“Cosy and slight” – Collecting Sticks by Joe Decie

csjdIf you don’t have children, or you weren’t glued to the TV over Christmas, it’s just about possible that you are not aware of Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. For some reason, people love it. As a parent who reads to his children a lot, take my word for it that it is flimsy and mimsy. It is as middle class as Waitrose, as sustaining as quinoa. When they are not going on bear hunts, you get the impression the parents in question use words like “comfortable” (as in “I’m not entirely comfortable with that”) and “appropriate” (as in “Is that altogether appropriate?”) and worry about when they started to feel okay about voting Conservative. The modern middle classes are a depressed lot. They work too hard for too little money, they have bathroom cabinets full of antidepressants and they look back with nostalgia and fondness on those times when they were happy. Which seem like a long time ago. Into this swirling, moribund world comes Collecting Sticks by Joe Decie.

This is the story of a couple who take their youngest child on a glamping trip. The man is a bit OCD. The woman is collecting-sticks-preview-panelsomewhat put upon. The child is feisty and seemingly oblivious to the (admittedly quite sympathetic) way in which mum manages dad. We see them pack. We see them in the car. We see them struggle with directions. They go shopping (mum wants eggs and jam, dad wants olive oil and smoked paprika). They look for sticks. They light fires (or not). They look for treasures (but not bears). Jigsaw puzzles are undertaken. There is a visit to Dungeness for a pub lunch. Dad worries about a crack in the wall. Mum says, “We’re on holiday. You’re not allowed to worry on holiday.” If you’ve read this far and thought, there don’t seem to be too many surprises on this camping (sorry, glamping) trip, you’d be right.

Collecting Sticks is cosy and slight. Young middle class couples with small children (who still partake of graphic novels) may read this and say, oh goodness, this is so like that trip we took to [insert wherever here]. In that respect, Decie’s book works in the same way as observational comedy. Here is wry humour designed to make you smile and to reaffirm that you live your life in the same way that others live their lives. The art is fine. Sort of black and white, sort of water coloury. The dialogue is good (Decie has a good ear). But the overall book is a little forgettable. Like that glamping trip we took that time. Do you remember? We were in our early thirties. Oh come on. You must remember it? Rupert was stung by a wasp. And Chloe – hah, yes – Chloe accidentally stumbled in a patch of Poison Oak. You don’t remember? Come on. I struggled to light the fire and you were so adept at it. Everybody sang Firestarter at you. It was the joke of the weekend. I can’t believe you don’t remember! Was it really that forgettable? I suppose it must’ve been.

Any Cop?: Not so much We’re Going on a Bear Hunt as We’re Going Away for a Weekend to Just Try and Get Away from Everything, You Know, To Try and Revive Our Flagging Marriage and Just. Stop. Worrying. For a Bit. But Everything Is Ok. We’re Just in a Lull. Everyone Has Lulls, Right?

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