Saturday, 18 October 2008

Metric Madness to Stop!

Now I give you fair warning, this one is a bit of a rambling rant, getting a lot of things off my chest so to speak. So unless you're in it for the long haul, stop now.

Last September Brussels abandoned its policy of forcing Britain to sell food using only metric measurements. For some reason best known to themselves, some councils still persisted in prosecuting traders for selling their goods in imperial measurements and not metric.

Ye gods! As if they hadn’t more important things to worry about like reducing council tax, improving schools and school meals, improving leisure facilities, homes for the aged etc. Let’s face it, the list is endless. However thank goodness sanity is prevailing in this country and the government is going to introduce guidelines to prevent local authorities taking traders who sell food in imperial measurements to court. Apparently John Denham, the Innovation Secretary (what on earth is that?), said:

"It is hard to see how it is in the public interest, or in the interests of consumers, to prosecute small traders who have committed what are essentially minor offences."

Well now, it doesn’t take a Ph.D in logic to work that one out, does it? Good grief! Is it me that’s being thick here? Can someone tell me why on earth has it taken two governments over thirty years and a number of court cases for them to see the light?

Remember the Ministry of Silly Walks in Monty Python? Well I think somewhere in Whitehall, there must be a Ministry of Silly Weights and Measures. Well a Department as they call them now, much posher than Ministries. There’s probably a think tank too, they always have them. They generally come up with the blindingly obvious or the absolutely stupid. Unfortunately the things that they usually recommend are the absolutely stupid that cost a fortune, the professionals tell them it won’t work and they ignore them. After all government researchers and civil servants always know better than the professionals, don’t they?

I once had the cheek to ask a very senior civil servant who was trying to justify cutting a large section of a department, how he knew enough to be able to do that (he came from a totally different government department). I could do that as I didn't work for the department and had been called in as an objective witness during the farce they called a consultation process. Anyway he said “Oh we just go on a steep learning curve!" Steep learning curve my bum, he was just a hit man sent in. That pratt knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Getting back to local councils, you’d think that they would have better things to do with our hard earned mammoth council tax payments than take petty European Law infringements to court. In any case, it’s such a mess because there’s no consistency in metric application. If you buy a computer or TV, the screen is measured in inches, the road signs still have distances in miles on them and the speeds are all in miles per hour. Well that’s another thing, the speed signs just have numbers in a red circle. They are miles per hour but how are tourists and anyone else expected to know that? Oh we’re all psychic, that’s it.

So why did they go berserk on weights? Are there some council employees totally obsessed with metric measurements, wandering round our shops and pouncing on poor local shopkeepers to check whether they're selling their potatoes by the pound or the kilo? As if the shopkeepers didn't have enough problems competing with the giant supermarkets! These people would have been better employed checking out the horrendously dangerous toys imported every year, usually from China! Now that would have been useful.

Our council, Sunderland, was the first council in the country to take a market trader to court over this. What a wonderful thing to be famous or rather notorious for. Have to say I‘m watching how they spend my Council Tax more closely now.

I know they’ve been teaching metric in schools since the seventies and my children (38 and 35) along with millions of others haven’t a clue what a yard or a pound looks like. Mind you a lot of them wouldn’t know how many grams there are in a kilo either.

However the majority of people in the UK do know their yards feet and inches. Most of us still want to buy our fruit by the pound, not the kilo and our petrol by the gallon, not the litre. I think that petrol prices are shown in litres to deliberately disguise the real cost. If we bothered to convert it to gallons we’d all have heart attacks. Now if my maths is right, that’s nearly £4 a gallon. Maybe we’d be rioting at the petrol pumps if we saw the price per gallon. No, I think not! We’re too lethargic.

I often wonder what it would take to get us British off our behinds and start shouting. We just sit and mutter and moan instead of doing something about what’s irritating us. I’m guilty; I stand in queues muttering inwardly about people jumping the queue in shops and in pubs. Well mainly on holiday in Greece and Spain where some nationalities just haven’t grasped the fairness of “taking your turn”. Mind you, my theory is that we British cultivated queuing to a fine art during the war and we haven’t lost the habit. If we see a queue we think we're missing out on something.

Councils often make decisions that go against everything they’re saying they’re for. For example over the past five years they’ve installed new street lights in about 75% of the area where I live. We had one outside our house which seemed perfectly OK to me but they renewed it and installed more lights than we originally had in the street. Apparently it reduces crime and makes people feel safer which is fair enough. However they've also installed lots of new lights on main roads that have never been lit before. I don't know why they need them, they're straight dual carriageways. I thought they were trying to reduce carbon emissions. You can't do both. Now I’m really sounding like a grumpy old git!

Getting back to the mad metric scenario, it’s not like the traders are trying to rip us off. If that was happening, most of us would be more likely to see that in imperial than metric. You can visualise what two pounds look and feel like. I can anyway! Well I should, for the first forty years of my life it was a bag of sugar. I remember a trip to Brittany many moons ago when we wanted to buy some pate (in the days when I still ate meat). I had to work out how to buy a portion. Well it was a small place with no supermarkets and the locals either spoke no English or refused to. I never found out which but probably the latter.

All I wanted to buy was enough for us to eat with a baguette for lunch. Now at home I would have asked for about a quarter of a pound but I hadn’t a clue what that would be in metric. Added to that was the problem I only spoke about 6 words of French which I had picked up that week. I learned Latin and Spanish at school which was a fat lot of good in Brittany!

Now I don’t go in for sign language, so I had to speak. I guessed that pate was also pate in French. No flies on me! Two of the words I knew were medio and kilo. Yes, that’s what I did, ask for half a kilo of pate. The woman serving looked at me as though I were a loony. No wonder! Little did I know I was asking for over a pound, anyway we ate it all. When I think about it, that could have been the trigger for me giving up eating meat.

Well needless to say we’ve never been back to France! It’s a beautiful country I know, but apart from other issues I have, the drivers are all lunatics. Calais was sheer unadulterated hell. Since then, if we’ve ever gone on a self catering holiday we’ve stuck to Spain and gone by air. Can’t be done with the driving on the wrong side of the road. Too risky having to rely on children shouting “keep to the right” every time you come out of a garage or onto a main road. Anyway you can get to Barcelona by air in the time it takes you to drive to London and for the cost of petrol down to Dover. So what's the point in taking the car, too time consuming, expensive and risky. They have fantastic fresh food in local markets and supermarkets in Spain. You can just pick up what you want and for the things you can't pick up, I get by with my appalling Spanish. The locals go out of their way to help if you try to speak their lingo. They’re amazed and delighted that at least one English person doesn’t expect everyone in the world to speak English for them and even if my Spanish is pathetic, it makes them smile. I probably sound like the Englishman posing as a gendarme in ‘Allo, ‘Allo saying Good Moaning instead of Good Morning.

Now that I’ve decided to take up quilting again I hope that I can look forward to being able to buy my fabrics in yards and inches again. I won’t hold my breath though, it’ll probably take years to communicate to businesses that it’s OK now to sell in Imperial. After all there’s probably no one left working who knows Imperial measurements unless they’re over forty. And there’s another thing, why is this country so hell bent on applying European Law when other EU countries totally ignore it when it suits them? Take Spain and the fishing quotas, everyone knows they ignore them. Nothings happens about it. France blatantly ignored EU legislation over importing British beef. Nothing happened about it. So why do we always have to toe the line?

Maybe we have too many bureaucrats and jobsworths in the UK who when given a modicum of power it just goes straight to their heads. Unfortunately it doesn’t engage with their brains.

I like the quote below:

“A bureaucrat is the most despicable of men, though he is needed as vultures are needed, but one hardly admires vultures, whom bureaucrats so strangely resemble. I have yet to meet a bureaucrat who was not petty, dull, almost witless, crafty or stupid, an oppressor or a thief, a holder of little authority in which he delights, as a boy delights in possessing a vicious dog. Who can trust such creatures?”

Seems very appropriate and yet it came from Marcus Tullius Cicero nearly 2,000 years ago.

Funny isn’t it, no matter how much things change, some things remain the same.


  1. You go girl, I feel your pain.

  2. The conception of the metric system was a colossal blunder. They based it on something imaginary and arbitrary. They'd have had a better go of it if they had started with the quart instead of the liter... which is close to a quart but off. And the yard instead of the meter, which is close to a yard, but also off.

    A change to celsius/centigrade made no sense either: the Fahrenheit system is just a counting, is all.

  3. The French designed the Metric system and it seems to work in the rest of Europe where they've had it for yonks.

    It doesn't work here in the UK with such a mishmash of metric and imperial.

    Let's hope there's a return to sanity and Imperial weights measurement and Fahrenheit.

  4. Commonsense has prevailed I'm sure. A chum of mine called Warwick Cairns wrote a great book a couple of years ago called 'About the size of it' in which he discussed the whole weights and measures issue. It wasn't a 'Save the pound!' type anti-European polemic or some nationalistic rant. It was a simple explanation of how the weights and measures systems we know evolved. And guess what? Inches, feet, miles, pounds etc. are all based upon natural measures we find all around us or as parts of our bodies. A foot is the length of an average man's Size 9 show. Easy to visualise, eh? So how about a metre? Well, it's one millionth of a quarter circumference of the Earth North-South through the Paris meridian. Just as easy to visualise? I rest my case.

    As I say, common sense has prevailed (and this from a man who thinks we should join the Euro!).

  5. Er ... that should be 'average man's size 9 SHOE' ... I hope no one sees anything Freudian in my typo ...

  6. Hi Steve

    Thanks for this info.

    I was wondering about that size 9 show. Wondered if it was an acronym I hadn't heard of.

    I'll have a look for that book this week up at the library, sounds interesting and like you say easier to visualise these measurements. Bit like my quarter of pate!

    I sounded like a real grumpy old fart but it seems so daft having to issue guidelines on what not to do.

    I would prefer being in with the Euro too, it's been so much easier travelling apart from any other issues. It's going to end up with a pound being the same value as the Euro anyway so they may as well do it.

    I have no hang ups about losing the pound or even the monarchy once the Queen's gone but that's for another day.

  7. This sounds very confusing. I confuse easily so I would be lost in all of this. I still enjoyed your rant about it all though. Have a great day!

  8. Oi Veh, that metric system would confuse the heck out of me!

    I have some old cookbooks that belonged to my Grandma, (Hungarian) and all the ingredients are measured out on scales, like deka deci liter, etc. Can't make a hill of beans out of them. Our recipes simply say 1 cup, 1 tablespoon, 1 stick of butter, etc. But I imagine it's just something one is used to, or not. And I know even I sound confusing here, so I'd better stop.

    Have a great week.


  9. A well-written post. I agree with you about the need to stop procrastination. You can find more help at This website also has plenty of easy ways you can use to stop procrastination.

  10. Oh Winifred, you made me laugh. I know it isn't funny to you, but we have our own set of "stupid" problems here in the US. I loved this post.

    ~hippo hugs~

  11. Renie
    I use my Nanna's old cookbook too. Luckily it has all the Imperial measurements which are great. I use a website to convert any recipes that just have metric back to imperial.

    I do get stuck with American recipes. How do you know what size cup to use? Surely they're all different sizes. Oh yes, what's a stick of butter? Is it half a pound? I've got a few recipes from Bennie and Patsy that I'd like to try but I'll have to research first. That cup thing really has me puzzled!

    Jess, I've tried to look at your blog but nothing is showing. I know a couple of reasons why I procrastinate.
    One is now that I've retired I do the things I want to do first and put off those I don't like. Quite natural really.
    The other is I'm a perfectionist. I'm very critical of things I make and do, so I leave lots of things unfinished for ages. It's a fear really and I'm trying to overcome it and be a bit more laid back about my stuff.

    Brenda, I am very confused about the metric weights and measurements. I've tried to get to grips with them but have only partially succeeded. Maybe I'll just go back to using Imperial then when I come up against buying something that's metric I'll nicely suggest to whoever that there's no legal reason now why they can't do the same.

  12. Wow, you have waxed elequent and I hope your voice is heard far and wide. I've enjoyed reading your post and have learned quite a lot from size 9 man's show..I thought about that a minute and came up with an accent in writing? fun.

  13. In Metrics I don't know but here 1 cup is 8 ounces. hop that helps.

  14. A stick of butter is 1/2 cup or 8 tablespoons.

  15. Thanks for these answers Patsy.

    I've been doing a bit of research too and I've hit a problem.

    A cup is 8 ozs but it's only consistent for fluids. I found a great website which gives lots of information on converting measurements and checking ingredients
    It points out that there are problems with converting measurements for dry ingredients. So they give a chart to help.

    I was looking for a cup holding 8 fl ozs last night and I don't have one. Mine are all 10 ozs which is pretty standard apparently in the UK.

    I measured the amount in a jug that I hardly ever use. Not sure why, it just was there.

    When I filled up the jug to the 8 oz mark I noticed another measure. Guess what? It was cups! I checked my other jugs and this was the only one with a cup measure.

    So I'm all set now. I've got the jug and the chart!

    Thanks everybody.

  16. Good Morning Winifred! Live stitches are stitches still on the needle that haven't been bound off for a finished edge. This pattern edge was 12 stitches worked back and forth back up the needle..and every other used one of the twelve stitches and one of the 'live' sts. on the needle and knit them together like a decrease to join the edging. Cleverness! Do you knit? I do off and on...more now that I've got a wheel. face! I've always been anon on the net. sorry =) I"d better get busy here...I'm supposed to be getting the guest room ready for our daughter. So far...I've lugged an extra cello downstairs. Period. See what I mean...I'm just stuck in a tranquil 'mode'. I like it here...grin

  17. I wanted much to comment on your blog, but I'm not too technical. I do understand what happens when I purchase a liter of gin. Is there more?
    I'm kidding of course and I realize it's a serious subject. I always enjoy your writing; especially about I-Pods.

  18. Great post. One of the things I love in the USA is no metric. Despite being 42, I am afraid I never followed orders and converted!

    Now if you came here you could have imperial and tarantula's!

  19. Dear Winifred ~~ I understand what you are talking about. In Australia we went
    metric in everything many years ago - weights, measures and money and that took some getting used to and also in the back of my mind was the Imperial
    measures - inches and yards etc etc.

    Thank you so much for your nice comments about the stories and jokes I post.
    Take good care, Love, Merle.


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