Backwards

I started at primary school in 1969. All the weights and measures taught to me were metric. Yet I had to grow up in a world where some things were being measured using a logical system, and others by some system originally set out by the Anglo-Saxons. Britain had decided to metricate in 1966 yet why, nearly half a century on, are we still messing with our children’s brains by mixing measurement systems?

The EU referendum was apparently about “taking back control”. From what or whom was never really explained. We buy our beer and milk in pints (take a look at a milk container, and notice the bizarre measure in metric). Jam jars are still half a pound, but labelled as 454g. Two pounds of sugar is really a kilogram, but it’s close enough the unreconstructed imperialists don’t moan about it—probably because they are getting a quarter pound extra!

Has the EU forced us to drive in the right? Have we been forced to change all our road signs to show metric? I wish they had, but that’s another story. (NEWSFLASH! Our roads, railways, airports, docks and even homes have been constructed using metric weights and measures since at least the 1960s. Those countdown markers to motorway exit slips? They’re set at 100 metre intervals. SOS phones were always 1000 metres apart. We live in a world measured by the metric system whether we like it or not.)

Go to a DIY emporium and buy some timber. It’s measured in metric, but still effectively imperial. Chipboard comes in sheets 1220mm by 607mm, because that’s all but 4 ft by 2ft in old money. A 1.8m length of two-by-one is a 6ft length of 50x25mm… there I go again!

We were eventually persuaded to let diesel and petrol be dispensed by the litre. But let’s not forget those who insist that loose vegetables should be sold by the pound.

The thing is, even after all these years, I get confused by imperial measures. Ask me how many ounces to the pound, or pounds to the stone and I’m lost. Is it 12 or 14 pounds to the stone? Twenty ounces to the pound? Ack! I get inches, feet and yards, but how many feet or yards in a mile? How big is an acre? Don’t get me started on thousandths of an inch, gallons or fluid ounces either. You may as well ask me to weigh something using a sperm whale. By contrast, metric is logical. It uses base 10, and things divide up easily. The smallest practical measure of length is the millimetre; a thousand make a metre, and a thousand metres make a kilometre. The same with weights and volumes: 1000 grammes is a kilogramme, a thousand kilogrammes is tonne; a thousand millilitres make a litre.

The only other country that insists on sticking with imperial measures is the United States. Like us, they too appear to have voted to head back to the 1950s. In reality, we’ve been metric for decades—indeed, the metric system is an international standard used by every scientist out there, even in the good ol’ U S of A—but we continue to cling to imperial measures for some unfathomable reason. A thin veneer of something hiding a reality with which some people seem unable to come to terms. Brexit in a nutshell.