Getting the hump

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I'm sorry, but the new cartoon version of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame contains a plot-line that is simply not credible; one which is not going to be easy to explain to my two impressionable young daughters. Magic lamps and dragons are accepted without demur. They are fantasy. But in this latest movie the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda, winds up doing something quite realistic (marrying), but doing it with a most unlikely man, namely Phoebus the equally beautiful captain of the guard.

But Rosa and Lily are well aware, from observing the universe around them, that Esmeralda would have been much more likely to walk down the aisle with Quasimodo (or, possibly, swing above it). Sure, E. might have imagined a teenage fling with young Phoebus; possibly even have hung tapestries depicting his manly graces on the wall of her caravan. In the end, however, it would have been the devoted hunchback who got to mumble "I do" and lift the veil for a lopsided and toothy snog.

The truth is that, while women want to be the mothers of beautiful men, they rarely want to marry them. That is why lovely women are so often to be seen upon the arms of dreadful-looking chaps. The usual explanation given for this phenomenon is the hackneyed "Power, the ultimate aphrodisiac". So Antonia de Sancha had it off with David Mellor because of his massive aura.

But I do not entirely buy this argument. For a start many of the plug- uglies that reasonable-looking girls hitch themselves to are not powerful or hugely wealthy. Instead they tend to be steady, faithful, warm and (occasionally) witty. They have not been spoiled by doting mothers and aunties running hands through their golden ringlets, but know that - when it comes to women - they have work to do.

As we know, men's romanticism is fuelled by immediate and very concrete images. An eyelash on a perfectly formed cheek, a tilt-tipped nose, a sinuous twist of shapely hips to send the skirt sliding to the ... (calm down for heaven's sake, Aaronovitch!). And it is dissipated by an unexpected roll of fat, a couple of zits, or greasy hair. It is about now, this moment, this instant.

But girls, from their earliest days - when their hugely superior appreciation of the social world and of relationships begins to develop - start a fine and continuous calculation about the matability of the males around them. No office is complete without a coven of young ladies drawing up and discussing lists of where in the pecking order their unwitting male colleagues are thought to stand. I have several times witnessed (and shared) the horror and disbelief felt by these men when such lists are discovered and analysed.

So when Rebecca or Emma appear in church on the arm of a donkey in a tuxedo it is important to realise that they are not the victim of some fatal whim. In their heads they carry a mental photograph album, full of pictures of a balding, comfortable hubby dandling children responsibly on his knee, hubby cooking the Sunday lunch, hubby painting the window- frames in the newly acquired weekend cottage.

So it would have been with Esmeralda and Quasimodo. She'll have realised the potential of his unique ability to get from the top to the bottom of a cathedral in four hops; gargoyle-vaulting would have been a handy talent in the 15th century. Quasi's Quick Deliveries, by using the rooftops of medieval Paris, rather than negotiating the cut-purse infested, rubbish- strewn and ordure-streaming streets, could have made a fortune. Esmeralda would surely have recognised this, and eventually become the Anita Roddick of the Reformation.

His personal qualities, too, would have been attractive. After all, if you can make friends with animated gargoyles, you're likely to be great with toddlers. Oh, and last but not least, what about all that humping?