Tag Archives: Tromsø
Sunrise/sunset: 09:04/13:58 Daylength: 4hr54min
We are, once again, reaching the time of year when the hours of daylight start to drop away faster and faster. We currently have almost five hours when the sun is above the horizon, but it is only two and a half weeks until the polar night arrives. I am feeling very tired at the moment and the lack of sunshine might be having an effect on that, but this week the landlord woes I wrote about before have taken an odd and unsettling turn.
I will say first though, that outside of that, I have had a very interesting week. A couple of weeks back, an e-mail dropped into my work in-box about a table top exercise in Tromsø. The subject was emergency readiness in an Arctic setting. There were two scenarios that would be looked at. One was an outbreak of bird flu, the other a more subtle situation where there began to be sickness in reindeer, where the cause was not known. The meeting was being held under the auspices of the Arctic Council in line with the One Health Initiative. I was not aware that there was an Arctic Council, nor did I know anything about the One Health Initiative, so as you can imagine, it was a steep learning curve. That said, I found myself included (alongside my colleague Anja) more or less by accident, in two projects which are of huge relevance to the job I do, but on a scale that is so far above my pay grade that it felt like a whole new world was opening up.
To explain a little, the Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum which includes the eight countries which exercise sovereignty over the land that falls within the Arctic Circle, so Norway, Canada, the United States, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Russia. There is also a focus on including indigenous groups so that their concerns are properly represented and their knowledge brought forward.
The One Health Initiative is a movement which brings together medics, vets, researchers, environmentalists and other professionals to work towards a better understanding of the interdependence of human and animal health and the way that changes in the environment might impact these balances. Many of the diseases we monitor in animals at Mattilsynet (the Norwegian Food Standards Agency) are zoonotic (they can pass between animals and humans) or might become so. For example, we are currently keeping a close eye on bird flu, which can pass to humans when there is close contact between birds and people, but so far doesn’t spread easily between people after it made that jump. Similarly, we monitor salmonella (which spreads readily between humans and animals) and diseases like BSE (mad cow disease) and illnesses in other species that are related to it.
My job then, is right on the front line of dealing with that monitoring. I take samples from the animals, send them off to the lab and receive information back about whether they were positive or negative. Because I am interested in the wider picture, I quite often dip into Mattilsynets national emergency readiness website to see what is happening in other areas, to get a taste of how disease outbreaks are being handled. If an outbreak occurred in my local region, I would doubtless be involved in any testing that occurred, but generally all decisions about what happens from there are taken much higher up and other activities (for example, the disposal of the carcases of animals that present a risk) are then handed off to other agencies. I might be peripherally aware of it going on, assuming it was occurring in my locale, but I wouldn’t have any direct involvement.
Mattilsynet had apparently been contacted a good deal earlier about this exercise, but hadn’t responded. As it was getting later and later, the woman organising it had reached out to someone she knew in the local region, who had then put out an urgent call for representation (and unusually, had made the suggestion that someone relatively new to Mattilsynet might be suitable, as they would perhaps learn a great deal). Anja said she could go on days one and two, but asked if anyone could go on the third, or better still every day. I, despite still being up to my elbows in seasonal meat inspection, tentatively suggested that I might actually be free all three days. So I can only say that I went from a small, local perspective on emergency readiness as it relates to zoonotic diseases (with a quiet eye on the national situation in moments when time allowed) to a global perspective on the same topic. My mind was genuinely so blown by this that it took me until day three to really pick myself up and start to properly contribute, which I am proud to say I did.
Unfortunately, there was another factor thrown into this mix. On the first day of the exercise, in the morning, a letter from Husleietvistutvalget (the rent disputes tribunal) thudded into my digital mailbox. As regular readers will know, my ex landlord is making a vexatious claim against me for a huge sum of money and I previously have responded to his accusations, in what I believe was a careful and truthful manner. This new letter was his response. In a way, it was easy to respond to. It was filled with bizarre lies, which in some cases were easy to undermine.
For example, he has thrown away and replaced a cooker, which he says I had set on fire. This was an ancient cooker, which was acknowledged by his wife when we went round the flat together at the end of the tenancy. I was surprised to read then, in this latest letter, that it was actually relatively new and had been bought in 2018. The “proof” he provided was a receipt for a cooker bought in 2018. Had I been less prepared, or had he been luckier, I would have been at a loss regarding how to counter this claim. However, my photograph of the kitchen area had a reasonably clear (if rather distant) picture of the cooker. Though his receipt was for a Gram cooker, it was possible on my photo to home in on the logo on the cooker in the flat, which was a Zanussi.
There was other stuff, of a similar nature. The receipt he had sent for a sofa was one where, zoomed in, you could see it was bought in 2020 (after we moved in) and not now. It wasn’t the sofa in the apartment, so this was neither proof that the sofa we used was new when we moved in, nor that he’d had to buy a new one after we had left. To be honest, his lies have now reached such a level of inconsistency and outrageousness that I’m not too worried about the way the case handlers will view it, but I am worried about what he might do if and when he doesn’t get his way. He also has some money of mine, which was a rent payment, accidentally sent after I moved out. When I called the bank, shortly after realising what had happened, they advised me that if he didn’t send the money back, I should contact the police. I am now seriously considering whether I should go to the police and make sure they have details of the whole sorry case, from the start, when he stood in the apartment shouting at me, rather than explaining what he felt I needed to do to rectify faults he believed I needed to address, to this latest missal, which suggests to me that he is really starting to lose the plot.
Anyway, it was unfortunate that this fell onto me during this wonderful conference. However, despite that, I still managed to enjoy my trip. By the end of it, I was wondering how on earth I could get more involved, as it seems unlikely I will be included in the next exercise, which will be in Alaska. I even started to look up Masters Degrees in Public Health, but at 53, spending two years back at university would be a huge and significant change. It has certainly given me a lot of food for thought though.
I was very tired as I was driving back yesterday, but I stopped to take a picture of the snow, which has now come down from the mountains, though it is still patchy at sea level.
And now I have to go. My car has been in at the garage in Tromsø. It had a major fault that could only be fixed there, and now I have to go catch a boat so I can pick it up. Have a lovely week all!
Sunrise/sunset: 03:44/21:.58 Daylength: 18hr14min
My divorce from Charlie came through this week. I don’t talk about the past very much, but I will say that I feel more free to be myself now than I have in years. It took a lot for me to leave, and even more to free my mind, but I’m getting there.
Project House is now well underway. I have ripped off the skirting boards in my currently pink bedroom (Norwegian skirting boards are commonly narrow strips of pine, nailed on – I haven’t prised off any heavy-duty British style ones) and, with John’s help, flattened all the lumps caused by badly inserted screws and filled the resulting holes. Today I will be sanding them down, then hopefully starting to turn it from pink to yellow. John’s room is more complicated. It’s currently black and lilac, and the walls are in a much worse state, so he has his work cut out. That said, it’s wonderful to see him tackling the job with enthusiasm. He wants to create his own space, and that’s making me feel very happy.
The house makes me happy too. John and I were taking a break, sitting in the kitchen a few days back. There’s a breakfast bar beside the window which looks out over woodland. John saw movement among the trees and he realised there was a moose there, which seemed to be watching us. It stood stock still for several minutes before turning and walking away. It felt like another very special moment.
The weekend in Tromsø went well. We went to Tromsøbadet swimming pool on Saturday. I say swimming pool, but it’s much more than that. There are diving boards, a wave pool, slides, a dimly lit hot pool and a «sea temperature» plunge pool – bracing! The swimming pool has a section outside too, so you can swim outdoors, looking out over the surrounding countryside, then sit on an underwater bench where the edge of the pool temporarily becomes a jacuzzi. I want to go back when it’s snowing!
On Sunday, John took Andrew for his first ever climbing session. John has been climbing for a while. Here he is making his way up a wall.
Andrew did remarkably well. John took him up to a practice room and he very quickly started to get the hang of it. Once I’m feeling better, I hope to have a go too.
Lastly, I had my MRI scan yesterday in Tromsø. It was quite long, and involved a lot of breathing in and out, and breath holding. The results will probably take a week to come back, so I will get as much done in the house as possible before then.
I took the hurtigbåt (fast boat) and on the way back, I had a window seat. As well as the wonderful scenery, I was lucky enough to see a puffin, flitting over the waves, and later, several cormorants, which seemed to be fishing off the channel markers as we approached the dock in Finnsnes. It felt good to be coming home. One day, I’ll have to take the boat in the opposite direction. It goes to Harstad, stopping off at Brøstadbotn and Engenes. So many things still to explore.
Have a good week all.
Submissions and Sickness
Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.
It’s holiday time, and my phone keeps pinging with reminders of upcoming flights and stays. Konstantin is housesitting for me, so I know that Triar and the guinea pigs will be well cared for. Lots of other things are bubbling along. I signed the house contract this week. On first of August, I will be a house owner. So far, we have a TV and stand, a washing machine and cooker, a desk and chair, and one bed. Fortunately we have a month between buying the house and moving out of our current flat, so there will be time to rectify that. Hopefully by the time we move in, we will at least have two beds and something to sit on!
Last week, I mentioned that Ger had submitted The Good Friends’ Veterinary Clinic to ten publishers. So far, two have turned it down. Ger tells me this is quite normal. I believe Harry Potter was turned down by twelve publishers, so I am staying positive for now. I am in the final stages of getting the storyline for book two finished. Hopefully I will find some time to write during my holiday. Due to Covid we won’t be going out and about too much, so I will be able to escape to the fictional town of Invercorrich on the west coast of Scotland. I will also be staying with my parents for the last two weeks of the three weeks I’m taking. I haven’t seen them since December 2019, so being with them again will be truly wonderful.
Just to slightly complicate matters (as if they weren’t already complicated enough) I have been vaguely unwell for a few months and finally heaved myself to the doctors about three weeks ago. She referred me to Tromsø for a colonoscopy, which was done on Thursday. Probably the less said about the procedure the better, though I survived the process without having to have sedation or painkillers, which was a bonus.
There are flowers on all the roadsides, even around the hospital, so I will share a few pictures here.
The good news is that my intestines are in good shape. The bad news is that the doctor I saw in Tromsø agreed with what I was initially concerned about, which was that there is probably something going on with my pancreas or bile duct. I don’t have a gall bladder any more, so it’s not that. He said the next stage was an ultrasound, but given that I was going on holiday for three weeks, he decided he would do that there and then, rather than wait. He couldn’t see anything big, which is good, but he says I will have to return for an MRI when I get back. He suggested that my bile duct might be blocked, possibly by a stone or stones, which wouldn’t be that surprising. There were complications after my gall bladder was removed, and now and then signs of stones passing (a very distinctive feeling, for anyone who’s experienced it). So all that is slightly hanging over me. I know the UK has an NHS, but it would be much less complicated if I didn’t have to use it.
Anyway, all my photos this week are of flowers. I went up to Tromsø a day early before the colonoscopy and went out to explore the Arctic-Alpine Garden near the hospital. There was a cafe there, which I would definitely have stopped at for an ice cream, had I not been banned from eating anything. Next time I’m up there if it’s fine weather, I’ll definitely pop in. I began with the intention of taking photographs and taking down names, but the labelling seemed somewhat erratic, or at least some plants seemed to have spread and others perhaps died back, so I’ll just spam you with the gorgeous flowers and hope you enjoy them, as I do, without ever knowing their names.
Submissions and Steampunk
Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.
This week has been very intense. So much so, that when I thought back and realised I had been to my first audit on Monday, it’s hard to believe it’s the same week. The long daylight hours are quite disconcerting, though they also mean that everything is growing at an enormous rate, so I’ll throw in a few pictures of all the flowers and undergrowth as I go along. The audit was in the abattoir, or at least in the meat processing plant attached to it. My colleagues Ann and Ronny carried it out and the areas that came under particular scrutiny were traceability and recall.
It was fascinating to see the planning and processes that go into ensuring that the meat that’s sold to the public can be traced, not just right back to an individual animal, but to the batch of plastic that’s used in packaging and the temperature range in the lorry that transports the product onwards. We also got to see mince being packaged, from the time they place it into a huge funnel, to it being arranged into individual squares in a grid pattern on a conveyer, which withdraws suddenly, dropping it into plastic containers which are sealed and marked. I hadn’t noticed before, but the packets are marked with the same oval mark, with Norge and EFTA and the individual number of the abattoir, that we use to stamp the meat itself when we examine it and pass it as fit for consumption. It was also interesting to see how cleanliness is achieved. We had to change our protective clothing multiple times as we passed through the different areas.
The writing whirlwind that started last week also continued. My agent is Ger Nichol at The Book Bureau and she is in Ireland. The contracts were signed last weekend and after about four days of intensive editing, she felt The Good Friends’ Veterinary Clinic was ready for submission. I will give you the blurb I sent her, though I’m not sure how much of this she uses, or whether she’s changed it for sending it to the publishers.
“The Good Friends’ Veterinary Clinic” is an exploration of the life of a recently widowed veterinary surgeon and how she deals with the consequences of a lifetime of putting her family before herself. I was aiming for a cross between James Herriot and Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax). It is set in rural Scotland and is filled with diverse women and their animal friends, from the partnership between receptionist Gail and her guide dog Beth, to butch lesbian, Mags, who loves her crazy mare, Strumpet, almost more than life itself.
Ger sent it off on Wednesday to ten editors at well known publishing houses, and now it’s another waiting game. There’s no guarantee, even at this stage, that it will be picked up, but this is way further than I’ve ever got before. The Hope Meadows series was sold to Hodder before I was involved and would have gone ahead with another writer if I hadn’t been chosen. This time the work is all my own, though if it hadn’t been for Lara Wilson egging me on through the pandemic, even though I was in Norway and she was in Belfast and Glasgow, I definitely wouldn’t have got this far.
The rest of this blog is going to be about Tromsø, where I spent Thursday and Friday at a Mattilsynet meeting for all the staff in our region. In particular, I want to rave about a restaurant we went to. Regular readers will know what a foodie I am and how much I love new restaurant discoveries, and what could be better than a real Italian pizzeria in the far north of Norway?
I must admit here that I didn’t have high hopes when I discovered we were going to a pizzeria. Pizza is very popular in Norway and (as in the UK) a lot of it is adequate but by no means exciting. Casa Inferno certainly looked pretty good as I walked in. It has a steampunk theme, with a brutalist style ceiling – all steel rods and exposed air conditioning pipes. Somehow, it achieved a very cosy feel. There were a few old things scattered among the copper lampshades and retro-futuristic decor. This gramophone on the bar was probably my favourite.
We started with antipasti – selection of olives, various cheeses, hams and salamis and some most delicious red pickled onions. It was served on shared platters and looked great, though for once, I forgot to take a photo. It was the pizzas that were the real revelation though. It’s a long time since I’ve had a proper wood-fired pizza, created by an Italian chef. The pizzas were for sharing too, but by some miracle, the one that was placed in front of Konstantin and me would have been one of my first choices from the menu.
The next pizza brought to our table was even more spectacular. The Inferno was quite literally, flaming hot.
The Inferno had tomato sauce, spicy salami, olives, fresh chilli peppers, onions and chilli flakes. It looked even better, once the flames died down.
As we were waiting for desserts and coffee, I took a few photographs, including the steampunk weapon at the top of the page. It was only at this point, that I realised there was an actual wood stove for the pizzas. No wonder they were so wonderful!
The final indoctrination, and the realisation that this was somewhere I really wanted to come back to with the offspring, was with the dessert. I was going to order what I thought was a chocolate fondant, when Hilde pointed out that it was not actually chocolate fondant, but chocolate fondue. I guess chocolate fondue isn’t technically very difficult, nor is it particularly Italian, so far as I know, but it was certainly fun! And along with an espresso coffee laced with amaretto, it rounded off the meal very nicely.
Thanks for reading. Have a lovely week everyone,
Lambs and a House
Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.
I am buying a house! I wanted to get that in there right away as it’s filling my mind. It seems odd that at 53 years old, I am back at the point of going through new and momentous experiences, but I guess that’s true of anyone who has left a long-term marriage and started again. This will be the first house I will have sole ownership of and this is also the first time I have gone through the buying process in Norway.
I went to the viewing last Monday. I guess all the details I am about to give might be boring for my Norwegian friends, so I apologise to them, but for me it was all new. When Charlie and I moved to Norway, he came six months earlier than me and the children, so by the time I moved over, he had gone through this whole process and I wasn’t involved at all.
In the UK, viewings tend to be individual. You call the estate agent, make an appointment, then go to look. Most often, it’s the house owner that shows you round. If you like the house and think you might want to buy it, you will probably get a thorough survey done before going any further. After that, the whole process is bound up with solicitors and takes an age.
Here in Norway, the survey is done by the seller. All the details about what is sound and what isn’t are provided in the listing. A viewing time is arranged with the seller and anybody who is interested in the house attends during that timeslot. The house owner goes out; it’s the estate agent who remains to direct proceedings and they don’t show you round. Rather, you have the freedom to wander through the house at your leisure in the same way you might if you were viewing a new build house in the UK.
It was a lonely experience. I had hoped that John or Andrew could come with me, but both had other commitments. I also considered asking a colleague, but I had put in my mortgage application late and I hadn’t heard back from the bank, so everything was still up in the air. In Norway the bidding process often happens the day after the viewing. You can’t bid unless you have finances in place and I didn’t want to see the house if I wasn’t sure I could afford it. The bank finally told me at quarter to three on Monday afternoon that I could have a mortgage big enough to cover the house, and the viewing was at five, so I headed out there, feeling underprepared.
I didn’t love it. You often hear about people falling in love with houses, but there were many small things which didn’t show up in the photographs or survey details. The bathroom looked smart and modern in the pictures, but when I walked in, the shower unit was obviously older than I had thought and it will never look sparkling clean again. In the bedrooms, hallway and living room, there are lots of little holes, badly filled ex-holes and lumps in the papered wall panels, which are made of wood and not plaster. There is wallpaper that’s been painted over, and in one random patch, the textured paper was different from that surrounding it. All-in-all the house had an unloved feeling. I can’t blame the person who did this. I did the same in the house I shared with Charlie as I am no expert and had no money to do anything better, but I know that when I get this house, I want gradually to erase all those flaws.
It’s not particularly big, but it has four bedrooms. Perhaps it seems odd to want to make sure John, Anna and Andrew can all still come home at the same time and have their own space, but that is what I want and I’m not going to fight it.
Anyway, having been to the viewing, where the only other people were a young man and (presumably) his father, I had to wait until 18th May for the next steps. As I said above, the bidding on a house often starts the day after the viewing, but the viewing was on 16th May and the day after is a special bank holiday here in Norway – Norway’s national celebration. I haven’t any pictures (the weather was awful this year) but the link above will take you to last year’s, (rather muted) celebrations.
I had an appointment in Tromsø on the 18th and I was staying there for the rest of the week, so Wednesday afternoon found me alone in a hotel room, trying to work, while wondering what I would do about the house. I still wasn’t certain I wanted to go ahead. It seemed too significant a decision to jump into blindly.
Bu then the estate agent sent me a link to sign into the bidding. Having come thus far, I thought I would sign in and see what the thing looked like. I was still kind of terrified. Once you bid, your offer is binding if the seller accepts it. It felt like a monumental decision to be taking on my own in an anonymous hotel room. But what was there to lose if I put in a low bid? If it was accepted, I would be getting a bargain I could easily afford. If it was rejected, or someone else outbid me, then I’d lost nothing. I typed in my bid and the time when then offer would run out. My fingers were shaking as I clicked “send”.
It was at this point it crossed my mind that I could contact Lara Wilson. Many years ago, back in the UK when I was a high flying executive (well technically the Operations Manager at Vets Now) Laura was the head vet in the Belfast clinic and we hit it off immediately. Our friendship has deepened over the years and it was Lara who basically chivvied me into completing my last book manuscript, despite the fact that she was in Glasgow while I was in Norway.
Within minutes we were in conversation on Facebook messenger, and her enthusiasm for life (and buying houses) was seeping in and bypassing my wibblingness. I had set the offer timer for only half an hour. How to do the whole thing, and what the norms were, were outside my range of experience. The form had told me a minimum of thirty minutes and I had followed that as the time had popped up automatically. I watched as the clock ticked down, wondering if there was something else I should be doing. Though I’ve never bought a house in Norway, Charlie and I had recently gone through this process from the other side. If I tell you I missed the actual bidding process that time because I was on a flight from Tromsø to Oslo, you can probably get an idea of how fast the whole thing usually goes.
Would my bid be accepted? Might another come in? If it wasn’t enough, the seller might make a counter offer. Presumably the longer it went, the more likely it was that I’d get it?
I was on tenterhooks as the final minutes ticked down. Then the time came and went, and a sign popped up to say my bid had expired.
What on earth? I admit I felt baffled. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Picking up my phone, I called the estate agent’s number. The woman from the viewing answered and I asked her what had happened. She took a look, then explained that the estate agent was in a meeting. He hadn’t even seen my offer before it expired. I asked her what happened next? Should I bid again? Should I give a longer time? How long was normal? She couldn’t possibly say. Not allowed to advise me. I confess I was a bit frustrated with her. I wasn’t asking for advice, I was asking what was normal. She said she’d get the estate agent to call me when he came out. He probably wouldn’t be long.
I whiled away the time by putting in another bid, this time with a longer expiry. This time, the estate agent saw it and I received a message that it was now live. Yet again, I watched the clock tick down, and yet again there was no response. I was pretty much at the stage of giving up by now. I wasn’t sure how it should go, but this definitely wasn’t it. And then some action came. The owner, I learned, had made a late counter suggestion and from there on in, it was no longer an auction, but a bartering process. It dribbled on a bit. I get the impression that the seller was reluctant because she wasn’t getting as much as she’d hoped for. But by two o’clock the following day, we had agreed on a price and I was committed to buying.
Since then, there has been a parade of links and tasks and forms to fill in. Most of them are in Norwegian obviously, which adds a little piquancy to the whole process. I still feel I’m stumbling through thick woodland undergrowth wearing a pair of steamed up sunglasses, but presumably at some point I’ll come out on the other side. Hopefully it will be sunny.
Anyway, in other news, we visited the farm where John is lambing last weekend. It was a wonderful day. John’s employers were very welcoming and seem very pleased with him. I felt very proud as I saw him handling the animals with assurance. And of course, lambs are very, very cute!
On Thursday and Friday I was working in Tromsø. Amongst other things, Line had arranged for me to blood sample two cows. There was some pressure, given that I had been brought up from Finnsnes and had been touted as an expert, but thankfully it went off without a hitch. The cows were fairly quiet and I took the samples from their tails, as I had done thousands of times before, many years ago in Scotland. Indeed, I think I could happily spend my life blood testing cows. If anyone knows of such a job, please do let me know!
Last but not least, we inspected a husky farm. Seeing the lovely, friendly dogs, the brightly coloured sledding gear and the hut, where the ceiling was blackened from woodfire smoke, really made me want to come back in the winter and take part. One day, hopefully I will.
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.
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!
Sunrise/sunset: 10:14/ 13:45. Daylength: 3hr30min
More than halfway through January and I still haven’t seen the sun. The snow is getting deep now, though it hasn’t quite reached the bottom of the windows in my living room, perhaps because there has been periodic rain in between the blizzards!
The snowfall was especially extreme last Sunday. I was out three times during the day to clear the car and driveway, which typically takes twenty minutes to half an hour.
I had been wondering about the logistics of snow clearing for a while. Last winter, there was relatively little snow, the year before that (before I moved here) masses. I have what is, in effect, a large spade with which I clear the driveway. There is other equipment I could possibly purchase. You can get much larger tools that are for pushing the snow around and also snow blowers, that have a motor, but for now I still rely on my spade. The only problem with that, is that I am gradually having to throw the snow higher and higher in order to get rid of it. There is a low hedge (now buried) on the right hand side of my driveway and I can push the snow off the top of that one, but the snow wall is getting wider and wider, so that has a limited timespan as well!
But last Sunday was complicated by the fact that Andrew and I had to go to Tromsø in the morning. I had a doctor’s appointment and he had an appointment to get his wisdom teeth taken out. We didn’t have to be there until eleven, but it’s more than two hours driving on a good day. It was worrying me that, if we awoke to a buried car then had to drive through a blizzard, we might be struggling to make it in time, especially as I don’t know my way round Tromsø yet.
So at about three in the afternoon, with heavy snow still whirling all around, I decided that as the driveway was still relatively clear, we should make our escape now and get part of the journey done on Sunday night. Rather than spend a sleepless night at home and getting up early, we could drive to Vollan (which is about half way to Tromsø).
It wasn’t an easy drive. It snowed most of the way, and there were times when the snow was blowing over the road, taking visibility down to a couple of metres.
We stopped high up on the moors for a break. There is a Sami shop here in the summer, but now just a whole load of snow around the wooden strutts that are the bare bones of the lavvo tents that make up the shop.
We made it safely to Vollan. Had I stayed at home, I know I would barely have slept, but even with Triar in our room, I got a reasonable night’s rest and was able to have a relaxed hotel breakfast before setting out from a car park that someone else had mostly cleared!
The rest of the trip was uneventful. Andrew was naturally nervous getting his wisdom teeth removed, but the first side was done successfully. He slept for most of the drive home. It was still snowing intermittently, but wasn’t completely dark. At one point half of the sky cleared and to my amazement I saw what looked like a small area of cloud that was brightly lit up with rainbow colours. It looked a little like the rainbow created when there is oil in a film lying on top of water, only it was dazzlingly intense. I stopped as soon as there was a layby to take photos, (the picture at the top of the page was the best) but the picture doesn’t do it justice. It was properly stunning. A few minutes later, the sky opened up more and there was a huge area of indescribable waves of colour, but by then I was driving again, there was nowhere to stop, and given that Andrew had just had an operation, I didn’t want to wake him up.
I looked up the phenomenon when I got home and found out that these are nacreous clouds, which form when the air is very cold and the sun is just below the horizon. Another beautiful discovery about my adoptive home here in the north.
Thomas, Hilde and I had a meeting with the police yesterday, which was interesting. A new initiative was introduced a few years ago, where there are members of the police force who are dedicated to fighting animal crime. It was a useful experience, and one that made me think. Part of our job in Mattilsynet is to stop animal suffering by using various legal powers to push people into treating their animals better. There are various tools we can use, ranging from low level advice, up through setting them targets to reach by a certain date, escalating to fines if they don’t comply and ultimately banning them from having animals if they fail to improve over a period of time.
Most of what we do is designed to improve the situation for animals, but we can only use our powers when there is an active situation where the law is currently being broken. The police, however, can take on cases where the law has been broken before, even if the current situation the animals are in is not illegal. So having stronger links between the police and Mattilsynet is very helpful and (for me) reassuring.
Anyway, I will leave you with a screenshot of the weather forecast for this week. As you can see, there are avalanche warnings and all sorts, though luckily I live in a sheltered place, where the risks are low. I also have two pictures of a Jeep. I saw it last night and it was halfway buried, so I took a picture. Having taken it I discovered on my phone, when I got home, that I had taken a photo of it the week before. What a difference a week makes!
Carry that Weight
Sunrise/sunset: 09:52/ 13:14. Daylength: 3hr21min
I love being a veterinary surgeon. I am in the privileged position of having a career that is built around helping animals and in addition, I get to spend some of my days driving round in wonderful scenery and meeting farmers and their animals, and that’s something I value highly.
But there is a flip side to being a vet, which I discovered very early in my career, and that is that there is a lot of responsibility and that sometimes we find ourselves dealing with very heavy events.
I qualified when I was twenty two and started working at twenty three, and still have a stark memory from that time when I had been sent out to euthanase an old lady’s dog. I had driven out to her house and was still green enough to be worried about the process itself. Even when you’ve done it a thousand times, there’s still a risk that something untoward will happen, but you learn to navigate around potential difficulties, explain the possible issues beforehand and cope on the odd occasions when something unexpected does occur. On that day however, I was still completely green and very nervous. The old lady grabbed my hand and looked up at me from her chair. “I don’t want her to go,” she said. “Can’t you take me with her as well?”
I had no idea how to respond then and I probably still wouldn’t. Fortunately I had a wonderful nurse with me that day who did manage to say something and even after all these years, I remember how wise she was in comparison to me. Nowadays, when things get tough, I have more experienced people like Hilde and Thomas I can call on. Good colleagues are incredibly valuable in a crisis.
This week has had a couple of those moments when I have been reminded of how fragile everything can be. The first was the discovery on Monday that there had been a horrible event on Sunday in which a number of animals had died. I can’t give details: the investigation is still underway. But the quiet Monday I had planned, where I caught up with some overdue paperwork, was disrupted completely as I ended up driving to Tromsø with some of the animals that had died so that post-mortems could be carried out. There’s an extent to which, when tragedy hits, you have to act first and deal with the situation before you start to think too deeply about it, and that’s what I did. It wasn’t until I came home at the end of a twelve hour day, that I had time to process what had happened and what the animals had gone through, and then I cried briefly and hugged Andrew and Triar and then posted on Twitter, asking people for pictures of their pets and what they loved about them, so that if I woke in the night, I’d have something lovely and positive to read.
Our events here however, have been rather overshadowed by the news that Norway is experiencing its first ever outbreak of bird flu in domestic hens. Periodically last winter, there would be reports of bird flu being found in wild birds and Norwegian hen keepers have strict rules about outdoor access for their birds. When migration is happening, they all have to have a roof over them at all times. It had struck me, when doing our twice yearly emergency readiness exercise that if there was an outbreak of a serious illness in our area, that we would be in the front line and would be part of the team who had to go out and deal with the consequences. What hadn’t really struck me was that before we attended, there would likely be another vet who had been called out and might have been exposed first and a farmer too, and that they would be even more at risk, because they wouldn’t know beforehand that layers and layers of PPE were necessary.
This only came home to me when I read where the outbreak had occurred. It was (is) in Rogaland, where I used to live and work. Before I got the job here, I had applied for a job working with chickens down there, and it struck me that I could potentially have been that vet. Then it struck me further that the vet in question might be someone I know. It turns out the vet is indeed someone I know and they are still dealing with the possible fall out. So now I am hoping that there is nothing more serious to come, but the weight on them must be very heavy indeed.
But there was some lightness this week too. I have a busy few days planned, with lots of farm visits to different types of animal and with lots of different colleagues. Yesterday morning, I headed down to the fast boat in the dim pre-dawn November light. I was going up to Tromsø, where I would meet Birgit and we would visit a pig farm in the area. It was a routine visit, taking samples and carrying out a welfare inspection as part of Mattilsynet’s campaign to improve pig welfare.
The boat trip was a wonderful start to the day. The waters between Finnsnes and Tromsø are sheltered by islands and peninsulas and so it was a very smooth journey. It was getting lighter as we travelled and we went from farmland backed by low hills to much more sheer mountainsides, their peaks shrouded in snow and clouds. I had brought a book, but in the event, I couldn’t stop looking out of the window. The sunrise (picture at the top of the page) came when we were only a few minutes outside Tromsø. This is definitely a trip I want to repeat in my spare time.
The farmer was lovely. His pigs all looked in very good shape and he proudly showed us his sheep afterwards. Not all visits are like that, but it is great to see healthy animals being cared for well.
And it was fantastic to meet up with Birgit again. She had driven down from Storslett for a meeting the day before and had stayed overnight in Tromsø. She had her dogs with her and after the visit, we stopped briefly to give the dogs some fresh air. Kvaløya is beautiful. As I work in this area, I often look around me in wonder and think how lucky I am… as well as that I want to spend more leisure time exploring these different areas.
There was just time to stop for something to eat before I headed back on the boat. I ate a very tasty smoked salmon and cream cheese roll and was very pleased to see that the coffee shop were selling Senja Roasters‘ Christmas coffee. It was a good end to a very pleasant trip.
Linken and Tromsø
Sunrise/sunset: 03:50/ 21:51. Daylength: 18hr1min
Today we head north again. We will be spending tonight in Skibotn and the night after, who knows where? I made the mistake of looking up the coronavirus map yesterday and saw that the north of Norway is currently lit up like a viral Christmas tree, but hopefully that and the hairy-legged northern mosquitos won’t trouble us too much. Anyway, back to this week’s news.
On Monday, Ann, Ammar and I headed out for a walk after work. We climbed a hill called Linken. I’ve been very interested to see how rapidly we have left summer behind. We had just arrived this time last year and so I missed those wild and exuberant months, where the abundance of life thrust its way into every crevice. The change arrived almost as soon as the sun began to dip below the horizon again. At the start of the summer, there was a delay. In my head, those long, long days should have brought warmth and growth, but it took time for the land to recover from the long hard winter. Now we have plummeted into autumn. The trees are only just beginning to turn, but the forest floor, so recently dominated by lime green ferns and brightly coloured flowers, is now filled with berries and mushrooms.
Ammar made the most of the blueberries.
The view from the top of Linken was mostly obscured by trees, but I managed to take a couple of photographs.
On Thursday, Anna and I drove to Tromsø so I could sit my citizenship test. I spent last weekend and took most of a day off during the week to revise. I learned a few odd facts along the way. I hadn’t realised the Viking period lasted only about 250 years. Somehow, it has always felt like something timeless. And who knew that Norway’s highest mountain is Galdhøpiggen at 2,469 m (8,100 ft) above sea level? I told Anna and she pointed out that translated, it’s name means Crazily High Peak. One has to wonder whether the map maker asked one of the locals and received a rather tongue in cheek reply, which then was preserved for all time by officialdom!
The test is thirty six multiple-choice questions and I knew I was reasonably well prepared, but because of the deadline (an appointment with the police at the end of August) I needed to pass if I didn’t want to delay my application any further. The test was meant to take up to an hour, but in the event, I was finished after only eleven minutes. I wondered whether I ought to scroll back and check my answers, but the woman who was checking our proof of ID had just arrived at my desk. I wasn’t sure what the protocol for finishing was, so I asked her and then went ahead. Walking up the stairs to get my results, my heart was in my mouth, but as I walked back down, my heart was singing. I don’t know what my mark was, but I had passed and that was all that mattered.
Having driven all that way, Anna and I spent some time exploring Tromsø. First off was this wonderful book (and toy) shop that we found tucked away in a little yard down near the docks.
I’m a sucker for all things Harry Potter, and so I was delighted to see some fabulous memorabilia.
There was a reasonable sized English section (albeit sci-fi dominated) and I took the chance to buy four Terry Pratchett books. Only a few weeks ago, I was thinking that I almost never read anything new, but now I have plenty of reading to look forward to.
We wandered around the docklands area for a little while. I don’t know much about Tromsø’s history (a topic for another day perhaps) but it really did seem to be an eclectic mix of old and new and definitely had some quirky elements.
We also found a pub. I’m not sure I’ve actually been in a pub in Norway before. There isn’t a pub tradition here in the way there is in the UK. This one had a very British feel to it and Anna and I immediately felt at home.
Anyway, I’ll have to go now and get some breakfast. The car is packed already and I’m feeling in a holiday mood. Thanks for reading. See you all very soon!