by David Jones
More than 40 years after decimalisation, a substantial portion of the population still can’t get their heads around the metric system.
We have a bizarre mish-mash of metric and imperial measures, almost as though we wanted to be part of Europe but not quite.
Let’s be honest, most of us were dragged kicking and screaming into the metric age.
Today, you have to be 50-plus to have any detailed memory of imperial measures at all. We all knew this foreign nonsense would be a good excuse for us to be ripped off.
Here’s a case in point. If a quarter (that’s 4oz to us oldsters) of sherbet lemons cost one shilling before decimalisation, they still cost 5p (the equivalent of a shilling) for 100 grams after decimalisation.
But 100 grams is only just over 3.5oz (or should I say three-and-a-half?) yet predictably, the price of sherbet lemons did not come down to 4p for 100 grams.
Admittedly, the world does not revolve around sherbet lemons, but profiteering of this kind was widespread after D-Day in 1971.
Most products, by law, have to be advertised in kilos and grams, with pounds and ounces occasionally as the support act in small print.
But 40 years on there is still confusion and an ingrained suspicion of the metric system.
I realise these anomalies have been around for a long time and that I am not making any dramatically new revelations. But the continuing absurdity of it all came home to me as I was stuck in a traffic jam right opposite a pizza takeaway the other day and noticed a poster advertising two 10in pizzas for the price of one, 10in being a standard pizza size.
So why are pizza sizes still in inches? And take laptop screens. They are measured in inches. Why? I can’t find the answer to that one, either.
Even in France, the spiritual home of the metre and the centimetre, laptop screens are paradoxically measured in inches, though the word “pouce” is used instead of “inch.”
No doubt Gallic pride prevented the French from using “inch,” so they had to find another French-sounding word as a substitute. But a “pouce” is a unit of measurement equivalent to an inch. Possibly the answer is that the “inch” is the industry norm for computer screen sizes, but it’s yet another anomaly.
A quick study of supermarket food shelves reveals still more oddities. Packs of burgers labelled as “quarter pounders” can be found on sale, presumably because this is a “traditional” size and for the more common sense reason that “113.5 grammers” would sound daft.
As if to confuse still further, the total weight of the pack is given in grams – 454 to be precise.
And of course the pint of beer is sacrosanct. Mess with that and we’d have to declare war on Brussels.
The point I am making here is that some things cry out to be measured in feet and inches. In the real world, when was the last time you met anyone who said they were 1.8 metres tall or weighed 63 kilos?
The only concession I will make is to admit that centimetres are more accurate when it comes to DIY.
A measurement of one and seven eighth inches by five and three eighths is likely to result in a brain seizure for individuals like me for whom such calculations have always been as baffling as the origins of the universe.
DIY aside, this mass of contradictions will, I fear, continue until Old Codgers like me have departed this earth.
Then feet, inches, pounds, even pints, will probably be consigned to ancient history.