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Articles By Mike Rooth

Metric Madness

No doubt Canada has emraced metrication in a reasonably orderly fashion.The USA,to the best of my knowledge hasnt changed at all.Sensible people.Dont.

It may be of passing amusement to read a short account of how it is done in the UK (sort of,but not always).
Even Thatcher was unable,or unwilling,to try to deprive the Englishman of the mile,particularly the country one, reputedly slightly longer than the statutory one.To substitute a larger number in the walk to the pub would presumably be unacceptable.So we still have miles.The pint,too,was to be held sacred for the same reason.

The first cockup after "metrication" was all the fault of the Yorkshire Imperial Metal Company who continued to produce Imperial sized copper central heating pipe,whilst going all modern and producing metric fittings.Which wouldnt. This effectively brought to a halt plumbing jobs countrywide. Since it isnt difficult to stop a plumber working at the best of times,the chaos this produced is best left to the imagination. At about this time,I happened to be in a builders merchants,and was trated to an account of a further "misunderstanding".The assistant behind the counter had to order some gutter downpipe from his wholesaler.He rang up and asked for ten metres of 200mm pipe.He'd taken the trouble to convert(no doubt removing mittens and shoes and socks the while,in order to have more digits to count on)."Dont do 200mm mate" was the reply."Well what DO you do,then".Pause for thought."You can 'ave ten metres of four inch" came the reply.And to the best of my knowledge you still can. It got so bad that the Mechanical Engineering Dept workshops at this University stayed Imperial.Someone asked the then Prof why his shops were not metric(they being the arbiters of taste in such matters).His reply was that when it was decided WHICH metric system was going to be used,he would consider it,but until that unlikely day ever dawned,his people would work in Imperial.And,of course, that is the problem.Its NOT metric,it is the SI system.This is the system that was so awful when it was first dreamed up in the early part of the century,no-one dared try to introduce it.
So now we have luggage space in vehicles measured in LITRES. Liquid Luggage? Nonsense.

Along with metrication came decimal coinage.No bad thing,you might think,and you'd be right,you've had it for years.But we hadnt. Six months later,the prices af a lot of things had doubled.The theory no doubt being"Get 'em confused,then sock 'em with it". Between decimalisation and metrication,we REALLY got shafted. Afer all,a penny a litre on fuel doesnt look all that much. But multiply that by four and a half,*then* convert it to proper money.......well,suffice it to say you wont do that too often,its bad for the blood pressure.
The other failure was not recognising that the new system was not immediately universal.There was bound to be a lot more imperial stuff about for years to come than ever there was metric.Firms stopped making imperial nuts,bolts,bricks,you name it.Those that were slow to change must have done quite well,thank you.

The lashups in the building trade had to be seen to be beleived. House extensions fitted where they touched,which wasnt very often. A garage owning friend of the family went to a tool fair with the intention of getting some SAE taps and dies.No way.Tool firms all "gorn Metric,mate".Imperial and SAE special orders only.A year later he did the same thing in reverse,only to find the firm had reverted to imperial ans SAE *as standard* and the metric stuff he wanted was special.They *had* to revert,before they went broke.
If we had a chaotic system before,at least it was one we could live with.Now we have *two* chaotic systems,which we definitely cant. The old Prof's contention was,in my view quite right.He further maintained that as far as screw threads were concerned we should have adopted the American system.I agreed with him there,too,as does a friend of mine who makes his living selling such things.He maintains that metrication is a world class balls up,even now.And he wasnt in business when it started,so if it was going to work,it should be doing so by today.

So my advice to any American is,if any of your politicians propose that you go metric,shoot him or her.Dead.

Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-2010. Last modified April 30, 2005.
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