Euston? We have a problem


WE WERE cruising at 31,000 feet down the eastern seaboard of the nation now known as the dis-United States of America (outside air temperature thirty below and three hours from touchdown in Havana) when the Virgin Atlantic 747 flight deck radioed for assistance: “Euston, we have a problem.”

Euston? Yes, of COURSE it would’ve been Euston. Isn’t that the station information desk these space jockeys ALWAYS call when they have a problem? Have you NEVER watched Tom Hanks in ‘Apollo Seven’?

We had been flying a little bumpily through thick cloud somewhere over Virginia when the trouble started. “Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts,” a slightly harassed member of the cabin crew gabbled. A scramble for seats and worried faces all round.

“We are experiencing an unusual situation and the flight crew are attempting to seek a solution from our engineering crew in London. More information will be made available as soon as it comes to hand.” Then. . . nothing.

This merely heightened the alarm among the passengers, there having been no occasion in recorded transport history when Virgin’s Euston engineers had  been able to effect any sort of solution to a problem, be it blocked loos, staff shortages or leaves on the line.

Besides, we had all seen this kind of Bruce Willis movie before (and as far as I knew Mr Willis was not on board this particular flight): was the runway at Havana Airport blocked with snow while all airports across the walled-off world of Trumpton refused to let us land? Had the wretched undercarriage jammed in the ‘up’ position? Were armed terrorists even now negotiating from the flight deck with the stationmaster at London’s premier rail station for landing rights down Euston Road and a fast Uber taxi to whizz them through rush-hour traffic to the offices of the British Brexit Committee (BBC), thence to reverse the UK’s flawed referendum decision at gunpoint?

That would have been truly ironic, I throught grimly, fighting to rebuckle the lap belt across my immense girth. Surely I was the sole freedom fighter on this flight, a referendum Remainer on a mission to launch a pre-emptive first strike against what was soon to become The Donald’s evil empire?

I had no sooner pinched my groaning belly inside the extreme perimeter of the seatbelt’s furthest reach when – ping! – the announcer’s voice once more filled the Premium Economy cabin (better seat pitch, more leg room, welcome drink at take-off and meals on proper china; what’s not to like?).

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Cabin Crew Director Carl-Wayne Golightly speaking on behalf of Captain Andrews with some further information on the problem which is – ahem. . . excuse the pun! –  inconveniencing our onward progress to Havana.

“I am sorry to report that all of the toilet facilities on the right-hand side of the aircraft are out of action and that contact with our ground-based engineering team has failed to elicit a solution beyond the universal advice ‘SOSOA’(Switch Off, Switch On Again).This did not work

“Consequently, it is my distressing duty to inform passengers that we must continue our journey to Havana with a strict washroom roster in place. I urge you to follow the best British tradition and to keep calm and carry on.

“In the event of your situation worsening I would suggest that you adopt the ‘clench’ position. Queues are already forming. Please be understanding.”

Be understanding? My whole mission depended on those lavatories being in tip-top working order!

This was my plan: I had fully armed both bowel and bladder with the biggest ‘All-day Breakfast With Endless Coffees’ that Gatwick had to offer, undetectable to even the most sophisticated airport detectors. I followed this, an hour or so after take-off, with a Virgin Premium Economy lunch (“served on real china with choice of wines and complimentary chocolate mint crisp”)) and settled down, belly cramping with excess, for a tummy-rumbling nap and to build up energy for the most arduous part of my mission, Operation *hit and Run!

Sweat glistened on my brow at the increasing effort to contain the thrust of my by now distended bowel. As the remaining distance to Havana slipped by at a rate of seven miles per minute and we left the treacherous Trump-loving towns and cities of North and South Carolina behind, my anxiety increased to the point where I grabbed the coat tail of a passing steward, explaining my desperation. He looked sympathetic but pleaded powerlessness.

So I played what you might call my ‘Trump’ card.

“What do you think of Shirley Bassey?” I blurted.

‘Twere as if Carl-Wayne Golightly had died and gone to heaven. “Shirley is my goddess,” he crooned, his eyes rolling through a full 180 degrees. “Adorable, divine, I worship her.”

I seized my chance. “Bet you’ve never seen pictures as hot as this,” I said, withdrawing from its plastic folder an A4 monochrome of the Queen of Bling-song at the London Palladium in 1997, a photo I carried in case I should ever require a cabin upgrade on British Airways.

“Oh…My….God!”Carl-Wayne gasped, his hands clasped in prayer-like supplication. “I…I would DIE for a picture like that.”

“Not necessary,” I assured him, hurrying now. “All you need do is get me into that lavatory in the next five minutes.” I pointed to the adjacent lavatory on the left-hand side, perpetually occupied by a stream of Upper Deck passengers. “Do that and this hot little number is yours.”

“Not a problem,” gushed the steward, his moistening eyes drinking in the singer’s slinky curves. “Give me a couple of minutes and wait for my signal.” He snatched the photo, then turned. “Just don’t use the Upper Deck toiletries tray, ” he hissed fiercely. “First class only. On you, Rive Gauche would be a dead giveaway.”

Carl-Wayne was as good as his word: no sooner had I checked the flight’s latest position on my Premium Economy personal at-seat screen to discover, to my horror, that we were nudging a course that would take us out to sea off Georgia’s Myrtle Beach resort, than he was beckoning me forward to the first-class khazi, to which he had affixed an ‘Out of Order’ sign, sending panicky passengers scuttling further down the airplane.

With a whoop of relief I dived – not a moment too soon – into the coffin-sized cubicle, whipped down my garments and, with a relieved groan let nature and gravity do the rest.

My part in Operation *hit and Run took mere moments; physically emptied but mentally ecstatic, I reassembled my combat fatigues, completed my ablutions and hurried back to my GPS screen.

My mission, alas, was not quite successfully accomplished: according to the GPS, ‘bums away’ was off target by a fraction, meaning that my frozen payload would have missed Georgia’s Trump-loving Myrtle Beach resort by a mile.

As a result, the heavenly reward of eternal rest in paradise with 20,000 Virgin air miles was not, after all, meant to be mine. . .

Not so much a suicide bomber, more a seaside bummer. . .


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