Tag Archives: Snow

Hot Dogs and Buckets of Snow

Sunrise/sunset: 01:04/00:24 Daylength: Up all day from today

There were two bank holidays this week, on Wednesday and Thursday. The first was 17th May, which is Norway’s national day. This was my first 17th May as a Norwegian citizen, so perhaps we should have celebrated in style and gone out to watch a parade, but it was raining heavily in the morning when we got up and so we decided to celebrate at home. There was a Norwegian flag in the house when we moved in, so we put it into the flag holder near the front door, then we had a relaxing day and ate Norway’s standard fare on 17th May of hotdogs and ice cream!

John’s girlfriend, Joana, came to stay overnight and celebrated with us and she and John made the hotdogs between them, including toasting the rolls, which I confess, we normally never do, but it did add an extra dimension of deliciousness.

On the evening of 17th May, I noticed a concerning change in the water pressure of the taps. I went to bed, hoping that it was a temporary blip and would all be okay in the morning, but it wasn’t. Instead, the pressure fell further, to the point where the toilet cistern didn’t fill and there was only a trickle coming from the taps. Given that it was still a bank holiday, we decided that we would probably be okay until Friday.

Though it was relatively easy to get some drinking water, I was in something of a dilemma about the toilet. I was trying to work out whether I should walk to get some buckets of water from a stream, when I remembered that there was still a source of water, right there in the back garden. Though most of the snow has melted, there was still a pile behind the garage. And so I went out with my bucket and spade, and for the last time this winter, I started digging snow.

Despite the heated bathroom floor, it took a surprising amount of time for the snow to melt, but when it did, we were able to flush the toilet again, thank goodness!

Friday dawned and then began the chase to try and find a plumber who was working. As you can imagine, with bank holidays on Wednesday and Thursday, a lot of people in all walks of life took the Friday off and the local plumbers were no exception. I messaged a few when I woke in the morning as some of them didn’t start until ten, even on a normal Friday, but I got no response and the ones I did phone didn’t answer, even though it was in their normal Friday working hours.

Fortunately, one kind plumber, Hugo Nordaas, actually rang me back. He was working all day in a shop, he told me, but would come out afterwards. I asked him whether I should continue trying to find someone else in the meantime, and he said yes, but to let him know if I still wanted him to come out. I had barely had time to start, when my phone rang again. Hugo had contacted someone else, who was on their way to me.

The young man who arrived didn’t seem very confident, but he assessed the situation and came up with a solution, which, I think, he checked with a colleague on the phone. I guess I’d better explain a bit more about our water system before going further, because I’m assuming the vast majority of you reading this have mains water, so if the supply dries up, workers magically appear and start trying to fix the issue. There is no mains water, out where I live, despite it being on a main road. Our water supply is private and comes from a “well” on someone else’s land. I hadn’t realised, until we went there, just how far away we were from the water source. I guess my house was built when there were very few other houses in the valley, so building a pipe from another house’s well was still probably cheaper than building a separate well.

You are probably wondering why I have put the word “well” in quotation marks the first time I used it. I don’t think there is really another translation for “brønn” than “well” but it isn’t a well in the way I would think of one. In the UK, a well is dug deep in the ground until the ground water is revealed. Usually it’s circular and very deep. Here in Norway, it’s common for water to be taken from an inlet in a stream or river, and that is what our “well” is.

And so, with thoughts that the long pipe bringing water from the well the house might be blocked, the plumber’s first action was to return to base to collect a pump and some water. He then pumped water back up the pipe in the hope that, if it was a frog or a mouse in the pipe, it would be pushed out of the top end and (hopefully) washed away. I thought, for a moment, as water gushed back out of the pipe, that he had been successful, but after a fairly short time, it slowed again to a trickle and we were back at square one.

The next step, he explained to me, was to go up to the well and check the inlet valve, to make sure it wasn’t blocked up with anything. That was a likely scenario, he said, as there has been so much meltwater in recent weeks. The snow certainly has melted fast this year and there was a lot of it. He was going to go away now, he said, and once I had checked, I should call him back if there was still a problem.

I got into the car and drove along to the house of the well owner. We had been there on Thursday and they had told us their water in their house was running as normal. They had also told us that the well might not be easy to access yet, as there could still be snow. It was also Friday now, and a working day, so I wasn’t sure there would be anybody in. Under these circumstances, which meant it could be several hours before we could get an answer, the plumber going away seemed not unreasonable. Quite unexpectedly though, the young man who opened the door told us that he had actually gone up and checked the well. Everything looked okay with it, he said, the entrance to our outlet pipe included.

I had expected it might be hours before we found out (I didn’t know where the well actually was, so we couldn’t have checked it ourselves) but in actual fact it was only a few minutes. Knowing that the plumber wouldn’t even be back in Finnsnes, I called him and told him the news, but instead of coming back, he told me he didn’t know what to do next and would have to consult with colleagues.

I waited for an hour and a half, but hadn’t heard anything. Given that it was now Friday afternoon and the weekend was coming up, with the thought in my head of having no flushing toilet and only a trickle of cold water all weekend, I sent him a message, asking whether he thought we perhaps needed to contact someone with a camera to check the pipe or even just that he could perhaps come back with someone more experienced, but despite the fact that my phone said the message had been delivered, after another hour and a half, I hadn’t heard anything back.

Had he been older, I might have waited longer, but I can remember being a young vet with not much experience, trying out my limited skills and, on not finding a solution, sending the clients home with something to try, and then booking them back for another evening when I wasn’t on duty, so that someone else would (hopefully) deal with it. I understand that feeling of being out of your depth and hoping the problem will resolve itself, and also the lack of client skills that make it easier not to call with updates, even if you are trying to organise something. I didn’t know which it was, but I thought that if I left it, I might well find myself stuck. It had been almost impossible to find someone earlier, and time was getting short. And so I rang the one number that I knew would result in action, which was the emergency number for the insurance company.

Last time I discussed Norwegian insurance, I raved about how good they were and how much better they were at paying out than UK insurance companies. My faith was slightly shaken after the last time, as they decided the problem with my drainage pipes had happened before I bought the house, and therefore they decided that they weren’t liable, however experience said that they would certainly get things moving and indeed they did.

They provide an advisor, who will get in touch with the relevant people for you. They know all the numbers to call and probably warrant more attention from busy workers than an unknown number. In no time at all, the young plumber was back and this time he had someone from another company with him. Now they had lots of water, which I understood they were going to try to pump through again, which I think they did, to no avail. But having not resolved the problem, this time they set up a temporary solution. We now have an 800L water tank in the garden and a pump outside my bedroom window to pump it into the house. It isn’t drinking water, but at least we have enough now so that we can flush the toilet and have showers over the weekend.

Working through the weekend was probably out of the question. I think most British people will probably be raising their eyebrows at that, but in Norway, lots of things have to wait, and here in the north, the pace of life is much slower, even than in the south west of Norway, where I used to live. They did give me a future outline this time, which is something a client should never be left without. On Monday, the advisor will come out and will hopefully explain more about what’s going to happen. It seems that the likeliest scenario is that there has been some shifting of the earth, which has resulted in the pipe becoming kinked or possibly broken. The plumbers seemed to think it might be necessary to dig up the entire length of the pipe, but I am hoping that there will be a better solution. There must be means for finding where pipes run, other than digging all the way from one end or the other. Hopefully on Monday, I will find out.

But for now, as I said before, there is a pump outside my bedroom window, with a plug leading through the window. I have to switch it off at night, but while it’s on, the window has to be open. I’m hoping that they find a better solution before the first big wave of man-eating mosquitoes arrives.

I guess that living up here, with the extremes of the weather, there will always be more wear and tear on property than in more temperate climes. There’s always a risk, buying a house, but it would be a near impossible situation if I end up with a bill running into tens of thousands of kroner, or worse. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the insurance will cover it. I also go on holiday next Friday and John is going away to do some lambing for the weekend, so I hope that I won’t have to leave Andrew on his own without everything being under control. I will keep you updated as things unfold, but for now, I wish you a happy weekend.

The Big Melt

Sunrise/sunset: 04:17/21:18 Daylength: 17hr01min

The big melt is underway. It has been above zero for more than a week now, although there has been an overnight blip. I woke this morning to a light dusting of snow. I know some people reading this live in snowy places, but most do not. My mum asked me a couple of weeks ago, after a few days of warmer weather, whether the snow was gone yet and I had to tell her that it was still higher than the car roof. It takes weeks for it to go away and afterwards, another couple of weeks for the earth to begin to warm up and for plants to grow, despite the already long days.

The picture at the top of the page was taken yesterday morning, behind the house. It was difficult to photograph, but there is a newly formed river and lake just beyond the garden. No wonder, with the amount of rain that has been coming down. Coupled with the melting snow, there is going to be a significant amount of water gathering for the next few weeks.

Of course, as with any such major change, there is a lot of work to be done. Not particularly for me (I have to decide when to change from winter tyres to summer, which is always a lottery as it can snow into May) but for those fixing the roads, which are badly cracked this year, and also builders and anyone else whose jobs are limited by the weather, the next few months will be crazy. I will have to contact the plumber again soon, to see whether he can fit me in while entry to the foundations is not blocked by a metre of snow . I’ve also contacted an electrician, who hopefully is coming out to look at my museum-piece fuse box, with a view to installing something a bit more up-to-date! The current one is not as old as Per and Tor, as the house was only built in the early 80s, but perhaps they’d have been more familiar with its design than I was when I moved in!

I don’t really have much idea how much it will cost, and perhaps it won’t be possible now, but there are a few fixes I would really like to get done, and this is one of them. At the moment, we can’t run the washing machine twice in a short period and if we use the oven and plates too enthusiastically, dinner ends up being very slow.

I’m going to give what will probably be the final update in the Mr Abusive saga. I didn’t mention last time, but about ten minutes after the electronic letter arrived, Mr Abusive’s wife sent a demand for the money on my phone. This, I recognised, was the first part of a process, by which they have to give various warnings before contacting the bailiffs. As far as I can work out, they have to send a demand first, with two week’s notice, then a warning that they will be referring me for debt collection, with another two week’s grace. That is the minimum, but they are allowed to send various letters, ramping up the charges with each, and for every day I don’t pay, interest would be added on. The bailiffs in Norway are the police, and they have the power to take money from my bank, so Mr Abusive had the full force of Norwegian law and power behind him, based entirely on Husleietvistutvalget’s faulty decisions.

I hope you are not bored, but when I say faulty, I do mean it. The clearest example was that, for carrying out cleaning himself (rather than employing a professional company) he charged me 600kr per hour. This seemed a huge amount, when an inexperienced cleaner in Norway only earns 210kr per hour. My feeling that this was off, was backed up when I read various other Husleietvistutvalget cases. Most landlords only ask for between 200 and 250kr per hour. In another case, the landlord asked for 350k per hour and was firmly told that was too high. His fee was reduced to 212kr per hour. The other decisions were also faulty. For example, Mr Abusive alleges he had to throw out a rug because of ingrained dog hair, but the picture he staged (presumably by emptying the vaccuum cleaner over it) showed a mass of unvacuumed hair and dust. Legally, he is required to attempt to clean it before throwing it out, but there was no evidence he had. It really was like that through the whole case.

Currently, a group of students in Oslo have the papers and I hope they will give me their thoughts on the legalities, but I will be making a complaint, one way or another. Not that it is easy to do so. Every letter I send out from Mattilsynet contains details on how to challenge the decisions I’ve made. There is literally no official pathway to complain about Husleietvistutvalget, and even the information about which government department might have some responsibility for overseeing it is carefully obscured. That the only official channel for challenging it is taking it to court means that those without money are unable to get justice. I hadn’t expected to find myself here in Norway. There’s an assumption that tenants (and women) are well protected here, but this is the second time I’ve found out that I am not and I can’t deny that it has changed my view of Norwegian “justice”.

Anyway, unless my complaint results in something positive happening, I won’t be updating again. Though it’s enough to have an impact on what I can do to improve the house, I am not about to go bankrupt. I will move on, given time, but that’s a story for another day.

It’s not a very beautiful time here, when the snow is melting, but I took some photos anyway. As the huge piles of scraped snow melt, they turn black as the grit that was scraped up with them is left behind. There are a lot of septic tanks around here (I have one) and I should imagine that, as the water levels rise, they must all flood. There was something very brown deposited on the ice in a melting river I found yesterday. No smell, but I did wonder. Snow is beautiful. Its retreat: not so much!

Have a good week all! Thanks for reading.

Good Job!

Sunrise/sunset: 05:55/19:51 Daylength: 13hr55min

I am not going to say much about last week’s case. Thank you so much to all of you who reached out to me with both comfort and bracing advice. One lovely friend advised me to “Shake the dust off [my] sandals and move on.” Given my job, I think that “Hose the bullshit off your wellies” might be a more apt version, but the advice is good. As a quick summary, I haven’t paid yet. I shall pay at the last possible moment. I know it isn’t clear cut enough for a court case, but I have in mind a complaint as the person who was supposed to represent me was obviously as much use as a leaking wellie boot in an undrained pig pen. I have therefore reached out to two sources who know Norwegian law well and will (hopefully) give me free advice. My therapist suggested I should do as much as I felt was reasonable before moving on and that is what I am doing.

Last weekend, John and I drove to the top of the fell he and I climbed in May last year. Unless otherwise stated, the photographs this week are taken from there.

I had planned a much more upbeat post last week, before the doomsday judgment arrived, so I shall revert to what I was talking about, which is that, exhausting though it is, I am increasingly enjoying my job. There are parts of it that probably don’t seem too attractive to many. Back in the UK, I quite enjoyed filling in forms neatly, creating clear, useful instructions for how to perform complex activities and writing reports. Though it’s more challenging to do all that in Norwegian, it does make up quite a chunk of my job. It pleases me though, that I am quite efficient at it. Some of my colleagues don’t like to write reports, but have other, complementary skills. We have to carry out inspections in the abattoir, for example. I don’t (yet) have the knowledge that others who have worked there long time have, but I am delighted to follow them and learn from them, and then write up the summary of findings afterwards.

I also like problem solving and don’t mind responsibility. I qualified as a vet at 22. Suddenly I found myself out in the real world, having to take huge responsibilities that I hadn’t even considered when I was training, probably because I was too young. It was a gruelling experience, but young minds adjust, and adjust mine did. And it’s not like I am alone, as I often found myself in veterinary practice in the UK. If there are things I need to find out in order to resolve a case, I have a whole team of people round me. Better still, I have a boss who believes in me, gives pragmatic advice and is generally supportive if something goes wrong. Those things are beyond price when the job you do includes significant power and comes with high moral obligations.

But as well as all the heavy stuff, there are brighter moments, when I feel I am being paid to do something that is so light that I could happily do it on holiday. At the end of last week, we had a gathering of Team Dyrego, which is the team responsible for animal health and welfare out in the field. We are scattered far and wide – Birgit and Astrid are in Storslett, which is nearly four hours driving from Finnsnes. Thomas and I work in Finnsnes and Anya and Annik work in Tromsø, which is perhaps half way between, though also not on a direct route between the two. These team meetings generally take a similar format. We drive to meet on Thursday, taking some inspections along the way, spend a night in a hotel, then hold a meeting the next day to share information and plan for the coming season. Some of the team were covering heavy cases on the way there, but as I am now mostly working in the abattoir, my inspections were routine. In order to comply with traceability regulations, we have to check a certain number of farms each year to see if they are eartagging their animals in line with European law. And in order to maintain our disease status for TSEs (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy – which can occur in many species, but the most famous is “mad cow disease”) we have to go out, inform about the symptoms and remind 10% of our sheep farmers of their obligations for testing.

I almost didn’t go. Due to people being signed off sick, I thought I would have to work in the abattoir, but my lovely colleague, Kaj, stepped in. On Tuesday, I was quailing as I didn’t think I had enough time for preparation for a day’s inspections, but he also stepped up on Wednesday, so I threw some stuff together, spent an hour on Thursday morning compiling a list of possible farms and phone numbers, and then headed out on a delicious sunny day to visit some farmers. Because of the short notice, I hadn’t warned them I was coming. We are now allowed to do so if there is a good reason (the sheer distance and the chances of sheep farmers being out as most have day jobs is reason enough) so I had no idea how successful I would be, but I had planned for six and hoped for at least two or three.

I had a hit with the first farm I went to. I knew it was a smallholding, so I thought it would be a nice one to start with. The farmer was in and what’s more, she was very welcoming. I have commented before that we are considered by some to be rather like the police. When we turn up at the door, it can be a worrying experience for an animal owner. But quite a few farmers seem to regard us as an agency they can look to for help and advice, and that is part of our role as well. So I asked her some questions and she asked me some, and then we looked at her sheep. They were a traditional Norwegian breed (Gammel Norsk Spælsau) with wonderfully thick wool and a hardy nature. They lived mostly outside, all through the winter, though with a sturdy, dry shelter, good food and clean water. Seeing well looked after animals is a pleasure for me that goes very deep.

It was a beautiful day in Bardu district.

After that, I didn’t have so much success. The GPS in the car had died, but I made my way round with Google Maps, taking care to ensure I didn’t drain my phone’s battery too much. It was minus twenty in places, so if the car broke down altogether, being stranded would be unsafe. I finally tracked down another farm with someone who could show me round. The farmer himself was away moving snow, but he had employed a young Dutch woman, who was available. She showed me the sheep, which were also well cared for and gave me warming coffee. I left there at about two in the afternoon and, hoping to get one more, I visited another two farms, but one had only a very old lady on crutches present and the other had moved to keeping cattle, due to living in close proximity to a bear that liked eating sheep (mentioned in my very first post here).

And so, having enjoyed a very pleasant day at work, I drove up to Vollan Gjestestue, where we spent the night in comfort (see pictures of cake and fruit from our meeting below). It was lovely to meet up with my colleagues and one of my aims is to improve the links between the abattoir team and the team out in the field. Together, I think we will have a great knowledge base and it’s a way that I can focus on improving animal welfare, which should surely be the aim of any vet.

The past week has also been satisfying. Konstantin is now on holiday, so he has been intensively teaching me about all the routine work he does in the abattoir. I had assumed I would assimilate these routines over time but, with everyone who knows how to do them now absent, it will be up to me to keep things ticking over for the next two weeks.

It was looking like things were going to be quiet, but there has been heavy snow and wind over the last few days. There was news last night of some horrifying avalanches in our area and I know that some farms and farmers have been affected. Where there are welfare issues, I know Mattilsynet will be involved. We are second in line to be called in, after the emergency services. So I am not sure what is on the way, but I sent a message to my boss last night that I was available if I was needed. She was still working, despite being on holiday. That is how it is and I can honestly say that I would always want to help, when there are people and animals in need. Despite occasional frustrations, doubts, and wishes for a quieter life, I know I am in the right job. Bring it on.

The Snowy Peaks

Sunrise/sunset: 05:58/17:56 Daylength: 11hr58min

And so I have returned from my holiday. It was not as restful as I could have wished, but I did catch up with almost all of my immediate family in the UK. Quite a task when they are rather scattered.

I will start with a picture of our plane in Bardufoss, just as Andrew and I were boarding. I commented on it after my last holiday, but the contrast between Bardufoss and Heathrow couldn’t be much greater. I meant to take a photo at the end of our journey, but was so pleased to have arrived, I quite forgot.

We spent a couple of days in Winchester with my daughter Anna and her girlfriend Lauren and then headed up to the Peak District to meet my parents. A few months ago, when booking this holiday, I decided I wanted to meet up with Mum and Dad. Driving up to their home in Yorkshire seemed quite a long way, so looking at a map of the UK, I plumped on the Peak District, as somewhere that was in between Winchester and North Yorkshire and was noted for being beautiful. I knew I would be hiring a car and I was looking forward to gambolling amongst the daffodils and driving round in blue-skied, spring weather.

It was wet on the day we drove up, and the journey was longer than I had realised. I had hoped to be there to pick my parents up from the station, but they decided to take an early train and there was no way that, with almost two hundred miles to go, I could make it there comfortably by one o’clock, so abandoning any idea of getting there early, I decided we would take our time, given that the driving conditions were quite unpleasant.

At about two in the afternoon, Anna received a plaintive text from Mum. They had arrived soaking wet after quite a walk from the railway station. The inn where we were staying was all closed up until five. They had been allowed in to their room, only after a special appeal to the landlady and that was only because there were absolutely no cafes open in the village of Bradwell where we were staying.

When I had planned the trip, I had hoped that my dad would drive the two hour journey to join us, so that we would have two cars. What I hadn’t planned for were the Dire Weather Warnings. Far from the spring holiday I had been imagining, an Arctic Blast was to arrive. Understandably, Dad had abandoned the idea of driving. While our inn had received wonderful reviews, I hadn’t really checked out how much there was to do in the village. The idea that the inn itself would be closed until five each day hadn’t been part of my calculations either. Nor was the fact that it was Monday afternoon and the inn wasn’t going to be serving food in the evenings until Wednesday. What on earth were we going to do for two days in a village with nothing to do, with only one car and six people? How were we going to feed ourselves? Mum was also cross, it seemed, as she had been told I had received an e-mail with the information that check in was after five. I confess that, at this point, I began to think the entire trip was going to be a wash out.

We arrived at about four and spent the intermediate time driving around Bradwell and Hope Valley. It was certainly a charming place, with steep roads, bounded by grey stone houses and drystone walls, which were sometimes so narrow that the distance sensors on both sides of the hire car were flashing at me. I noted that there was an Indian restaurant in the next village. Potentially I could drive everyone there in two trips, but curry two days running didn’t sound too appealing either.

When we finally drew up in front of The Shoulder of Mutton Mum came out to greet us. It hadn’t really been so bad. They had been allowed into their room, which had been quite warm. The landlady had brought them milk for their tea and four pieces of cake. The room Andrew and I were shown to was lovely. Each of the rooms was named after animals and ours was The Hare. As well as a lovely view from the window, it was clean and fresh, with lovely touches on the theme of hares. Even the mugs had hares on them.

Better still, when we went downstairs, the landlord greeted us warmly. There was no food on offer in the bar, but if we would like to buy in fish and chips in the village, or order carry out from somewhere else, they would set us up a table in the restaurant and we could eat in comfort there. To my amazement, at no extra charge, we were provided with a table, plates and cutlery on both of the first two days of our stay. It was also realised that, because of the way the booking had been done, we hadn’t received the e-mail we should have that would have told us about the five o’clock check in. It was just an unfortunate oversight.

We spent Tuesday exploring Castleton. Mum and Dad went on the bus (a fifteen minute journey) and we joined them in the car. I should certainly have checked out what would be available a bit more before travelling. I am out of touch with opening times in the UK and had assumed there would be historic houses open to explore, but we were a week too early. Still, it was lovely wandering around Castleton and we did get some lovely food as there were several cafes open. Though it was chilly, it still felt spring-like.

With ever increasing Dire Weather Warnings, Mum and Dad decided to go home a day early. Though they were on the train, there was still a risk of disruption and they had to drive to get their much-loved cat, Sammy, from the cattery. The lovely owners of the inn even reimbursed their room fee for the night they didn’t use. I would absolutely recommend The Shoulder of Mutton. After an inauspicious start, we couldn’t have been made more welcome or been treated better.

Anna, Andrew, Lauren and I decided to stay on and risk it. Though I was wary about other drivers, the potential lack of gritting and clearing of the roads and the lack of my trusty winter tyres, I thought we would probably make it. We took a drive over to Bakewell on a Bakewell tart hunt and as well as buying a delicious Bakewell pudding (like the tart but without icing and absolutely delicious) we got to see some of Derbyshire as the snow began to fall.

Bakewell puddings in Bakewell

It wasn’t great driving to Lower Slaughter near Cheltenham on Thursday. It had snowed overnight and the road that led over the moors at the beginning of our journey was treacherous, with rutted slushy snow that made driving very difficult. We arrived safely however, and met up with my sister, Helen, and her husband, Steve. They came out with us for a delicious Chinese meal in Cheltenham and donated a big box of logs for us to use on the fire in the cottage we had rented. Anna and Lauren took a walk to Lower Slaughter, which they tell me was gorgeous, but it will have to wait until next time as I spent the day resting in front of the fire.

We arrived back in Norway on Sunday night, very late and slightly concerned as a girl beside us on the plane had been vomiting all the way from Oslo to Bardufoss. I hadn’t expected a lot of snow while we were away: the forecast had been clear, but there was a good deal more than when we had left. It was no longer possible to see the road in either direction when turning out of the driveway. Even in my SUV, the snow was too high to see over and I made a decision as I pulled out, that I was going to ask the neighbouring farmer whether they could come round and shift some of it. And so I did. He came around in the evening and cleared the snow from the driveway, as well as some from the sides of the road so we could out out more safely.

I hadn’t realised how much the snow had built up until he cleared it. There was a foot of compacted snow underneath where the cars were parked and now it is clear, you can see just how deep it is when the cars are parked there.

Neither Andrew, nor I picked up the vomiting bug, though both of us have been unwell this week. I guess that’s always a risk of travelling, particularly on planes. I must confess that the burden of the snow feels much lighter now. I don’t know how much I will be charged – I did ask, but the reply was enigmatic. Still, however much it is, it is necessary. Next winter should be much easier.

Anyway, my holiday is over for now, but I would love to go back to both the Peak District and Lower Slaughter, preferably when the weather is a little kinder. There’s also lots more blogging to catch up on, both with work and with a lovely gift I received from Mary, who reads this blog and sent me a Norwegian book with some lovely history attached, which I will write about in due course. I hope you have a lovely weekend and I will see you all again next week!


Sunrise/sunset: 07:31/16:32 Daylength: 9hr00min

I don’t know how many of you watch the daylight hours at the top of each post (I know my dad does, because I suggested leaving it out at one point and he said he found it interesting). Anyway, as I filled it in today, I noticed we now have nine full hours of proper daylight. Given that only a month and a half ago, we had none, that seems quite amazing. It does take the weather a long time to catch up though. This was the scene outside my front door at half past six this morning.

I noticed something about the snow, yesterday, that I hadn’t thought about before. As you can see, the fence posts are decked in snow on one side. I had always assumed this occurred because the wind blew the flakes against one side and they stuck, but actually, it’s the opposite. The prevailing wind here comes from the side where the posts are bare and the snow is collecting in the lee of the poles. Odd how the brain works, because I have carried that misconception around for a while, and it only struck me now because I know which way the prevailing wind is because whenever I walk Triar, it’s always blowing in my face on the way home and I wish it was the other way round! Silly really, because I know drifts form in the lee of things, but hadn’t really thought of the snow collecting on poles as a kind of drift!

I have been waiting for the response from Husleietvistutvalget/Rent Disputes Tribunal (previous update here: Soot on the Wall). They were supposed to assess the case within ninety days, which was a week or two ago now. I got an update yesterday evening, which said that Mr Abusive had called them and asked for a progress report. It was rather oddly worded, implying he had asked for an update for “the parties” which might imply he asked for me to get one too. That might sound silly, but the last letter I got from them was also sent on his insistence and I could see no reason why he had insisted, other than to cause distress; I had stated in an earlier statement that I experienced it whenever I receive these letters.

I felt sick to the point of faintness when I saw there was a letter, only to be faced with it being nothing of importance. I don’t know why I have quite such strong reactions to this and I wonder whether it’s down to the feeling of being trapped. I wanted to move out for a whole year before I managed to find somewhere suitable, mainly because I had a sense of unease about this man, but the feeling was never that extreme. It’s looking likely that the response will come when I’m on holiday though, which I could do without. It crossed my mind yesterday, that if I had the money to do it, I would just put the whole case in the hands of a solicitor now, and let them deal with it, but I haven’t, so I can’t. If I was still married, I’d have someone else to help me deal with it too. Sometimes, I do feel very alone, even though I’m not.

Anyway, this time next week, I will (hopefully) be sitting in the airport waiting to fly to Oslo and from there to Heathrow. Almost everything is booked, including hotels, AirBnBs and a car. The waiting area at the airport here is quite funny and old fashioned. I think the seats are purple and green, or some other such garish colour. I did discover last time though, that they had new baked chocolate boller (cardamom flavoured rolls) at a very reasonable price, so that will perhaps be my last taste of common Norwegian cuisine before I head to the UK. I may pop in here with some photos of the UK, or to update on the case, but other than that, I will be taking a blogging break for the next two weekends. See you on the other side.

Too Much Snow

Sunrise/sunset: 08:35/15:30 Daylength: 6hr55min

Okay, I admit it! Even for me, lover of snow extraordinaire, it’s a bit over the top this year. It’s February, and from my limited experience of living in the Arctic, I would expect it to be minus twenty for most of the month and for the snow coming down from the sky to be very limited. There should be some on the ground, obviously, but falling… No!

A photo taken yesterday morning when I arrived at work.

When it falls below minus ten or so, humidity normally falls away. The amazing hoar frosts we sometimes get occur when the temperature drops quickly and all the water particles in the air attach themselves to anything and everything. But it also means that in the colder months, snow is generally quite limited. Much of the snow that falls tends to fall later, in April perhaps, when the sun’s rays begin to carry some heat and the world begins to warm again.

It is mesmerising, of course, and very, very beautiful. Unfortunately, it is heavy enough at the moment to create some significant problems. I drove John’s car to work yesterday as he went away yesterday to a farm up a long, heavily rutted road. I bought an SUV before I came here for exactly that type of scenario, so we have swapped for a couple of days. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem. John’s car is lovely and I’ve driven it before. But unlike mine, his car is very low to the ground and long and requires significant care when turning into driveways or car parks with any kind of camber or slope. In addition, it is manual and I haven’t driven it often enough to be familiar with the controls, all of which would have been fine if it wasn’t for the addition of a blizzard that went on and off all day.

I left work in time to get home in daylight yesterday, but even then, conditions were difficult. Visibility was poor. This was partly due to the whirling snowflakes, but also because of the cloud cover, which obscures the sun, meaning there are no shadows. When everything is white and the edge of the road is blurred by snow drifts sending their deadly fingers across the asphalt, it becomes almost impossible to see where the edge of the road is. There are snow poles, which you can follow of course, while trying not to go too close. If you go into those drifts, they can drag you in and send your car into a spin. So I limped home at 50km/hr (30mph), trying not to think about the queue of more confident drivers behind me. I was very relieved to get home.

John’s car, safely home

It’s been snowing quite a lot since then. This is what I saw when I opened the front door this morning to let Triar out.

Snow outside the front door, obscuring the steps.

I am going to have to do something about it, because John will be coming home from the farm later, and even in my car, I think he might struggle to get into the driveway. He suggested, last night, that I move his car over nearer to the garage (to make it easier to clear the driveway with the snow blower) and I thought I would do it today, when it got light, but that’s now a very big task!

John’s car, not yet buried, but still quite significantly covered.

And so, I’d better go out and make a start. The first step will be to take a shovel and dig a pathway to the garage where the bigger snow pusher and the snow blower reside. Then I have to decide whether to try to start the snow blower (not easy, it’s physically tough to even pull the rope fast enough) or whether I should just resort to pushing enough out of the way in the more traditional way. I just hope that John actually manages to get home. He’s working on the farm next weekend, feeding and caring for the sheep while the owners go away for the weekend. They’re rushing through showing him everything last night and this morning, as the long, rutted road is also in an avalanche area. There are early warning systems, so he’s unlikely to get caught in the avalanche, but if there is one, he will be trapped there until the road is cleared.

Anyway, that’s a reasonable summary of this morning. It’s snowing again now, but even so, I’d better go and make a start. Have a good week everyone!

Super Blue

Sunrise/sunset: 09:08/14:56 Daylength: 5hr48min

I’ve seen the sun! I wasn’t even looking for it, but went outside at work on Monday just after ten o’clock and, to my amazement, there it was!

I don’t think the feeling of joy this gives can be understood until you’ve lived somewhere where there is a significant period when the sun doesn’t come over the horizon at all. Long cloudy spells, even in the south of Norway, were not the same. I had a visceral feeling of joy at this moment. When the sun isn’t out, the light here is still super blue. I will add some other photos later, taken on a couple of different days this week, and you will see what I mean.

This winter has been hard. The snow came early and there has been a lot of it and on top of that, the temperature changes have been crazy. One day it’s minus twenty, the next it can be above zero. We badly needed the wood that Ann brought because this year has demonstrated that our house is not really insulated well enough. At super-cold temperatures, even the lovely new, powerful heat exchanger I bought doesn’t really cut it and the electricity bill last month was heinous. On the coldest days, when we come home, it can be thirteen or fourteen degrees in the house, which isn’t super-freezing, but isn’t comfortable to sit in. The wood stove solves the problem, but it takes a couple of hours to really start warming the place up. Before next winter, I will be getting new insulation in the loft and I hope that will make a significant difference.

As regular readers will know, I am in the process of moving jobs at the moment, though still within the Norwegian Food Safety Authority: Mattilsynet. I have spent most of this week working in the abattoir, where I am rapidly learning how to do new tasks, in particular to do with administration. The two main aims are to ensure that the food produced is safe and to ensure that animal welfare is high and though the first is very important, it is the second that interests me more.

For the first time this week, I have come across a situation where I am going to have to issue a fine. In Norway, it is illegal to send cows to the abattoir within the last month before they are due to calve. As their pregnancy progresses, the ligaments around the pelvis begin to loosen, and obviously as the calf gets bigger, it’s more likely that loading and unloading and travelling in general can result in pain or injury. In an odd coincidence, having not come across a case before, this week there were two.

In one of these, in my opinion, the farmer seems not to have been careful enough, though I believe he does still care about his animals. It’s not entirely up to me and Thomas explained that I will need to involve the animal welfare advisor before I make the decision, but it seems likely he will be fined. The other case was even sadder to deal with. I called the farmer and he told me that he’d had a vet out to check the cow for pregnancy and that the vet had got it wrong. It happens, of course. Mistakes do occur, but for the farmer it was a significant blow. He won’t be charged a fine as he sent me evidence, but his cow was pregnant with twins and he sounded very upset as he told me she was a good cow. Farming has to be one of the toughest professions there is.

Andrew is in his last year at school. He has known for a while that he wanted to go to folk high school for a year (before probably going on to university), but this was the week when many of them started accepting applications for next year, and to his enormous delight, he got into his first choice of school to study film. We had previously looked at ones closer to home, but the courses local t ous didn’t seem as well suited to what he wanted, and so he is going to move back to southwest Norway for a year. It will be strange without him, but I am delighted with how excited he seems. Anna spent a year studying computer game coding near Trondheim and I think she would agree it was one of the best years of her life so far – an uncomplicatedly happy time. As well as studying computing, there was an unexpected sideline at Torshus where they sang sea shanties and the culmination of the year was to sail a tall ship from Bergen to Shetland and back. It will be very interesting to see how Andrew’s school compares.

Last but not least, my mum is eighty years old today. I hope you have something lovely planned and I’m looking forward to celebrating with you in March when we come over. Happy birthday Mum!

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.