Michael Williams: Readers' editor

Why 320kph trains do 200mph at Folkestone

Share

Metric martyrs are like those "have-a-go-heroes": smacking teachers and householders who attack the Cupressus leylandii hedge in the garden next door. They represent a peculiarly British mindset – small, suburban and xenophobic. Such people don't usually interest this newspaper, but they often achieve a deal of noise and publicity.

The latest "martyr" – Janet Devers, a market stallholder from Hackney – got wide coverage last week in a fight against prosecution by her local council for selling apples and pears in pounds and ounces. At the same time, a 16,000-name petition calling for a pardon for four men convicted of selling in imperial measures in 2001 was handed in at the Commons. Here is a powerful lobby, which uses the metric system as a metaphor for a loathing of all things European, and is currently on a roll with the current row over the EU constitution.

But for ordinary folk who don't care a hoot about this war, the UK weights and measures system flummoxes the best of us. Reader Eric Jeffries, from Saffron Walden, emails: "I notice you employ kilometres in some reports and miles in others. Surely you should be consistent?" We should, Mr Jeffries. But sometimes it's not so easy. I recently filed a report on a record-breaking train journey from Brussels through the Channel Tunnel to London. Was it travelling in kph on the Continental side, switching to mph as it entered Kent? How would it be expressed in the official version in the record books? The 'Independent' stylebook tells us always to use metres rather than yards. But there are two imperial units we are stuck with indefinitely – the mile and the pint. Our style is to favour kilometres and litres, with an imperial conversion for older readers.

Absurd or what? The Government claimed in 1965 that the schoolchildren of that generation would be the last required to learn two separate systems, and that we would go entirely metric by 2010. But our motorways are still measured in miles while we fill up our cars in litres. We go on a diet, and talk about pounds and ounces instead of kilos. Most bizarrely of all, we buy milk in pint containers, but the contents are labelled in litres. In a sensible world, all this would be swept away overnight.

But no. The anti-metric campaigners have mugged the EU Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, who now says that Britain will never be required to drop the last remnants of the imperial system. Worried that the row is making the EU unpopular, he says: "I want to bring to an end a bitter, bitter battle that has lasted for decades and which in my view is completely pointless."

So I'm afraid you're going to have to grit your teeth and accept the current mess. But at least we might eventually see an end to all those irritating stories about "metric martyrs".

Corrections and clarifications

On 13 January we reported that a witness, Alain Willaumez, who still works for the Paris Ritz, told the Princess Diana inquest that Henri Paul was "walking like a clown" before the fatal crash. Mr Fayed's office has asked us to point out that later, under cross-examination and having watched the CCTV footage, the witness said he wanted to withdraw the word "clown".

Message Board: Are good neighbours a thing of the past?

One in three of us predict there will soon be "no such thing as society", the Prince's Trust said last week. Readers shared their views over the cyberfence:

s cooper

We like to live in a cocoon, a fortress, watching explosions on TV, not with a friend or neighbour, sharing a cup of coffee. People who never miss a day's work never invite a neighbour in. Do they think they will be robbed? No, they are too busy.

Jakers

This is a bit out of date. As more and more people start to work from home, so the local communities benefit (as do the workers). I'd say communities were getting stronger again as technology makes geography redundant.

Brian

I am an averagely sociable person, but in the two years I've lived here I've only seen one of my neighbours, once. There's no reason for more; we have no common interest apart from party walls.

gingertom

Older residents should show new arrivals like Brian how neighbourliness works. You help each other out with bins, post, pets, keys. It's about much more than walls.

Ann Beirne

Am I a rarity in knowing my neighbours? I also believe in community and am happy to be there for anyone. People don't work or shop locally any more, the supermarkets are killing off local shops. These were great places to meet and chat.

Jakers

I don't think you are a rarity. While the kind of shops you mention are disappearing, they're being replaced by "third place" spots such as coffee shops, co-working spaces, etc, and of course, we still have many flourishing pubs.

Alexis

I live in an affluent suburb of Los Angeles. People here rarely know their neighbours. We mind our own business and may take offence if someone wants to become very neighbourly.

scotty

In Edinburgh's Old Town more and more areas are becoming a student campus, a tourist destination, a conferencing facility. We demolish homes and listed buildings to create a mall.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
“I just wanted some chicken wings,” Tan Shen told the assembled media. “But once I got in there ... I decided I needed time to think.”  

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Ellen E Jones
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015