Someday I'll have more to say about the Daily Mail, Britain's most popular newspaper. Today, though, I want to concentrate on a story it's following about an inquest into the demise of one Andrew Chubb, a judge who in 2001 burned to death inside a shed behind his country house in Chard, Somerset.
This story has so much going for it: The name "Chubb." The name "Chard." The country house. The mistress. The laundry. It positively reeks of Englishness, crying out for a Miss Marple to start poking around in the ashes.
Wait a minute, I hear you asking, the mistress? The laundry? What's up with that?
In a nutshell, shortly after Judge Chubb told his wife of 34 years, Jenny, that he'd been having an affair and wanted a divorce, 20-foot, gas-fueled flames were engulfing their garden shed. Judge Chubb had the misfortune to be inside. As he was being transformed into a human bratwurst, it was reported, his wife calmly took the washing in off the line. "If her husband was in the shed, why was she bothered about the washing?" said neighbor Peter Evans, who testified at the inquest.
Why indeed, Mr. Evans (as Miss Marple might say).
Jenny Chubb received an insurance payout and moved to Australia, where she now is dating Michael Palin, or a man that looks incredibly like him.
But let us pause for a moment. I will not condemn Jenny Chubb merely for taking the washing in off the line while her husband was roasted to death. Since we've moved to England we have become obsessed with laundry and making sure it gets dry. When I say "we" I mean My Lovely Wife, for I have studiously avoided learning how to operate the incredibly complicated washing machine nestled in the kitchen. All I know is, Ruth does the laundry every single day. And since she dries it on the line, she is incredibly attuned to the vagaries of the weather, ready to whip the clothes down at a moment's notice.
A laundry-related compulsion is not a capital offense in this country. It is a smart bet.
What I found oddly touching about Andrew Chubb's final hours on this Earth was this line from the Mail story: "The 58-year-old father of three died in a fireball less than 90 minutes after telling his wife he wanted a divorce and walking out to mow the lawn."
Emphasis added. What a sad domestic tableau. The bad news delivered--and surely Mrs. Chubb must have suspected: the long hours at work, the weekend travel to "conferences," the hushed mobile phone conversations, the stray hair picked from his coat jacket--Mr. Chubb set about tidying his garden. Why, if the tables had been turned--if it had been Mrs. Chubb inside a burning shed--I'm sure he would have done the same, calmly cutting the grass in the summer sunshine.