When I left you on 21st December, I had only a faint hope that there would be a white Christmas. It had turned cold after the thaw and at some point, a tiny potential snowfall had appeared on the weather forecast. Only a few millimetres, but perhaps it would be enough. But when I checked again on the twenty second, this was what greeted me.
I texted Charlie. After all, he was supposed to be flying up the next day, and the forecast for Tromsø was much the same. Clicking on the yellow triangle told me that this was a warning for a Polar Low – otherwise known as an Arctic Hurricane.
Early on Wednesday afternoon, the sky had turned to a brooding shade of grey with edges of lilac. Already, there were a few snowflakes in the air.
The wind never really got up, but it did snow. Fortunately the airport in Tromsø was unaffected and Charlie arrived from the fastboat right on schedule.
We went for a drive on Christmas Eve so that John could knock some of the snow off the roof of his caravan. One of the thing that daunts me about buying a house here is that you have to know when to knock the snow off your roof. To an extent, the snow insulates your house, but if there’s too much, the roof can collapse. This was a picture I took along the way.
We made (and ate) a chocolate log on Christmas Eve.
And despite all the rain, we awoke to a beautiful blue-white morning. I got my white Christmas after all.
Though it was cold outside, inside it was warm and cosy.
Triar was wearing his Christmas hoodie to open his presents.
Perhaps My Norwegian Christmas is an imperfect title, because though we were in Norway, we have never got into the local habit of eating our big meal and celebrating on Christmas Eve. I did cook ribbe though, instead of turkey. Ribbe is pork, taken from the flank of the pig, over the ribs, as you might expect. It’s very tasty and forgiving meat, but for Norwegians, ribbe is all about the crackling. In order to get it right, you have to salt the joint two or three days in advance, then you have to roast it in steam for the first hour, then roast it uncovered until it’s finished. I was pleased with the finished result, which was properly crispy and light.
There’s lingonberry sauce instead of cranberry, but other than that, our dinner will probably look familiar to most Brits.
One day we will perhaps cross over to cloudberries and cream, but for this year, we celebrated in true British style with a traditional Christmas pudding.
Anyway, as you can probably see, we had a very festive Christmas. I am very much aware that we were lucky that everyone arrived safe and healthy. I know that some of my friends were not so fortunate. But wherever you are, I hope you managed to find some peace and joy.
And if not, and you ended up going to hospital, I hope your ambulance station was as tastefully decorated as the one here in Finnsnes. Merry Christmas all.
I was sure we were going to have a white Christmas this year. There has been snow on the ground for weeks and the temperatures were securely in double minus figures, or so I thought. And then a day of rain appeared on my weather forecast app. The temperature was to bounce right up, round about the date that Anna was due to come home on Wednesday the 15th. When the first day appeared, I hoped they’d got it wrong. And the temperature wasn’t to go that high. Wholly possible they’d be out by a couple of degrees and we’d have snow instead.
But then another day of forecasted rain appeared and another. The temperature was higher too. This was the screenshot I sent to Anna last Sunday.
They don’t use much grit on the pavements and roads round here. Mostly they concentrate on keeping them relatively clear of snow. So when I went out on Wednesday morning and saw that the pavements, roads and carparks were densely strewn with the small stones they use in place of salt and grit, I knew that they thought that a major thaw was on the way. This was the carpark at work. They may not grit often, but when they do, they do a proper job!
Still, life had to go on. Monday and Tuesday this week were a little hair-raising. On the Friday of the week before, I felt like everything was well on track. I’d done three visits and written two reports. We have to send them past a colleague first for quality control and then an official quality control team checks them. After that, they go to my boss, who sends them out. These two reports were past the checks and I’d sent them to Hilde, so all I had left was one report to write. It was complicated and I would need help, but I had four days to do it. So when Line sent a shout out to see if someone could translate an official document from Norwegian to English, I said that I would be happy to do so. Kristen, my colleague in Storslett had got in first, but I indicated that if anything cropped up, I would be more than willing to step in.
My peace was slightly disturbed late on Friday afternoon when, for the first time ever, Hilde sent back my two reports for amendment. It didn’t sound like anything too major, but I had to include a short summary of what Gry had observed. Still, hopefully Thomas would help me with that.
So I wasn’t too worried when I opened up my case inbox on Monday morning. I had two reports to amend and the complicated case to write up, but I had until Thursday. But when I looked through the list, I saw another case had come in. Some cases you can leave for a few days. For example, if someone isn’t walking their dog often enough, it’ll probably be okay if you leave it a week or two. But if someone is leaving their animals outside in all kinds of weather, without food or water, then “It’ll be fine, I’ll leave it until after my holiday,” really isn’t an option. And of course, it was one of those cases.
To make matters worse, Kristen had bowed out of the translation. So now I had three reports, a new case, and a complicated document to wade through.
Thomas came to the rescue. He could fit in my new case on Tuesday, if I wanted. Hilde was on holiday by now and he was having to sort out all the paperwork around an outbreak of strangles in a horse in our region, but he could fit me in between that, a bunch of reindeer rampaging around a housing estate over Tromsø way, and a case of his own that he was tackling on Wednesday. He also found the time to help me sort out my two returned reports.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I stayed late on Monday evening to get the translation done. I asked Line to help me with my complicated case report and she made everything so wonderfully clear that by the time I sent it off for the first check with another colleague, there were almost no errors. Hooray for that! And to my relief, the case on Tuesday turned out to be much less complicated than I had feared. So I was able to collect Anna from the airport on Wednesday afternoon.
And all this was going on against the backdrop of increasing rumblings about locking down again due to Omicron. From next week, Andrew will be homeschooling. Working from home is now the norm again. And when I went to the gym, I was surprised to see notices on some of the running machines that said not to use them. For a bizarre moment, I wondered whether they had been contaminated somehow. Had someone with Covid used them? Should I leave quickly and rush home? And then I remembered that it was nothing to do with that. It was just a return to the stricter distancing rules. The machines were too close together. Similar notices will have reappeared on pub and restaurant seats and in the waiting room at the doctors. Life can continue for now… but don’t get too close.
So there are no lovely pictures of pink and blue skies this week. The garden is a muddy mess. There is a tiny ray of hope on the weather forecast. It’s to turn cold again from Monday and there might be a little snow on Wednesday. I live in hope! Even if it doesn’t snow, Anna got here safely from the UK. And I’m on holiday for a week and there are presents to wrap and cakes to make.
I’ll leave you with a picture I took on Thursday evening when I was out walking Triar. It had been raining, but the ground has had weeks to become very chilly and huge chunks of ice take a long time to disperse. The sky cleared briefly and the moon was shining through. I loved the way the blue moonlight gleamed on the frozen waterfall. Whatever the weather, there is always beauty to be found somewhere.
It’s been another week of changes. I had a busy schedule prepared, with two long-haul visits to hens to test them for salmonella on Monday and Wednesday, plus a trip in between to two sheep farms for routine scrapie inspections. I popped into the office on Sunday to check my e-mails. I’d been out with Birgit all day Friday, so I wanted to make sure nothing else had come in as I was due to set out early on Monday morning, so there would be no chance to check then.
It was bird flu that got in the way. Even though the outbreak is almost four thousand kilometres /two and a half thousand miles away, it had a knock on effect up here. At first I assumed it was some crazy blanket rule. To be fair, they’ve found bird flu in wild birds in other areas of Norway, but all of them a long way south of here. But it turns out that the problem lay in the lab. The same lab that would analyse our salmonella samples was currently working day and night checking for bird flu. So that was that.
Then came the news that one of the Tuesday visits had to be postponed as well. Had I been very organised, I would have found some additional farms to visit in case my one remaining farmer was out, but the rapid changes threw me and I didn’t even think about it until Tuesday morning, just as I was about to set out.
Because we are supposed to do most of our visits without advance warning, so there’s no chance the farmer can rush around tidying away the bodies, there’s always a risk that we can get there and find there’s nobody available. Indeed having a completely wasted journey is common enough to have its own name – Bom tur.
So far, I have never driven a bom tur, but as I set out on Tuesday, it crossed my mind this one could potentially be quite spectacular. My visit wasn’t especially important. Scrapie inspections are part of the annual OK program of routine visits to check for illnesses. We look at the sheep or goats and inform or remind the farmer of the clinical signs of scrapie (effectively the sheep version of BSE) and of the legal requirements around it, such as making sure all animals over a certain age that die on the farm are tested. It’s a useful tool for getting on the farms for a general check, but there’s nothing life or death about it.
The drive was close to two hours on snowy roads. The original day I’d planned actually had three visits, all in the same general direction, and the only one left was actually the furthest away. And I had Gry with me as I’m still green enough to find it really helpful to have someone else there with additional knowledge. Gry is a member of Dyrevernnemnda: experienced people who come out on welfare visits to offer their judgement from a different point of view than that of a vet.
So if I drove a bom tur, Mattilsynet would be paying me and Gry, as well as for the car and fuel, for carrying out a farm visit that wasn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Still, as I commented to Gry as we drove out, at least the scenery was pretty. In the event, the farmer and her partner were there and I felt very relieved as we sat in their kitchen and drank coffee. The sheep looked in great shape too. It always gives me a lift when I look at well-cared for animals.
Of course, bom turs are not always avoidable. You could visit several farms and find nobody at any of them. But next time I go, I’ll definitely make sure I have a few more options. I also thought that now I am a little more at home with carrying out inspections, I need to get more organised. We’re supposed to visit ten percent of our flocks each year, so that over ten years, we cover every single farm in our area. And to do that efficiently, I need to make a list of all the sheep and goat farms in our area, work out where they all are, and make a plan to ensure I can cover as many of them as I can.
Gry was a revelation as well. It was the first time I had been out with her and she told me so much about sheep farming in the north of Norway. Though they have fences around the property, it’s quite extensive and the sheep can wander off, high into the mountains. Occasionally they can get over or through the fences, and then come down into the wrong valley. When they come back in, the farmers have to go through them, checking all their ear tag numbers to make sure the sheep they’ve brought in belong to them, and also check whether any haven’t come home. It’s quite a big task, collecting them all in and then making sure they are sheared and ready for winter.
Having done the visits on Friday and Tuesday, I had two reports to write. Luckily, as both visits had been good, the reports were straightforward. The second sheep visit had been put off until Friday and that was successful too. For the second time this week, we were offered coffee. Coronavirus has meant that for the last year, there has been little coffee on offer, but as I sat down around the table with Gry and the farmer and his staff, I felt very much at home. Going in for coffee was always one of the high points of being a farm vet.
I took a couple of photographs on the way home on Friday, after I had dropped Gry off. The temperature has dropped suddenly here. It snowed last weekend and then fell away to between minus seven and minus fourteen. As usual when that happens, the sky is clear, and as the polar night approaches, the air becomes very clean and cold. The upper skies are a beautiful pale blue and close to the horizon, there is a pink tinge. It crossed my mind that although technically the polar night hasn’t quite arrived, I haven’t seen the sun for days. It’s probably already below the mountains.
Triar is loving the snow and the cold weather. Sometimes he goes outside and zooms around, simply for the pleasure of running through the snow. Here he is in the garden playing with his ball.
There was one other piece of very good news, and that is that my friend who had been on the front line in diagnosing the bird flu outbreak is now fit and healthy again, and didn’t contract bird flu. I’m very relieved.
And finally, a completely random thing I found in the pet shop yesterday. I had noticed for the past couple of years that there are now advent calendars for pets, but now it seems that there is beer for dogs. Because what we really need is for Triar to be staggering around the house on Christmas day. Cheers!
It’s getting lighter very fast now. We have an hour more daylight today than we had last Saturday. We took Triar for a run on the beach last week, and these pictures were taken at around four in the afternoon.
We finally have some snow. It’s been falling on and off throughout the week and it makes the world seem much brighter as well. Back in Scotland, growing up, it generally snowed a couple of times each winter. It was usually around zero when it happened and often the flakes were huge. They landed on the ground and stayed there.
Snow at minus ten is quite different. I have occasionally seen bigger flakes, but they’re mostly much smaller. If there’s any wind at all, it carries them effortlessly. Sometimes they move so fast horizontally that I wonder if they’ll ever hit the ground. Driving at night, the snow skitters and dances across the road in the headlights. When lorries pass, they create clouds of it that seem to go on for miles. Of course, if there’s a lot of snow and some wind, you can get dangerous drifts, but so far it isn’t deep and nor is it windy. It has, though, covered over all that ice, and to enough depth that it is no longer treacherously slippery.
There is, as yet, no obvious heat in the sun. It finally made it over the hill to hit the house on Tuesday. Odd how heartening it was to see it, though it was gone a moment later.
It was rather misty as well that day. I was fascinated to see the bridge to Senja had become a bridge to nowhere. I took two pictures. The first is at the top of the page, when the sun was turning the fog a wonderful pink colour. Moments later, the sun was diminished as the cloud thickened, and then it stopped looking warm and colourful, but was beautiful nonetheless.
And now it’s Saturday morning and John is home for the weekend and wants to take Triar out. It’s half past nine and already light, so who am I to say no! I will leave you with a picture of the cloudberry liqueur I picked up yesterday at the Vinmonopol. We tried it last night and it tastes of honey and late summer warmth. Cheers!
I was hoping to share the first snow pictures of the winter with you today. The weather forecast was for sleet, and I know these things can be wrong in either direction. I am, at last, beginning to feel I might be prepared. Yesterday I bought snow scrapers for the car windscreen and the driveway as well as some bags of environmentally friendly, reusable grit. But for now, there is only rain outside my window, as there has been for days. The picture at the top of the page was taken on my drive to work on the last day before the rain began. It was so beautiful, I couldn’t resist stopping. I sometimes wonder whether people will see the Mattilsynet logo on the side of the car and wonder what I’m up to!
There isn’t much of interest to report at work. The seasonal meat inspection is still in full swing and I have been working there every day this week, though the drive over is often a pleasant experience. Yesterday, I glimpsed what I thought were some horses or cows in a field. I turned my head at the last minute, as something was hammering in my brain about them being the wrong shape. To my pleasure, I saw it was a moose with two almost grown calves. I still feel a frisson of delight in seeing wild animals. By the time I realised, it was too late to stop for a photograph, but hopefully it won’t be the last time.
The basement flat where we live is feeling more and more like home. Anna and Andrew bought me an Alexa for Christmas last year, and other than wrestling with her for a while as I tried to get her to play Tir n’a Noir I haven’t used her very much. But John, having researched a new lighting system that is voice activated, has set her up so that we can now ask her to turn on the lights and she does so. The bulbs are heinously expensive (I bought a new one last night which was reduced by 114kr or around around £10 [16 Canadian dollars for Iceland Penny!]) but they can be set on different brightness levels and also to warm or bright light. We also have strip lighting on a shelf beside the TV which can change colour. When it is properly dark, and especially if I work from home at some point, the lighting is going to be very important.
Anyway, John is home for the weekend, and he and Andrew need to go shopping for winter boots, so I will leave you with another photograph of misty mountains at dawn. Have a great week everybody.