Tag Archives: Snow

A Jacuzzi with a View

Sunrise/sunset: 02:57/22:36. Daylength: 19h39min

This week marked the official change in Norway from the old Animal Health Law to a new version. The changes stem from changes in the EU’s legal requirements. Norway isn’t in the EU, but we do follow their rules and these particular rules are mostly based around the protection from, and prevention of, infectious diseases in the animal population. The regulations cover everything from wild boar to fish, and even extends to bees.

My own special interest this week was goats. Mattilsynet have designated hobby goats as a particular point of interest this year, following an outbreak of sheep scab (caused by mites) in small herds of pet goats. Movement of pet animals tends to be much less well controlled than with larger, commercial herds, where professional farmers are generally more aware of the law. We had an animal health and welfare team meeting planned for Thursday and Friday at Malangen. The intention was to carry out inspections on traceability and TSE (Scrapie) on the way to the conference centre, have a lunch to lunch meeting, then do more visits on the way home.

Thomas and I were to do these inspections together and Thomas was busy, so on Monday I set to with planning. I started by printing out information sheets about the symptoms of Scrapie and the legal requirements goat owners had to follow if their animals died unexpectedly. There’s a whole lot of official paperwork involved in any visit. It was only when I was halfway through this project, with seven TSE inspection kits underway, when I realised that the law changes had not been updated in MATS, the computer system we use for recording such inspections.

I rang Line, who was arranging the team meeting, and asked her whether there were any contingency plans in place, to which she replied there weren’t. She asked if I had time to look at it, which fortunately I did. So then, my task for the week was to try and work out how to manage the situation, and then explain it all to the rest of the team, so they could do some inspections on the way home, even if they hadn’t been able to do any on the way there.

And so, I spent the early part of the week tracking down the wandering regulations. Norway has tended to be ahead of EU law anyway, in terms of keeping out infectious diseases and in biosecurity on farms, and what I found was that most of the law remained exactly the same, but was now in a different order.

Whenever we carry out an inspection, we have to relate it to one law or another: we can’t just go out and give our opinion on whether things are being done right. If the animal owners are complying with the law, then we don’t give much detail on which laws we checked in the reports we send. If we do observe something illegal, we have to quote the section of law which covers it, explain what it was that we saw that we consider breaks the law, and lay out what the animal owner has to remedy. In some instances that’s quite straightforward. If the law says that all goats have to have ear tags by the time they are a week old, and there are adult goats without ear tags, then the solution isn’t difficult. But the finer details of those laws are currently covered by the Animal Health Law and all its supporting regulations, and now I was unable to use those laws because the system was out of date.

Assuming there must be a back-up plan, I fired off an e-mail to our local advisor on such topics and then carried on setting up the packs I had begun. I was hoping that someone else had started to put something together and I could be pointed in the right direction. If I dived in blind, it seemed likely that I would end up duplicating work someone else had already carried out. I got a reply back quite quickly, pointing me not to the specific situation I was dealing with, but on some more general considerations about what to do if you found something that broke the law while the new law was not yet in the system.

The general instruction was, that in the absence of specific Animal Health Laws, we should use Matloven – the Food Act. This is a more reasonable suggestion than it might appear on first sight. Much of our law around animal health is governed by the fact that many animals end up in the food chain: in order to produce safe food, you need to deliver healthy animals.

The downside was that compared with the animal health law, the Food Act is very non-specific in terms of animal health. I spent a lot of time reading through, and though it gave overarching instructions, it was low on detail. I was still tempted to go ahead with the inspections. After all, it wouldn’t really matter too much… but then I realised I was assuming that all the visits would go well. If we discovered a significant problem, we would find ourselves trying to to bend a law designed to safeguard the consumer by ensuring the traceability of a pack of hot dogs to the specifics regarding the ages of animals when their ear tags should be in place.

Further complications were brought to my attention when it was pointed out that, to be covered by the Food Act, the animal owners had to be from registered premises where they were sending their produce into the food chain. That doesn’t cover people who are keeping their goats as pets! And so, after three days trying to find ways and means, I concluded that the health of the hobby goats of mid-Troms would be better left uninspected until our systems are updated.

I was of course, slightly concerned. Line had confidently written in the meeting plan that I was going to update everyone on the checking, and now my update was that there was to be none, at least for now. I needn’t have worried. As I am gradually realising, the one constant when working for Mattilsynet is that any plan you make is likely to change from one moment to the next. In a minor twist, I had discovered that though Norway’s law had changed, Svalbard’s has not. My suggestion in the meeting, that we should simply relocate to Svalbard and do all our routine testing there was greeted with smiles. Our region is, after all, Troms AND Svalbard. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know if there are any hobby goats on Svalbard. Moreover, we had the sauna and jacuzzi at Malangen booked for Thursday evening. So, with everything considered, we reluctantly concluded we would just have to do the inspections later.

Malangen Resort was lovely. Now that the Covid restrictions are lifted and we are able to meet in person again, I am discovering that there’s a definite advantage in working in a location where there are so few of us covering such a large area. In smaller regions, everyone would drive to a central office and meet there. Here, because of the distances involved, we tend to meet in conference centres or hotels, and some of them are in stunning locations.

So this was my hotel room overnight, and the view outside. Just wonderful, although in true Norwegian style, there was no decaffeinated coffee or milk with the beautifully arranged coffee cups.

Of course, I could have asked for milk, but I was too busy enjoying myself in the jacuzzi and sauna. Thanks to Line for arranging it all. I should say, we paid for those ourselves – my job is stressful, but even in Norway, there are limits!

There may not have been milk for the coffee in the bedroom, but the food was modern, with a definite flavour of Norway. Reindeer stew, reindeer carpaccio, cod and mushy peas, and lemon cake.

Much as I loved the hotel and the views and the jacuzzi, the best thing about the lifting of the Covid restrictions is getting to meet people again. Always difficult to say at what point colleagues become friends, but even with the wonderful surroundings, the best part for me was the conversation and companionship. In a tough job, those things are beyond price.

Birgit and me, enjoying the water and the view

Zoomies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map showing Kvaløya and Tromsø

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading, see you next week!

Searchlights

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

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

Triar and his squeaky ball

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

Triar – almost asleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White painted house with snowy roof under a dark cloudbank

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

Snow storm approaching along Gisundet sound

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

Light breaking through the clouds over Senja

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

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

Wheelie bins with thick caps of snow

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

Sky scene with moon, clouds and aurora

Logistics

Sunrise/sunset: 10:14/ 13:45. Daylength: 3hr30min

More than halfway through January and I still haven’t seen the sun. The snow is getting deep now, though it hasn’t quite reached the bottom of the windows in my living room, perhaps because there has been periodic rain in between the blizzards!

Hopefully a moving image of snow blowing past outside my window
Picture of my garden from the living room window. The hedge has all but disappeared.

The snowfall was especially extreme last Sunday. I was out three times during the day to clear the car and driveway, which typically takes twenty minutes to half an hour.

The wall of snow on the left side of my driveway is getting quite high

I had been wondering about the logistics of snow clearing for a while. Last winter, there was relatively little snow, the year before that (before I moved here) masses. I have what is, in effect, a large spade with which I clear the driveway. There is other equipment I could possibly purchase. You can get much larger tools that are for pushing the snow around and also snow blowers, that have a motor, but for now I still rely on my spade. The only problem with that, is that I am gradually having to throw the snow higher and higher in order to get rid of it. There is a low hedge (now buried) on the right hand side of my driveway and I can push the snow off the top of that one, but the snow wall is getting wider and wider, so that has a limited timespan as well!

But last Sunday was complicated by the fact that Andrew and I had to go to Tromsø in the morning. I had a doctor’s appointment and he had an appointment to get his wisdom teeth taken out. We didn’t have to be there until eleven, but it’s more than two hours driving on a good day. It was worrying me that, if we awoke to a buried car then had to drive through a blizzard, we might be struggling to make it in time, especially as I don’t know my way round Tromsø yet.

So at about three in the afternoon, with heavy snow still whirling all around, I decided that as the driveway was still relatively clear, we should make our escape now and get part of the journey done on Sunday night. Rather than spend a sleepless night at home and getting up early, we could drive to Vollan (which is about half way to Tromsø).

It wasn’t an easy drive. It snowed most of the way, and there were times when the snow was blowing over the road, taking visibility down to a couple of metres.

I got Andrew to take a picture through the windscreen of the snow in the headlights

We stopped high up on the moors for a break. There is a Sami shop here in the summer, but now just a whole load of snow around the wooden strutts that are the bare bones of the lavvo tents that make up the shop.

We made it safely to Vollan. Had I stayed at home, I know I would barely have slept, but even with Triar in our room, I got a reasonable night’s rest and was able to have a relaxed hotel breakfast before setting out from a car park that someone else had mostly cleared!

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Andrew was naturally nervous getting his wisdom teeth removed, but the first side was done successfully. He slept for most of the drive home. It was still snowing intermittently, but wasn’t completely dark. At one point half of the sky cleared and to my amazement I saw what looked like a small area of cloud that was brightly lit up with rainbow colours. It looked a little like the rainbow created when there is oil in a film lying on top of water, only it was dazzlingly intense. I stopped as soon as there was a layby to take photos, (the picture at the top of the page was the best) but the picture doesn’t do it justice. It was properly stunning. A few minutes later, the sky opened up more and there was a huge area of indescribable waves of colour, but by then I was driving again, there was nowhere to stop, and given that Andrew had just had an operation, I didn’t want to wake him up.

I looked up the phenomenon when I got home and found out that these are nacreous clouds, which form when the air is very cold and the sun is just below the horizon. Another beautiful discovery about my adoptive home here in the north.

Thomas, Hilde and I had a meeting with the police yesterday, which was interesting. A new initiative was introduced a few years ago, where there are members of the police force who are dedicated to fighting animal crime. It was a useful experience, and one that made me think. Part of our job in Mattilsynet is to stop animal suffering by using various legal powers to push people into treating their animals better. There are various tools we can use, ranging from low level advice, up through setting them targets to reach by a certain date, escalating to fines if they don’t comply and ultimately banning them from having animals if they fail to improve over a period of time.

Most of what we do is designed to improve the situation for animals, but we can only use our powers when there is an active situation where the law is currently being broken. The police, however, can take on cases where the law has been broken before, even if the current situation the animals are in is not illegal. So having stronger links between the police and Mattilsynet is very helpful and (for me) reassuring.

Anyway, I will leave you with a screenshot of the weather forecast for this week. As you can see, there are avalanche warnings and all sorts, though luckily I live in a sheltered place, where the risks are low. I also have two pictures of a Jeep. I saw it last night and it was halfway buried, so I took a picture. Having taken it I discovered on my phone, when I got home, that I had taken a photo of it the week before. What a difference a week makes!

Here Comes… More Snow

Sunrise/sunset: 11:03/ 12:51. Daylength: 1hr47min

So here we are, almost half way through January. In theory, the sun heaved its way over the horizon for the first time in a month and a half on Thursday. As there are mountains in the way, I knew it would take a few more days for it to appear, but it’s a moot point since it’s been sleeting and snowing for most of the week. The weather forecast says there will be more of the same for at least the next week. Keep on taking the vitamin D!

Difficult case update: the first of my reports is written and sent. I hoped to have the second done by the end of the week, but Hilde suggested before doing so, that I should write out a timeline of everything that’s happened. This turned out to be a very useful process. There are a couple of things hanging over what happens next and a few things we still need to find out. Writing out the timeline has revealed a couple of things that I had missed the first time round. I guess our memories put things together rather chaotically – at least mine does when I’m going through something stressful. Now I have a much clearer idea of what we are still lacking and a couple of new thoughts crossed my mind regarding what might have actually occurred. I still don’t know whether we’ll ever resolve it completely. Life isn’t like a detective novel with a perfect tidy ending and all the loose ends sorted. I do feel more ready to keep working on it though.

We did get to Nordkjosbotn for our meeting. I took the two pictures above on the way there on Monday morning. I was only there for one day as I was at the abattoir on Tuesday, but I did get my night in a hotel! Some people travel a lot for work, and I guess for them staying in hotels must become routine, but for me it’s always been special because it’s rare. I love Vollan Gjestestue with its clean, comfortable rooms. Norwegian hotel rooms are generally small, but I love them nonetheless.

Hotel rooms aside, the most important thing for me was seeing other people. My social circle remains tiny, but meeting up with colleagues from Storslett and Tromsø is always enjoyable. I left early on the Tuesday morning and Astrid got up to have a cup of coffee with me while I was having breakfast. It was a good end to a pleasant trip.

I had a lovely restful weekend last week. It was snowing for much of Saturday, but in the evening I took Triar out for a stroll around the harbour next to where I work. It’s a small, quiet place. I believe you can buy fresh prawns from one of the fishing boats, but at this time of year, there isn’t much coming and going.

If you want to, you can sit and have lunch overlooking the harbour, but I don’t think many people will be taking advantage for a few months yet.

I returned to a birthday cake Andrew had made for me. It had two layers of sponge cake, one with raisins and the other chocolate chips. It was topped off with chocolate icing and was easily as delicious as it looked.

When the sky is clear, I do try and get out during the brightest part of the day, so last Sunday, I took Triar out to one of our favourite haunts just outside Silsand. The snow was too deep to walk far (once it’s at mid-calf level, it becomes difficult for me to navigate) but we wandered around the areas where the snow had been cleared earlier, where it wasn’t too tough. It was minus fifteen and when Triar first got out, he very quickly looked apprehensive, standing with his back arched and holding up his paws. I scooped him back into the car, where he shivered as I put his little socks on. I wondered whether he would decide he didn’t want to get back out, but he did, then ran around quite happily, so despite not being very thick, the socks give enough protection to make a difference.

From Monday, I’m going to try to cut down on all the Christmas and birthday extravagance, but for now, with the snow outside, it’s still perfect hot chocolate weather. Mum sent me some chocolate balls, filled with marshmallows, for Christmas and I had the first one last night. January should definitely be a month for cosiness. Have a good week all!

Winter Whites

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

It’s snowing again today. Perhaps later I will feel like going out, but for now it seems like a good time to huddle indoors and wait for the return of the sun. In theory, it should reappear over the horizon five days from now, but I know it will take a little longer to reveal itself because of the mountains that surround us.

My difficult case is still ongoing, and now a bewildering array of other people are being brought in, some to assist with the investigation, others for the purposes of troubleshooting. I am tired, but very grateful to Hilde, Birgit and Line who have been giving unsurpassed support throughout, as have the rest of the team.

I worked a couple of days at the abattoir this week, which gave me a couple of days of calm, though getting up at four in the morning to check whether it has snowed overnight (it had, both nights) doesn’t tend to result in peaceful, unbroken sleep. Rather, I wake often, worried that I have missed the alarm, or perhaps forgotten to set it. It takes twenty minutes or so to clear the car and the driveway, a little over five minutes to drive to the office, another five to ten to defrost and clear the Mattilsynet car, then round forty to forty five minutes to drive over, depending on the driving conditions.

There is some pressure, because the abattoir cannot legally start working until a vet has checked the live animals. If they notice I’m not there by six (when I officially start the check) then call me at that point, it would take me a minimum of an hour to get there if I was still sleeping. I do, however, get to drive home before it gets dark at two in the afternoon.

On Tuesday afternoon I also took a detour to Rossfjordstraumen on my way home, to carry out meat inspection on a moose that had been hit by a car. It was an unusual way to spend my birthday, but it’s a beautiful drive in the snow.

On Monday, all being well, I will be meeting Team Dyrego (the animal health and welfare team) at Nordkjosbotn. Definitely something to look forward to. I have at least two reports to write, information to send to various different people, and another case lurking in my inbox. Still veterinary work is always like that. Some days, there’s very little to do, others can be overwhelming. It’s easier to cope psychologically than it was when I was young, but my body isn’t as reliable as it once was. Swings and roundabouts.

I will leave you with a few more images from my life. I long for a garage, and if my car had a mind, I’m sure it would too. The boot has so much ice and snow stuck to it that it is getting heavy to lift when I’m opening it. John very kindly chipped away the ice that was covering the sensors that warn me that I’m about to reverse or drive into something. This was a great relief as before that, there was a siren going off inside the car every time I reversed out of the drive.

Icicles on my car bumper

Though the weather is cold, the water in the sound remains warmer, due to the gulf stream. This means that it tends to stay warmer here than inland, but also means that sometimes fog rises up from the water. This can be very beautiful.

Night fog rising up from Gisundet around Senja bridge

Sometimes I can watch as the snow clouds head towards us from the northwest.

Blue-grey storm clouds over Gisundet

And the last one is John, whose beard has turned prematurely grey after a skating session! Have a good week everyone!

John with an icy beard

My Norwegian Christmas

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

When I left you on 21st December, I had only a faint hope that there would be a white Christmas. It had turned cold after the thaw and at some point, a tiny potential snowfall had appeared on the weather forecast. Only a few millimetres, but perhaps it would be enough. But when I checked again on the twenty second, this was what greeted me.

I texted Charlie. After all, he was supposed to be flying up the next day, and the forecast for Tromsø was much the same. Clicking on the yellow triangle told me that this was a warning for a Polar Low – otherwise known as an Arctic Hurricane.

Early on Wednesday afternoon, the sky had turned to a brooding shade of grey with edges of lilac. Already, there were a few snowflakes in the air.

The wind never really got up, but it did snow. Fortunately the airport in Tromsø was unaffected and Charlie arrived from the fastboat right on schedule.

We went for a drive on Christmas Eve so that John could knock some of the snow off the roof of his caravan. One of the thing that daunts me about buying a house here is that you have to know when to knock the snow off your roof. To an extent, the snow insulates your house, but if there’s too much, the roof can collapse. This was a picture I took along the way.

We made (and ate) a chocolate log on Christmas Eve.

And despite all the rain, we awoke to a beautiful blue-white morning. I got my white Christmas after all.

Though it was cold outside, inside it was warm and cosy.

Triar was wearing his Christmas hoodie to open his presents.

Perhaps My Norwegian Christmas is an imperfect title, because though we were in Norway, we have never got into the local habit of eating our big meal and celebrating on Christmas Eve. I did cook ribbe though, instead of turkey. Ribbe is pork, taken from the flank of the pig, over the ribs, as you might expect. It’s very tasty and forgiving meat, but for Norwegians, ribbe is all about the crackling. In order to get it right, you have to salt the joint two or three days in advance, then you have to roast it in steam for the first hour, then roast it uncovered until it’s finished. I was pleased with the finished result, which was properly crispy and light.

There’s lingonberry sauce instead of cranberry, but other than that, our dinner will probably look familiar to most Brits.

One day we will perhaps cross over to cloudberries and cream, but for this year, we celebrated in true British style with a traditional Christmas pudding.

Anyway, as you can probably see, we had a very festive Christmas. I am very much aware that we were lucky that everyone arrived safe and healthy. I know that some of my friends were not so fortunate. But wherever you are, I hope you managed to find some peace and joy.

And if not, and you ended up going to hospital, I hope your ambulance station was as tastefully decorated as the one here in Finnsnes. Merry Christmas all.

My Norwegian Christmas – First Sunday in Advent

Given all the uncertainty at the moment around the pandemic, I thought it would be nice to share some images from my life over the next four weeks in the lead up till Christmas. I had hoped to spend Christmas in the UK with my parents this year. It wasn’t to be but Christmas in Norway is beautiful, so hopefully I can share some of it with you.

Back in Scotland, in the lead up to Christmas, we used to go round the village where we lived to find the “crazy houses” – those wonderfully over-the-top places where there were inflatable snowmen in the garden, where a spotlit Santa was ascending the wall on a makeshift ladder and the entire house was lit up with flashing lights that would put Blackpool Illuminations in the shade.

Here in the north of Norway, there are a lot of lights, but most of them are warm white. The painted wooden houses look very cosy in the darkness.

In the town centre yesterday afternoon, my eye was caught by some lovely shop window displays and by a rather drunken looking Christmas tree, lingering beside a door. There was also a stall in the local shopping centre, selling cured sausages.

We decided to take a walk in Ånderdalen national park and then have coffee at Senja Roasters but our plans were foiled by the cold temperature. It was minus twenty two when we set off for our walk. Triar has always been surprisingly resilient in the snow, so it hadn’t crossed my mind that perhaps minus twenty two might be a step too far. We managed less than two minutes before his natural enthusiasm left him, and instead of racing ahead, he came back and walked in front of me looking very uncertain. We carried him back to the car and he seemed relieved. I paused to take a photograph of the fjord, which was already starting to freeze in the shallow bay.

We weren’t sure whether we would be able to go into Senja Roasters. We did contemplate leaving the car running for Triar while we galloped in for coffee ( it was a balmy minus eleven in Stonglandseidet – the temperature changes as we drove around were astonishing) but happily, they allowed us to take Triar inside, so we could have a somewhat more relaxed lunch.

It was beautifully decorated with candles and coffee beans, and a few other cosy Christmas touches.

The food was great, of course, as well as the company.

And happily for Triar, we have hopefully found a solution to the cold-toe problem. See you next week!

People and Parties, Blue and Gold Light

Sunrise/sunset: 09:11/ 13:52. Daylength: 4hr41min

At the end of last week’s blog, I touched on the subject of the RNIB and on the happiness I felt having been contacted by a number of women who were interested in talking to me about being blind or severely sight impaired (which one of my correspondents described as being “the new term for blind”). As I mentioned last week, one of the characters in my new novel (Gail) is blind. She has a guide dog (Beth). I think there is a common assumption that those with a guide dog have no sight at all, but that isn’t the case. I am also planning a second book in the same series, which will have a major storyline around the relationship between Gail and Beth. I am very touched by the enthusiasm for my book. And it’s been lovely, hearing from new people and learning about different perspectives. A couple of the women have also shared websites that give added insight into their lives and I wanted to share them with you.

The first is a fascinating insight into how Samantha Leftwich sees the world. She uses photography to try to replicate different aspects of her vision. Her artwork was showcased in an exhibition called Windows of the Soul:

https://www.windowsofthesoul.art/samantha-leftwich

The other is a blog by Lynne Nicholson about living with Charles Bonnet Syndrome which she describes as “my brain being deprived of visual stimuli […] inventing it’s own version of the world around me.” Lynne writes about making her way through the world and some of the technology that helps with that navigation. Here’s the latest post on her blog:

Was that a dinosaur?

The weather is incredibly changeable at the moment. There had been snow, but by last Sunday, it had disappeared again. Looking for somewhere new to walk, I drove up onto the Lenvik Peninsula. (The Norwegian word for peninsula is “halvøy”, which translated literally means half island, which pleased me when I looked it up.) Turning up a random road, I parked the car near a waterfall under a bridge and headed up on a pathway that wove uphill through woodland.

Waterfall as it emerges from an old arched stone bridge

Though the snow was gone, the ground was frosty and the colours muted, but with touches of the glorious autumn still visible.

Blue and pink sky behind bare trees on a frosty hillside
Frosted autumn leaf

Triar was very happy, of course. He loves exploring new places.

Triar at the top of the hill

There was a wonderful fall of snow on Monday night, so of course I took some photographs when I took Triar for his evening walk. As I’ve mentioned before, the light at this time of year has a bluish tinge, even when the sun is up. At night, I was struck by the beauty of the golden light which shone through the snow clad trees and reflected on the water.

Friday ended up being a bit of a wild day. There was an office party planned for the evening and I was taking sausage rolls. It had been a long week, so I asked Hilde on Thursday if I could work from home, and I was planning an early finish to give me time to bake. There were a couple of meetings to get through and then I didn’t have too much left to do.

So much for my carefully laid plans. The first meeting was at 08:30 and was about our ongoing list of farms where we know the welfare needs some work. I had done a lot of work on these cases a while back, checking through the paper trails, creating historic timelines so that it was easy to see what the long-term problems were in each case. In the meeting, I discovered that our team had a new deadline and new Excel sheets to fill in regarding those histories, as well as creating new timelines for how we are going to tackle the cases in the coming months.

It was quickly obvious that I was going to have to go into the office to tackle these new deadlines. Having done much of the legwork, I hoped it would be a case of simply copy and pasting the information, but experience has taught me it’s hard to do that with the limitations of a laptop screen. Anyway, regardless of that, I needed to meet with Thomas to plan the next steps.

So at the end of the first meeting, I grabbed everything and rushed down to the office. The second meeting of the day was about to start and I just had time to get myself a coffee before it began.

The second meeting was our departmental meeting and as I don’t play a leading role in anything yet, I was starting to relax again, when Hilde sent the second curve-ball of the day flying at my unprotected head. There are, apparently, two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the slaughterhouse. Anyone who had been there in the course of the week was to take a rapid test. There was a mask on my desk, put there a while back and discarded, so I slapped it on. I’d been to the abattoir on Tuesday, so that group included me.

After that, I was impatient for the meeting to end so I could go and get the test. Obviously my urgent face-to-face meeting with Thomas was going to have to wait! We didn’t have any tests in the office, so after a brief discussion with Hilde, I headed off to the pharmacy to see if I could buy some. Having done so, I headed home to take the test. The fifteen minute wait before I could see the results felt very long, even though I knew the chances that it would be clear were good. I hadn’t been in close contact with many non-Mattilsynet staff, all of whom had already been tested and were clear. There was more hanging on it than my meeting with Thomas, of course. I have been waiting weeks for the office party and to miss it would have been awful.

Luckily the test was clear. I headed back to the office, calling in at the health centre, on the way, to book an MRSA test that I need to have before I can visit pig farms to check for it. No good me going out to check if the pigs have it, then contaminating the swabs or worse, giving it to them.

The party was fun! Lots of people brought food and so there was a wonderful spread. I wasn’t drinking, but some people were. There was an amazing feeling of a return to something I hadn’t realised how much I was missing. We sat close together at the tables, which in itself felt novel and not normal, as it used to be. Some people were drinking alcohol and unexpectedly, one of them began to get rather “tired and emotional” and that seemed nostalgically wonderful too. He talked at one point about how much he had missed this, and how we must do it more often and the whole room listened and then toasted him.

He really struck a chord when he said we have to create a new normal. The vast majority of people are vaccinated. It’s not perfect as the vaccine isn’t perfect, but likely this is as good as it’s going to get. There are no new developments left to wait for. There are still local lockdowns, where the risks are higher, but so long as the hospitals are not swamped, there’s an extent to which we now need to let it go.

I will leave you with a photograph of Thomas. As regular readers will know, Thomas is from South Sudan and his dazzling white Sudanese outfit was definitely one of the high points of the evening.

Thomas looking magnificent in clothes from his homeland, South Sudan