Britain’s Metric Imperial System..

P1010172‘Sherry?’ asked my mother at Christmas. ‘Just an eighth of an inch,’ replied my grandmother, wrestling with this blatant abuse of alcohol. An eighth of an inch? I thought we’d gone metric in the UK. Maybe this is a generational thing.

So in a bar the other evening, I asked a woman in her mid-twenties how tall she is. ‘Five foot six,’ she answered. ‘What’s that in centimetres?’ I continued. ‘No idea,’ she said curtly, cottoning on that there wasn’t a pint of gin and tonic to be had out of me, that it was indeed a genuine question rather than a prelude to a one-night stand.

Metric vs Imperial

P1010170Let’s get this straight, then. We teach metric in schools, but the second a pupil is released into the real world, he or she has to learn the imperial system of units and measures. Yes, carpenters are now starting to talk in centimetres, rather than saying two inches by one, but how far away is the job? Let’s say eighteen miles each way. Miles? Ah, that conveniently simple measurement of 1760 yards..

Well, let’s price the job; diesel, as you probably know, isn’t cheap. We’ll say, for argument’s sake, that the van does thirty-eight miles to the gallon. So how much is a gallon of fuel? Ah, therein lies the difficulty: both petrol and diesel are sold in litres. Stop grimacing, it’s perfectly simple. Go and get a scrap of paper and a pencil.

P1010169Now, eighteen miles return is thirty-six miles. Times that by five for the working week. Now bear in mind that a UK gallon constitutes 4.5461 litres…and, yes, you may just as well factor in that the van driver’s name is Dave. Need a drink yet? You’ve got a choice of a Queen Anne gallon of wine (231 cubic inches), or one eighth of a Winchester bushel of beer.

Units of alcohol

As you can see, we do like to make things as awkward as possible in the UK, selling fuel in litres, but beer in pints. Wine comes in millilitres, I’m told – it comes from one of those foreign places called France – but we prefer to ask simply how many bottles you’ll be needing. And then when you want to weigh yourself? Yes, we use that widely accepted measurement of sixteen ounces equalling a pound. Times that by fourteen and you’ve got a stone. I mean, how much simpler could it be?P1010168

To wit, ‘Working in base 10 hasn’t made children any cleverer,’ avers my father, that insightful font to which I am occasionally drawn for inspiration. ‘The only noticeable shift is faster thumbs from texting.’ Well, there, in  0.7 of a fluid ounce, I think you have it.

Rather extraordinary that London is still in charge of the world clock, I think..

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