A new mattress was sprung on me but what to do with the old one?

There had to be a better way of disposing it than flinging it into landfill

Philip Judge’s wife was reluctant to just throw the mattress in the dump and so set to work. Photograph: Getty Images

Philip Judge’s wife was reluctant to just throw the mattress in the dump and so set to work. Photograph: Getty Images


Like everyone else we spend more time in bed than we do in the car. Since moving to Wicklow three cars have come and gone but we have been still sleeping on the same mattress . . .until now. I recall a few vague, seemingly non-committal conversations about the latest in sleeping technology. But whilst working in the city decisions were made in my absence – which I suppose is marginally better than them being made in my presence but without my participation. Now we have a fabulous new mattress, “pocket sprung!” I am informed and “heavenly”, I am assured.

Change can be a good thing but as I age it can also cause mild anxiety. I wasn’t too sentimentally attached to the old, familiar mattress but I remember the hunt for it. When we bought our cottage we were gifted a French country bed. Built of white painted wood with a scrolled lip around the frame, it was not quite a standard double and finding a mattress to fit was tricky. So we had a reasonably priced bespoke one made by a “master mattress craftsman” in the next county and were very pleased with ourselves. I have always felt it was adequately sized, although, come to think of it, my wife often audibly yearned for a “football field sized bed”. Perhaps she didn’t enjoy the proximity as much as me? But then that was mostly when the boys were smaller and frequently joined us for a “snuggle” – as they called the morning wrestling bout - a tangle of elbows and knees that taught me to adroitly balance on a foot wide strip at the edge of the bed.

Those days are gone. Apart from Christmas morning and the occasional birthday, it is usually just the two of us again. But the mattress had served its time and was due for retirement. It was getting compacted, on my side at least. Like an ice cream wafer, thick, fluffy and lovely to begin with but gradually compressed to a joyless slab. And I acknowledge that my lumbering turns in the night - harrumphing at aching joints and accompanied by creaking springs – may have been annoying. So my wife has exercised unilateral executive power and upgraded. The trade off has been that because I have not been involved in the choice of the new I have also been excused responsibility for disposing of the old, which is an excellent deal.

Years ago I made a movie about a Dublin family searching for an inadvertently disposed of cash-stuffed mattress. Some of the location shots were far from exotic: rank smelling landfill sites littered with scores of abandoned mattresses.

Aside from the general waste, there was something grim and slightly queasy about seeing mattresses particularly – those commonplace items, host to myriad intimacies – stained and scattered in the mud filled fields of garbage to rot for aeons. My wife wasn’t there but she saw the film and like me, was reluctant to just chuck the thing in the dump. So she set the teenage boy to work.

She interrupted his plan to spend the summer lying on the couch listening to music and the two of them spent a day taking the mattress apart. It was a laborious task: I could tell from the pictures. I watched from afar on my phone as she sent regular updates of their progress. Deconstructed, the mattress didn’t look especially impressive: being largely a stodgy trellis of intertwined iron springs – a basic metal macramé maybe, wrapped in sheets of rough felt but not really requiring any traditional antique craftsmanship. The springs duly went to the recycling centre but I was excited by the felt and asked her to keep it. It might be just what I need as a weed barrier to cover the fallow bed in the vegetable garden – an unexpected bonus!

I am also delighted to have been spared the task of choosing the replacement. I looked online and discovered that like quantum physics, mattress technology has progressed far beyond my comprehension. Apart from graspable distinctions between core foam and memory foam or open coil springs and pocket springs; there are also finely graded warmth ratings and bewildering concepts such as “hybrid fusion geltex”. And I couldn’t have seriously discussed particular mattresses without getting annoyed at the absurd terminology. A descriptive name like Contour Supreme is acceptable and mood evoking titles such as Tranquil or Lagoon Luxury are silly but understandable. Even Pegasus, suggesting the notion of sleeping on the broad back of a flying white horse, might be attractive to those who wish to dream expansively. But why place names such as Boston, Palermo and Guernsey? And as for Kindred or Devotion - I would have snorted and stubbornly insisted on the plain, unpretentious, Latex in a Box.

However, the choice is made and I have yet to try it. I know her preference is for something firmer than I would like but she is fair minded and our interests coincide. If I can comfortably sleep on my side I’m far less likely to snore – which is a plus for us both.

Philip Judge is appearing at the Abbey in Two Pints