Would life be better as a toothbrush?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sitting on my friend's sofa, drinking wine a couple of weeks ago. "Don't you sometimes wish," said my friend, her dog's head nestled happily on her knees as she gently frotted her stuffed rabbit (the dog, not my friend), "that you could just be a nice person's dog? That you didn't have to worry about being the nice person, but you could just rely on them being there to look after you? And not worry about them judging you if wanted to frot your teddy in public?"

Well, that's just life, isn't it?

But yes, I see the appeal. Specifically though, a nice person's dog. The woman in the adverts who inhales deeply on the meaty Iams chunks before putting them in the bowl with your name on, rather than the woman who walks round Kentish Town shouting, "Hurry UP and do a shit, will you?" to a hound that looks so shamefaced it is practically human.

"Of course," I replied. "I spent most of my teenage years wishing I was a toothbrush. I know just what you mean."

Let me explain. Sometimes you don't want to be human; others you don't even want to be animate. Sometimes you don't want to be aware that you exist, let alone always mentally working on an emo soundtrack to your quotidian.

"But if you were a toothbrush, you'd have to climb into someone's vile mouth twice a day – possibly more," she replied, acknowledging other people's hygienic foibles with a nod and a swig of wine, "and jump around for five minutes. Maybe even 10." Another swig.

That's just life too, isn't it?

I'm writing this in Milan – I'm here to look at the fashions, but don't worry: I won't go on about them just now. Milan is a city that makes me want to be a toothbrush more than ever, even after living for a decade without feeling the need to sprout bristles and keep my arms flat by my sides all the time.

Is it possible to just not be able to "do" a place? I think so. I am crap at Milan. The whole city would laugh at me, if I weren't beneath its notice. The last time I was here, I got on the train, went to the wrong airport and didn't even notice until I had completed the hour-long journey.

"I need to go to the airport!" I shouted as I ran across the car park to the taxi rank. "But you are at the airport!" laughed the taxi driver, knowing immediately – perhaps before he had even clapped eyes on me – exactly what I meant. He just wanted me to have to explain it, to prove that I was crap at Milan. I just wanted to stave both our heads in with the handle of my executive wheelie suitcase.

After an hour's drive at speeds so illegal my hair looked like Doc Brown's from Back to the Future, he eventually stove my head in for me and charged me £150. This is the price of being crap at Milan.

The other thing about not really "getting" a place is that you feel constantly anxious, as if you're putting a foot wrong at every possible moment. Except every time you shuffle a bit or trip over your own feet, a man driving past laughs at you because your ineptitude precludes you from his blanket interest in shagging all of womankind.

Women in Milan are a different breed. I'm actually a bit worried about them. They are very, very thin. In a city where I have just been served pasta with a side-salad of bread, when the waiter asked me if I wanted pudding, I wondered if he was taking the mick. These women must be starving, with their little legs like arms, encased in designer denim. For one thing, there's nothing else to eat in Milan apart from carbs, so being thin here must be like Jesus's time in the desert. And for another, I've been so toothbrush-y and anxious today that I've eaten four brioche rolls, a croissant, two cereal bars, five Kinder Buenos (a local delicacy, I believe) and the snacks which came free with my beer. Which was a huge basket of crisps and some kind of low-fi pizza.

It's especially galling because everyone I speak to about Milan says how wonderful it is, thereby reinforcing the fact that I'm rubbish at doing it. It was the same with Istanbul, where I tried to visit the Blue Mosque but got dropped off in a back alley next to some bins, before someone reversed into me – I had to shout at them that their bumper was pushing my legs in a direction that they don't naturally bend toward.

Just before I sat down to write this, I knocked my toothbrush off the side of the basin and it fell headfirst into the loo. As I fished it out, I bashed the bristles on the rim of the seat and it spun in a gymnastic arc, before landing in the neighbouring bidet.

But I suppose that's just like life too, isn't it? Maybe being rubbish in Milan is OK. Maybe I don't want to be a toothbrush right now after all. Maybe I'll just go and buy a new one.