believing is seeing


(* i see a rainbow too by Jucshee on

The idea that no two people who walk into a room will perceive it precisely the same way was borne out when a work friend recently visited our home for the first time.

We chatted leisurely over coffee and cake and then, eventually, came time to go.

Walking him to his car, he looked back at the house and said: “There’s smoke coming from the chimney.” Well, yes, that will be from the fire in the lounge. “You have a fire in the lounge?” he said, seemingly surprised. “I didn’t notice.”

Hello! How could you not notice? You were sitting diagonally across from it – basking in radiant heat.

Admittedly, our mate may be a little unusual in the way he views the world, but then what each person sees is as unique as the iris itself.

Walking my dog today I notice a clump of miniature pansies have pushed through the pavement near one corner.

On that same narrow isthmus I also frequently see a local minister, but encountering Father Ken in my mother’s nursing home room after one such walk recently it’s clear he has never before noticed me … even though I would have passed within half a metre of him six, maybe seven times within the past month.

Supposing she could still walk this block, my mother would certainly see and bail up Father Ken.

She would notice the broken fence at No. 5 and the “sad, skinny” dog in the yard (mum – it’s a whippet, that’s what they look like), but the smug ginger tabby on a cushion in the sun on the porch at the same house? Not on her radar!

While Father Ken, pounding the pavement polishing his sermon, may see only a parishioner he might have wished, at that moment, to avoid.

Three people, on the same three metres of pavement at the same time, and they might as well be on different planets.

My mother’s way of looking at things, before her stroke, always oppressed me.

Where I saw sun, surf and sand she saw stonefish, sea snakes and sharks.

I’d fly a kite, she’d have me strangled by the string.

Now, science suggests the glass-half-empty people of the world may actually be born that way.

A new study has found a link between a specific gene known to play a part in emotional memories and where people tend to focus their eyes and attention.

In short, people with a certain profile of amino acids on this particular gene tend to be more likely to notice the negative.

It’s all about genes contributing to ways you perceive the sensory world,” lead author of the article Genes for Emotion-Enhanced Remembering Are linked to Enhanced Perceiving study Rebecca Todd said.

The idea we take away is we really do live in different worlds.”

Today my mother sees all manner of things that I can’t.

There’s a fox running across the garden where I see a waving branch of lilac.

There’s a bird’s nest with two little birds where I perceive only a bracket on a downpipe.

A black cat crouching where I espy two upturned plastic pots.

And if she can finally see a rainbow on that once bleak horizon, who am I to say it’s not there.



beauty & the leech


Recent appearances by actress Demi Moore looking remarkably fresh-faced and fit approaching age 51 have me wondering whether she is still using leeches.

A few years back Moore publicly spruiked the benefit of leeches to “detoxify” her blood, telling US TV chat show host Dave Letterman she believed it was a “cutting edge” beauty treatment.

To Letterman’s grim fascination, she went on to describe letting leeches feast on her.

You watch it swell up on your blood, watching it get fatter and fatter – then when it’s super drunk on your blood it just kind of rolls over like it is stumbling out of the bar.

I feel very detoxified right now.”

This led to one of the more curious assignments of my reporting career and to the doorstep of Australia’s one and only leech farmer.

When asked about leeches and Moore’s bizarre beauty routine, Brian Woodbridge made it pretty clear who he thought was the real sucker.

I tell you what, I have been bitten by a few leeches in my time and it hasn’t made me look any younger,” the north central Victorian aquaculturalist chortled.

Plus you want to be careful where your leeches come from.

There is one species that lives in the nose of a camel and another one that lives in the other end of a hippopotamus – I don’t know whether Demi Moore knows that.”

The species of leech bred by Brian and his wife Carol is the very handsome Richardsonianus australis.

Distinguished by its red and white stripes and superior sucking ability it is the standout of some 40 species of Australian leeches.

They have been highly prized since the earliest days of the colony and once helped support scores of families who gathered them from around Barmah and Moira Lakes.

But medieval leech treatments, once regarded as a cure-all and responsible for rivers of blood-letting, fell out of favour as modern science provided more sophisticated interpretations of disease than “bad blood”.

By the 1960s-70s the therapeutic use of leeches was all but abandoned in Australia and the leech gatherers became a historical footnote.

Fast forward to 1991 when Brian, one of the pioneers of commercial yabbie and freshwater fish farming, found himself seated next to a plastic surgeon at a dinner party.

Long story short, the leeches’ medicinal role was revived.

Today Brian provides his “livestock” to hospitals across Australia where the leeches have a variety of applications from reconstructive surgery – helping damaged tissue regain normal blood flow – to reducing pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis, varicose veins and thrombosis.

The business has definitely grown.

We send them everywhere now – even to Canberra. You would think there would be enough leeches up there,” the laconic leech farmer laughs.

Hirudin, a peptide produced by the saliva glands of medicinal leeches (or hirudinea as they are scientifically known) has long been known for its powerful anti-coagulating properties and is now commercially synthesised.

In fact leech spit boasts so many anti-coagulant, anti-inflammatory, vasodilating, clot-busting and anaesthetic properties it’s strange – notwithstanding Demi Moore as a poster girl – these wonderful worms suffer such bad press.

You could say it kinda sucks.


of durex & jellyfish


So, six weeks after purchasing not one, not two but, I must now confess, five plastic meerkats on sticks my local version of Loony Larry’s discount store has closed.

Evidently the meerkat-led recovery had come too late to save the business, but there is still no shortage of stores selling utterly useless stuff.

Am I alone in wondering if part of the reason for the slump in high street trade is retailers’ reluctance to stick to their knitting?

Take the post office.

You find yourself innocently queuing to buy something vaguely postal – like a stamp – and finally reach the counter only to discover that you have in your hot little hand a microwave egg poacher cup in the shape of a chicken.

Stamp 60 cents, piece of redundant silicone $9.99.

Walk out realising Australia Post has effectively stung you $1 a minute to wait in line.

And, people, let me tell you those poachers do not work – even when you prick the egg yolk as per the instructions.

Not far from the Little Chick egg cup you might be lucky enough to find an Electronic Jellyfish Aquarium containing “several realistic looking electronic jellyfish”.

But whither the envelopes?

Well, just on pop on of those novelty pith helmets and head for the furthest corner past the Tai Chi Book & DVD box gift set and build-your-own-dinosaur kits.

It’s almost as bad in the chemist. Body wash I get, but who buys laundry detergent in a pharmacy?

Those chemists with coffee shops and sandwich bars, do you really want to hang there? Hey, let’s discuss that leprous wound over a latte!

Chemists with Tattslotto make me feel queasy. I’ll take a super quickpick and two antacid for the bad taste in my mouth.

Of course pharmacists have been forced to diversify as supermarket giants continue their push into health care with increasing shelf space devoted to over-counter-drugs, health supplements and weight management products.

Current legislation prevents Coles and Woolworths supermarkets operating pharmacies in-store like their international counterparts Walmart, Sainsbury and Tesco.

However, a NZ subsidiary of Woolworths has successfully opened several in-store pharmacies and with Australia’s Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement due to expire in 2015, the Pharmacy Guild knows it must fight to keep its ground.

Now it has the adult entertainment industry in its corner.

Woolworths managed simultaneously to upset family values groups and the adult industry when it launched into the sex toy market last month with the sale of Durex Bullet vibrators.

Fiona Patten, president of the Australian Sex Party and chief executive of Australia’s national adult industry body, the Eros Association, told The Age it was “unfair that adult shops must jump through myriad hoops to get planning approval and are strictly regulated yet mainstream stores sell the same products without having to adhere to similar regulations”.

But, more than the threat of prosecution for illegal sale of sex toys it was the threat of a boycott by the powerful Christian lobby that led Woolworths to abruptly withdraw the Bullet from sale.

Unless it starts buying into brothels or overtakes a chain like Club X it seems unlikely there will be an alliance between the supermarket giants and the sex industry any time soon.

It’s probably just as well.

Imagine the offspring: Snap, Crackle, Swap.


vale doug


* photo by Scott McNaughton

It was a more than a year ago I met Douglas Jarvie-Bryson in the executive lounge where he was awaiting a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Some readers may recall him.

He was having to travel the long way via Taipei on account of a genetic condition that made him an unacceptable flight risk for most airlines.

But even though individuals suffering from brachycephalic airway syndrome accounted for 70 per cent of deaths on American airlines in 2010, Doug was remarkably sanguine.

He understood his support role to an engineer involved in the Ichthys oil and gas project was small, but important.

If all went well after 18 months in KL, he might even venture to Korea for the next stage of the massive construction project.

The nuggety little VIP made the long trip without once requiring medical attention.

With his good nature and genuine interest in mankind he charmed every one he met, even the normally blase baggage handlers.

He was met at the airport by members of his family who had flown ahead on more direct flights.

Their reunion was a scene of such unbridled joy, you would think they had been separated for decades not days.

Not one to give in jet lag, Doug immediately insisted they should all set out to explore their new community.

Like many expats he was drawn to beautiful Desa Park City and after a long walk around the the man-made lake he would often stop for a refreshment at La Casa or one of the other waterfront restaurants.

Doug threw himself headlong into the culture, seldom standing on ceremony and demonstrating such good humour that even the shy Malay young girls were smitten.

That he seemed so at home may have had a lot to do with his Chinese heritage.

Though he was born in Western Australia, he’d spent the best part of his life in Melbourne becoming a regular on the Richmond cafe scene.

He couldn’t walk down Bridge Road without being bailed up by a mate and, having adapted so effortlessly, it was little different in KL.

For a year every one was a happy – Doug, most of all.

The change occurred almost overnight.

He no longer seemed so eager to embark on every new day, he lost his appetite, grew lethargic.

Tests revealed he had a very aggressive adenocarcimona. It spread so rapidly there was no chance.

Last month just before chemotherapy was to commence, Doug’s family – after painful consideration – recognised death would be kinder.

He died at home surrounded by his loved ones, an injection, administered by a caring professional, gently sending him into that good night.

His family knew that the decent thing, the loving thing to do was to let him go.

He touched so many people’s lives.

I, for one, will never forget our brief meeting.

How he looked straight into the lens of Weekly Review photographer Scott McNaughton’s camera with the composure of one accustomed to celebrity and thoroughly at home in his own skin.

Now, writing the final chapter of his story, I wonder if Doug’s death can’t teach us something.

Why is it we afford our pets a dignity in death that we cannot allow ourselves?

Vale Doug – A Very Inspirational Pug.