Triangulation is a tactic in chess and a strategy in currency speculation - “strategy” might be overdoing it, but I like the tactic/strategy progression. Triangulation can be manipulative; it can be a method of helping one person through another. Finally, triangulation is the art of drawing lines and triangles and thereby deciding where you are. It’s that last meaning that interests us now. Interests me, anyway (the post discussing the linguistic trick whereby the word “is” the thing will have to wait for another day). Triangulation is what navigators do when they want to know where they are - in the narrow geographical sense of finding out where their boat is on the map.
We’re being serious today. They go up on deck with a gadget - in my day, it was a protractor and a piece of string, but Form One was only ever interested in the height of the tree on the far side of the playground. Form One never sailed the high seas and they don’t fit here, but I remember their faces and it’s nice of them to drop by. Navigators go up on deck, extinguish any fires that might be burning, then use their gadget to work out where “magnetic north” is on the horizon. There’s also true north, if I remember rightly, but that, er, plays you false if you’re finding your place off a shallow rock-infested coastline. True north lacks the magnetism, the sheer charisma, of magnetic - sorry. This is a serious blog post about a thirteen-letter word. We’ll put a lid on that one right now. To continue.
[But just quickly - digression - isn’t it a shame that we can’t repurpose the term “angle grinder” for navigation? It would fit so well.]
To continue. Yes. The boy stands on the recently extinguished deck, aligning his gadget with magnetic north, and then, because this is also an equal-opportunity blog post, he consults with the girl standing on the slightly less blackened part of the deck, and the man and woman, and the representatives of the several ethnic minorities on board, and they all agree as to which of the symbols from the Ordnance Survey map they’re going to seek out on the rocky coast to the left.
Port. Left. Not starboard, not dead ahead. Port out, starboard home, as the saying goes, or at least went, and we’ll assume that they’re heading up the right-hand side of the map with the rocky coastline to their port. They’re all standing there, feet pleasantly warm, clutching the day’s first mugs of tea/coffee, and as the horizon lightens with the coming sunrise, they can see that during the night, the horizon has changed from the endless straight-line flatness of the open ocean, to the rocky immediacy of the coastline.
Port is where the land is supposed to be, and it’s there. That’s a relief, actually. There is at least one person still in the wheelhouse (one or two of them had wondered, seeing the crowd on deck; the wheelhouse isn’t lit now, and it’s difficult to see inside). The sails are flapping a bit, but the engine is running and the crowded little boat with the still-warm deck is moving forward nicely. They just need to know how far up the blue bit of the map they’ve come since last time they got out the gadgets. It was a dark and stormy night, obviously, last night, with lots of storytelling, and keeping track of progress hasn’t been easy. “Triangulation,” they mutter to each other, uneasily. “We need to do some triangulation.”
You're losing it again. So, having found magnetic north, they work out the angle from the boat to the Triangulation Pillar they can just make out through the mist, and then, as the sun rises, the man with the eye patch and the tricorn hat and the wooden leg and the parrot on his shoulder (I thought he was with you) raises his hand and points. “I see a sign!” he cries, and sure enough, it’s the Windmill With Or Without Sails they had been expecting. Leaving a small group arguing over whether they’re actually going to see a Graticule Intersection At 5’ Intervals and what it will look like if they do, they go inside and draw lines on the map. Somebody uses the words “reciprocal”, but everybody else pretends not to hear.
And there they are. On the map. A point at the intersection of straight lines, beating on, moving under power, going with the current, borne forward ceaselessly into the future. I’m better at navigation than I thought I was. I took a course once, with a Dutch guy, but flunked it. [Note. It is characteristic of this author that he embeds half-references to other works in his writing. Here, for example, we hear an echo of F Scott Fitzgerald, and this is followed by a rather clumsy attempt to pack in a reference to the legend of the Flying Dutchman. In some tellings of that story, the captain of the doomed ship is heard to ask a young crew member (unidentified), as they both walk up the gangplank to embark for the last time, “What’s the protractor for?” But this is a recent addition.] They never did find the ship. I told him he needed a piece of string.
A happy ending would be nice, at least? And there we leave the little boat, sailing up the rocky coast, low in the water, crowded with its multitude of peoples on board, course set, somebody holding the wheel, headed for the beach where it will beach, ha ha, tipping sideways at the last moment because nobody thought to retract the keel, leaving everybody to wade ashore, the last of humanity, come to this deserted island (with only its weird profusion of Ordnance Survey landmark buildings and structures to suggest that it had ever been inhabited) in this post-apocalyptic fable spun out of the word “triangulation”, to move into the (okay, there’s also a village) deserted cottages, farmsteads, corner shops and Selected Places of Tourist Interest, to begin again, but this time without conflict or plastic bags.
Triangulation is also the thing you do when you emerge from an embarrassing little panic about a laptop glitch (keep calm and clear the cache) to find that (a) you have a Second Website, and (b) the template for your Second Website shows a clutch of little blog posts with pictures at the top - all of which (c) put you in mind of book covers with blurbs underneath. If we imagine those thoughts as the metaphorical lines on an imaginary map, then we can probably get away with suggesting that the “You are here!” point at the intersection looks remarkably like the kind of cartoon idea-lightbulb that would carry with it the inspiration for an entire - but I’ll tell you later. Watch this space, that space, and come to think of it, tonight’s the night for the fireworks at the end of Falmouth Week. Watch them too, if you’re here.
The scientist is Gus Speth, and the remark attributed to him is: "I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with thirty years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don't know how to do that."
For a ghost of a moment, I thought that we, the people were at fault for not being rational agents, and for an even smaller unit of time I thought of that Brecht poem about the government dissolving the people, but then I thought: this is realism. This is factoring in a variable that wasn't quite so accurately factored in before. I find that Gus Speth is the author of a memoir, Angels by the River (James Gustave Speth, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014), and a number of other books.
I think the time has come for me to start reading Gus Speth.