Saturday, October 24, 2009


This probably won't make me popular, especially with those who are convinced that there is a massive European conspiracy to take over Britain. I think we should have gone completely metric when the system was first introduced into public usage. Yes, I know, it would mean no more pints of beer/milk or miles per hour. (Although I buy 500ml bottles of beer to drink at home and my petrol/diesel for the car in litres with no apparent ill-effects)

It's just confusing. The flour and sugar comes in grammes, but the recipe is in ounces. In Australia they took the hard decision that it would all change in one go. Here we are bringing up another generation of children who talk about people being 5'9" (instead of just under 175cm).

This was prompted by a recent query about road signs. On the radio one pro-metric person was in favour of more metrication, meanwhile the UKIP person was predictably sceptical, alleging creeping Europeanisation. Although, to be fair, they both agreed that a proper debate about a once and for all switch-over would be better than this rather unsatisfactory jumble of imperial measures and metric, with its "metric martyrs".

A hard decision was taken to go over to decimal currency, and the same set of arguments circulated then - won't be the same, can't understand it, we'll be ripped off, etc. Yet who now could quickly add 17.5% to £2 11s & 6d?* In the same way, if the brave decision had been made years ago, we would all be used to it by now, and not worrying about how many stone we weigh.

Just off to make 250ml of coffee

* That's 2 pounds, 11 shillings and 6 [old] pence
£2 11s & 6d = (2*240) + (11*12) + 6 = 618 old pence. 17.5% of 618 = 108.15 old pence.
Total = 726.15 old pence = (3*240) * 6 [we'll ignore the fraction of a penny] = £3 0s 6d


LankyAnglican said...

Surprisingly, I'm inclined to agree with you Mike. I remember being very confused at school when we were taught about miles and feet alongside hectares and kilos.

It would have been a big change, but it would have made sense for the country to change to metric all in one go.

A recent example of my persisting confusion relates to weight. How on earth do you easily calculate 10% of 7lb 14 oz without converting it to metric units? We needed to do exactly this when calculating LittleLanky's weight loss after birth. Thankfully we had a conversion chart!

Steve McMahon said...

Don't forget, V.A.T. didn't exist when we used LSD (pounds, shillings and pence) so there would have been no call for adding 17.5% anyway.

While we are at it, we could decimilize the clock - ten hours a day of 100 minutes each. And the calendar too!!

Have to draw the line at decimilising musical notation. 10 notes in a decave? "Piano keyboard's would be so much longer to accomodate the extra notes. And women would be banned from playing the cello" (Holly, Red Dwarf)

RuthJ said...

If you are still paying 17.5% VAT you need to see an accountant!

I actually really struggle with decimal money because it all depends how many zeros are on the end, and I'm never quite sure. That wasn't an issue in multiples of 12, a much more flexible base anyway as could be divided more ways.

And my doctor has been measuring my height in metres for years, but I'm still 5ft 7. Changing the law doesn't change the reality or even the words ...

Mike Peatman said...

Lanky, thank you for your support. Metric makes much more sense (As a scientist, I should add especially if you stick to SI units)

Steve. I know VAT wasn't around then - it was a worked example using a modern comparison (although there was purchase tax, so it was the same problem, different percentage). Love the Red Dwarf quote.

Ruth. As I said to Steve, it was a worked example. All similarity with real tax rates is purely coincidental. Don't worry, VAT will be at least 17.5% all too soon. Yes, 12 has many more factors than 10, but let's face it, everything else is decimal.

Actually, I'm surprised creationist fundamentalists aren't arguing "God gave us 10 digits, so using any other numerical base is a perversion"

Mike Peatman said...

PS I never said anything about VAT, I just referred to adding 17.5% to £2 10s 6d. You inserted the letters VAT in your head!

Emma said...

Metric is definitely the way to go. I've been teaching measures this week - we can all get our heads around mm, cm and m because they make so much sense, but how can you comprehend how long a km is when all the road signs give distances in miles? Who can visualise 1000 metre sticks lined up along the road to work it out?

How many pounds are in a stone anyway? We know our weight in imperial measures, but it doesn't mean anything. A kilogram is a bag of sugar, I can get my head around that and so I can imagine the weight of a number of bags of sugar.

Schools pay lip service to imperial but don't really teach it because it is all but obsolete. As we grow up we teach ourselves what imperial measurements mean just because they are what people use!