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.

Blue Planet 2

What a fantastic series Blue Planet II has been.  The beautiful photography and wonderful presentation by David Attenborough has resul...