Let me begin by saying that I grew up between the wars. The Vietnam and Falkland wars that is. As a result my contemporaries and I were taught the imperial units of measurement and grew up with a currency referred to as LSD – fairly hip in the late sixties. Pre-decimal currency was simple: 12 pence to the shilling or bob and 20 shillings or bob (not bobs) to the pound. A guinea was £1 1/- (One pound and one shilling) and there were 220 pennies to the pound. Half a crown was 2/6. With me so far? So, £1.26 was one pound four shillings and six pence. And you wonder why in 1971,with a currency that simple, we changed to a decimal system.
OK Decimalisation made sense but my real problems came with weights and measures. I was taught ounces, pounds, stone and hundred weights and if you ignore the strange American imperial units, these were 16oz to the pound, 14 pounds to the stone and 20 stone to the hundred weight. Not logical I’ll grant you but walk into McDonald’s today and ask for a quarter pounder with cheese and you know roughly how much meat we’re talking about. And let’s be honest who wants 113.398 grams and cheese.
Tragically I have failed to adapt, when I go the butchers counter I’m thinking in pounds and ounces, I know the weight of a chicken in relation to a two pound bag of sugar. So when I ask for 12 ounces of sirloin I get a look like I just asked for a side order of bovine gentleman’s parts. Mr Butcher has no idea so I splutter and ask for 10,000 grams and he faints with joy.
Liquids are no better. We drink pints, fill our cars in litres and calculate fuel consumption in miles per gallon. I have no idea what 99.7p per litre is except that it costs about £45 to fill my car. And what will happen when we go electric.
“Well sir that will be 18.4 credits per milliamp/hour”
And length drives me mad as well. I used to be able to measure my world in body parts. At the age of 16 the distance from my thumb nail to thumb joint was an inch or 10 miles on a large scale Ordinance Survey map. 7 thumbs was an hours drive. I still use this today. My hand span was eight inches, my foot is about a foot and a stride about a yard. Forget Mr Black & Decker and his fancy laser measuring tool, my world was all fingers, thumbs, feet and strides. I’m six foot give or take but when completing a landing card in some far flung regime I was asked my height in metres. I had no idea. 2 metres sounded about right but a little exact so I asked my wife if she thought 1.5 sounded reasonable. She said that would make me spherical.
Finally I turn to temperature. In this respect am a Fahrenheit man to my core. 70 is warm, 80 is hot and 90 is begining to look like sitting in front of the open fridge naked. But what in the name of all that is holy is the difference between 24 and 28? I’ve just learnt that 30 is hot and 20 is not. I now change my car temperature gauge twice a year. April to November I’m in good old Fahrenheit and know whether it’s time to done the skimpy vestments. December to March I dial back to Centigrade and try and see if we hit a minus score. What I want is a new scale called Celsunheit where 0 is freezing and 100 is Gobi Desert on a warm day in August. The boiling point of water can be whatever it likes.
So spare a thought for us of the slide rule generation, we created reusable space craft, gave you iPods and invented the Internet but for god’s sake don’t ask us to buy you some cheese.