Piece of cake, you’ll say if you live in any large city, especially London. You just walk out into the street in the city centre, and there they are. Whole bevies of them.
Tactile delights may be out of your reach in most instances. But there’s no shortage of visual ones. Aesthetics trumps carnality everywhere.
But notice I said ‘any large city’. I could have said ‘anywhere’ but didn’t, advisedly. For I spend almost half my time in the north-western corner of Burgundy. Between Sancerre and Chablis, to put it into your frame of reference.
Yet there’s no wine industry where we are. Nor, actually, much of any other. Welfare is the biggest industry, with timber perhaps a distant second. Since we don’t get many tourists, there aren’t many service jobs either.
This means youngsters with anything on the ball leave the moment they’re old enough and sometimes before that. The clever boys go where jobs are, and so do the pretty girls. The girls also go where eligible men are, which is usually the same places that have jobs.
The locals who stay do nothing much but drink and sleep with their next of kin, which activity is called le cinéma des pauvres in these parts. That, I’m sure, is a most enjoyable cinematic genre, but it tends to be rather detrimental to the gene pool.
Hence at 5’7” I tower over most local men, and the women tend to be broader than they’re tall. In both sexes the hairline is almost contiguous with the eyebrows, and the chins with the sternums. Both sexes are badly shaven.
This explains my sense of acute visual deprivation whenever I’m here, sometimes three months at a time. There are gorgeous birds everywhere, but strictly of the avian variety.
After a week so, I in my desperation try to espy any good-looking person, regardless of sex. But casting the net wider doesn’t produce a greater catch. The locals are all lovely, courteous people, but they don’t add much to the serene beauty of the undulating landscape.
Our closest big city is Auxerre, and it’s big only by French standards, 30,000 souls or thereabouts. Still, since it’s one of Burgundy’s five regional centres and one of the most beautiful cities this size I’ve seen anywhere, one would expect the situation to improve there.
It doesn’t, not enough to make a difference. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beautiful girl there, and even pretty ones are a rarity.
Now I know why. They’re all, dozens of them, nurses at the Auxerre Hospital, and they probably stay there all the time.
I found myself in a position to make this observation some four days ago, as a result of suffering a TIA, which the French perversely call AIT. They do have this tendency to get things the wrong way around: NATO is OTAN to them, fancy that.
Anyway, whether you call it Transient Ischemic Attack or Attaque Ischémique Transitoire, it amounts to the next best thing before stroke. Hence, for once, my wife overcame my staunch resistance and dragged me 30 miles to Auxerre.
Penelope probably wouldn’t have managed the feat had she not drawn reinforcements in the person of our charming doctor friend. She magically diagnosed the condition over the phone and explained that I’d be a con if I didn’t go to les urgences immediately. (If you don’t know what con means, I’ll let you guess.)
So I did, partly out of curiosity. This would give me the opportunity, I thought, to compare French healthcare with ours, of which I have rich experience at both the public and private ends.
The Auxerre Hospital is public, but in everything that matters it’s much closer to our private hospitals than to the NHS. Within 10 minutes of arriving at les urgences, I was seen by several nurses, each fit to feature in G&Q magazine.
Another five minutes later I was on a scanner, with several more beauties in attendance. They all called me Monsieur Boot, whereas NHS staff always refer to me as Alex or, if they’re feeling especially diffident, Alexander. I only become Mr Boot in private hospitals, or, as I once found out at High Wycombe, when moved to the private wing of the same hospital.
Half an hour later, I was on a gurney in the corridor, talking to three other gorgeous nurses and a stern-looking doctor. They were ganging up on me, trying to explain why not staying in for a few days would put my life in imminent jeopardy.
After some vigorous resistance I agreed: they were giving me both the chance to go on living and a reason to do so.
Over the next few days I gathered even more basis for comparison. The only aspect of healthcare in which Auxerre Hospital approaches the NHS is the food. Surprisingly for France it was inedible, and I gratefully lost five pounds while there.
But all rooms on my floor were private or semi-private. Some of the semi-private ones, including mine, housed men, some women, but never the two together.
I once spent several nights in an NHS hospital, when the NHS almost succeeded in killing me. I had been delivered there by an ambulance after an attack of gall stones.
When brought up to the ward, I saw something I’d never seen even in Russia, never mind the US: men and women were all jammed together in an open plan room. Those weren’t the circumstances under which I normally like to share a bedroom with a woman.
As to my problem, it wasn’t diagnosed, nor the pain relieved, in the three days I spent there. Eventually I fled for my life, and I don’t mean this figuratively.
The next day a private consultant diagnosed the condition before I finished the first sentence. When they operated on me, they found that gangrene had already set in. Another day at the Chelsea & Westminster, and you wouldn’t be reading my scurrilous prose now.
Nothing like that could ever have happened at Auxerre. If anything, I got as much attention as I needed and more than I could cope with, both from the excellent doctors and the efficient nurses. The latter numbered at least 20 on my floor, with their appearance only covering the range from pretty to beautiful.
So here’s my advice. If you find yourself in this neck of the woods and don’t see any good-looking women around, visit the hospital. You never know your luck.