Performed at the 1991 Cambridge Footlights Virgin Smoker

Sits in a chair, passing items in front of an imaginary barcode reader

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Imaginary item misses code—repasses it once or twice, then:

Beep! Four pounds ninety-three, please. Thank you, have a nice day. Beep! Beep! Beep! Ninety-six p, please. Get stuffed, I hope your head falls off.

You know, I didn't really want to work as a supermarket checkout assistant. If it wasn't for the fact that they've chained us to these cash registers, I'd be out of here before you could say "4.95 this week only, save 3 p". The job's nothing at all like I expected. When I went for the interview I thought I was going to be someone really important, like... an astronaut.

Yeah... they're bloody great, astronauts. I've wanted to be one for as long as I can remember. My hero when I was a kid was Neil Armstrong. I used to have this big poster on my door of Neil in his spacesuit, saying those famous words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for an African tree-frog." And my favourite song was that David Bowie one—you know—"Ground control to Major Tom... Make sure you've got your y-fronts on."

It used to get me into all sorts of problems when I was a kid, this wanting to be an astronaut. For a start, I wouldn't eat anything unless it came in a tube. For years I lived on evaporated milk and banana toothpaste. After a while my parents had to force-feed me raw pork-fat just to get my protein levels back up.

Then there was that time I climbed into the washing-machine and pretended it was a space-station. It would have been okay if I hadn't put it onto "spin" to simulate artificial gravity.

At school, when all the other kids were learning to count to ten, I was counting down from ten... (Mission control voice) "9... 8... 7... holding at 7... we have a temporary glitch at 7, Mission Control". Out in the playground, other kids would come up and ask, "Hey Rory, you wanna play football?" and I'd say "No thanks, mate...(starts to spacewalk into the air) I'm just going for a quick spacewalk". All the other kids used to call me "spacehead". (Except this really big tough kid, he used to call me "fuckface".) They made jokes and things... even about me, sometimes. But I didn't care. I had this "Right Stuff" kind of attitude—"Hey! I'm the BEST, okay? I'm going into space! I'm going to be circling the EARTH, right? And when I'm up there I'm gonna shit on you from a great height—earth-lubbers!"... I used to get beaten up quite a lot at school.

But the dream never left me; I still wanted to be an astronaut. Even when the space programme ran into problems, like when the space shuttle exploded. I'll never forget that day—March the 3rd, 1983. I was still just a kid, at home playing with my "2001: A Space Odyssey Astronaut's Mind-Expansion Kit", which basically consisted of a pocket calculator with "HAL 2000" stamped on it and a few tabs of LSD. I'd just dropped one of the tabs to get that surrealistic "journey into space" effect from the end of the film, when Dad came in and said "I just heard on the radio... the Challenger's blown up". And I thought... "Herring custard in a green titanium fishbowl."

Later on, of course, I realised the implications of the space shuttle disaster for my hopes of becoming an astronaut. But I didn't give up. I finished taking my A-levels in counting backwards and zero-gravity exercise routines, and I hung on to my dream.

Then a few months ago I saw this ad in the paper: "Do you want exciting, stimulating work with excellent prospects and a good rate of pay? Do you want to work on the cutting edge of modern technology? Have you got 'the right stuff'?" Bloody hell, I thought, they're advertising for astronauts! Before you could say "we have liftoff" I'd caught the bus down to the place mentioned in the advert: "J.S.P.L.C." Must be some sort of front organisation for NASA, I figured. I guess I should have been suspicious when the only question they asked in the interview was "Can you count?" Can I count!, I said. (Mission Control voice) "10... 9... 8... "

"Yeah, you'll do," they said, and before I knew it (throws up hands)—here I was. Chained to a cash register... passing endless foodstuffs in front of "the cutting edge of modern technology"... lights out at nine p.m., fed and watered twice daily. Sigh.

If you should see Neil Armstrong out there—you know, just space-walking down the street or something—could you give him a quick "Come in Apollo, this is Houston Control" for me? Just for old times' sake?

He'd like that.

Returns to passing stuff in front of barcode reader.

Beep! Beep! Beep!


First performed at the Cambridge Footlights Virgin Smoker, October 1991; later performed with Three Men and a Penguin, Cambridge Playroom, January 1992.
This page: 6 February 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©1991, 2000 Rory Ewins