One Small Thing: Katherine Webb


One small thing that is helping me through lockdown is this little bronze stag, who — for no good reason — has been given the name Hector.

I bought Hector last May, from the antiques market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, in Provence, France. It was a special trip. My parents always took my sister and me on holiday to France when we were little. We camped or stayed in small gîtes, were amazed by the scenery, and learnt the joys of fresh pain au chocolats, French cheeses, and steak frîtes in roadside cafés. They were such happy holidays.

My beloved dad is now eighty-three, and has been unwell with a blood cancer for some years. During one particularly grim spell in hospital in 2018, he told me sadly that he supposed he’d never get to go to France again — his favourite place on earth. Nonsense, I said, of course we’d go again. We’d all go together, like we used to. Of course, it was just luck that he was well enough when the time came, and the logistics of travel with somebody so frail are a certainly a challenge. But my sister flew over from Australia, and we did indeed all go together for a week in sunny Provence, this time last year.

It poured. I mean, it really poured with rain, and it was chilly to boot. Dad had a health scare early in the week, and we hovered anxiously, wondering if we’d have to airlift him home. Thankfully, he rallied. We were all desperately trying to retain a feeling of fun the day we went to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I’d cajoled everybody into it — the antiques market there is world famous, and I’d always wanted to go. I really love rummaging through old junk! So we all went, and it poured and was cold, and it took us an hour to park, and half the stalls were covered, and the cafés were all full, and we kept getting jabbed by the umbrellas of other determined tourists…

It wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind. But then we did find some space in a café where Dad could rest, and my sister, Mum and my long-suffering other half (who is not interested in old junk) could dry out. And I scooted off for a final look around the stalls before we gave up. I was determined to find something to buy so that the outing wouldn’t be a complete bust, but everything was so expensive, or else too big to fit in a suitcase. And then I spotted Hector. Not a stuck-up bronze stag, nor a magnificent one, but a small, naïve, pot-bellied one. My sister says that he reminds her of Donkey from Shrek. It was love at first sight, and, somehow, making that small purchase completely made my day.

And then, miraculously, the sun shone for the final few days of our week. We sat outside in cafés for hours. We had breakfast outside. We ate dinner outside. We heard a nightingale, and saw eagles. It was the Provence we all remembered from years ago. Now, when we’re stuck in lockdown and I’m not allowed to visit my parents, however precious the time we have left with my dad might be, and I can’t quite imagine being allowed to travel again, or anything ever being quite the same again, Hector reminds me that you just never know. When I promised my dad we’d all go to France again, he didn’t believe me and neither did I, really. But we went, and I’m so glad we did. Sometimes things do work out the way you long for them to work out. And that’s a happy thought for lockdown!

You can find out more about Katherine's work here. The Disappearance is available from Waterstones and Amazon.

Stay well, stay safe, stay home.

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