Tag Archives: Triar

Darling Buds of May

Sunrise/sunset: 02:11/ 23:24. Daylength: 21hr13min

There are signs that spring is finally arriving here in the far north. Last week, I took this picture from the window of my apartment. It was snowing heavily and wetly enough that even Triar didn’t want to go out and play.

Snow falling over the bridge to Senja

Compare and contrast with this picture from yesterday, where the sun is out, the snow is gone from the roofs, and Gisundet sound is so calm that there’s an almost perfect reflection of the island on the waterline.

Gisundet and Senja on a sunny day when spring is approaching

The trees in the photo above still look lifeless, but there are signs everywhere that the earth is stirring after the long freeze.

That little flower breaking through the icy snow is amazing. Life on the edge!

Another compare and contrast. Remember the ice bridge?

Ice bridge over the Malselva river at Karlstad

Nobody is going to be driving across it any time soon!

Malselva river with dirt road disappearing into the water

A few weeks back, Triar lost his favourite ball over the edge of the garden. The snow was so hard packed at that point that it rolled over the edge, bounded across the pathway and on down the hill. I let him run down to try to find it, but he returned empty mouthed and sad. Yesterday the path down the hill was finally passable, and to Triar’s joy (picture at the top of the page) we found his ball at the foot of the steep slope!

In my ongoing campaign to challenge myself at work, I have volunteered to go to Tromsø next week. Someone is coming up from head office on Thursday and Friday and is to be taken out on some welfare visits. Fortunately for me, Line is coming out with us on Friday, but on Thursday, I’m shall be out on my own (with the esteemed visitor) to do the postponed traceability inspection at a hobby goat establishment. Bear in mind that the animal health law still hasn’t been updated on the computer system, that I have never done a traceability visit without Thomas or Birgit, and that all such visits have to be chosen based on risk (we’re supposed to select those we assess as having a higher risk of law breaches) and it seems like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge and competence! What could possibly go wrong?

John is out on a farm lambing at the moment. He seems to be enjoying it, and I’m very happy for him and also proud. When he left home a few years ago, I imagined he would spend his life working in an office, but he is embracing the world of farming more and more. I don’t suppose he has any conscious memory of coming out on farm calls in his baby car seat, though perhaps he remembers being allowed to drive a tractor as a small boy. Either way, it’s wonderful to see. I’ve always been drawn to that world, even though as a Mattilsynet vet, I’m peripheral to it at best. Andrew and I are going out to visit later today.

I was also out at a farm earlier this week and saw a stoat. Apologies for the poor quality of the images, but this tiny creature was dragging a rat it had killed across a patch of grass. The rat was definitely more bulky than the stoat itself. What an amazing animal!

Anyway, I think that’s all for this week! Hopefully after today there will be lamb pictures and Tuesday is 17th of May, when Norway will be decked out in red, white and blue to celebrate their national day. Seven hour working days and 24 hour daylight! Tune in shortly for the next exciting update! Have a good week all.

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!

Walking the Dog

Sunrise/sunset: 06:23/ 17:33. Daylength: 11hr10min

I don’t have much to report, as you might imagine, after last week’s realisation that I had Covid.

It’s not been too awful: exhaustion was the predominant feature. There was horrible night around day eight when I woke and lay feeling breathless for an eternity, unable to raise the energy to lift my ringing head, wondering whether this was the infamous deterioration that can occur round that time. (It wasn’t. I woke in the morning feeling much the same as I had the day before.)

We didn’t get to Tromsø, and had to rearrange Andrew’s wisdom teeth appointment. It was a bit sad to miss my short break, but it did cross my mind that I will probably have top level immunity now for a few months, so any worry over getting Covid will be lifted for a while.

John joined me in the viral soup for a couple of days, but bounced back quickly. Andrew didn’t succumb at all, which is great.

Yesterday, for the first time, I had enough energy to actually want to take Triar out. He was very patient with me: I was walking as slowly as a slug. My heart was lifted half way round when a woman passed me and paused to comment on my very fine dog! How right she is!

Everything’s melting at the moment. I don’t suppose spring will be here before May, but there’s definitely a feeling that winter is coming to an end. The sound of running water in the woods and some cheerful birdsong were wonderful additions after the months of silence.

Stream, still half buried in the snow

Ice that has formed over the months takes a while to melt away. Its clear edges have gone, and now there’s a blurrier look.

Melting ice on a rocky outcrop

And as the snow melts away, you can see the layers that have formed over the winter months.

Anyway, thanks very much to all my well wishers. I’m feeling optimistic now that I might shortly be fully recovered. Onwards and upwards!

A Very Positive Start to the Weekend

Sunrise/sunset: 06:54/ 17:06. Daylength: 10hr11min

Well as you can see from the picture at the top of the page, I have finally succumbed to the double lines of doom. There were four days between the symptoms starting and testing positive. Despite all my reading about omicron having different clinical signs from the original strain, I have had very classic symptoms of fluctuating temperature and a dry cough. The fatigue is very typical too. Fortunately I’m not quite bed ridden. I can sit on the sofa and watch Netflix (no UK channels up here). I’m quite enjoying The Crown.

So I don’t really have much news. It seems unlikely that Andrew and I will get to Tromsø for our short break, though I haven’t yet cancelled the AirBnB. Perhaps I will make a miraculous recovery and we’ll be able to have a night or two, but I’m not holding my breath. (I could still probably technically do so, if push came to shove.)

Last weekend, before the ‘rona hit, John drove us down to Narvik for the day. He did very well with the driving. I’m very proud of how quickly he’s learning. We met an obstacle in the road. Quite an attractive one really. Here it is.

A reindeer on the road and it’s not even Christmas!

Narvik was pleasant enough. There’s a railway there, as well as a ski slope, but we mostly wandered around, looking for a decent cup of coffee. Along the way, we found a shop which for the time being had been converted into a Lego exhibition. So since I don’t have much else, I’m going to spam you with Lego photos. Hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

The first side was pleasant enough. It always fascinates me how far lego has come from the chunky little blocks I used to play with as a child. There was a busy townscape. Very cosmopolitan.

Lovely transport – trains and boats.

And then I rounded the corner and saw something that made me very happy. My children would all tell you I’m a devoted Potterhead, and this was right up my street.

There was Gringotts Bank and Hogwarts, with Hedwig the owl and Fawkes the phoenix, swooping in from either side.

More, more, more… Which do you prefer?

Dragon or hippogriff?

Wizard Chess or Quidditch?

Hogwarts Express or the Knight Bus?

And for all those who made it this far, here is a picture of Triar looking very heroic! To be fair, he’s risking life and limb by sticking at my side, despite the potential threat of infection. Don’t you just love dogs?

Hope you all have a great week. See you soon.

Don’t Panic!

Sunrise/sunset: 07:57/ 16:07. Daylength: 8hr10min

I awoke this morning to see that there was light shining around the edges of my blind. Admittedly it was five past eight, so later than I normally get up for work, but it was cheering nonetheless. Within the next couple of weeks, it will be light every day when I get up. We are gaining more than an hour of daylight each week.

I’ve been trying to kick my hibernation habit as well. John came over last weekend. He’s learning to drive, and so we spent a good few hours of Saturday and Sunday driving around. My car is an automatic and very easy to drive, so I’m not sure how much it benefited him, but it’s lovely to be driven around the area, rather than driving myself. Technically, I’m in charge of the car, so I can’t wholly disengage, but I did see more of the scenery than I usually would.

Before he can sit his test, he has to move through four stages. Some of the stages are theoretical. He went to evening classes in which he learned about how to recognise road signs from their shapes when they are covered in snow and which parts of a moose you should aim for if you can’t avoid hitting it altogether. Later on, he has to sit an ice-driving course and also complete a “long drive” lesson which must be a minimum of two hours. I have no idea how it compares with UK lessons (though presumably British learners don’t hear much about jay-walking moose) but it does seem to be quite thorough.

After you’ve done your test, you are on probationary status for two years. If you are caught breaking the law in any way, you are placed back in the learner category and have to complete the whole thing again. Probably quite a good deterrent against messing around in your first two solo years behind the wheel.

One of the places John drove to was Senja Roasters. I haven’t mentioned it before, but I lost my much-loved, heavy, wool coat a couple of months back, so I was delighted to find it hanging there on a rack. Being reunited with a piece of adequately warm clothing while it’s still three months till spring was a joyful event. They had decorated the place with hearts and flowers, for Valentine’s day, and Norwegian Mother’s day, which was last Sunday. Valentine’s day can be very tacky, but in true Senja Roasters form, the handmade decorations were understated and tasteful.

My working week has been quite cheering. Despite the occasional difficult case, I am generally heartened to find that the majority of people love their animals, and even if they are sometimes a little misguided (aren’t we all?) mostly they want their pets to thrive. I was lucky enough to go out with Berit this week. Berit works with us as a member of Dyrevernnemnda, so she is a knowledgeable member of the public who helps to give balance to my own specifically veterinary point of view.

She’s a very forthright woman. For those old enough to remember Barbara Woodhouse, I’d say Berit has an equally assertive style, though her dog training methods are more up-to-date. Her no-nonsense approach makes my job very much easier. I am also hoping she will meet with me and Triar in a couple of weeks when Triar, Andrew and I are in Tromsø for a few days holiday.

There are other cases in my region which don’t currently involve me, but are interesting. Thomas is dealing with a crisis situation with the “domestic” reindeer in both Troms and Finnmark – the most northerly regions of Norway. All reindeer here are classed as domestic animals, but they generally live a very nomadic life, where they are taken to different areas, depending on the season.

This year, due to cold weather early in the winter, followed by thaws and refreezing, many of the traditional winter pastures are now covered in ice so impenetrable that even the reindeer can’t find enough food. The situation will now have to be monitored until spring comes. In the meantime, it might be necessary to supplement their feed – something that usually doesn’t happen.

In addition, for the first time since I got here, bird flu has been isolated from a dead bird – a sea eagle, no less. It was probably always a matter of time. There have been cases in wild birds in many other areas in Norway and migratory patterns mean there was always a strong possibility it would happen here. We don’t have many domesticated birds in the far north, and almost no big flocks, so that is an advantage. It does mean that people should be cautious though, if they find dead birds.

So far I haven’t been sent out to do any testing, so that’s something I need to find out about. There was some discussion in our departmental meeting yesterday about how to tackle the situation without causing unnecessary panic. It doesn’t pass particularly easily to humans, but if it does, it’s serious. I’ve mentioned all the PPT we would potentially use if we know we are dealing with an outbreak in earlier blogs, but hadn’t particularly considered what would happen before it’s confirmed. If you are collecting a dead bird from a beach where children are playing in the sand, you could start all kinds of panic, were you to stride onto the scene dressed like this! Working as a Norwegian Government vet may be many things, but it certainly isn’t boring.

Konstantin in PPT

Searchlights

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

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

Triar and his squeaky ball

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

Triar – almost asleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White painted house with snowy roof under a dark cloudbank

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

Snow storm approaching along Gisundet sound

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

Light breaking through the clouds over Senja

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

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

Wheelie bins with thick caps of snow

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

Sky scene with moon, clouds and aurora

Sacrifice

Sunrise/sunset: 09:36/ 14:26. Daylength: 4hr49min

Triar woke me up at six o’clock this morning. He was barking at something in the living room and I rushed through so I could stop him before he woke the neighbours. And what was it, you ask, that was so threatening at six in the morning? I was expecting it would be something outside the window. Maybe a bird in the garden or some snow falling off the roof, but no. Andrew and I had a carry out last night. This is a rare occurrence for us, because eating out is prohibitively expensive here. But Andrew had left the empty paper bag standing on the electronic keyboard and Triar had apparently just seen it and registered it as a threat to household safety.

This was easily resolved. I moved it onto the kitchen table and all was well, so I headed back to bed. Unfortunately, I hadn’t turned on the light in the hallway and I had left my bedroom door open. It opens into the hallway, and as I headed back into my bedroom, I walked into it. Doors are really quite solid things, especially first thing in the morning. Fortunately, I don’t have a black eye, so I’m not going to have to spend next week telling people I walked into a door and have them disbelieve me.

We started our working week with an emergency readiness exercise. Regular readers will know that we do this twice a year, putting on and taking off the protective clothing that we would have to use if faced with an outbreak of a highly infectious animal disease like foot and mouth, or worse, a highly infectious disease that can spread between animals and people, like bird flu. This time round, I was acutely aware that my colleagues down in Rogaland had been doing this for real this year. This time though, it wasn’t me who had to don all the gear. Konstantin was the sacrificial victim. Here he is with Thomas.

Konstantin and Thomas – emergency PPT

I took a photograph on the way home. There’s nowhere to safely stop the car, and so I took advantage of the fact that Thomas was driving. It’s a curved section of road, where there are deciduous trees on one side and fir trees on the other, and I love the way the fir trees stand out against the skyline. I’ve been wanting to photograph it for ages. It’s not perfect because it was taken through the car windscreen and I couldn’t choose the day, but here it is: one of my favourite places on the road to Finnsnes.

My favourite road curve with an even line of fir trees reaching into the sky.

On Wednesday, the sky finally cleared after weeks of clouds and snow and rain. We live in the lee of a hill, which is very useful when it’s stormy, but it does mean it takes a long time for the sun to reach the house in winter. And so at twelve o’clock, when the sun was reaching its high point for the day, Triar and I walked up to the top of the hill and saw it for the first time since the end of November. It was somewhat obscured by a line of cloud, but no less beautiful for that.

On Thursday, I finished what I hope will be my final report in my difficult case. There are tail ends to finish up, but I hope those will go smoothly. It did have one last sting in the tail however. One of Mattilsynet’s aims is that all the reports we send out are well constructed and consistent, and so they undergo several checks before they are sent out. For me, this usually includes sending it to a Norwegian member of our team (despite all my efforts, there are usually some grammatical errors in my writing) and then after I’ve cleared mistakes, it gets sent to a control team, one of whom rechecks it and points out any errors in construction, or other sundry things that might be a little awry.

Because this was such a complicated case, I had asked Thomas for help before I began, to make sure I used the right template. There are several different forms, depending on whether there are actions we feel the animal owner must take to comply with the law. Once I had written it, I sent it to Astrid and discussed the case with her, including a couple of things that concerned me about how I was handling it. Astrid is a member of the control team, so I felt it was particularly useful to get her help. She told me the people to ask to clear up a couple of outstanding points, and I did what she suggested.

Then, because Hilde is now involved and helping, I sent it to her to check whether she agreed with the approach taken. She added a couple of items in and then sent it back to me. Both Astrid and Hilde had told me that my report was good and I felt proud of the way I was managing the case, even though it’s been difficult and I have been quite troubled by it along the way.

Therefore I assumed, when I sent it to the control team for checking, that it would be a slam dunk: that it would pass muster and that any required changes would be very minor indeed.

I got it back after lunch, and found there was a note attached. It didn’t relate to the format or any grammar, but instead it was a comment on the tone.

After toiling so much with this case, and having felt satisfied with what I had written, this felt like the final straw. I don’t think I have ever written a ranty e-mail to my boss before, but I did this time, sending it to both Hilde and Astrid. Not least, I had it in my head that both Astrid and Hilde had seen it, and neither of them had noticed any problem.

On occasions like this, I often think that the person making the criticism or suggestion has no thought of how they might feel if they had to write something similar in a language that wasn’t their mother tongue, and that the suggestion they made, that probably seemed minor to them, might feel insurmountable to someone else. It can be the same with other tasks. “Just do a little checking round it” might seem like a small request. I know it would be if I was working in English. Just a little extra task that I would be able to follow up easily if I knew the landscape and reading was effortless. Instead, such suggestions can seem huge. I know it will get easier and it already is, but I often think that life would be very different if those obstacles were not in the way.

Hilde phoned me immediately, and we talked it through. If I was writing the report in English, might I have done it a little differently, she asked, and I agreed I might possibly have done so, though it’s not certain. Most of the sentences would actually have been quite difficult to construct differently, even in English, though there was one I picked out that I could have changed.

Still, she said, I should think on the fact that any incident like this counts as a learning experience: something I could bear in mind if I had to write something similar in future. In the end, she overruled the member of the control team and sent it as I had written it. I had, through the course of the case, spent a lot of time building up a polite relationship with the animal owner and any report I sent would seen through the lens of the rapport we had built, she said.

Despite the frustrating ending, I am glad that the report has now been sent. As I said, there are some tail ends that need to be followed up, but I hope that all will be resolved without me having to intervene further.

I will finish with some photographs. The sky finally cleared on Wednesday, and I have already shown a picture of the sun, but even where the sun is not visible, even if it’s lightly cloudy, there is still that wonderful light which reflects from the snow as the sky changes, minute by minute.

And here’s my trusty car, which so far hasn’t failed to make it out of the driveway, even though some days it has been so icy it was difficult to walk. I didn’t choose it because of its all wheel drive. I bought it because it looked sturdy for the harsh conditions I knew we would meet up here, and because though it was quite old, it didn’t have too many miles on the clock. German engineering. No regrets.

And finally to finish the week, I went out in the garden last night with Triar and was greeted by the wonderful slow dance of the aurora. As ever, it grounded me, a reminder that mankind has been looking up at the sky in awe and wonder for millennia, and that everything that happens in my life is really very small. Goodbye for now, my friends. Hope you too can find some peace in the night sky.

Concerning Welfare

Sunrise/sunset: 09:01/ 16:00. Daylength: 6hr58min

Back in June I wrote a post about complaints from animal rights organisations about Mattilsynet: Trouble in Paradise. Last weekend on my Facebook feed, I found a post from a colleague with a link to a new article from NRK, Norway’s public services broadcaster. It contained the stories of whistleblowers from within Mattilsynet regarding the distress its inspectors are feeling about their inability protect the welfare of the animals they are supposed to oversee.

Link to article in Norwegian: We have to close our eyes to suffering animals. *See note below for translation tips

One of the things I have noticed in my job is that almost every other week, changes are introduced to policies and protocols. There’s a lot to learn in any role and a year in, I feel I’m still picking things up, which would be enough already without the feeling that anything I learn might shift again next week. Then there’s the “paperwork”. Most of it is digitalised now, but there is a whole load of report writing, which often takes up far more time than the actual visit.

I am catching up gradually with some of the politics, and it seems that the current concentration on bureaucracy relates to criticism from the official Norwegian Auditor General in 2019 regarding the poor quality of case processing. It was stated that Mattilsynet lacked good tools and systems to deal with the animal welfare supervision it had to carry out, and that the result was that serious breaches of the animal welfare laws were not being followed up. It also said that Mattilsynet employees were not using the tools they had to penalise those who broke the law, and that it took too long for those who didn’t take proper care of their animals to be banned.

There’s a certain irony to what is happening now as a result of these accusations. I haven’t been here long, but one of the major constraints is the computer system we have to work with when processing cases. We use a system called MATS. I don’t know how old it is, but it is so complicated to use that it slows everything down. It sets out protocols and you have to work through the elements in order and tick off certain actions before you can proceed to the next. So if I receive a message from the public regarding a concern about animal welfare, it comes to me in MATS. I have to process that message and work through various stages on a list, and then at some point I will come to the end of that segment and have to move onto the next.

Once you click through to the new section, you can’t go back and change anything in the previous section if you’ve made an error. Thomas always tells me I have to be very careful before I click onwards, and I often check with him. But as I am trying to stand on my own feet a bit more, there have been cases where I have got as far as writing a report or a response to an animal owner who has asked for permission for something, and then had to go right back to the beginning as I realised I had linked the case to the animal owner’s personal file, and not to their business, or some other easily made system error that cannot be rectified.

MATS is also clunky in other ways. Almost nothing is automatic. Before we leave the farm or home, following an inspection, we have to write a “receipt” with a summary of what we have checked and what our assessments were. This used to be on paper, but now most of them are sent electronically. So we type our observations into an app. This would be very useful if there was an integrated system. If the observations we recorded in the receipt were transmitted automatically into MATS, and then perhaps used in the report, then it would be truly useful. As it is, we have to open MATS and the receipt and copy and paste all the information from one to the other.

The report itself has to comply with strict parameters in how it is set out and before I can send it to the owner, I have to run it past a colleague, and then afterwards past a control team, all the time making amendments, and then often sending it back and forth multiple times until everyone is satisfied.

Instead of rebuilding the system, they are adding things like the receipt system (and another system that allows us to add photo evidence) before the problem of MATS has been addressed. It seems to me, that they are trying to tweak something that is so fundamentally flawed that they are actually making the situation worse instead of better.

Of course all of this really comes back down to funding and monitoring. The argument is that they can’t afford a new system, though not affording it is probably costing millions. I have watched similar events in the public sector in the UK. The health service and school systems have both wandered into this territory where funding is reduced, then criticisms are made, and rather than improving the situation, new systems for monitoring are introduced, which increase the workload in ways that do nothing to correct the problems, but increase the cost of the operation. That the Norwegian government is paying veterinary surgeons to copy-paste long lists of observations and check and recheck whether the reports we write comply exactly with a template, which could presumably be automatically applied if the will and funding was there, seems brainless to me.

In addition, there are certain routine visits we carry out, for example those to check the farmers are following the rules with regard to ear-marks, disease control and traceability. Common sense would suggest that if no breaches of the rules are discovered, the feedback report could be generated automatically. Not only would that save direct work for the vet who did the inspection, but it would sidestep all the report-checks for compliance and would ensure their other aim – that everyone is dealt with the same way, wherever they are in Norway – was met without any effort whatsoever. Reducing the time it takes to process cases would free up time so that we could carry out more inspections. It seems like the system is set up in a way that prevents us from doing the most fundamental part of the job, which should be getting out and checking whether the animals are okay.

Anyway, I’m not going to comment any more on this for now. Our area is actually better off than those in the report, for which I am grateful. The report mentions an area where the inspectors have been told they can’t take on any more cases until the old ones are cleared up and we haven’t reached that stage. Thomas often tells me of his frustration that we are firefighting cases, rather than preventing problems before they start. Because I’ve only been here a short time, I can’t compare it with how things used to be, but he feels things have become more difficult. I am also aware of how much Thomas takes on, in comparison with what I can do at the moment. Though I help as much as I can, I know he is taking responsibility for the worst problems, as I work to follow what he’s doing and ensure the case timelines are kept in order. I am learning a lot about how cases should be handled, but even writing up the timelines shows me how frustrating the system is. There has been a change in government in Norway and the new government is more left-leaning, so I can only hope that some of the budget cuts, that have been happening forever, start to be reversed.

*****

Though the snow has gone for now, it was beautiful while it lasted. Triar and I followed the same trail last Saturday as we had the week before. There were amazing views as I reached the higher ground and I went a little further than last time, though I think I was still only about halfway along the trail to the peak. I need to find someone to go with me before attempting the whole walk.

Looking back at the snowy trail up to Kistefjellet

And on Tuesday evening, there was a snowstorm. Though it was windy, the temperature was around zero. When it’s really cold, the snow is powdery, and when the wind blows, it doesn’t stick to anything. But this snow stuck to everything. I went down into the town centre to get something, and had to stop to take photographs of the trees as they were so beautiful against the overcast sky and the streetlights.

I am looking forward to winter now. Though snow can be inconvenient, I still feel a childlike excitement when I wake up to find the world has turned white. And in a month, the polar night will be here. I hope you will follow and share it with me.

*If you want to read a Norwegian article in English (or any other language) you can paste the URL into Google Translate (set the languages at the top). A link will appear in the “Translation” side. If you click on the link, it should take you to a translated version of the article.

Northerly: Days Two and Three

We drove on from the campsite at Brennfjell and paused briefly to get in contact with Birgit. I had intended to organise a visit, but the last weeks before we set out had been so full that I’d forgotten. Luckily she was in and we called in for coffee and a tour round the animals, which included a new puppy, some new pigs and this gorgeous foal.

Heading north from Storslett, the sky was grey as we drove up onto Kvænangsfjellet. This section of the E6 road is often closed in winter. Its austere beauty was enhanced by the clouds which swathed the mountains and we stopped for photos, just as the road began to drop back down towards the sea.

I hadn’t managed to find accommodation for the night in Alta, but after a couple of unsuccessful queries in hotels, we managed to find a very cosy cabin at Solvang Camping, a little north of the city. This was a more modern version of Norwegian camping: a single room with a bunk bed and a sofa bed, where we sat and watched the movie Bølgen while eating leftover pizza and chocolate chip cookies. Having slept soundly, we rose the next morning and set off towards Nordkapp.

The scenery changed again as we drove along the coastline. Jutting cliffs overhung the road, grey slate layers, unevenly weathered, sometimes slanting at crazy angles against the sky.

I had expected a bridge over to the island of Magerøya, but instead there was a seven kilometer tunnel, dropping to 212m deep, under Magerøy Sound. The scenery here was different again: a tundra like landscape, bereft of trees. Streams tumbled down steep mountainsides and rocky pools lay in the hollows. And though the journey had been beautiful, it was a relief to arrive in Honningvåg and check into the hotel.

After resting for a while, we took Triar for a walk. He had been very patient in the car, but the scent of reindeer woke him up. They are everywhere on Magerøya. Wonderful to see.

Dog in a Bog

Sunrise/sunset: 03:14/ 22:29. Daylength: 19hr14min

I am looking forward to my holiday. It’s only a week away, and somehow until now, it seemed distant, but now it’s almost upon us. Not that we’re going far afield. Coronavirus has seen to that. But it seems fitting, given that this past week has been the anniversary of my epic drive from the southern tip of Norway to here, that I will be heading north once more, this time to Nordkapp. Our accommodation will be mixed. The first night will be in a tiny cabin with four bunk beds and an electric hob. I haven’t managed to book anything at all for the second night. Everything seems to be full, but we’ll take the tent and hope it doesn’t rain. Then we’ll be staying in a hotel while we explore Nordkapp. I had hoped to spend a couple of nights in a lavvo, which is a Sami wigwam. We found one on AirBnB and I quickly booked it, but my request was sadly rejected after twenty four hours with the succinct explanation “holiday”. I will keep my eyes open for it reappearing though. Despite the fact that it would undoubtdly be inhabited by the unexpectedly vicious Northern Norwegian Mosquitos with their huge evil fangs, I still find the idea very appealing.

On Thursday next week, I will be sitting an exam. I applied for Norwegian citizenship last year and happily filled in the section that said I had passed an exam in Norwegian social studies. I thought this was covered by the Norwegian course and exams I sat ten years ago when I first came to Norway, but I recently discovered that the rules had been changed and now everyone who wasn’t schooled in Norway has to take a test. As soon as I’ve finished writing this, I shall start revising. A lot of the subject matter is based on things I have experienced, such as the inner machinations of the health service and workers rights. But some of the questions on the mock test I took were very specific and rather obscure so I’d better get learning. My appointment with the police is on the week after I get back from my holiday, so I only have one chance, unless I want the whole thing to be delayed even more. I feel like getting a Norwegian passport will mark both the end of another journey and a new beginning.

Ann and I went out for another walk yesterday. Last week, we had a walk, followed by fish and chips. This week, Ann came over to mine and we went for a walk on Senja. I took her to Ånderdalen, of course. It’s still my favourite walk. But Ann, it turns out, has some books about walks in the area, so now we are planning more. In the meantime, I will spam you with the usual Ånderdalen imagery of pale ghost trees and mountain vistas.

Triar found both a bog to jump in (when does he not?) and a Burned Sausage of Unknown Origin, secreted in the barbecue close to the shelter at the highest point of the circuit. Ann very quickly prised his jaws apart and rescued the sausage, which was definitely a sausage and not the more traditional hot dog. The civilised Norwegian habit of providing both a grill, and the wood to burn on it at the end of a pretty walk continues to please me. I must get into the habit of taking matches, whittling knife and food with me more often.

Anyway, I must go and study. Procrastination won’t get me very far. Hope you will all join me on my journey next week. And in the meantime, a toast from Senja. Cheers!