On the one year anniversary of the poo that grounded a plane, what have we learned? How, collectively, have we grown?
In quiet moments, it gets to me. In the middle of the night, when the light is blue and black, I'm there with my eyes bolt open, thinking about it. Thinking: What happened to you, Person Who Did a Shit So Bad on a British Airways Plane That It Had to Turn Around and Come Back Again? Prithee: When did thine shits return back to normal? And then I think: if I am thinking about the Person Who Did a Shit So Bad on a British Airways Plane That It Had to Turn Around and Come Back Again, what is the Person Who Did a Shit So Bad On a British Airways Plane That It Had to Turn Around and Come Back Again thinking? Are they thinking about that shit? More to the point: Are there ever any moments when he's not thinking about the shit he did, the one that landed the plane? Do their cheeks still glow with the furnace of embarrassment? Or does life go on? How long until they could sit down comfortably again?
A year ago today, the most-shared headline I've ever written goes, Someone Did a Shit So Bad On a British Airways Plane That It Had to Turn Around and Come Back Again. This is a fact. This happened. The plane was going from Heathrow to Dubai, but 30 minutes in, it had to turn around and come back. This was because someone did some damage to the plane bathroom using their butt and butt hole, and it was considered a safety hazard to keep flying, because the butt crime was in danger of poisoning the air. A British Airways (BA) employee known only as "Sarah," to the BBC, at the time of the incident: "When you're up at that altitude the cabin has to be pressurized so the problem is that anything like that is actually a health and safety problem because only 50 percent of the air is being recycled and cleaned." Tory councillor Abhishek Sachdev, a passenger who was delayed 15 hours waiting for the next flight to Dubai after the incident, euphoric on re-pumped turd air: "Insane. Our BA flight to Dubai returned back to Heathrow because of a smelly poo in the toilet." This shit changed people's lives. This shit ruined vacations and launched media careers. This shit was talked about.
In the grand scheme of things, this bad shit is more significant than many of us, and yes, I include myself in that. And yet the name of the shit doer remains a mystery.
This just makes me think about the person who did the shit ever more, about who they might be and what they might be feeling. This is what has been keeping me occupied for 12 straight months, attempting to profile them in my head for a year. What I have so far is:
i. The shit-doer is almost certainly a man. Listen: I have been trying to brush up on my feminism, I really have. And one central tenet of feminism seems to be: Do not assume men are the answer to everything. It is so entrenched that a man should do job x, or head up team y, or do shit z in airplane bathroom α, and we need to rail against that ingrained assumption, we need to think bigger. We need to consider that women are involved just as much, if not more so. But in this instance, I refuse to believe a woman did a shit so bad it made a plane fall to the ground. I have been in a bathroom after men. I have been into a bathroom after women. A man did this shit, with his man anus;
ii. You have to assume that the shit-doer was having a subnormal digestion day. Somebody with a long-standing poo disease—the kind that can render an airplane bathroom medically inadvisable in ten minutes flat—is not going to get on a seven-hour flight to Dubai. They are going to get a train somewhere for their vacations, nothing more exotic than that. Anything more than an hour from home is dangerous territory. They are going to bring their own supply of water because they do not trust the water supply wherever they are going. But the BA Heathrow–Dubai shitter, in my opinion, was not expecting this to happen out of their body in any way at all. They were hungover, or something. They went to someone's house and had chicken the day before, and it was pink in the middle, but they were too polite to say something. Nothing too unordinary. But then: then something unordinary came out of them, at high speed, and got up and indeed around the toilet they were aiming for, and grounded a plane for 15 hours;
iii. I like to imagine the moment of sheer panic the shit-doer had to experience post-shit when they realized that the plane toilet was ill-equipped to mop up what they had done to anything close to a satisfactory level. Were there people waiting outside the bathroom door that they had to play through-the-door chicken with? You know the game: You have to leave the bathroom, but you've done a life-changing and un-cleanable shit in it, and people are waiting but their patience will only run to about eight minutes or so, so you just sit there—perfect silence, single bead of sweat undulating on the end of your nose—and you wait it out, in your poo prison, the absolute lowest moment of your life, until they leave;
iv. How do you live your life after an incident such as this? How do you even make it to Dubai? You turn up a day later than expected, and everyone who is meeting you there has heard about the poo plane. "Were you on it?" they're saying, desperately. "Did you see who did the poo?" And you laugh nervously and say: "No." And then you try and enjoy your week in Dubai with the sun and sand and excess, but you can't—you can't relax unless you're within 100 feet of a bathroom, you can't sleep without reimagining yourself back in that cubicle. The flight home is shitless hell. And then you get home, back to your base toilet, but nothing feels the same anymore. Are... are you afraid to shit? You are. The last time you shat it grounded a plane. Nothing will be the same again, now. You will carry this boulder around with your forever;
You would be right to think: Hold on, Joel, do you not exactly fit the profile of the poo bandit? You do seem to know a lot about this mythical person. Are you not a man in a panic, capable of doing a shit? I am all of those things and more. But I am not the poo bandit. I am just a man who has spent a full year inhabiting a mental space where a poo bandit can live, trying to understand them from the inside out, from every angle, from mouth to asshole. I feel like I understand the poo bandit better than they understand themselves. If you line up every person who was on that flight from Heathrow to Dubai, and let me look them each in the eye, I would tell you who done the shat. I would look at the pain and the fear and the weakness inherent within them and say: "This, this is the shitter. This man did the shit."
If you are reading this, anonymous plane-shitter, know that you are forgiven. That you made a mistake, but that we all do. A year ago you did a shit. A shit that affected the fundamental workings of a multi-million pound aircraft, but a simple shit nonetheless. We all do this. We all make mistakes. Let he who is without sin—let he who hath not had six pints of Guinness then a curry the night before an intercontinental flight—cast the first stone. Be at peace, plane shitter. Put that poop to bed.
Follow Joel on Twitter.