I've always been very interested in things that the British do very badly, its not a small category once you start looking into it. One of the things I think we are particularly rubbish at, is space travel. When I was young I was of that generation that wanted to become an astronaut and had great hopes for the British space programme, and that I might be part of it, but every time we launched a rocket it seemed to blow up on the launch pad. It was more like watching somebody setting a firework off, in a back garden, in Lincolnshire. There is, I think, somewhere in England - I've seen signs for it on the motorway - a 'National Space Centre'. What ...

I've always been very interested in things that the British do very badly, its not a small category once you start looking into it. One of the things I think we are particularly rubbish at, is space travel. When I was young I was of that generation that wanted to become an astronaut and had great hopes for the British space programme, and that I might be part of it, but every time we launched a rocket it seemed to blow up on the launch pad. It was more like watching somebody setting a firework off, in a back garden, in Lincolnshire. There is, I think, somewhere in England - I've seen signs for it on the motorway - a 'National Space Centre'. What can possibly be in there? Space, I guess.

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The English Astronaut

He splashed down in rough seas off Spurn Point.
I watched through a coin-op telescope jammed
with a lollipop stick as a trawler fished him out
of the waves and ferried him back to Mission
Control on a trading estate near the Humber
Bridge. He spoke with a mild voice: yes, it was
good to be home; he’d missed his wife, the kids,
couldn’t wait for a shave and a hot bath. ‘Are
there any more questions?’ No, there were not.
I followed him in his Honda Accord to a Little
Chef on the A1, took the table opposite, watched
him order the all-day breakfast and a pot of tea.
‘You need to go outside to do that,’ said the
waitress when he lit a cigarette. He read the
paper, started the crossword, poked at the black
pudding with his fork. Then he stared through
the window for long unbroken minutes at a time,
but only at the busy road, never the sky. And his
face was not the moon. And his hands were not
the hands of a man who had held between finger
and thumb the blue planet, and lifted it up to his
watchmaker’s eye.

from Seeing Stars (Faber, 2011), © Simon Armitage 2011, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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