Anne Hailes: Francis Joseph Bigger, what direction to sleep in and baths v showers

Historian Dr Éamon Phoenix with Belfast Charitable Society chairman David Watter and CEO Paula Reynolds

AS PART of Hidden History: Uncovering North Belfast’s Past, this coming Thursday sees Dr Éamon Phoenix taking his audience back in time to 1863 and the life and times of Francis Joseph Bigger, lawyer, historian and Irish nationalist.

Some story – so many interests, including president of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field club where his colleagues were photographer RJ Welch and the botanist Robert Lloyd Praeger; his interest in the Gaelic League, the Belfast College of Irish and the Royal Irish Academy. It will be a fascinating to hear about a genuinely fascinating man from another fascinating man.

The series of lecturers entitled ‘Bricks & Mortals’ is being held in Clifton House, built as a Poor House in 1752, a beautiful building which was also the meeting place of the Belfast Charitable Society and where they played host to John Wesley, the actress Mrs Sarah Siddon, where Mary Ann McCracken – sister of Henry Joy, leader of the United Irishmen – was chairman and secretary of the Ladies Committee.

It’s in this historical setting that Dr Patricia Marsh talks about the ‘Spanish Flu Epidemic’ on February 28 and ‘Otto Jaffa – The Protestant Jew’ is the subject for Keith Haines's talk on March 7. The final meeting, on March 14, will be addressed by Tony McAuley, writer and broadcaster who wrote Paper Boy: A North Belfast Autobiography. This was adapted for the stage last year and, believe me, it’s a great story.

:: Tickets are £5 and lectures begin at 7pm. For more information visit

Sound Asleep

THIS letter from Co Armagh. “Dear Anne. I was told a number of years ago that there was a certain position to point your head when you were sleeping, ie N.S.E.W or somewhere in between to get a good peaceful sleep. Maybe you can help revise my memory.”

I remember being told that we should sleep with our heads pointing to Somerset Island in Canada as that was due magnetic north and so was in tune with the iron in our bodies; others say all the iron will rush to the brain and result in headaches and more serious ailments.

Eastern philosophies would say sleep east or south, Chinese talk of Feng Shui and the placement of furniture in the room – if you face south and there’s a window in that wall the increasing light of the sunrise could disturb your sleep, whereas east to west recommends you’ll sleep all right but you’ll have a night of dreaming.

The bottom line is, no-one has been able to prove anything. However, advice is prepare yourself for bed. Slow down in the evening, turn off television and iPads an hour before bedtime, relax and get cosy, enjoy the stillness and switch off from the bustle of the day.

It used to be counting sheep was recommended but there are lots of ways of clearing your mind of all your concerns, it’s just concentrating on one thing and keep coming back to it.

I have a favourite walk in Donegal and I seldom get beyond the pump at the bottom of the lane but I do dream and sometimes my dreams are so jumbled and unpleasant that I waken myself up. Usually they relate to something I’ve come across during the day, sometimes I fall asleep with the wireless on and that really blows my mind. Brexit nightmares are very popular with me just now!

So, dear reader from Co Armagh, basically you take your pick and if you find one position benefits over another, then stick to it because it will be right for you. Same thing wakening up: do it gently. Throw out an alarm clock that rips through your mind and get something more gentle – as long as it does what it’s supposed to do.

A Sad Week

WE LOST two titans last week, Sam McCready, a true man of theatre and Michael Baguley the dignified voice of the BBC in the 60s and 70s. All seemed well with the world when his reassuring voice greeted the listener with the day’s news and current affairs. We looked up to him not just because he was very tall but because he was the ultimate professional.

A bath trumps a shower any day, in my book

Bath Or Shower?

ONE of the sadnesses of life is swapping a bath for a shower – for me anyway. It had to be and I lament it almost every day. What a delight to ‘draw’ a hot bath, fragrant oils, good book, glass of wine, even a candle if you are feeling particularly stressed – and then just wallow! Oh, the joy. Oh, the relaxation of both bones and brain. Compare that with a shower and it’s thumbs down all the way.

Now, thanks to Dr Casey Carlos, a dermatology professor at the University of California San Diego, I can confirmation that this method of washing isn’t even good for you. Her theory is that using soap too often is actually damaging the outer layer of our skin and frightening off microbes that are there to keep our immune systems and heart functioning and to protect against acne. She doesn’t pull her punches.

“Our skin has the amazing ability to clean itself,” she says and continues that studies have shown that the top layer of your skin is composed of dead skin cells that protect underlying skin layers and is held together by fats or lipids that are responsible for moisture.

"Whenever you shower and scrub, you’re breaking this layer, meaning the more showers you take, the more damage occurs If you shower too often you are also giving your skin less time to repair between scrubs and preventing good bacteria from growing on your skin.”

My own take on it is that in a bath the pores open to allow dust and debris to escape and then wash your body with a quick shower. A shower only skims the surface. Plus, you can’t read a book.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: