Thursday, January 19, 2012

The alien from planet Ogle

Thought-provoking stuff on the telly this week. And not just the puzzle about how Sherlock apparently fell to his death from a roof, only to reappear, large as life and twice as natural, snooping on the mourners at his own graveside.

No,what we’re talking about here is Stargazing Live, in which the BBC gathers the talents of a Brian (Cox) and a Briain (Dara O) and rambles on engagingly for an hour or two about black holes, white dwarfs, red giants and purple haze.

And exoplanets. Which, in case you didn’t know, are planets that orbit suns other than our own. They’re being discovered by the bucketload and the hope is that eventually we’ll find one capable of supporting life.

Once we find it, though, the question is how would we communicate with it? And how would it communicate with us?

Picture the scene. After aeons roaming the interstellar void, a mission from planet OGLE-2-TR-L9b (Ogle to the natives) reaches Earth, mistakes Bath for a landing site and touches down in the Circus, singeing the plane trees and rattling the windows of the great and good.

A delegation of dignitaries is dispatched from the Guildhall to greet the alien visitors.

Resplendent in the chains trappings of office, they huff and puff their way up Gay Street, at the top of which a small crowd has gathered in search of what passes for excitement in that part of Bath.

As the wheezing worthies crest the hill, an aperture opens in the side of the Oglian vessel and a jelly-like heptapod steps forth.

The chief dignitary greets it (or him, or her) through the mayoral megaphone: “Greetings, traveller, and welcome to the fair city of Bath, where we hope...”

“Kraark! Snerp! Whopple!” interjects the Oglian, its upper sensory organ glowing a nasty shade of magenta. “Fargle bork nootpad! Engle frickly!”

The creature seems angry. But how, not speaking Oglian, can the ermined dignitary make it realise that we earthlings are friendly?

Suddenly, a little girl rushes forward from the crowd, a daffodil in her hand. “Pingle neep ferossle noobly,” she pipes. “Nimmy nom flibble, mar lar par!”

At once the alien’s demeanour softens. The hideous magenta glow fades to neutral blue, the alien says “Flork” and a new era of interstellar friendship is born.

So how did the girl speak Oglian? Well, she didn’t. She was, in fact, revising for Year One phonics.

Which involves six-year-old children reading out 20 invented “pseudo-words”, like “Bribble” and “Glink” and “Bleck”, in order to assess their reading skills.

Sounds bonkers? As bonkers as a state-funded King James Bible for every pupil? As bonkers as an equally state-funded Royal Yacht?

When education secretary Michael Gove has a hand in all three projects, you can never be sure.

But if it saves us from alien invasion, then it’s just possible he’s on to something. So grarp nally froop, as they say on Ogle. You know it makes sense.

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