Features Ed Blog: Weighing Things Up

Shutterstock / gupina © weighing things up

Alex has been weighing things up recently, and noticed he’s halfway between two eras of measurement.

I always thought it might be a thing with just my generation: that we were caught between two methods of measurement. On the one hand, my parents still talked in imperial, yet our textbooks and teachers taught metric.

Not much has changed, though, and it still seems to happen to this day. Road signs still use miles. Sweet shops still sell in 1/4 lbs and we still drink pints. But the Ordnance Survey has long since switched to kilometres and metres.

Once, when I was little and on holiday with some pocket money, I went into a sweet shop in the Lakes. I wanted some cola cubes. They asked what weight, and rather than lose face, I just said 1/2 lb. “Are you sure?” came back the reply. I just nodded. It cost me nearly all my pocket money, but I had enough cola cubes for the week! Especially handy, given all the wet walks Dad took us on.

But other aspects of life have moved on, and sometimes it’s all a bit weird. If I go for a bike ride, I need to know the distance in kms, and the amount of climbing in metres. But if I go for a walk, it needs to be miles. But not feet. These are the units I’m used to, so I know how long a 25km ride will feel, and that anything longer than a half-mile is just too much walking.

At the petrol pump, I understand litres. Filling up in America confuses me, bet then aren’t American gallons even slightly different from British ones?

Same Place, Different Rules

Sometimes you use both in the same place. Like the shops. We buy four pints of milk at a time, but 1 litre of apple juice. And, again, on bikes – some bits are measured in inches, but others in millimetres.

There’s a bit of irony, that systems meant to even out subjectivity aren’t used consistently. But then, we people don’t always like to change what works for us! At least we’re not using hand-spans or forearm lengths anymore.

I don’t mind it at all, to be honest. All our measuring devices can be switched between the two, and I can normally roughly calculate them in my head. Except for Celsius and Fahrenheit – they’re both in a world of their own. I’m a Celsius person!

It’s only when you get down to the really important things that I wish we could agree. Ordering fish and chips, I like “loads” of salt and vinegar. I can count on one hand the number of establishments that have properly understood that measurement!

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Alex Corlett

Alex is the "Friend's" Features Editor, working with the talented Features Team to bring you everything from cryptic crosswords to financial advice, knitting patterns to international travel and inspirational real life stories. Always on the hunt for a new feature idea, Alex also enjoys cycling and loves a good tea room.