Leading Article: Prolonging the imperial anguish

Share
Related Topics
The Sunday afternoon pint of shandy in the local pub was short lived. Permitted at last by the relaxation of the licensing laws in August, it was banned again by metrication yesterday. This time the problem is not the alcohol content of shandy, but the fact that it contains lemonade, and so, unlike "traditional" beer, cannot be sold in a pint measure. Sounds absurd, but apart from the odd irritation, most people will hardly have noticed that Britain just stepped up a gear in its transition from imperial to metric measures.

Pounds and ounces are out. Grams and kilos are in. Products must be labelled in metric. They can have imperial labels too, and they don't actually have to change the size of the product they package. So a pound of cheese is fine so long as the label says 454g. Loose food products are still exempt, so are measures that describe a product and so are deeply embedded within our culture: the pint of beer in the pub, the pint of milk on the doorstep, and the 16-inch shirt collar. Eighty per cent of grocery goods already comply with the regulations, so it's hard to see why anyone should complain, other than the Imperial Metrics Preservation Society.

Yet the Federation of Small Businesses and several national newspapers are up in arms. They claim the changes are confusing, unnecessary and costly for retailers. At worst, metrication represents a further loss of British sovereignty in the face of homogenising babble from Brussels bureaucrats. But Eurosceptic passion is aiming at completely the wrong target. The European market is not the only reason for Britain making the change. Metric is easier to use. There are a thousand grams to the kilo, a hundred pence to the pound and 10 fingers to the person.

So why not have both systems of measurement running in tandem? Let those who need familiarity stick with the pounds and ounces they can visualise, and those who need to do lots of adding up use the maths-friendly milligrams, grams, and kilos. Then if the metric measures win in an open competition, no one can complain. The trouble is, that means the worst of both worlds. Confused shoppers can't work out if packaged tomatoes at pounds 1.60 for 750g are better value than the loose cherry variety at 80p/lb. The point about standard weights and measures is to make sure that the marketplace is fair and everyone knows how much they are buying and selling. The most sensible objection to changing from a familiar to a new measuring system is that in the confusion of the conversion, customers are easily conned - but that's all the more reason to get it over and done with, so we can all get used to the new units.

Furlongs, acres, cubits, and stone have all been around a long time. There are 20 fluid ounces in a pint, two pints in a quart, four quarts in a gallon, two gallons in a peck, four pecks in a bushel and 8 bushels in a quarter. There is a strange beauty about such myriad and complex numbers and patterns developed with quirks and hiccups through the centuries. Even so, the real test of a system of weights and measures is its ease of use, not its depth of culture and tradition. No matter how aesthetically pleasing the sixpence, few would wish to return now to pounds, shillings and pence.

React Now

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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game