Three things with Norman Swan: ‘I’m more of a materialist than I thought’

Dr Norman Swan became a trusted voice to many Australians during the pandemic. As the co-host of the ABC’s Coronacast podcast, he delivered regular, no-nonsense updates about all things Covid. But even if you tried to unplug from rolling pandemic news, you’ll probably know Swan from his other gigs – 7.30 reporter, host of ABC Radio National’s Health Report, and regular guest reporter on Four Corners.

Battling medical misinformation has long been Swan’s job. The Glasgow-born physician trained in paediatrics before becoming one of the first medically qualified journalists in his adopted home of Australia. With a 30-year broadcast career under his belt, Swan has lately turned his attention to the world of publishing. His latest book, So You Want To Live Younger Longer?, separates fact from fad to uncover what can actually help us do just that. Given his decades of experience working in health, it’s a topic he’s well qualified to write about.

Related: Three things with Miriam Margolyes: ‘Marlene Dietrich signed my autograph book and kissed me’

At home, Swan is also an expert in stain removal. That’s why he considers his “shpritz” – the small bottle of stain remover he wields like a weapon at the dinner table – his most useful object. Here, he extols the virtues of that shirt-saving spray, and shares stories of a few other important items.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

If we take saving family members and photographs as a given, my answer is actually not much, which is odd because I do hang on to things for not very well-defined reasons. It’s also odd because I am mildly materialistic, so you’d think there’d be stuff I’d be dying (hopefully not literally) to take. I like having art on the wall and nice clothes, I never throw out a book, and I really resent when a borrowed book isn’t returned. The thing is that physical stuff doesn’t hold much emotional commitment for me.

When I first came to Australia it was only for a year and so I temporarily stored cherished possessions in my parents’ loft in Glasgow. I never ended up moving them here, even when a year became decades. After my parents died I went up into the loft to have a look and wondered what had made these things so cherished at the time. I took a couple of books and that was it. Maybe it’s that I don’t need things for memories.

But if push comes to shove, I have the sweetest little bronze by a Spanish artist that would sadden me never to see again, and there’s a mug in the cupboard that I’ve been using for my tea since my kids were babies. And now that I’m on a roll – if I had plenty of warning, I’d take the Royal Albert dinner set that’s now been handed down two generations from my grandma in Glasgow. So maybe I’m more of a materialist than I thought.

My most useful object

I’d choose two. One is my shpritz – my name for my spray bottle of stain remover. Life would be hell without the freedom to succumb to my compulsiveness about stains. I have a wide reputation as a stain whisperer (well, when I say wide, I mean from the front to the back of my apartment). Rarely a meal passes without serious spatter that needs prompt attention, utilising the shpritz supported by nappy soaker and a machine wash.

The second is my egg flip utensil. During lockdown I got hooked on trying to make the perfect omelette, which in fact, is supposed to be made only using a fork. I freely admit to cheating with an egg flip but who cares when an unblemished soft, yellow omelette lands on the plate?

The thing I most regret losing

Well, I didn’t lose it, one of my brothers did. My parents had reels and reels of Super 8 film of us as kids: barmitzvahs, family holidays and other occasions across many years.

My brother was supposed to transfer them on to video to preserve them and he can’t remember what became of them. What I’d give to be reminded of times and people gone by.