Weights and Measures.
I woke up quite late this morning, no idea why. But I was thinking about millimetres, for some reason.
Come to think of it, I remember the reason, as it had to do with it being spelt differently in America. (Millimeters)
By the time I started to see things in England described in litres, centimetres, or millimetres, I was already pretty old. This country still cannot seem to make its mind up about the metric system, even though we changed to decimal currency in 1971. Directions (and signs) are still given in miles, and most haberdashery shops will sell you cloth by the yard. When you go to buy carpet though, it is sold by the square metre, and I have to use Google to translate that into something I can understand.
Petrol is sold in litres, as is milk, wine, juice, and soft drinks. But I can still buy a ‘gallon’ bucket, or a ‘five-gallon’ container. Meat, cheese, and loose produce are now sold in kilos and grammes. That means little to me, so I translate that into pounds and ounces in my head. (A kilo is 2.2 pounds) I have no concept of how long one centimetre is, but an exact idea of the size of something that is a quarter of an inch long.
Clothing is another problem. I can still buy shoes in a size I recognise, but the length and waistband of trousers is show in centimetres. Before buying most clothing, I have to translate the number from inches, so I know what to order. When it comes to large items like cookers and washing machines, the dimensions are all stated in centimetres. But I have an extending tape rule that has feet and inches on one side, so I measure with that so I know something will fit.
It is not unlike having to use two different languages. Imagine ordering clothes in Italian, but having to read direction signs in German. Remember the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? In my case, that is true.
Much of what I learned at school from 1957 is now obsolete. Telling younger people about such ‘ancient’ measurements usually brings on a smile, followed by a look of complete boredom. However, some of those old measurements still exist, in specialised forms. Take a ‘Furlong’ for instance. This originally derived from ancient farming measurements, and came from two words ‘Furrow long’. This was the ideal length to plough a furrow in a field for planting. At school, I had to learn that there were eight furlongs in a mile, so the length of one was 220 yards. You may think that this is of little use today. But did you know that every horse race in Britain is still measured in furlongs?
I also had to learn that one furlong was equal to 10 chains, with one chain being 22 yards. There was even a physical metal chain used to check this. If you think this is silly and outdated, then you should know that to this day, one chain is the distance between the wickets on every cricket pitch in the world.
Fluid capacities were important too. Not centilitres or millilitres, I had never heard of those. We had Gallons, Pints, Gills, Flagons, Bushels, Pecks, and Firkins. I knew the relevance and size of every one, by the age of eight. And not all of those have disappeared. Beer is still sold in pubs here in pints and half-pints.
I could go on and on, but I can see your eyes glazing over from here. A Hand was used as a defined measurement, stated at four inches. Who uses that these days? Every horse is still measured in hands, so it is widely used by horse breeders and trainers, stables, and jockeys. When I was young, an average weight of a grown man was said to be around 11 stone. So if someone was 30 stone, you knew that they were very big, and almost certainly obese. When I am weighed at the doctor’s now, they tell me my weight in kilos. For me to make any sense of that, I have to translate it to stones and pounds.
So the next time you are thinking about how long, wide, or heavy something is, just hope that someone doesn’t come along and change all the measurements to something you will never understand.