Back in the early to mid-1970’s when joss sticks were exotic and just a little edgy and subversive (to a home-counties teenager at least), no evening with friends (Paul Chambers, Keith Berry and Kerry Thorpe) listening to Caravan, Pink Floyd, Yes, Hawkwind and ELP whilst quaffing the contents of a Watneys Party 7 (No, Watneys didn’t think to employ an apostrophe), was complete without the aforementioned joss sticks which were held and twiddled around with the fingers in time to the music and often caused small burns in the fabric of chairs, carpets and on the underside of the forearm. Oh yes, we lived on the edge, like warriors.
On one occasion, upon opening what appeared to be a cardboard tube of joss sticks it became apparent that the tube was in fact a papier-mâché affair; writing could clearly be seen on the inside of the tube. Over the course of a good hour or so the tube was carefully deconstructed by soaking it in water and peeling the various layers away. Most of those layers were plain paper but the bit with the writing on that we had seed revealed itself to have been crafted from a post-mortem examination report form, from the Baltimore State Police.
I recently read an article wherein one Dr Manoon Leechawengwong stated that:
“Burning joss sticks lit as an offering in shrines and temples fills the air with cancer-causing toxins that are every bit as deadly as traffic fumes and cigarette smoke… one joss stick creates the same amount of cancer-causing chemicals at one cigarette.”
Now, I’m sure that the few joss sticks we used to wave around in time to Dark Side of the Moon were nowhere near the amount that are lit in temples but blimey, how did we ever live so long? It seems that there is always someone or something trying to rob you of those precious memories of what we like to think of as better times. Were they better or is it just the conveniently misted mirror of memory?
As you can see, I still have that reconstructed post-mortem report form. The sticky-backed plastic hasn’t aged well. Sticky-backed plastic? Oh dear, that’s aged me, hasn’t it?
I still burn joss sticks, usually in the summer when sitting out in the garden with a good book, or in the evenings with a pint of ale and looking at the stars, it’s a way back to those days of youth, those oh, so terribly dangerous days of youth.