News and views from the heart of England - Issue 2    © David Smith 2018

The metric system

A Japanese astronaut claimed recently to have grown 9cm during his three week period in the International Space Station. Apparently, the absence of gravity allows the bones in the back to become more spread apart, thus elongating the body. It was only later that the astronaut realised he had made a measuring error, and that his growth was, in fact, only 2cm.

This error will be much appreciated in many parts of Britain where, despite the official introduction of the metric system of measurement in 1965 – fifty two years ago – large numbers of people of all generations still prefer, and use, the old Imperial system. For many people, despite having gone through the education system where metric measurements are taught almost exclusively, the difference between 9cm and 2cm means nothing. It could be as small as a gnat, or as large as a door. If they had been told that the erroneous measurement was 3½”, and that the true measurement was only ¾”, they would have smiled knowingly, and passed comment about how nobody, not even the Japanese, understands these new-fangled measurements.

Sir Hugo Ludd, a farmer from Plugshire, said yesterday: “I’m not surprised people make mistakes with these modern measurements. They’re very confusing. I don’t understand why we had to change them. The old ones worked perfectly well.” He went on to explain that while everyone in his part of the world used miles, yards, feet, and inches, the BBC perversely gave distances in metres and miles, thus mixing the Imperial and Metric systems. “How many inches in a metre? How many yards in a centimetre? How many metres in a mile? I don’t know,” Sir Hugo expostulated. The interviewer pointed out that the metric system was logically based on factors of ten, but this cut no ice with Sir Hugo. “That’s not logical to me,” he said. “In my day we had twelve inches to a foot, three feet to the yard, and the length of a cricket pitch was twenty two yards, or one chain. A mile is one thousand seven hundred and sixty yards, or five thousand two hundred and eighty feet, or sixty three thousand, three hundred and sixty inches. What could be simpler than that?”