Call Me Red: A Shepherd's Journey by Hannah Jackson

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Call Me Red: A Shepherd's Journey by Hannah Jackson

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A thought-provoking and engaging look at what it's like to be a shepherdess in 21st century Cumbria. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2021
Publisher: Ebury Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1529109115

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I want the image of a British farmer to simply be that of a person who is proudly employed in feeding the nation. I don't think that is too much to ask.

The stereotypical farmer was probably born on the land where his family have farmed for generations. He's probably grown up without giving much thought as to what he really wants to do: he knows that he'll be a farmer. It's not always the case though. Hannah Jackson was born and brought up on the Wirral: she'd never set foot on a commercial farm until she was twenty although she'd always had a deep love of animals. Her original intention was that she would become 'Dr Jackson, whale scientist' and she was well on her way to achieving this when her life changed on a family holiday to the Lake District. She saw a lamb being born and, although 'Hannah Jackson, farmer' lacked the kudos of her original intention, she knew that she wanted to be a shepherd. With the determination that you'll soon realise is an essential part of her, she set about achieving her ambition.

I've tended to shy away from memoirs written by people in their twenties: how much do they really have to tell? I'm glad that this time, I broke my own rule. Hannah tells the warts-and-all story of how she became a contract shepherd and no longer a townie, a Scouser or a woman. Much of her original training was obtained by working for nothing more than bed and board but this meant that she could learn from the likes of Derek Scrimgeour, top sheepdog trainer. It was from Scrimgeour that she got her award-winning sheepdog, Fraser, who is not her right-hand man, he is her right hand. The bond between them is close, even now that Fraser is past his peak.

If you're looking for a fluffy memoir with added lambs gambolling in the fields, then this isn't the book for you. You'll find very early on that the way that some lambs lose their tails can be brutal. I was once told that a farmer has to understand that where you have livestock, you'll also have deadstock - particularly if you're rearing for slaughter. Hannah deals with this side of her life with sensitivity. She's blunter and more forthright about some of the other problems she's encountered.

Her stories of the sexism she's faced made my blood boil. This is the 21st century, not the 19th. Sometimes it's casual but it's obviously deeply ingrained: a woman, particularly a young, attractive woman cannot be 'the farmer' - she must be picking up the medication from the vet on behalf of her father, or the work on the big rams had best be left until 'the lads' can do it. Probably an extension of this is the trolling she's been subjected to on social media (blood boils again...) where she'd regularly be abused for, say, working to pull sheep out of snowdrifts when the men who were doing exactly the same thing were hailed as heroes.

It's an intelligent book with discussions about the benefits of vegetarianism or the difficulty a farmer has in developing a social life, of getting friends where conversations don't immediately degenerate into a chat about her favourite type of supplementary winter sheep feed. There's a thoughtful look at the stresses and isolation of the job and how this can affect mental health.

I enjoyed the book: it's thought-provoking and engaging - and I read it far too quickly! I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If you're interested in sheep reared for their fleeces, you might enjoy This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain's Knitted History by Esther Rutter.

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