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

Recruitment Genius: Lift Repairs Sales Account Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

Ashdown Group: Assistant Management Accountant - Part Qualified CIMA / ACCA

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are recruitment for an Assistan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
John Rentoul outside the Houses of Parliament  

If I were Prime Minister...I would be like a free-market version of Natalie Bennett

John Rentoul
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea