Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Not Going Metric

The survival of the pound and the pint is a curious outcome. Metrication was an issue that seemed deliberately designed to inflame British europhobia. Feelings were inflamed still further when the grocer Steve Thorburn went to trial for using imperial weights and then, in an inspired move, died, thus justifying the satisfyingly memorable term Metric Martyr, though there is no evidence his heart attack was actually caused by a kilogram. Since we now seem to have a man - Gunter Verheugen - whose job is to improve the EU's reputation among its members,  it was inevitable Brussels would back down and let us carry on with our quaint ways. I found it hard to care about this until I came across something called the UK Metric Association. These clowns describe themselves as 'campaigning for a single rational system of measurement'. It's the word 'campaigning' that gets me. There are people who think the metric system is worth a 'campaign' - all Steve Thorburn was campaigning for was freedom. The words 'get', 'a' and 'life' spring to mind. At a stroke the UKMA's web site, particularly it's superlatively dumb 'About' page,  has converted me. Aux armes, citoyens! Britain will not find peace until the last kilogram is drowned in the blood of the last metre!


  1. but surely he was an Imperial Martyr?

    well, as someone who had to learn both SI and imperial systems simultaneously, I know which I prefer. keep it simple, stupid.

  2. What's rational about metric? A 10-based sytem give you only 2 factors (5 and 2), a 12-based system gives you 4 (2, 3, 4 and 6) - more useful, more rational. If Mounseer Froggy had got there first, he'd have hung on to it and imposed it all over the EU. Note how prices are still given in Francs in France...

  3. Chairman Robin Paice said: "While we regret this proposal to prolong the current muddle of metric and imperial units, it will only delay but not stop the inevitable move toward all-metric shopping.

    ...There is no question of going backwards."

    Inevitable success is also assured on their website. Why would anyone donate their free time, money and energy to an outcome they needed to believe was inevitable? Talk about self-esteem issues.

  4. So,ething deeply satisfying about the epither "Metric Martyr".

  5. nige: What's rational is that it uses a single numeric base, rather than rubbish like 16 for the ounces to pound ratio but 14 for the pound to stone one, and that it's the same numeric base as the numbering system.

    And calling for full implementation of the metric system is not at all sad. The metric system is in widespread use in this country and it's what is taught in schools. The Imperialist myth that the metric system is something foreign and being imposed on the UK is absurd. It is a system in use and it is the retention of imperial units as a sole measure that causes problems as people don't know how much they're buying.

    Fully switching to a single rational system would also help tackle innumeracy in this country, in the same way that rates of dyslexia are lower in countries where the language uses a more phonetic spelling.

  6. Tim:

    Everything you say about the merits of the metric system is, I've no doubt, true.

    But it is also utterly irrelevant to the British resistance to its introduction.

    If we're going to convert to metric, then we'll do it because we want to and in our own sweeeeeet time, thank you very much Monsieur.

  7. Tim, you're wasting your time. a lot of these guys still believe in the great white bearded one and I'm sure the two mindsets are not unrelated.

  8. Good point, ian. Hey Tim, how many cubits high is your house?

  9. Brit: The thing is we already have started converting. At school I was only ever taught in the metric system. Many, many people in this country do not truly understand imperial measurements.

    Opponents of full metrication aren't succeeding in going to a US style where the metric system is used in the technical community. What opponents of full metrication are creating is a mishmash of systems.

    And it's all very well to talk of choice but in many cases it's not a choice but a predetermined decision. For example signs on public roads displaying distances need to use one system and that requires government to make up its mind on the matter. In turn that requires the education system to teach that unit of measurement.

    Peter: Pass. This is a four storey building so I reckon it's about fourteen metres high.

  10. Tim: yes, there's nothing wrong with the metric system at all.

    If Brussels hadn't demanded that we convert, we might even have done so fully by now.

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  12. We want to GO Metric NOW.
    WE want to remove the old measuring system and