Ac­count of a shep­herd’s life proves a hit

The China Post - - LIFE - BY JILL LAW­LESS

James Re­banks sits in his stone farm­house, de­scrib­ing the hard­scrab­ble moun­tain life his fam­ily has known for six cen­turies or more. Then his cell­phone rings. It’s a big Lon­don ad agency, hop­ing to sign him up for a project.

Re­banks is prob­a­bly the world’s most fa­mous shep­herd, with a hit Twit­ter ac­count, a best-sell­ing book and TV crews rat­tling up the lane to his farm. He’s grat­i­fied by the at­ten­tion, if a bit be­mused.

“Some­body from Hol­ly­wood rang up yes­ter­day, want­ing to make a movie out of my book,” the 40-year-old said. “Which is com­pletely bonkers.”

Read­ers around the world have flocked to Re­banks’ dis­patches from a way of life that has — against the odds — sur­vived in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, glob­al­iza­tion and mass tourism.

On Twit­ter, his de­scrip­tions of lamb­ing and hay­mak­ing have at­tracted 65,000 fol­low­ers. “The Shep­herd’s Life,” his book re­count­ing the rhythms of the ru­ral year and the daily strug­gle to make ends meet, is a best-seller in the UK and Canada and is be­ing trans­lated into Ger­man and Swedish. The New York Times called it “cap­ti­vat­ing.”

Separately, Bri­tish broad­caster ITV is mak­ing a re­al­ity show called “Flock­stars” that will see celebri­ties com­pete in sheep­dog tri­als. And “Rams,” a movie about Ice­landic shep­herds and their flocks, won a ma­jor prize at last month’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Sud­denly, sheep seem to be ev­ery­where. But they have been the cen­ter of Re­banks’ life for as long as he can re­mem­ber.

He be­longs to one of the few hun­dred fam­i­lies who farm the val­leys and moun­tains, or fells, of the Lake Dis­trict in north­west Eng­land. It’s a rugged area that has pro­duced stub­born peo­ple, as well as sturdy sheep whose hom­ing in­stinct means they can graze, un­fenced, on the un­hos­pitable high fells.

A land of deep, nar­row lakes, gray stone walls and green-brown moun­tains, the Lake Dis­trict at­tracts mil­lions of campers, climbers and hik­ers each year, and has in­spired artists and po­ets since Wil­liam Wordsworth 200 years ago. But Re­banks felt one im­por­tant voice was miss­ing.

“If you go into any of the book­shops here, you’ll see hun­dreds and hun­dreds of books about the Lake Dis­trict,” said the burly, talk­a­tive farmer. “You’ll strug­gle to find three or four that tell the story of the peo­ple who live and work in the land­scape.

“Un­til fairly re­cently, peo­ple were still talk­ing about this land­scape be­ing ‘dis­cov­ered’ or’ in­vented’ in the 18th cen­tury by Wordsworth and peo­ple like that,” he said. “Our way of life was fully formed be­fore that per­son ever put pen to pa­per.”

The Way of Life

Re­banks’ mem­oir de­scribes that way of life, whose essence has changed lit­tle over the cen­turies. It is partly an ac­count of a shep­herd’s year, from the treach­er­ous snow­drifts of win­ter to the burst of new life in spring.

It’s also partly a po­lit­i­cal state­ment: “If we want to un­der­stand the peo­ple in the foothills of Afghanistan, we may need to try and un­der­stand the peo­ple in the foothills of Eng­land first,” he writes.

It’s also a pri­mal story of fa­thers and sons, poverty and strug­gle. Re­banks left school at 15 to work on the farm, but clashed with his fa­ther and with the bru­tal eco­nomics of farm­ing. He earned a de­gree in his­tory from Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity in his 20s, came home and strug­gled to keep the fam­ily farm go­ing. The last few decades have been hard for small farm­ers. Most have sec­ond jobs; Re­banks works as an ad­viser on sus­tain­able tourism to the U.N. cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tion, UNESCO.

“We’ve been go­ing to dis­ap­pear for 200-odd years,” he said. “That’s al­ways been the story. Nearly all books about shep­herds are ‘The Last Shep­herd.’ There’s al­ways ‘last’ in it be­cause it adds a touch of ro­mance.”

Re­banks is determined not to be the last of any­thing. He lives with wife He­len and three chil­dren aged be­tween 3 and 9 in Matterdale, one of the Lake Dis­trict’s many nar­row val­leys. The fam­ily owns 450 sheep, ris­ing to 1,000 af­ter lamb­ing sea­son.

One re­cent day, with a jour­nal­ist in tow, he hopped on his quad bike and drove some of his flock down nar­row lanes to low-ly­ing fields, with the help of his skilled sheep­dogs, Tan and Floss.

Re­banks loves sheep,

es­pe­cially the in­domitable, white-faced Herd­wicks, and he writes about them with ir­re­sistible en­thu­si­asm. At one point in “The Shep­herd’s Life,” he de­scribes a male sheep, or tup, as look­ing like Rus­sell Crowe in “Glad­i­a­tor,” and the com­par­i­son seems en­tirely rea­son­able. When he sells one prized ram, he misses see­ing him, “as if I once had a Van Gogh on my wall and now it is gone.”

“It’s as com­pli­cated look­ing at a great Herd­wick as it is look­ing at a great paint­ing,” Re­banks said.

Part of the ap­peal of “The Shep­herd’s Life” for many read­ers is its fo­cus on place and be­long­ing, things many of us think we’ve lost in our hec­tic, up­rooted lives.

Colin Dick­er­man, ed­i­to­rial direc­tor of Flat­iron Books, the vol­ume’s U.S. pub­lisher, said mem­oirs “are of­ten about try­ing to leave some­where: kids from small towns who want to es­cape to the city, peo­ple who are sick of the city and want to move to the coun­try.”

“This was about try­ing to stay in one place. To me that was re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing.”

Re­banks has been de­lighted by oth­ers’ in­ter­est in his life and work. His Twit­ter ac­count, Herd­wick Shep­herd, has fans around the world. When he live-tweeted the birth of Floss’s pup­pies in March, he briefly be­came an In­ter­net sen­sa­tion.

He said the pop­u­lar­ity re­as­sures him “that peo­ple do care about the land, even if they’re a very long way from it.”

“I think there’s a sort of Har­vard Busi­ness School way of look­ing at the world which is to say, be­cause it’s old-fash­ioned, be­cause it doesn’t make very much money, peo­ple should ra­tio­nally choose to go off and be IT con­sul­tants or bankers in the City of Lon­don,” he said. “I think in my early 20s I bought into that. I thought, we’re on the wrong side of his­tory. It’ll all dis­ap­pear.

“Twenty-some­thing years later I’m look­ing at it, and we haven’t gone any­where.”

The Latin Amer­i­can mar­ket has been grow­ing for many years and still of­fers many op­por­tu­ni­ties. Nonethe­less, due to lan­guage bar­ri­ers (most coun­tries speak Span­ish) and cul­tural dif­fer­ences, many lo­cal com­pa­nies find it dif­fi­cult to truly pen­e­trate the mar­ket.

Belize, how­ever, over­comes this ob­sta­cle as English is its of­fi­cial lan­guage. Yes­ter­day, The Em­bassy of Belize in Tai­wan held the first Belize Busi­ness In­vest­ment Sem­i­nar (貝里斯投資招商說明會), hop­ing to bet­ter ex­plain the in­vest­ment en­vi­ron­ment of the coun­try as well as to un­der­stand in­ter­ests and con­cerns of lo­cal en­trepreneurs .

In­cen­tives and Full Sup­port

For in­vestors and those who are look­ing to move abroad, apart from busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties, living con­di­tions and se­cu­rity are some of the most crit­i­cal con­cerns. Ac­cord­ing to Happy Planet In­dex, Belize ranks fourth out of 151 coun­tries as one of the hap­pi­est coun­tries to live in.

Brian Lin, direc­tor of BelizeINVEST, fur­ther of­fered his as­sur­ances that in terms of se­cu­rity, Belize is “a lot safer than other neigh­bor­ing coun­tries ac­cord­ing to many in­vestors.”

Op­por­tu­nity-wise, Belize is a mem­ber coun­try of the Caribbean Com­mu­nity (CARICOM) and its lo­ca­tion (bor­der­ing Mex­ico and Gu­atemala) al­lows it to eas­ily fa­cil­i­tate trade with Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun- tries, Mex­ico and North Amer­i­can coun­tries — coun­tries that are of­ten hard to break into for Tai­wanese. In ad­di­tion, a sta­ble econ­omy and cur­rency also pro­vides se­cu­rity for in­vestors. Lastly and most im­por­tantly, the gov­ern­ment of­fers full sup­port to in­vestors.

Cur­rently the Belize gov­ern­ment’s devel­op­ment pro­gram con­sists of two op­tions. The first one is the Fis­cal In­cen­tive Pro­gram, which pro­vides you an ex­emp­tion from pay­ing im­port duty for up to five years with an op­tion to ex­tend. Reg­is­tra­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram takes 60 work­ing days upon full com­pli­ance of the spec­i­fied ap­pli­ca­tion for­mat. The sec­ond one is the Ex­port Pro­cess­ing Zone Pro­gram, un­der which a tax hol­i­day of 20 years is of­fered for ex­ported goods, and the process re­quires a mere 30 work­ing days. In ad­di­tion, if an in­vest­ment would re­quire ad­di­tional sup­port not cov­ered within the ex­ist­ing in­cen­tives, a pro­posal can be sub­mit­ted to Belize's Cabi­net Sub­com­mit­tee for In­vest­ments to fa­cil­i­tate a cus­tom­ized pack­age.

Po­ten­tial Busi­ness Sec­tors

“Ex­ist­ing Tai­wanese en­ter­prises un­der­take light man­u­fac­tur­ing in Belize such as plas­tic bags, ho­tel fa­cil­i­ties and more,” said Lin. How­ever, po­ten­tial prof­itable busi­nesses to be set up in Belize can be di­vided into sev­eral cat­e­gories, which in­clude Off­shore Out­sourc­ing, In­ter­na­tional Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices, En­ergy, Tourism, Aqua­cul­ture and Agribusi­ness.

Lin­coln Blake,





In this June 5 photo, shep­herd James Re­banks sits with his dogs Tan and Floss in Matterdale, Eng­land. Re­banks has writ­ten a book about his ex­pe­ri­ences herd­ing sheep, to rave re­views.

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