and mutate, despite (or perhaps even because of) the vaccine.
So here I am. Logically coming was the right decision. John has settled nearby and has a permanent job and friends with whom he goes climbing and walking. Andrew has settled into school and has taken up the piano. Anna has been with us since she came home for Christmas and wasn’t able to return to university in the UK. We have a lot of freedom to go out locally. The Norwegian government have done a sterling job in limiting the spread of the virus and we are so remote that often it’s hard to remember during everyday life that we are in the middle of a pandemic.
But it’s odd to think that I have been here a year, in an area I had never visited before I drove up here in a few chaotic days one year ago. I haven’t been home to Yorkshire or Scotland. I am hoping to see my parents at Christmas, but everything seems so unstable that it is impossible to make firm plans.
Still, life goes on. While on a grand scale, everything is filled with uncertainty, on a small scale, I am thriving. This week at work has been special. When I started work a year ago, I was given a list of tasks to complete. One of them was to engage with colleagues who worked in other sectors within Mattilsynet. We cover everything from drinking water to cosmetics as well as food safety on all levels between farm and plate. It had been discussed occasionally, but due to the strict coronavirus rules, where nobody was meant to go anywhere that wasn’t essential, it was always put on hold. But last Friday, alone in the office with Randi and Øivind, I decided it was time to seize the opportunity and I asked whether they had anything planned for this week.
The result was that I went out with Randi on Wednesday for some Smilefjes tilsyn and Friday with Øivind to inspect some waterworks.
Smilefjes is Mattilsynets system for inspection of restaurants and food outlets. When you enter an eatery, there’s generally a certificate on the door showing a happy Smiley. If the inspection didn’t go so well, the Smiley might be less cheerful, but the kitchen we inspected was well organised and clean. I was shown around the restaurant and communal areas of the guesthouse as well, while Randi wrote her report. It was a lovely place: an old building in an area where few old buildings exist. There was a huge fireplace in the restaurant and comfortable couches in front of a large television, which the owner proudly told me was the only one in the building. There were photographs too, black and white pictures of years gone by. I felt nostalgic for the times when staying in hotels was a casual weekend activity and I wanted so much to stay overnight. I took a photograph out of the window as Randi was finishing up her report. The book in the foreground is to record the weight of the fish you catch in the river outside.
On Thursday, quietly melded between the restaurant and water inspections, I carried out my first solo animal welfare inspection. I say solo as I had no other inspectors with me and the responsibility for the case lay with me, but I had support from a fabulous member of Dyervernsnemnda (a little about Dyrevernsnemnda here) called Berit. Berit drove down from Tromsø and she was wonderfully helpful and reassuring. Thanks must also go to Birgit, who made sure I followed the correct procedures beforehand.
Afterwards, I went out for some fish and chips with Ann to celebrate in the cafe that serves the ski slope at Fellandsby.
Yesterday, Øivind took me out to inspect some waterworks. If that word conjures up an image of a huge building with pipes and filtration, then like me, you will have to think again. We drove out onto Senja and headed south to a remote village, where we met the group of men who organise the water supply for the few houses in that area. We sat outside in the sun, as Øivind asked a series of questions about cubic metres of water per year and how many people are supplied. It was an interesting discussion, partly because of the logistics. In summer, there might be fifty people there, whereas there are only four permanent residents. But for me, it was a stark reminder of social changes and history. The four permanent residents are all over 80. The rest are a mix of tourists and very likely people whose parents used to live there, who have moved away, but return at weekends and for the summer. I found myself wondering about those still living there: all of them are in their eighties and nineties. It’s a very long way to the hospital if anything goes wrong.They likely still have families on Senja who look after them. But when they are gone, will the village only exist as a holiday place? There was an old schoolhouse, which is now used for social events. But once upon a time, there must have been families and people who worked the land and/or lived from the sea. Did the four people still living there attend the school, all those years ago? It was a reminder of how much things can change within a lifetime.
After the conversation, we walked up to see the water source. No filtration in sight and the small pipe that carries the water to the village was underground. The water comes from a river. I found myself surprised that it doesn’t freeze in winter, but the water must continue to run underneath all the snow and ice.
This was where we walked to. It was perhaps a kilometer up a grassy track from the village.
Such a peaceful place. I could have passed a happy few hours, listening to the water rushing over the rocks.
And here is the “waterworks” we inspected!
So the village is supplied from the water that runs down from the mountain. It’s not filtered or cleaned and technically, it is a water supply and not a drinking water supply. Øivind made some recommendations. The water source cover should be locked with a padlock, just in case. And the quality should be checked at least once a year. Likely times for the check would be after heavy rain, or when the snow is melting, preferably at a time of year when more people are arriving.
But those who run the system assured us that nobody had ever been unwell from the water in the fifty years since the pipes were installed. It was another reminder of the differences in the lives people in Norway lead. The idea that everyone in Norway should be treated exactly the same (one of Mattilsynet’s aims) is challenging, to say the least. There has to be flexibility when dealing with a country where the ways of life are so very diverse.
And to finish up, here’s are some pictures from Tuesday, when we met one of Anna’s old teachers, who was up for a holiday in the north. We took Triar for a walk in Ånderdalen afterwards. It really has been a very good week.
There has been a massive change in the weather this week. Until now, it’s been warm and sunny, on and off, but the forecast this week, courtesy of YR.no looked like this.
Not only has it rained a lot, but those temperature listings aren’t very accurate. I took John to the airport on Tuesday and noticed that the temperature was a rather chilly 5.5°C. I took a picture after dropping him off. The mountains were shrouded in mist and the river was a distant mirage.
When the mountain peaks emerged now and then, they too showed evidence of the chill in the air.
I was reminded of the weather forecasts in October and November last year, where they announced that the snow line was now at 400m, 300m, 200m and you could watch the gradual descent into winter.
I am very much better than I was. My blood pressure has returned to normal, thank goodness and I seem to be generally on the mend. I was back to work yesterday. I was afraid that I would be too tired, but I had a good quiet day in the office catching up and arranging things for next week.
Though I spent much of the week resting, Anna and Andrew offered to take me out for a Senja Roasters brunch on Thursday. How could I resist? I’ve been wanting to try the French Toast ever since I read the description and it didn’t disappoint. It was wonderful, filled with caramel flavours.
Our trip did lead to one of those truly embarrassing British moments, however. Thomas is always telling me off for thanking him and I probably still apologise way too often, but this was one of those more toe curling examples. The lovely waitress was explaining to us that there was no cured ham for the Banger Toasts. Instead, they were substituting chorizo. I’m not sure where she was from, but I didn’t quite catch what she said at first. When it dawned on me, I said, in a rather loud voice, “Oh, chorizo!” About one second later, my brain caught up and I remembered that, of course, her pronunciation was almost certainly the genuine article. It was more an announcement of realisation from me than any attempt to correct, but it was one of those wonderfully cringeworthy moments I love to share with you all!
We walked down the track to my favourite beach afterwards. Happily it was between rain showers. Though summer is passing and the green has passed its vibrant zenith, Senja is still stunning. There are orchids and harebells, sandy beaches and misty mountains. And sheep with bells on. What could be more Norwegian than that?
John and I went swimming in the sea last Sunday. It was after midday and the knowledge that we had to get up soon after 4a.m. the next morning was hanging in the air, but the sky was a wonderful clear blue and the air was warm. It seemed a shame to waste it. So rather than spending the day lounging around, we set off and drove to an isolated beach up on the north-western tip of Senja.
John had been to the area before, having walked up the hill in the photograph above with a colleague from work. We might walk up it together some day, but for now I was content to kick off my sandals and walk across the soft sand. The water was a chilly nine degrees, but we took the plunge anyway. There weren’t many people there, but there was a boat anchored in the calm waters of the bay. Its owners were also enjoying a day in the sun and it struck me, not for the first time, that having a boat would give a whole new perspective to exploring the area.
At the other end of the bay there was a building, jutting out on stilts over the sea. With the backdrop of turquoise sea and yellow sand, I was reminded of the Caribbean shacks in the TV series Death in Paradise (filmed in Guadeloupe) though there was also something distinctly Norwegian about it as well.
It got very warm on Monday and Tuesday. Thirty degrees is not something I expect here, though when the sun is up twenty four hours a day, it does allow a lot of hours for the heat to build without the cooler evening and night to offset it. There was a thunder storm forecast for Wednesday night, and I found myself contemplating whether I might find a way to capture a picture – you know the type – a perfect bolt of lighting on a backdrop of darkness. I confess I thought about this more than once before I remembered the inconvenient facts that
a) By ten or eleven o’clock in the evening, I would have already been in bed (and hopefully asleep) for a couple of hours.
And more profoundly
b) That it wasn’t actually going to get dark – well not that proper kind of black darkness I had been considering – for at least two months.
I’m not sure whether the storm ever actually arrived. If it did, I slept through it. It definitely rained and was cooler afterwards, but I had to content myself with a picture that reflects the perfect stillness of the air in the early evening leading up to it. I was hoping that in the morning, it would have been stripped, but it wasn’t, so I’m guessing it didn’t even rain that hard but in my head, I’ve given it the portentous title “Before the Storm”. I’m not going to change that, just because events inconveniently didn’t unfold in the way they ought to have done!
I said last weekend that it wouldn’t be long until John and I returned to Senja Roasters. We decided to explore the three course menu and so we booked a table for this evening. There’s always anticipation before going to a new restaurant. It’s not always possible to predict how the food will taste from reading a menu and though there were good signs (local and international ingredients, paper menu, limited choice) those things don’t always translate into food heaven. This time there was no disappointment. John and I decided to share the meat and fish options, though next time, if there’s a vegan risotto, I will definitely go that way. But for now, I want to share this evening’s fabulous meal with you.
The starters sounded interesting: Cod tongues and coffee-crusted tataki reindeer. The cod was wonderful, light and crispy. For me, this was extra special. Fish in batter isn’t common here. It was like a tiny taste of home.
The tataki reindeer was exquisite. Almost black on the outside, rare in the centre. It was meltingly tender and packed with flavour.
We must have looked hungry because in the fairly brief interval between the starters and the main courses, we were brought some more of those delicious crusty bread rolls we had last Sunday.
Onto the mains, again we shared the meat and fish dishes. The waitress was very attentive and happily brought us separate eating plates and bowls for all three courses. We started with a tasty halibut dish on an unusual sweetcorn and red onion salsa. The flavours were lifted by a light-touch citrus sauce:
Next up, slow roasted lamb shank with a rich red wine sauce. Traditional flavours, but extremely well done.
We spent a few minutes chatting in between the main course and the dessert. The view outside the window kept drawing my gaze as the light changed over the fjord. Here we were in a modern restaurant, not in the centre of a city, but out in the wilds of Norway. Imagine popping over in your boat and tying up outside… maybe one day!
And finally, onto the dessert. Two very different choices here: a rhubarb crumble, sweet and piquant, and a tiramisu, bittersweet coffee taste with a sweet, creamy finish.
We rounded off the meal, me with a cafe latte and John with the hot chocolate at the top of the page. It was a perfect end to a fantastic meal. I think our enthusiasm must have been noted because the chef came out at the end to talk to us. As John pointed out afterwards, you know when you’ve had a great meal when you run out of ways to tell the waitress how much you loved it all.
And a final touch, when we were in Roasters last Sunday, they told us they were expecting a visit from Mattilsynet and hoping to earn the smiley face that means the inspectors found the hygiene was good. It seems they must have passed as I saw this on the way out.
Here is this evening’s menu, for Norwegian speakers. For any non-Norwegian vegans reading, the starter was cauliflower soup with fried almonds, raisins and mint oil, and the main course, butternut squash risotto with porcini mushrooms.
Edit to add a photo of the risotto from a week later. Also delicious!
Something caught my eye as Thomas drove into Stonglandseidet on Friday. On the front of an unassuming building, a sign: Senja Roasters. It seemed an unusual name for somewhere so far out into the countryside. Cafe culture hasn’t reached rural Norway to the same extent it has reached the UK. I have driven round the northern end of Senja before and thought that a coffee shop would have turned a pleasant drive into a proper day out. And so I tucked away the information in my head to check out later. It was more a stir of curiosity than a white hot hope.
I checked it out when I got home and my interest grew. Senja Roasters, I discovered was indeed a café with, as I had hoped, a special interest in coffee. Not only that, it had a real foodie vibe. Local Arctic ingredients – tick! Complementary use of imported food – tick! Vegetarian? Vegan? Yes to both. There it was, a truly international eating experience, tucked away on an island in a remote part of Norway.
The menu sounded great. The brunches or Frunches (the Norwegian word for breakfast being frokost) included the delicious sounding Challah Toast – “French toast made out of challah bread or brioche, brunost and mascarpone whipped cream, honey, roasted pears, pumpkin seeds and almonds.” and Banger Fritters – “Beetroot and ginger, smoked carrots, and crispy tofu.“
The dinner menu sounded good too. Butternut soup with fried butternut and crispy cabbage, poached halibut with cherry tomatoes, sugar buttons and saffron sauce, homemade rhubarb crumble.
And so this morning, I asked John if he would like to come out on an exploratory mission with me. Good as thecafé sounded, there was a chance it wouldn’t live up to expectations. I also wondered about price. The website didn’t say and it seemed liked the kind of upmarket place that would charge upmarket prices in a city in the UK. How expensive would the same experience be out on Senja?
It was a fair drive from home, so by the time we arrived, it was definitely approaching lunchtime. First impressions were good. Though it was empty, the surroundings were very pleasant: a mixture of clean blue walls and rustic wood that fitted well with the menu.
We had intended to drink coffee, check out the prices, and come back another day. We ordered coffees – a cappuccino for John and a latte for me. The waitress (I think she was Daniela, though I forgot to ask) brought our coffees very promptly. I explained we probably wouldn’t be eating today, but would like to see the menu. She brought them – printed on ordinary A4 paper – another good sign. A pre-printed menu doesn’t always indicate poor food, but if the chef is using local ingredients, which can vary from day to day, it’s much more likely the menu will vary as well.
To my pleasure, the prices didn’t seem any higher than they would have been in London. For Norway, they were normal. The coffee was wonderful too: well rounded and smooth, with no trace of bitterness. Within a couple of seconds, all my careful plans were abandoned. I asked John whether he would like to share the cheese platter, and he agreed he would.
The website had listed the team behind Senja Roasters as being from Spain, Finland, Germany, Russia, Australia and France, so I was hoping for a truly international selection and I was not disappointed. There was Manchego Ezequiel, imported directly from Spain, Chevre goats cheese, Norwegian Brie from Dovre Ysteri and Gorgonzola pikante defendi.
It was accompanied by homemade blueberry and onion jam and quince marmalade. There were warm, crusty bread rolls, salt biscuits and Norwegian flatbreads. It was a wonderful combination.
I asked Daniela a little about how long Roasters had been open. To my amazement, she told me that it had only opened last week. Like us, the team had felt that Senja was rather short on coffee shops, and rather than regretting, as I had done, they had decided to do something about it. Amazing to think that if Thomas and I had passed by only a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have made such a wonderful discovery.
As it is, we will definitely be going back. Today’s menu sounded delicious, and Daniela said it would continue until the end of this week. After that, there will be summer menus. I hope that the tourists, who flock to Senja in the summer, will discover Roasters. It is definitely worth a visit.
When I applied for this job last summer, one of the things that attracted me was the very varied workload. Working in remote places where relatively few people live has some (often unconsidered) side-effects, and that is one of them. If you are a (human) GP who lives in a city, you are likely to have many specialist centres available. If you have a complex case, then referring them is the obvious thing to do. But if you are a GP on a remote island, where referral is complex, where a hospital stay might mean that family cannot visit and where sometimes the weather means that nobody can get on or off the island, your workload, and the scope of things you might attempt to deal with locally is likely to be quite different. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but they might appeal to different people, and the latter is more like the work I do here. In other areas, those who work in animal welfare in the field are a separate team from those who work in the slaughterhouse. Their teams might be big enough so that their members can specialise. But here, it’s mostly me and Thomas locally, and we cover a very large area and a whole range of different animals.
For large chunks of the summer, I will be working in the abattoir. The staff who work there full time will be on holidays and for now, I am the default stand-in. This is slightly complicated by the fact that the other part of my job seems to be speeding up, rather than slowing down, but most vets will recognise that there is a seasonal pattern to our work. I have accrued several days of flexitime, most it over the past few weeks, but it isn’t looking like I’ll be taking them any time soon.
This week couldn’t have been much more varied. I have been working on a list of places that need follow-up checks. These are farms where there were problems in the past, where Mattilsynet has recorded that the law has been broken. I’ve been creating files showing the timelines of events and the specific areas that needed improvement. The next stage is to follow up with visits, but in order to work on the histories, I’ve had to polish up my Excel skills, which have been sadly neglected in recent years.
Thomas and I also carried out an emergency readiness exercise, which is done twice a year. This is aimed at making sure that if there was a major outbreak that was a serious threat, either to other animals or to people, that we would be prepared. Here’s a picture of me, decked out in protective gear that we might use if there was an outbreak of avian flu.
I hope it never arises. It is incredibly hot inside the double layer of protective clothing. Those who work for the likes of Doctors Without Borders fill me with admiration. And of course, at the present time, there are staff working with COVID who have been spending weeks and months working in protective clothing that perhaps they had never seriously anticipated using. To anyone reading who has been faced with it, you are amazing.
On Friday, I had my day planned out. It was going to be a relatively pleasant day in the office. I had a few things that needed to be updated and I needed to check the lists of animals coming in to the abattoir next week. It’s someone’s job to check through the farmers who are sending in their livestock in case there’s anything in particular that we need to follow up. There was also a departmental meeting to attend, which I have only remembered now as I’m writing this!
But instead of a quiet day with an early finish, it turned into one of those wild-card days that end up being the high points of the year. I knew Thomas was going out for the day. I assumed he was blood testing some animals in our area that have recently been diagnosed with a disease that’s being tracked, so I asked him if that was what he was doing, and whether he needed a hand.
It turned out he wasn’t blood testing. Instead, he had been called out to assess the possible welfare implications of moving a group of reindeer from one area of Senja to another, using a helicopter. Reindeer herding is a traditional Sami occupation. There are families who have been using traditional summer and winter pastures for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Back then, the land was presumably not owned by anyone in the way it is now.
But since more modern styles of agriculture have become normal, the rights of each group can come into conflict. If you are feeding your cattle on one pasture and are growing hay in another, the last thing you want is a group of reindeer trekking through. Arguably, this should have been discussed when the land was bought, but that too will be largely historical as farms are often handed down in families and the sale might have occurred generations back. What was done in the past can’t be undone. Fortunately there are some landowners who are happy to have the reindeer on their land. If I was building a holiday home in the wilds, or had land I wasn’t using for farming, I’d love to be in an area where I was likely to wake up to reindeer in the garden.
When conflict arises, sometimes it’s best for everybody if the reindeer are moved, but that isn’t easy. There are times of year when the herd comes together for migration, and that is when they are generally taken to new places. The herders work with the natural behaviour patterns of the animals. Moving them in the middle of summer when there is plenty of good grazing, and perhaps young calves at foot, is not so straightforward. And that is where the potential helicopter comes in.
Anyway, Thomas suggested that if I had time, I would be welcome to come along. It would be useful to have an extra pair of eyes and also helpful if I can start to learn more about the political landscape here in the north of Norway.
Assessing the welfare implications of such a move requires an examination of two separate factors. One is looking at the landscape. We drove round the likely route, looking in particular at fences they might have to bypass or leap. The other factor is the reindeer themselves. Moving a group of adult male reindeer is very different from moving heavily pregnant females, or mothers with calves at foot. Ideally, Thomas wanted to inspect the animals. He wanted to assess whether there were any pre-existing injuries that might make running at speed and jumping over obstacles a high risk.
But of course, it’s not always easy to find groups of animals that have freedom to roam. We hit lucky on our first location. A group of nine reindeer were standing at the top of a sloping pasture. One of the herders had dogs, but as the reindeer flew off at full pelt as soon as they caught sight of the dogs, it was obvious that herding them that way could be almost impossible.
We only saw them from a distance. I assumed what I saw was a buck with a group of females. There was one magnificent male, dark in colour, bigger than the others and with impressive antlers. But I was told that in fact it was a group of nine males. How they could tell, I’m not sure, but I hope in time I will learn a little more about them and it will seem a little less foreign.
I had assumed, from the first stop, that finding the rest would be straightforward. What actually happened was that we spent the rest of the day playing the most spectacularly unsuccessful game of hide and seek I have ever been involved in.
But for an unsuccessful day, it was very satisfying. If you’re going to waste a day in the wilderness looking for elusive creatures, it might as well be done in one of the most beautiful places on earth in the early part of the summer. I was told before I came here, that the summer was intense. That the contrast between the white of winter and the green of summer was extraordinary. But what I hadn’t reckoned with was the flowers. They are everywhere, from roadsides and pastures to the forest floor. Different sizes, different hues, stretching out as far as the eye can see.
We were at the southern end of the island – a part I haven’t really explored before. And as well as trees and pastures, there were beaches and bays with white sand and turquoise water that looked more tropical than arctic to my eyes.
I was very glad I had started my fitness project a few weeks back. Though the general pace of life in Norway is slower than that of the UK, Norwegians walk much faster. When the group were walking, I could mostly keep in touch with them, though at one point everyone set off and scrambled up a steep slope. It was heavily strewn with fallen branches and knee high undergrowth that caught on my bootlaces and clothes. I found it so tough that I had to give up halfway to the top. Had I not, I have the feeling I might have ended up flying headfirst down the hill into one of the alarming looking nests of fire ants.
Still, Thomas offered to take a photo of me at the beach, so here it is. This is me: a typical day at the office!
In the end, we didn’t see any more reindeer in the wilds of Senja. We had to return home having inspected only half the group we had wanted to see. But we were assured the remainder were also all male and that there were no calves. Most of the fences were well constructed as well. It is now illegal to build new barbed wire fences in Norway, so hopefully they will gradually disappear. Thomas gave a cautious go ahead to the move. The owners of the reindeer will be given time to make the attempt themselves, but if that doesn’t work, the helicopter may be needed. Thomas told me that the ownership of the reindeer is also complicated. The herding is very much a family business, so children in the family are likely to own a couple of reindeer alongside their parents’ larger share. All in all, it was a very interesting day and by the end of it, I felt I had learned a few basic facts about how herding works. It’s a very different way of life.
We returned to the office, where I had to speedily download a link for a website to my phone. There’s work to be done next week that I probably should have prepared for yesterday. With a bit of luck, I might be able to fit most of it in on Monday, assuming nothing else comes up. But I wouldn’t have missed yesterday for anything. Sometimes you have to seize the moment. And if Thomas is reading, he might be pleased and surprised to hear that I actually found two reindeer on my way home. For some unexplained reason, this mother and her calf were lurking in the Co-op. Appropriately, they were standing right beside the Polar Bread. Now that really isn’t something you see every day!
Last week, I sent the manuscript of a new book I’ve written to a friend. It’s always a nerve wracking moment, showing something you’ve created to another person. Lara is very well read and I was optimistic that if there was any storyline or character that was completely off key, she would tell me.
It’s been a tough project. I started it a couple of years ago in a lull between the last two Hope Meadows books. It’s about a veterinary practice in Scotland: partly wish fulfilment, I think, but also an exploration the life of older women. In this modern world, where women are supposedly able to have everything, they often end up juggling job and family and find themselves trapped in situations rooted in decisions made years ago when their children were young. I was aiming for a cross between James Herriot and Sally Wainwright (the scriptwriter behind the TV series Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley) and I hope I’ve achieved it.
To my intense joy (and relief) Lara loved it. Practically minded and knowledgeable, she also pointed out one or two technical points about veterinary practice and rules and regulations. Once I’ve ironed those out, I will be faced with the search for an agent.
In the UK, it’s close to impossible to get a novel published without an agent. In this age of computers, so many people write that all the major publishers have inserted a buffer between them and the great writing public. They will only look at fiction sent to them by an author’s agent, so now I have to look for one. Those who have followed my progress for a very long time might know that I was with Peter Buckman at the Ampersand agency (he put me in contact with Victoria Holmes, who led me through all six Hope Meadows books) but he admitted before we set off that Womens’ Commercial Fiction (which is what I write) wasn’t really his thing, and so at the end of Hope Meadows, we parted. He has since contacted me when he got wind of another vet project, so we remain on good terms, but what I really need is someone I can bounce ideas off, so that is what I’m going to look for.
John has been home for the weekend for the past three weeks and as it was lovely weather yesterday morning, I took the afternoon off and we went out with the dog on Senja. Serious walking is out for the moment. The deep snow on the mountains is beginning to melt. Water begins to run underneath it, and so as well as being slushy and almost impossible to walk through, there’s also a risk of avalanches. So for now, we contented ourselves with a stroll near Vangsvik. We found a lovely little harbour where the water was so clear that both John and I thought it would be a lovely place for a scuba dive. Though we have some kit in the flat, it’s so long since I’ve been that I will need to contact a club for retraining if I decide I want to jump back in.
I also stopped on the way back to take some pictures and was delighted to find the start of a hike which I had never noticed before. At four hours (probably five or six at my pace – Norwegians walk everywhere much faster than I do) and with a well marked path, it sounds perfect.
If the view at the beginning is anything to go by, the outlook from the top must be stunning. In a few weeks time, we will have 24 hour daylight, and even though I’ve woken to snow again this morning, it can’t last forever. Though spring is still trying to hide, there are definitely leaf buds on the trees now. Maybe a midnight hike will be in order. Roll on summer!
Easter is a big deal in Norway. The first year we came, we were looking forward to the Easter break. The children were off school and work stopped right through from the Wednesday afternoon until the following Tuesday. Thursday morning dawned bright and sunny and I recall we headed into Stavanger, thinking we would go swimming in the outdoor swimming pool. We were disappointed to find it was closed. Who would close a swimming pool in the school holidays, we wondered, in our quaint British ignorance? Many swimming pools in Norway, we have discovered since, close during school holidays. That still seems bizarre to me as in the UK they are thought of as an entertainment and teaching venue and a useful and healthy one at that.
But the realisation that it wasn’t just the pools that were closed but also the shops was the real show stopper. While we probably had enough in the freezer to get by, we had assumed we could buy Easter eggs and all the celebratory food during the first day of our break. It wasn’t our finest hour.
Nowadays I am a little more prepared. I spent Monday out on a visit with Thomas and Tuesday at the abattoir. Charlie had originally been due to arrive on Wednesday, but due to coronavirus the planes continue to be erratic, so in fact he came on Tuesday evening. I had already planned for five days of dinners. Not for the Tuesday itself though, so Charlie bought us a meal from the local Chinese restaurant, which we ate at home due to lockdown regulations. Travel around Norway wasn’t recommended, but as Charlie hadn’t seen John or Anna for months, both our region and his have low infection rates and the planes were already booked, we had decided to go ahead, but take extra care to avoid contact outside the family while he was here.
Because he had arrived early, we were able to take a trip around Senja on Wednesday. We were lucky with the weather. It has been snowing on and off most of the time here, in between massive almost daily thaws, but there was an oasis of calm on the far side of Senja island and at one point, the sun even came out!
We made a stop at Steinfjord rest stop, a sandy bay at the end of a short fjord. The tiny village of Steinfjord nestles right at the base of the steep mountains. It’s a beautiful place.
Triar was, of course in his element, though he did have to wait patiently with his ball as Charlie spent some time taking drone footage of the surroundings.
The drive back was also beautiful, though as we rounded the north end of the island, the snow set in and after one final picture of another mountain range receding into clouds, I didn’t get any more worth sharing.
The end of Triars day was not so cheery. He had rolled in something or other back at the beach and so when he came home, he went straight into the shower and emerged, clean but not delighted.
And so for now, I will wish a very happy Easter to you all. See you again soon.
It’s getting lighter very fast now. We have an hour more daylight today than we had last Saturday. We took Triar for a run on the beach last week, and these pictures were taken at around four in the afternoon.
We finally have some snow. It’s been falling on and off throughout the week and it makes the world seem much brighter as well. Back in Scotland, growing up, it generally snowed a couple of times each winter. It was usually around zero when it happened and often the flakes were huge. They landed on the ground and stayed there.
Snow at minus ten is quite different. I have occasionally seen bigger flakes, but they’re mostly much smaller. If there’s any wind at all, it carries them effortlessly. Sometimes they move so fast horizontally that I wonder if they’ll ever hit the ground. Driving at night, the snow skitters and dances across the road in the headlights. When lorries pass, they create clouds of it that seem to go on for miles. Of course, if there’s a lot of snow and some wind, you can get dangerous drifts, but so far it isn’t deep and nor is it windy. It has, though, covered over all that ice, and to enough depth that it is no longer treacherously slippery.
There is, as yet, no obvious heat in the sun. It finally made it over the hill to hit the house on Tuesday. Odd how heartening it was to see it, though it was gone a moment later.
It was rather misty as well that day. I was fascinated to see the bridge to Senja had become a bridge to nowhere. I took two pictures. The first is at the top of the page, when the sun was turning the fog a wonderful pink colour. Moments later, the sun was diminished as the cloud thickened, and then it stopped looking warm and colourful, but was beautiful nonetheless.
And now it’s Saturday morning and John is home for the weekend and wants to take Triar out. It’s half past nine and already light, so who am I to say no! I will leave you with a picture of the cloudberry liqueur I picked up yesterday at the Vinmonopol. We tried it last night and it tastes of honey and late summer warmth. Cheers!