My magpie past

On a bright sunny day a few weeks ago as I was sprinkling long release fertiliser on my pot plants, I realised that I knew what those little multicoloured balls tasted like, the sharp tang as I bit into them and the sour aftertaste as they dissolved. As strange as it sounds, it really is likely that I’ve eaten long release fertiliser, and even more than likely, that I’ve eaten it on more than one occasion.

As a result of a bizarre childhood habit of eating anything I could put in my mouth (and a whole lot of things I couldn’t), I can look around any room in the house and I know what almost everything tastes like. I ate books, erasers, pens, pencils, textas, plastic wrap and paper. I gnawed on windowsills to strip them of paint, I chewed on bookcases, bedframes, chairs  and tables. I ate carseat foam, syrofoam bubbles, the lead weights from lace curtains, cotton thread and shoe laces. I ate my mother’s Nivea face-cream straight from the tube, vaseline from the tub, glue from the stick, and paint from the box. I ate rose petals and daisies from the garden. In fact, it would probably be easier to list the things I didn’t eat. Somehow, by some miracle, I never ate anything poisonous – or at least, nothing that had any immediate symptoms, I suspect that lead weights and old-school lead based housepaint really couldn’t be classed as non-poisonous in the strictest sense. And I never ate poisonous plants, cleaning products or medication. But really, that’s about it, everything else was fair game to my all-encompassing appetite for non-consumerables.

As an adult, I’ve repeatedly asked my parents why they never took me to see a doctor about my strange childhood behaviour and they simply shrug their shoulders and say ‘ah well, you grew out of it..’ Uh yeah, I grew out of it…eventually. Frankly, I still occasionally gnaw a little too enthusiastically on a pen before catching myself, though I haven’t chewed on the furniture for at least a decade. Perhaps the reason that my parents never intervened was because I was a gnawing ninja – nobody ever saw me attack but they certainly saw the aftermath. And though I always denied my toothy handiwork, and they in turn disbelieved my denials, they seemed to just put it down to childhood misbehaviour.

However, it would seem that my unusual eating habits aren’t unique though, the ancient Greeks and Romans named the consumption of non-nutritive objects as pica after the eating habits of magpies. There are a number of specific pica disorders including xylophagia (the consumption of wood or paper) and tricophagia (the consumption of hair or wool) and hyalophagia (the consumption of glass).  Apparently my tastes were too encompassing to be given a Latin name, jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none style, but that doesn’t matter, I prefer to think of myself as having non-discriminatory tastes and an advanced palate.

I have no idea what triggered my brief career as a magpie, or what ended it, but if you notice your child gnawing on the furniture, I’d recommend (unlike my parents) you consult a medical professional.

At a minimum, you should probably advise them to only eat cardboard in small mouthfuls or else they’ll get stomach pains similar to those you get if you eat pasta and bread too fast. Also, soap may look tasty, but it’ll never be worth your while.

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