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Shortly before Christmas, the Axminster Facebook page had the seemingly innocuous tag of ‘Metric versus Imperial?’ Clicking on the drop down link showed a vast array of different responses which seemed to go on forever down the page. Clearly, this one’s a veritable ‘hot potato’ and there are as many answers to the question as there are grains of sand on a beach.

All of them are relevant and all of them contribute to the whole picture, much like those grains of sand. So when tasked to blog on the topic, I found myself taking a sharp intake of breath together with a little sucking of the teeth.

A look at a Wiki page is an interesting place to start as it says… “Metrication in the United Kingdom remains equivocal and varies by context. Most of government, industry and commerce use metric units, but imperial units are officially used to specify journey distances, vehicle speeds and the sizes of returnable milk containers, beer and cider glasses. Imperial units are also often used informally to describe body measurements and vehicle fuel economy. At school, the use of metric units is the norm”.

A real mixed bag, which is generally the picture and for those of a certain age who remember and used imperial measurements regularly, the change from one system to another is about the longest ‘work in progress’ that anyone will ever undertake. It’s seems clear that most people use a mixture of both systems and the younger the age group, the greater will be the bias towards the metric system.

Like many people, I’m one of those who use both. In the workshop, everything is measured and made in mm. To measure off 17/64″ is mind numbing so it’s much easier to mark out 6.75mm and relatively easy, with a sharp marking knife, to split the last millimetre. Quite often, I have a calculator on the bench to work out various sums which is easy to do in metric but impossible using imperial. Try adding 19/32″ to 29/64″.

Room sizes are still estimated in feet, but I’m gradually coming round to using metres for gauging longer distances as in… “Look, there’s a nice walnut tree and it’s only a hundred metres away”.

I used to measure my weight in stones and pounds, but ever so gradually, over the last few years, I’ve started to think more in metric so I know that when the scales say xxkg it’s time to get down to the gym.

I now reckon fuel for the car in litres, as that’s how it’s dispensed at the pump, but I still know that it’s going to be 102.3 miles to Gatwick when I go on holiday, simply because that’s what Google tells me when I do a search…as do the road signs. However, drive on the Continent where all the road signs give distances in km and you very soon begin to think in km as well.

The issue is a ‘mind thing’ and like it or not, as long as we still have a formal, directed system of imperial measurements in place it seems to me unlikely that we will ever wholly change over to the metric system and that may, or may not, be a ‘good thing’. After all, could you ever envisage a certain well known politician arriving at his local with a cheery grin on his face and asking for “Half a litre of your finest ale, please barman?” I think not. A pint it has to be and a pint it will always be.

It would be interesting to re-examine the whole issue in another Blog a hundred years from now, though personally, I think the jury’s still out on the metric versus imperial question.

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