Tag Archives: Snow

New Beginnings

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

Is there anyone who doesn’t find themselves, at this time of year, reflecting on their life? As the new year comes in, it always feels like time to take stock of where I am, where I’m going and where I want to go.

There’s a lot happening at work at the moment. I am moving roles, from a focus on animal welfare out in the field, to animal welfare in the abattoir. They are advertising my old job for the second time now, without any notable success. I understand it is always harder to recruit people up here and perhaps working for Mattilsynet isn’t so attractive right now, partly as the wage is not competitive compared with other veterinary jobs, and perhaps because Mattilsynet is coming under a lot of flack at the moment. Still, I am thriving in my job. Though I can’t completely abandon my old role until I am replaced, there has been a significant change in focus.

I have gradually been taking on tasks related to meat inspection and now I have taken over the role of team coordinator for the team of vets and technicians who carry out Mattilsynet’s tasks in the abattoir. This role is partly administrative. I have to slot people into the rota and let them know what days they will be working sufficiently far ahead that they can work around it. There are currently only two staff who are full time in the abattoir and present: Trude and Konstantin. The rest of us work shifts there while based elsewhere, though it looks like I will be working there more than fifty percent of the time for the foreseeable future. I will need to get up to speed on what should be, rather than what is. Working permanently with a skeleton staff is harder on the permanent staff who are there than it should be, though for the past three years, we have been lucky enough to have enthusiastic and highly competent temporary staff, both in the season in autumn, and year round. Konstantin came for the season in 2021 and has been filling in for missing permanent staff now for almost a year and a half.

But as well as the admin side, I also represent the team, both in the wider department and on various committees, who work towards ensuring animal welfare and complying with the legal requirements we have to fulfil, and that is the role I am most looking forward to. Last week I wrote about Helene in Karasjok and Venche in Mo I Rana and I am excited to be working with them. I have masses to learn, and I love learning new things. I can also imagine a time, further into the future, when I will have learned enough “locally” (Mo I Rana and Karasjok are both about eight hours drive away from Andslimoen where I work) that it might be useful to travel further afield, to find out what abattoir workers in other parts of Norway do. For now though, that’s a long time away. I have my annual review next week though, so there is a lot to discuss with Hilde.

At home, things are reasonably stable, though I think we have messed up a bit with snow clearance. There was something of a thaw last week and all the snow slid off the garage roof. We hadn’t yet finished shifting the snow that had come off the house roof and the handle of the snow blower was broken. There wasn’t time to move it all by hand before the temperature dropped and it all froze again. So now we have huge piles of hard, icy snow around the house and the garage. Obviously it will melt eventually, but I think we probably ought to have cleared some of it to avoid the risk of too much build up through the rest of the winter and potential flooding when it does finally melt again. Only time will tell whether it will be problematic or not. Well, maybe some local people would be able to predict better than I can, but that’s the nature of living somewhere unfamiliar. Whatever comes, it will be dealt with when it arrives.

It continues to be very beautiful, though the tendency to hibernate is strong when it’s minus twenty outside. My pictures then, were taken around the house. The one at the top of the page, with the pink and blue sky, is from the veranda and here are two taken at night when Andrew and I went out on a duel mission to clear the pathway that allows him to get to the bus stop in the morning without walking on the main road and to give Triar some fresh air.

This is the house of our nearest neighbour. It looks very cosy with its mørketid lights.
The barn next door, with complementary aurora.

Anyway, I have to go now. In addition to everything else, I have some editing to do on my book. I told my agent I would have the changes to her by the beginning of next week, so I have to do it now. Deadlines are good for me when writing. Without them, the tendency for procrastination is way too strong.

Happy new year to everyone who has made it this far down the page, and I hope you have a good week!

You’re Doing It Wrong!

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

It’s been a gentler week than last week, thank goodness, though there are still challenges coming my way. The pipes under the house still need fixing, but I think they’ll need to wait until spring now as the hole that leads into the house foundations is now under a metre of snow. John managed to get the snow blower working, but having cleaned a fantastic area of snow, the handle broke yesterday. To be fair, it’s a sturdy snow blower that we bought for 5,000kr (about £400/500US$) and it’s twelve years old, so it’s only to be expected that there will be problems. John’s friend is welding it for now and we will be able to buy a replacement part in the new year.

It is typical that, in the year I bought a house, there has been an incredible amount of snow so early in the winter. I think it was last year that I was worrying that we wouldn’t get a white Christmas. No fear of that this year. I made a new friend a little while back and she commented that having been in her house for twenty years, she and her husband had a good handle on everything and we are in the opposite position. Right now, there are a huge number of unknowns. The drains are the perfect example. Even though we have a surveyor’s report that says they’re fine, they are not. Still, if that’s the only nasty surprise, we will be doing well.

And it is in my mind that this will probably be the worst time period. If we can get through this winter, next year, we will probably be better prepared. For now, it seems that just keeping the snow at bay might be a full time job over the next few days. There are yellow snow warnings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so we’ll probably be doing some work to keep everything working. I know, in Scotland, I would probably just let it lie and clear it another day, if I didn’t have to get the car out today, but as more snow falls, it weighs down the earlier snow, and you can end up with huge weights of heavy snow to move, if you leave it too long, especially if the temperature drops and it gets icy.

There’s also the rather vexed question of snow on the roof and when you have to remove it. Having read around the topic, it seems our house lies just on the edge of two different time periods of building controls. From 1950 – 1979 the regulations were much less stringent and rooves didn’t have to be quite so strong. The recommendation is that you should remove it if there is 40 – 50 cm. From 1980 onwards, it would be able to carry more than twice as much. There appears to be some uncertainty about when our house actually was built. The estate agent’s brochure said 1979 when I bought it. Having taken over the house, I found an older sales brochure that said it was completed in 1983. Anyway, to be on the safe side, we bought an Avalanche roof rake yesterday, so yesterday evening, having seen the forecast, John, Andrew and I spent several hours outside wielding it, or at least John and Andrew did the job, while I dug away some of the fallen snow from the sides of the house.

Having cleared quite a lot of it, but having been unable to get the last couple of metres cleared, right up toward the ridge, we came back in. It was then that I read up more thoroughly on something I had read earlier about clearing the roof in stages and not leaving it unbalanced. Apparently, leaving a layer along the centre is exactly the wrong thing to do. Unfortunately, the pole with the snow rake isn’t quite long enough. We might be able to get an extension, but of course it’s Christmas and finding things in the shops might be challenging. Some of them are open this morning, but not all. Still, having read an awful lot, there are none of the signs of impending doom listed on those advisory websites. The doors all still open normally and there has been no creaking or cracking. And having a bit more snow built up around the base of the house seems to have warmed up the “crawling cellar” as it’s called. For the first time in weeks, it was above freezing down there (there’s a thermometer in the kitchen). I have no idea whether the drains are likely to freeze in there, but it’s a certainty that they’re less likely to do so at 0.5° C than at -10° C.

As I said, so many unknowns. This is all new to me and perhaps there are things I ought to know but don’t. Still, yesterday, as John and Andrew cleared the roof, it was wonderful to watch them working as a team. Whatever else I’m getting wrong, I’m very proud of the wonderful young men they’re becoming.

I had a trip to Tromsø on Wednesday for an x-ray on my toe. The result came in startlingly fast and I got a message when I was on the boat on my way home. It’s not arthritis apparently, so goodness knows why it’s red and swollen, though it’s been like that for several months. My money is on it being gout. I’ll have to lay off the sherry over Christmas! It was quite nice in Tromsø though, so I took a few photos.

And I had a mince pie for breakfast on Thursday. I thought there was something hard in it, but had swallowed the mouthful before I had a chance to react. A couple of minutes later, my tongue discovered that part of one of my teeth had sheared off. It was one that had broken before on one corner and now a second one was gone. Still, I rushed into the dentist’s and he managed to fit me in there and then, so I now possibly have more filling than tooth, but it will do for now!

Anyway, it’s Christmas Eve. Today will be the last episode of The Julekalendar on Norwegian TV. I feel it could become a new Christmas habit. And the title of todays blog is inspired by a line said by Hermione in the first Harry Potter film. John and I have been watching them all in sequence over the past week. Hopefully, we will watch the final one tonight. Anyway, I have to go now. The shop which might have an extension for the roof rake seems to be open, so if we can get the drive cleared, we might be able to buy one.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. See you next week.

Tough Week

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

So much for trying to take a week off. The photograph of the ice bridge at the top of the page was only taken last Saturday, but it feels a very long time ago. John and I drove across it (just for fun) when we went to buy parts to try and fix the snow blower. It’s not quite working yet as one of the belts keeps jumping off, but John thinks he will be able to resolve that shortly. After working on it for several hours in significantly sub zero temperatures last weekend, he has made a lot of good progress.

My week off didn’t go as planned though. I was on my way to buy some gifts for John and Andrew’s stockings, on Monday morning, when I received a phone call from Thomas asking me to attend a meeting. Fortunately I have Teams on my phone, so I was able to join the meeting as I drove home. It was, of course, regarding last week’s tragedy, when one of the farmers in our district was shot by the police. I can’t share any details of the case itself, but Thomas and I spent a very long day out, in very low temperatures (round -15°C) working together to ensure that all the animals at the farm were either moved or would receive ongoing care until they can be.

I think the worst thing was the mental toll. Hard to deal with a case where it was so obvious that this was a person who had been badly failed by the system, but it was physically challenging as well. I hadn’t realised we would be there so long, but when I was preparing to go out, the only gloves I found were thickish waterproof gloves with no lining. Thomas, generous as ever, on seeing this lent me one of the two pairs he had brought. In fact, I think he lent me the warmer pair and that meant a lot. Sometimes it’s the small things that really help. It was a long and difficult day though, and we didn’t get back to Finnsnes until about midnight. I left Thomas working, with the agreement that I would go to the abattoir next morning, to oversee some ongoing work with the case.

The next morning’s trip didn’t go to plan either. I had taken one of the Mattilsynet lease cars. They are all quite new, and I wasn’t expecting any trouble, though one of the tyres was registering as having slightly low pressure, as sometimes seems to happen when it’s very cold. I was about half way there, when the car suddenly lost power and began to slow down. I was on a main road, where stopping would be dangerous, so I pushed the accelerator down further and the car speeded up a little, but was obviously not normal as it surged and slowed. I know the road very well, fortunately and knew there was a large bus stop up ahead where I could pull in. By this time, a message had popped up to say the motor was overheating. I managed to coax it into the layby before I turned the engine off.

My situation, even then, was precarious. I couldn’t run the engine to keep the car warm and the outside temperature was -25°C. I called the breakdown services and got through to a central line, who said someone local would call me back. I had a warm Mattilsynet jacket and hat in the car, which I quickly put on and fortunately, within a few minutes, I was talking to someone from Viking rescue, who was only about half an hour away. He wouldn’t be able to pick up the car, he told me. He already had one on the lorry, which he had to take to Tromsø ( a two hour drive) but he could pick me up and drop me off at the abattoir. I can honestly say, I have rarely been more grateful. I had been contemplating ringing Trude to collect me, but there was no guarantee anyone would be available for a while.

So I limped on to the abattoir, but then without a car, I couldn’t get back to collect my own from Finnsnes, so had to wait until my colleague was finished on the line. I also didn’t make it to the blood test I had booked in that afternoon.

Wednesday, I actually did manage a day off, though I was so exhausted by this time that it wasn’t really enough. I also received a phone call from work to ask if I could take Thomas’ shift at the abattoir on Thursday, starting at 05:45. Thomas had been working continually throughout and was even more exhausted than I was, so of course, I said yes. It was just one of those weeks!

On Thursday, just as I was contemplating the fact that I might manage to get home a little bit early to start my long weekend, which would be good as the weather forecast was awful, my phone rang. It was John, who often calls to tell me he’s going to be late home, or ask whether I want him to get anything at the shop, so I answered without any concern. John sounded a little bit shaky though, as he told me he was at the local doctors’. He had fallen and hurt his ankle, and as there was no longer an x-ray facility in Finnsnes, he had to go to the hospital in Tromsø. He was waiting for a taxi, he told me. Fortunately my generous colleague Konstantin said they would manage without me.

There was heavy snow forecast, but we made it to Tromsø in good time. It was a nightmare trying to find a place where I could park near an entrance to drop John off though, given that he couldn’t bear any weight on his foot. The doctor in Målselv had told us to take him to Accident and Emergency, but there didn’t seem to be any access there for ordinary cars. Eventually, we went to the main entrance, where there were wheelchairs available, but even then it wasn’t straightforward. Manoeuvring a rickety wheelchair in snow and ice isn’t easy. Then we couldn’t find anyone to tell us where we needed to be. I know the UK health service is on its knees, but I was thinking fondly of the old days in Scotland, where every hospital I ever attended had A&E department where you could drive up to the door, and walk in to find a receptionist who, one way or another, would register you and get you into the system.

We finally managed to find our way to the right place, but after the x-ray was taken, we had quite a long wait. I spent the time worrying about the fact that my phone was (uncharacteristically) low on charge, I didn’t have a charger with me, and that finding a hotel in Tromsø with parking at five or six at night would be difficult as well as heinously expensive.

To our relief, John’s ankle wasn’t broken and he didn’t need to stay in, but as we set off to drive back, it started to snow heavily. Visibility was awful and for a while, I couldn’t manage to limp along any faster than 40km/hour. The headlights clogged up with snow and the windscreen wipers were icing up and smeary and I had been up since four in the morning. Once again, we limped along until we could find a place to get off the main road. Fortunately, John had declined to take any strong painkillers and even more fortunately, it was his left ankle that was damaged and my wonderful, workhorse car is an automatic. In any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have let him drive, but driving onwards felt almost impossible. Still, we contemplated stopping at Vollan Gjestestue, which would be halfway home. By some miracle, the snow stopped at Nordkjøsbotn and John felt able to carry on and we made it home at about nine in the evening.

The storm finally hit properly yesterday and I was super-glad we had made it home on Thursday evening. It took a very long time to dig out the car yesterday. Have a good week all.

And so here I am, after my hoped-for week off ended up being anything but. We haven’t decorated for Christmas yet and I haven’t done the edits to my book that Ger, my agent, has asked me to do. I am now very much hoping that I can use some of my flexitime hours to take some shorter days next week, but of course it will depend what work comes in. When I decided, forty years ago, that I wanted to be a vet, I had no thought at all, and no understanding of how tough it can be to work in a profession where you never know what the next days, or even hours might bring. It’s mentally so much tougher than I could ever have imagined too, but one thing I can say about my life is that it is rarely ever boring.

So here’s hoping that there isn’t too much more snow and that I have a bit more time this week. This was the view from my kitchen window yesterday, during the short, twilight hours.

Blood Tests and Welfare Cases

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

It’s been a busy week this week. There was lots of work to catch up on, on Monday as well as a couple of meetings. For animal welfare cases, I often work with Thomas and he’s often a source of great advice, but recently we have both had so much work to do outside the office that it hasn’t been easy to keep that contact up. This week, with his help, I’ve finally resolved a query that has been rumbling on for a while. I say I resolved it, but actually it was him that ran the meeting I set up. I was watching and learning though, and next time I would be able to tackle it myself.

On Tuesday I was out taking samples from goats. Our team are sent lists each year of tests we should carry out, checking for various animal diseases that cause a lot of distress or present a public health risk (part of the OK program). As well as taking blood samples, which will be tested for brucellosis (which can affect different species, including humans) I tested for mites by swabbing in their ears and paratuberculosis by taking samples of poo. At least, in theory I took poo samples. In reality, it was far harder to extract faeces from goats than I had expected. Next time, I will have to find a better strategy as my sample pots were definitely a lot less full than they should have been. Nevertheless, there is pleasure for me in blood sampling because it’s something I’m good at. That said, crouching down and standing up again forty times was a stark reminder that I’m not as young as I once was!

Thomas and I also worked together on Wednesday, meeting about a police case that we’ve been working on. There, both of us were learning, in particular regarding how to build up an evidence file to make sure everything is documented well enough that someone reading the file for the first time can fully understand the situation and where each piece of evidence was located. We also went through a lot of photos we had taken in the course of the meeting. Those photos were powerful evidence, I think. Seeing them afresh created quite an impact. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know how much I like to take photos and I pride myself in taking good photographs at work as well. If you are taking a picture of a thin animal, for example, the result is very dependent on the angle you take it and the clarity of the image. When you can see all the ribs and the bumps along the spine, you know that animal is painfully underweight.

On Thursday, I was out on another long-rumbling case with Birgit. More learning, because Birgit is great at her job as well. I even got to put some of the tips the police contact had told us the day before into practice. Birgit is good with animals and people and also compassionate towards both. The case in question will benefit from her steadiness and experience.

And yesterday, Thomas and I had a meeting with someone who may apply for a licence to process moose that have been run over and killed (to use for meat). The law regarding such premises changed drastically in the summer, and unless you are computer literate and know where to look, it can be difficult to navigate the process. Fortunately Thomas is fully on board with those changes too. Much of my job revolves around knowing where to find relevant information. Keeping up with so many different strands is one of the challenges of the work we do. Because we are in a rural area, we have to tackle a very wide range of issues. One moment, we could be assessing guinea pigs to see whether the conditions they are being kept in are adequate, the next we are deciding whether animals brought in from Ukraine are being kept in compliance with the modified quarantine rules, and the next again, we might be checking whether a reindeer carcase is fit for human consumption or whether the facility where that is being done has taken all the appropriate steps to ensure that those working there are safe. One thing I will say is that my job is rarely boring!

I am hoping to take most of next week off. It’s not a holiday. Rather it’s time that I have built up over recent months working long hours. I now have enough hours to take a week off and hope that I get to do so. I have already made plans to sacrifice Tuesday to another goat blood test (the cut off date for sending is the 15th December) and there was news yesterday that the police, very sadly, shot a man who is a farmer in our area. It was in one of the newspapers that Mattilsynet are involved and my boss was asked to comment, so the information that it’s in our area is not confidential information. It’s possible there will be some work involved with that case next week, or even during the weekend. If I am asked to go in at short notice, I will do so willingly. This is a very unusual and tragic incident in Norway and if there is need for an assessment of animal welfare, then Thomas and I are on the front line, alongside our boss, Hilde. I think we are a good team.

Finally, I hope you are enjoying my Advent photos. Hopefully I will be out and about next week to take some more. If there’s good weather, so much the better!

Triar enjoying a walk in the park

Mixed Emotions

Sunrise/sunset: 09:04/13:58 Daylength: 4hr54min

We are, once again, reaching the time of year when the hours of daylight start to drop away faster and faster. We currently have almost five hours when the sun is above the horizon, but it is only two and a half weeks until the polar night arrives. I am feeling very tired at the moment and the lack of sunshine might be having an effect on that, but this week the landlord woes I wrote about before have taken an odd and unsettling turn.

I will say first though, that outside of that, I have had a very interesting week. A couple of weeks back, an e-mail dropped into my work in-box about a table top exercise in Tromsø. The subject was emergency readiness in an Arctic setting. There were two scenarios that would be looked at. One was an outbreak of bird flu, the other a more subtle situation where there began to be sickness in reindeer, where the cause was not known. The meeting was being held under the auspices of the Arctic Council in line with the One Health Initiative. I was not aware that there was an Arctic Council, nor did I know anything about the One Health Initiative, so as you can imagine, it was a steep learning curve. That said, I found myself included (alongside my colleague Anja) more or less by accident, in two projects which are of huge relevance to the job I do, but on a scale that is so far above my pay grade that it felt like a whole new world was opening up.

To explain a little, the Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum which includes the eight countries which exercise sovereignty over the land that falls within the Arctic Circle, so Norway, Canada, the United States, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Russia. There is also a focus on including indigenous groups so that their concerns are properly represented and their knowledge brought forward.

The One Health Initiative is a movement which brings together medics, vets, researchers, environmentalists and other professionals to work towards a better understanding of the interdependence of human and animal health and the way that changes in the environment might impact these balances. Many of the diseases we monitor in animals at Mattilsynet (the Norwegian Food Standards Agency) are zoonotic (they can pass between animals and humans) or might become so. For example, we are currently keeping a close eye on bird flu, which can pass to humans when there is close contact between birds and people, but so far doesn’t spread easily between people after it made that jump. Similarly, we monitor salmonella (which spreads readily between humans and animals) and diseases like BSE (mad cow disease) and illnesses in other species that are related to it.

My job then, is right on the front line of dealing with that monitoring. I take samples from the animals, send them off to the lab and receive information back about whether they were positive or negative. Because I am interested in the wider picture, I quite often dip into Mattilsynets national emergency readiness website to see what is happening in other areas, to get a taste of how disease outbreaks are being handled. If an outbreak occurred in my local region, I would doubtless be involved in any testing that occurred, but generally all decisions about what happens from there are taken much higher up and other activities (for example, the disposal of the carcases of animals that present a risk) are then handed off to other agencies. I might be peripherally aware of it going on, assuming it was occurring in my locale, but I wouldn’t have any direct involvement.

Mattilsynet had apparently been contacted a good deal earlier about this exercise, but hadn’t responded. As it was getting later and later, the woman organising it had reached out to someone she knew in the local region, who had then put out an urgent call for representation (and unusually, had made the suggestion that someone relatively new to Mattilsynet might be suitable, as they would perhaps learn a great deal). Anja said she could go on days one and two, but asked if anyone could go on the third, or better still every day. I, despite still being up to my elbows in seasonal meat inspection, tentatively suggested that I might actually be free all three days. So I can only say that I went from a small, local perspective on emergency readiness as it relates to zoonotic diseases (with a quiet eye on the national situation in moments when time allowed) to a global perspective on the same topic. My mind was genuinely so blown by this that it took me until day three to really pick myself up and start to properly contribute, which I am proud to say I did.

Unfortunately, there was another factor thrown into this mix. On the first day of the exercise, in the morning, a letter from Husleietvistutvalget (the rent disputes tribunal) thudded into my digital mailbox. As regular readers will know, my ex landlord is making a vexatious claim against me for a huge sum of money and I previously have responded to his accusations, in what I believe was a careful and truthful manner. This new letter was his response. In a way, it was easy to respond to. It was filled with bizarre lies, which in some cases were easy to undermine.

For example, he has thrown away and replaced a cooker, which he says I had set on fire. This was an ancient cooker, which was acknowledged by his wife when we went round the flat together at the end of the tenancy. I was surprised to read then, in this latest letter, that it was actually relatively new and had been bought in 2018. The “proof” he provided was a receipt for a cooker bought in 2018. Had I been less prepared, or had he been luckier, I would have been at a loss regarding how to counter this claim. However, my photograph of the kitchen area had a reasonably clear (if rather distant) picture of the cooker. Though his receipt was for a Gram cooker, it was possible on my photo to home in on the logo on the cooker in the flat, which was a Zanussi.

There was other stuff, of a similar nature. The receipt he had sent for a sofa was one where, zoomed in, you could see it was bought in 2020 (after we moved in) and not now. It wasn’t the sofa in the apartment, so this was neither proof that the sofa we used was new when we moved in, nor that he’d had to buy a new one after we had left. To be honest, his lies have now reached such a level of inconsistency and outrageousness that I’m not too worried about the way the case handlers will view it, but I am worried about what he might do if and when he doesn’t get his way. He also has some money of mine, which was a rent payment, accidentally sent after I moved out. When I called the bank, shortly after realising what had happened, they advised me that if he didn’t send the money back, I should contact the police. I am now seriously considering whether I should go to the police and make sure they have details of the whole sorry case, from the start, when he stood in the apartment shouting at me, rather than explaining what he felt I needed to do to rectify faults he believed I needed to address, to this latest missal, which suggests to me that he is really starting to lose the plot.

Anyway, it was unfortunate that this fell onto me during this wonderful conference. However, despite that, I still managed to enjoy my trip. By the end of it, I was wondering how on earth I could get more involved, as it seems unlikely I will be included in the next exercise, which will be in Alaska. I even started to look up Masters Degrees in Public Health, but at 53, spending two years back at university would be a huge and significant change. It has certainly given me a lot of food for thought though.

I was very tired as I was driving back yesterday, but I stopped to take a picture of the snow, which has now come down from the mountains, though it is still patchy at sea level.

Snowy track leading out across the moors on the E6 north of Buktamoen.

And now I have to go. My car has been in at the garage in Tromsø. It had a major fault that could only be fixed there, and now I have to go catch a boat so I can pick it up. Have a lovely week all!

Snow and Fencing

Sunrise/sunset: 08:56/16:06 Daylength: 7hr09min

It’s almost November and winter has arrived. Last weekend’s rain turned into snow, which shouldn’t have surprised me, but it felt too sudden, having so recently returned from the UK. This weekend the clocks go back. Not that it will make a lot of difference to the daylight hours here. It’s only a month now until the polar night arrives. Though the temperature dropped to minus nine at the beginning of the week, it’s back up again now and hovering just above zero, so John has brought home the fencing kit: not a facemask and foil, but a huge mallet and a metal spike for making holes in the ground. He’s going to build a Triar fence, so that Triar can enjoy the garden without being on a lead the entire time. Obviously we’ll have to check it each morning to make sure a moose hasn’t walked right through it, but Triar loves zooming about (and burying his head in the snow) so it will be great for him. John made a start last night with lining up the posts, despite the fact that it was already getting dark when he got home.

In a rash moment last week, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. It’s an annual event where people who want to write a novel join a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I’ve tried once before and didn’t make it, but I haven’t written anything but this blog for ages and it’s about time I got started again. So now I have only a couple of days to get the rest of my plotline sorted out for my next novel. That is slightly less daunting than it sounds as I had started planning it months ago and have several storylines ready to go. Now I just have to weave them together and make sure they all work together. 50,000 words is just over half the usual number of words I’d expect to write, so even if I haven’t got the plotline worked out right to the end, I can still make a start. More writing, less procrastinating!

Next week is officially the last of the season at the abattoir. This years’ lamb is already appearing in the shops. Farikål is a very popular meal here. It’s a stew made of lamb or mutton on the bone, with cabbage and peppercorns. I confess I’m not a fan. The meat tends to be very bony and though it’s cooked for a long time, until it’s falling off the bone, I generally prefer my lamb slow roasted, rather than cooked in a casserole. Of course, it may be that I just haven’t found the right recipe yet. When it comes to food, I’m always open to persuasion!

Once the season is over at work, Thomas and I are going to have to work very hard to catch up with all the work that has been building up out in the field. There are routine visits we have to complete each year, including visiting set percentages of sheep and cattle farms to check the animals are properly eartagged and to educate about scrapie (a neurological disease in sheep that is similar in nature to BSE in cattle) and also some blood testing to do. All that is on top of responding to messages from the public about potential cruelty cases. Though we often have to slow down for the season, this year both Thomas and I have been at the abattoir daily, because two members of the regular staff have been on sick leave throughout. Our job can certainly be challenging.

Here are a few pictures I took when driving to and from work this week. A dusting of snow lightens the world, even on the darkest winter days.

Don’t Try This at Home

Sunrise/sunset: 07:28/17:40 Daylength: 10hr11min

A lot has happened this week. I’m starting to feel that life couldn’t be much more up and down if I was strapped into a roller coaster beside a demented grizzly bear.

Last weekend was mostly good:

John and I drove down to Narvik on Sunday to buy a snøfres or snow blower. I can see, when I look at the estate agent pictures of my house from last winter, that it obviously gets a lot of snow, so working out how to clear it is important. I like snow, which is just as well, and at least I now have a garage – no more getting up at 4a.m to clear one car, then a second ten minutes later. But I will still have to clear the driveway, which is longer than the old one. John found the snow blower on Finn – a Norwegian website that has everything from second hand stuffed otters to holiday booking and jobs.

The bloke selling it laughed at us when we arrived with my car and no trailer. I seem to have been beset by arsehole men of late (not sure why – I wouldn’t have said it was typical here) but happily John had brought his tool kit. He very quickly removed the wheels and the funnel that directs the snow, and we soon had it in the boot to drive home. Here’s John checking it out when we got back.

Sturdy, orange snow blower

In addition to the snow blower, I have also invested in a Roborock Vacuum cleaner. This must surely be the best invention ever for those of us who don’t like housework. In order for it to work, the floor must be clear, so that was a good start and gave us the final push to put away the last few things that were still lying around after moving. The first time I set it going, I discovered that you can watch its progress on the Roborock app. This was oddly fascinating and I sat and watched the lines building up as it cleaned the floor in sections. I actually watched this for about 40 minutes as it wove in and out of the hall and kitchen! A couple of days later, I showed John and he was equally mesmerised. And all that comes with the added benefit that the floor is unprecedentedly clean.

The highlight of the weekend was a visit to Trude’s to see the puppies. We had a puppy cuddling session and then coffee and I even came home with some plants for the house.

Puppys at the milk bar

Monday wasn’t a bad day until the evening. I was checking my online bank when I noticed there was very little left in my current account. This does sometimes happen, but I wasn’t expecting it, right at the start of the month. When I checked the outgoings I realised, to my horror, that an automatic rent payment had been paid out to my ex-landlord. I went and checked, with shaking hands, and realised that the monthly payment, which I had stopped, had restarted.

The bank helpline was still open, so I called them. They told me it was my responsibility, that the stop button was only for a month, and that it was now on me to try to get the money back. I was reeling. It was a lot of money as I was paying 14,500kr per month rent (well over a thousand pound or US dollars).

John was frantically searching online – a difficult task as all the information was in Norwegian – and he told me I had to contact the person I had sent the money to, to establish that it had been sent in error and that I wanted it back. My first instinct was to message the wife of Mr Abusive, so I did so, but then thought afterwards that I should tell him as well, given it was his bank account. I’m glad I contacted her as well as him as, though neither of them responded, I can see from her messenger (and thus can prove) that she read it, which might turn out to be quite important.

My bank have not been particularly helpful. I will be making a complaint, as if I click on a button that says “Stop transfer” and a button pops up that says “Start transfer” I assume that the process is stopped until I start it again. When I looked again, I can see there was also an option to delete. It was a while ago, so I’m not sure why I didn’t take that option, but with a word like “transfer” which can refer to an individual transaction, or the monthly transfer of funds, that the bank should have made it absolutely clear that the stop was only temporary and would restart the next month.

Of course, Mr Abusive has not sent the money back. I presume that he thinks he will keep it as a kind of “deposit” against the 40,000kr he thinks I will have to pay him. Taking a deposit in your own bank account is illegal in Norway though, so I hope that the rent disputes tribunal will take a very dim view.

In the meantime, I have contacted his bank – apparently they are obliged to take “reasonable steps” towards getting my money back. My own bank told me I should contact the police, if he doesn’t pay it back. I think they might be referring to a particular branch of the Norwegian police force, who work in debt collection, rather than him being arrested, but that is all still to come.

In the first instance, I have been able to obtain legal assistance from Jusshjelpa i Nord Norge, a group run by the university in Tromsø, where law students assist people with legal issues. I have also informed the rent disputes tribunal and they have extended my response deadline so that I can find out whether he pays me back or not. If he doesn’t, I will be adding it to that case, which will be legally binding, if they decide in my favour. Given Mr Abusive’s ongoing behaviour, I think it’s becoming increasingly clear who isn’t being honest and reasonable here. Legally, he should send the money back and wait for the tribunal result, but it’s looking unlikely that he will do so.

Anyway, having picked myself up from that debacle, I was feeling tired, but pretty happy towards the end of the week. The house and my life in general are still giving me a good feeling of happiness and stability. So I was looking forward to the weekend yesterday, when I was on the sheep line at work. We use sterilisers for our knives, which are filled with water that is usually simmering. My knife fell into the water. I was wearing a latex glove with a cotton glove underneath, so I put my hand in to retrieve the knife, as I had often done before. Unfortunately, this time there was a hole in the glove. It took a moment for the pain to hit, but I had to rush off the line, ripping the gloves off and leaving Vaidotas alone.

It was one of those horrible moments. I was wearing loads of protective clothing and it was becoming increasingly clear that I couldn’t continue without running my finger under cold water, so I had to throw off all the gear as quickly as possible and rush to the Mattilsynet room, where fortunately Ernestas was sitting at the table. I asked him to go in for me, and went to run my finger under the tap. Having looked at the NHS website last night, I can see that the first aid advice for burns has changed from ten minutes under cool water to twenty, but having stopped after ten minutes, I was still in so much pain that I had to ask Trude to take me to the doctors’. Another change of clothes was required. I guess, in an out and out emergency, they’d take you in your white “clean area” clothes, but a scalded finger didn’t really qualify. I was in enough pain that I had been sitting with my finger under another tap at the surgery for fifteen minutes, before I noticed I hadn’t actually done my trousers up.

So now I have a bandaged middle finger on my right hand. Second degree burns, apparently. There’s a blister encompassing a good section of my finger tip and another at the top of the nail. The pain seems to be under control for now, but typing is definitely not as easy as it usually is. Fortunately, I will be inspecting live animals on Monday, which will only require me to wield a pen, rather than a knife, so that should hopefully be okay.

Sunset taken on a walk with Triar near the house

And now I need to go shopping, partly for food, and hopefully also to buy an outfit for Anna’s graduation, assuming I feel up to it. She and I are also planning a trip to Stonehenge when I go over. We share a love of the ancient, so that definitely qualifies.

And I’ll leave you with a photo of a snow capped mountain. It’s rather distant and therefore difficult to photograph, but beautiful nonetheless. Have a good week all!

Snow capped mountain scene, taken from my veranda

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!