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Are you feeling lucky? Go ahead, eat my sweets

DO YOU remember lucky bags? If you do you are either quite old and northern, or alternatively very young/parent of same. Time was when lucky bags (or Jubilee bags in the south) were part of many youngsters' lives. They cost sixpence and they contained a mysterious blend of sweets and toys.

But in truth lucky bags were mainly a way of getting rid of mis-shapen sweets, and the fussier kids got, the less they wanted them. By the end of the Eighties they had all but disappeared. Enter Ian Neville-Rolfe, who had come from South Africa to work in a pottery company in Stoke-on- Trent, then found himself redundant. What would he do, his friends asked him, if he found himself in the same sad state in South Africa? "I would buy meat for a brai and a couple of lucky packets for the kids," he said. "Lucky packets?" his friends chorused. "Lucky bags you mean - we remember those!" (Good story this, isn't it? Lots of human interest.)

As is compulsory with all entrepreneurs, Mr Neville-Rolfe promptly started up in a garage, packing the bags himself. Now Mr Lucky Bags is one of the biggest employers in the Potteries, with 250 people and another 100 due to move into a new factory soon.

The company was helped by the growth in that pernicious plot against parents, the party bag, although commercial director Robert Cawley says most bags are sold to the traditional market - children on their way home from school. Needless to say they are not sixpence any more: 50p is the minimum.

All sorts of rivals have now joined in, but Mr Lucky Bags has used branding to keep its lead. Dick Turtle is the top brand: Mr Turtle, whose image is found in crayons and the like in the bags, apparently flies around space collecting sweets. No wonder he is so popular, though Mr Cawley is at a complete loss to explain why he has reached superstar status in Slovenia. "He's as popular as Mickey Mouse there," he says.

EVERYBODY knows all Europeans except us antediluvian Brits are totally metricated. Why are we kicking up such a fuss about being dragged into the modern age?

I was talking to a Norwegian colleague about this. "To tom fir tom," he said. "Fir toms spiker. Tjue-en tommers skjern." Pardon, I said. "To tom fir tom means two inches by four inches, or two b'four to you and me - we measure our timber in inches." The other two expressions, he explained, mean respectively a four-inch nail and a 21-inch screen.

In other words the imperial system is not quite as dead as it may seem. I'm told some elderly Germans still ask for their veg in pfund (pounds) while the French have no option but to buy a demi-pouce (half-inch) socket wrench. And if you are stuck up a fjord, my chum tells me, you will still measure the depth in favn (work it out).

All of this is cheering for the thousands of small business people who are being bullied into a sudden conversion to the deeply dull metric system. Ian Handford, national policy group chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, says his members' real gripe is not with metrication itself, but with the fact that shopkeepers can be fined pounds 5,000 if they try to sell anything in pounds or inches. He says several companies have stopped trading rather than converting all their measuring equipment.

It seems the authorities may already be backpedalling on their draconian legislation (which is not mirrored in any other country). There have been no prosecutions and Mr Handford can hardly hide his impatience as he waits for the first trading standards officer to bring one. The righteous wrath of imperial Britain will, he implies, be landed on that unfortunate person, who will regret the days he learnt to tell his decilitre from his hectare.

Mixed measures

THE REASON this official dogmatism is so silly is that the human mind is quite flexible enough to cope with at least two systems. Apart from those unfortunates who really are metric (such as my Australian colleague who switched radio stations because she could not cope with the temperatures in fahrenheit), most of us mix and match as we feel fit. I use fahrenheit above freezing, for example, and centigrade below, because minus numbers feel colder.

A Canadian chum raised in Britain says he thinks of height in feet and inches, but of volume in litres. Just to be awkward, he thinks of area in sections - the square miles laid out across the prairies. So, government sir, please let us decide what we want to use - and if we want to make life difficult for ourselves, why not? (And why not bring back pounds, shillings and pence while we're at it?)

PUNTERS couldn't resist pouring money on to a horse called Simple Arithmetic in the 1.25 at Sandown last Sunday. This was after all the ING-Barings Chase. Alas they should have learnt their mistake from last year's Barings- Leeson Chase - the beastie fell on the first circuit.