Change can be fun. During the holidays, instead of working half my shift as an assistant, I worked fully as a vet. From being afraid to consult in a language that is not my mother tongue, I embraced the reality. It was interesting to contrast the assistant role with the veterinary. When I started out so many years ago, I often wished I had become a nurse instead. The responsibilities weighed heavily. Nurses got to interact with patients almost as much as I did and that was the good part. Yet when it was removed, I found I missed the communication with the clients. The bond between owner and animal can be so strong that it can be difficult to fully know one without the other.
Change can be sad too. Jan-Arne lost his beloved dog Cara last week. How difficult it is to provide support to others when you are walking through devastation. And yet he held his head up bravely. He has always been dedicated.
On Thursday morning, Wivek greeted me with an unusual offer. Would I like to go into Sandnes in the evening she asked. The Sommerbåt was coming.
‘What is the Sommerbåt?’ I asked.
‘It’s a boat that travels round the coast of Norway in the Summer,’ she said. ‘They make a TV show in the places they land. There’ll be a concert,’ she added in a way that suggested that this, after all, was the main attraction.
‘What kind of concert?’ I asked, getting straight to the point, as usual.
‘Umm….. I don’t really know.’ Obviously she hadn’t considered this. It was just an occasion.
Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she pulled up a nugget of information. ‘Ole Aleksander Mæland is singing,’ she announced triumphantly.
It meant nothing to me. ‘Who is Ole Aleksander Mæland?’ I asked.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I don’t really know. Wait a minute.’ I giggled as she flicked through Google once more. ‘He was on The Voice,’ she said finally.
I stood there for a long moment weighing up my options. I don’t know whether it is a purely Norwegian phenomenon, or whether it is the same in the UK these days, but this was not the first time that the main attraction at an event was a singer whose main claim to fame is that they appeared at some point on a TV talent show. That said, it was an evening out. There might be food. And with Wivek there…
‘Okay then.’ I said. ‘I’m in.’ To my pleasure, she looked delighted. We agreed to go into Sandnes to eat and that we would meet up with some of the other staff later.
And so it was, that at about six o’clock, Wivek and I walked into the Indian Tandoori Restaurant in Sandnes Sentrum. Marita was to meet us there and Jaqueline, who was working till seven, would meet us afterwards. As we entered, one of the waiting staff approached us.
To my surprise, she spoke in English. ‘Is there something you’re looking for?’ she asked Wivek.
This seemed rather bizarre as an opening and I listened with interest to see how Wivek would respond. What did one look for in an Indian Restaurant after all? A naked Hungarian Flamenco Dancer perhaps? Or a pirate ship in full sail? Eventually she spoke.
‘Maybe a table?’ she asked, with what seemed to me to be eminent reasonableness. ‘We will be joined by another person, so a table for three please.’
After a couple of abortive attempts to seat us at tables with only two place settings, finally we found ourselves settled at a table for four. With stomachs that were growling (after all, we had not eaten since the one-o’clock lunchtime meeting) Wivek and I showed remarkable restraint as we were asked several times if we were ready to order. Each time we politely explained we would rather wait for the final member of our party, though we did weaken at one point and order mango lassi (which came almost immediately and was delicious) and an Indian chai tea (which was also good, but for some reason took twenty minutes to make). After half-an-hour or so, Marita arrived and we ordered. The food came in due course and was delicious, truly worth the wait. It was then, lulled into a false sense of security by the excellence of the food and the efficiency of the delivery, that we decided to risk ordering more drinks. By this time, it was just after seven-thirty. There should be just enough time before the eight o’clock deadline for the concert. Anyway, the TV programme itself didn’t start until nine thirty and we might as well wait here until Jacqueline arrived.
The waiter approached. Dispensing (rather rashly as it turned out) with the offer of a menu, I asked whether it was possible to have a café latte.
‘Café latte?’ he repeated back with a smile. ‘Oh yes.’
‘I’ll have that then,’ I said.
‘Me too,’ Wivek chimed in.
‘Was your Chai tea good?’ Marita asked WIvek.
‘Yes, it was nice.’ Wivek nodded decisively.
‘I’ll have one of those then. ‘ Marita smiled at the waiter, who smiled back and disappeared.
While we were waiting, Marita’s phone rang. She answered and spoke for a few minutes, before turning and handing her phone to me with a photo of an x-ray picture.
‘It’s Jan-Arne,’ she said. ‘He’s dealing with an emergency. He wants to know what we think of this dog?’ Turning my head from side-to-side, I tried to address the image. A partial view of a dog’s abdomen, with obvious pockets of gas underneath the skin, it was very difficult to read exactly what was going on because of the angle it had been taken at. It can be very difficult to get a clear photo in a dog that isn’t sedated. Gradually, handing the phone from person to person, we tried to talk Jan-Arne through the possibilities and how to approach the case.
Whilst the phone was back with Marita, the coffee arrived for me and Wivek. Somewhat to my surprise having asked for a latte, the cups arrived complete with tiny cartons of cream. A quick inspection under the foam revealed what I had suspected: a cup of strong black coffee. This is so much the norm in Norway that I wasn’t really surprised, or rather the presence of the cream was the only unexpected occurrence, because most Norwegians seem to shun the wussy addition of anything that would ameliorate the bitter blackness. Carefully adding all of the cream available, I tasted the cup. After all, it was coffee. It wasn’t worth making a fuss, so long as it was drinkable. The only problem being that it wasn’t. Even with the cream, it was still turbid and unpalatable.
The waiter seemed to be maintaining a careful distance. When he did approach to serve another table, he averted his eyes, perhaps because even though twenty minutes had passed, Marita’s tea was still conspicuous by its absence. Eventually he came over, carefully proffering Marita’s tea and I looked up at him.
‘I actually asked for a latte,’ I pronounced apologetically. It is still necessary for me to be apologetic over everything; even things that are not my fault. I am British after all and anyway, it is the waiters’ prerogative to spit in the coffee of any person who complains too vigorously. ‘Do you actually do latte?’ This, because I realised the whole thing might just have been a misunderstanding.
‘Oh yes,’ he assured me. ‘We do lattes.’
‘Well in that case,’ Wivek said, ‘can you swap mine as well please?’
He assured us that he would and hurried away bearing the two cups.
Several minutes passed. Jan-Arne, having talked to me, was now discussing the situation with Wivek. It transpired that as well as the very sick dog which had been attacked, there were five more patients now sitting in the waiting room. For a moment, I thought that we should forgo the rest of the evening and rush back to help him, but Wivek had a better suggestion.
‘You should call Dagny,’ she said, having already gone through how to safely sedate a very ill dog. ‘And get back to us if you don’t get through.’ Of course, this made sense. Dagny was closer and could get there more quickly than we could and he needed help as soon as possible.
In the meantime, Kari-Gro had turned up. Kari-Gro used to work at Tu and has now moved to work in Stavanger. Our coffees turned up at around the same time. Despite having a layer of foam on them now, both cups and coffee looked remarkably similar. I tasted it. Wivek tasted hers at the same time as I did and grimaced.
‘Do you think this is actually different coffee,’ I said, ‘or did they just add a layer of foam to the old one?’ She looked down thoughtfully at her cup, then back up at me.
‘Really not sure,’ she said and tasted it again at the same moment I tried mine.
Unhesitatingly, we both reached for the sugar sachets in the middle of the table. Needs must, and to me it seemed unsafe to be seen to be quibbling any further. With three teaspoons of sugar added, the cup did become more-or-less drinkable.
The bill paid, and with Jacqueline now added to our party, we proceeded down to the docks. We had been held up so long, what with the coffee and the phone discussion that it was actually nine-thirty by the time we arrived. The eight o’clock concert was presumably past, but the TV programme was still to be broadcast, and this was show business. The after-party would surely continue for a time. With a feeling of anticipation, we joined the back of the large crowd gathered before the famous Sommerbåt.
Craning my head, I strained to see what was going on. For a fleeting moment, I caught a glimpse of distant people, one of whom seemed to be touting a cello, or possibly a double bass. It really was that far away. Wherever we stood, there seemed to be tall people in front of us. There were screens up on the boat and within a few minutes, the musical diversion, which I hadn’t heard, ended and the stage emptied. People at the front of the audience were clapping and gradually the sound spread backwards and the folk around us clapped along, a few enthusiastically, some more tentative, as if, like us, they had no real clue what was going on.
I craned my neck again. The two small screens were kind of visible. Now and then some random sound would drift back over the heads of the crowd, rather like the yellow balloons which periodically floated up, accidentally set adrift by inattentive children. There didn’t seem to be anyone on stage now, unless you counted a small boy in blue, who seemed to have climbed up and was jumping up and down. There came a sudden flow of people from the front of the crowd though and we made space for them to pass before Wivek darted forward to take up the space.
More of the programme was filtering through. The TV presenters seemed to be interviewing local people.
‘How does it feel to work in a mountain-bike factory,’ they asked.
‘It was very interesting,’ came the reply, though more detail was again lost as the sound came and went. The small boy on stage had been joined by a group of friends. It dawned on me that the TV programme was not being filmed there, but somewhere out of sight on the boat and we were watching it via what we could see of the TV screens.
Another yellow balloon fluttered upwards with a gust of wind as somewhere or other, a young choir launched into a barely audible version of The Happy Wanderer. There wasn’t much to see on the screen so my eyes took a stroll around the audience that surrounded us. Smiling, if somewhat bemused, they sported warm jackets and scarves for this summer folkfest. The children in the choir paused for a second in their Val-Deris and the hesitant clapping began, only to subside when it became apparent the song wasn’t finished. At the end, the washy tide of clapping and the trickle of home-goers surged. Once more, Wivek made a push towards the front.
And now we could hear everything clearly. As I listened to a woman talking about making clay lamps, I wasn’t sure whether this was really so much of an improvement. Still the people around seemed to be enjoying themselves. In particular the baby in the arms of the woman in front of us seemed utterly enraptured by the sight of the white bead on the string of Jacqueline’s jacket. A woman strolled past hugging a golden retriever puppy. I looked up at the sky as the darkening clouds scudded across the patchy blue and this time a whole tangle of balloons was making a break for freedom. Catching my eye, both Jacqueline and Kari-Gro started to laugh.
We hadn’t been there more than half-an-hour when the programme ended and most of the remaining audience drifted homewards along the dock. We, along with the crowd around us who still hadn’t quite caught up, continued to push forward, just to see if anything else was going to happen. There was no shoving, no frustration expressed at the smallness of the screens or the paucity of the speakers.They were all so patient. All of a sudden, the situation seemed utterly surreal. ‘So here we are,’ I said to anybody who was listening or perhaps to nobody at all. ‘Here we are, living the Norwegian Dream.’
On the way home, mindful of Jan-Arne and his five sick patients, I took a diversion into the clinic. As I drew up, I counted four cars and with mounting concern , I climbed out and went inside, imagining continuing scenes of carnage. But as I entered the waiting room, there was just one young couple pacing nervously. As I walked into the consulting room, I saw a small dog lying peacefully sedated on the table with Dagny and Jan-Arne bending over it with Marita (obviously she had the same idea as me) helping. I looked on for a few minutes, watching as Dagny skilfully investigated the dog’s wounds while Marita disappeared to get the theatre ready. There were enough bodies there, I decided. More than enough skilled hands.
And as I left them there, that peaceful moment stayed in my head. The quiet discussion under the bright yellow lamplight. Three diverse people, working together as a team. Three colleagues had left behind their evening pursuits to come and help their friend: help an animal in distress rather than leave them struggling alone. And now I knew for certain what I was seeing.Here it was. The real Norwegian Dream.
This weeks picture shows Stella and Nila, who came to see Jan-Arne for their first vaccinations.