I’VE an apology to make to the Craigyhill Bonfire and Cultural Facebook Page. Like many people with little or no knowledge of bonfire culture, I thought that when a thousand pishy, mouldy mattresses were delivered to the Larne bonfire site by container ship and Chinook they were going to be... well... burnt.

It's true, they’re not the first thing you think of when you think of things that people burn. If you were on Family Fortunes and the question was, ‘Name something that you put on a fire’ you’re probably going to say ‘logs’or ‘coal’, maybe even ‘turf’. But if you said ‘mattresses’ to Gino you’re going to get a big EH-EHHHHH!

But while I admit to being alarmingly unacquainted with the ancient art of bonfire-building, I do know that they burn some very weird stuff on them. Tyres, for instance, which give off plumes of cancer-causing smoke not only visible from the moon but capable of blackening its craters. They burn old sofas, which are from an age when the foam was soaked in a fire-retardant mix so toxic that you can get cancer from breathing it in while sitting watching Coronation Street; and if you’ve a child on your knee while watching another row in the Rovers, the tot could end up developing cognitive defects. What happens if you’re standing nearby when 20 of them are set on fire is not something you want to think too long or hard about.

So nobody could be blamed for thinking when the Craigyhill crowd put up a delighted post welcoming the mattresses that they were going to be burnt. But delight has turned to delete and the post is now gone, replaced by a sober statement pointing out that the mattresses will be placed around the base of the bonfire to break the fall of anybody who falls off. And who am I to say that the plan to burn them was scrapped after a tsunami of shock and ridicule in the media, mainstream and social?

I’m quite happy to accept that the health and safety of loyalist Larne was the reason for the import of the mattresses. Fair enough, old mattresses aren’t a standard safety practice in the construction industry. If you walk past a building site the workers up high aren’t relying on bedroom products to keep them safe – they tend to believe for whatever reason that ensuring nobody falls in the first place is much more important than ensuring they land on stained Slumberlands when they do. But if Stewarty from Craigyhill – who's been doing this since he first twirled a plastic baton – thinks harnesses are old hat and springs are the future, why should we listen to so-called experts from the Health and Safety Executive? What’s that? They’ve nothing to say anyway? You may be right – I couldn’t possible comment.

But if we’re going to talk honestly about the role of mattresses in bonfire safety, we need to take a long, hard look at those yokes being unloaded (see pic above). Not to put too fine a point on it, they’re boggin’. So much so, in fact, that the benefits of landing on them after a fall instead of making a bid to get to Australia via the short route are bound to be somewhat mitigated. Go anywhere near those things and it’s a tetanus jab at the minimum, guaranteed – and that’s no fun, believe me. A Hepatitis B antiviral course? Quite possibly, given that the fact that so many of the mattresses are identical suggests they might have come from a clinical source.

I’m only guessing the provenance, of course; fact is, I don’t even know whether they came from this island or via the border at Belfast or Larne. Let’s hope for the sake of the Craigyhill engineers that the latter is the case, because those mattresses look like they could be doing with a dip in the Irish Sea.

Colonel Tim goes back into battle

THERE’S not a self-respecting car crash on these islands that would have appreciated being compared to Colonel Tim Collins’ interview in the News Letter last week. It was so bad that it forced his boss Doug Beattie on to BBC Ulster’s Talkback, where Colonel Tim’s former comrade-in-arms only managed to turn a two-car collision into a 40-vehicle pile-up.

The word has clearly gone out that the Colonel needs to improve his image if he’s serious about taking the North Antrim seat from Alliance’s Stephen Farry (who Doug described on Talkback as the “better qualified candidate” in one of his less face-palmy contributions). And what, do we suppose, does Tim reckon the prosperous people of the Gold Coast need to hear emerging from the throat behind the regimental tie to undo even some of the damage caused by what’s come to be known at UUP HQ as “that interview”?

A vow to work towards a reduction in capital gains tax? A promise to freeze the minimum wage? A commitment to revisiting the VAT regime?

NEW CHALLENGE: Tim Collins cut a dashing figure in desert fatigues, but politics in a regimental tie is proving a challenge

NEW CHALLENGE: Tim Collins cut a dashing figure in desert fatigues, but politics in a regimental tie is proving a challenge

Well, while a repentant Tim might have considered these things as he glumly scrubbed and peeled potatoes in the UUP glasshouse, he plumped for a call for union jacks to be flown from war memorials seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can take the boy out of the parade ground, but you can't take the parade ground out of the boy.

“The flag should fly proudly over the memorials across the Borough which recognise and give thanks to all of those who have given their lives in the service of their country,” said Doug, saluting so stiffly he left a red mark on his temple.

“I have stood beside enough flag-draped coffins to know how important it is for veterans and their families, friends and colleagues. The union flag represents those remembered on the monuments of all faiths.”

And with a click of the heels, he swivelled and marched smartly by the left from the public square for another week, and but for a clicking hip and a slight wince brought on by those arthritic knees, he could have been the dashing hero in desert khaki again, addressing his men all those years ago amidst the burning sands of the Middle East.

As already alluded to, the seat Tim is trying to win is held by the Alliance Party and it is that party which has done most to batter the UUP’s election fortunes in recent years. So Doug’s priority, it seems to me and just about any other observer who hasn’t been declared MIA in the past five years, is to convince unionists who voted for Stephen Farry last time out that he’s not the 1950s Pathé reel politician suggested by “that interview”.

But while there are many things that are liable to make North Down Alliance voters and potential Alliance voters raise their cultured voices during a coffee morning chat in Holywood or a natter round the side of the horse box at a gymkhana, flags and war memorials are not on that list. Wanging on about union jacks and Our Boys is guaranteed to get Tim 40 minutes on the Nolan Show if he wants it, but it’s not likely to entice back soft unionists who took the Alliance gazpacho because they were… fed up with people wanging on about union jacks and Our Boys.

And does somebody who spent his life in uniform and who made his name smoking a cigar while looking windswept on the battlefield really need to present his army credentials to the more loyal parts of North Down again? Does anybody in the constituency think during quiet moments, “You know, I could vote for Tim Collins if only he had a decent military record.”? You gotta doubt it.

My advice to Tim is to quit the messing about and get back to basics. He needs to do what he does best – repeat the swashbuckling bravado that saw him and his comrades get rid of the bad guys and bring peace to Iraq after the First Gulf War in 1991. No, wait. Bad example. What he should do is get back to the magnificent daring that saw him and his comrades get rid of the bad guys and bring peace to Iraq after the next Iraq War, the one in 2003. No, wait…

On second thoughts, maybe would be better doing another interview with the News Letter. And if anything goes wrong, Doug can go on Talkback again to make everything alright.