Give them 2.5 centimetres…

I just felt like wasting some of my time on this little tantrum by Peter “I hate metric” Hitchens.

I am shocked when I hear people of my generation, raised to speak English and the direct inheritors of 20 generations of free men and women, thoughtlessly giving measurements in totalitarian metres and litres.

Well, let’s not get too carried away there Peter. Just because you happen to be used to a particular system doesn’t make it any more natural or intuitive or less totalitarian than another. It just makes it something you’re used to. As for it being totalitarian, it’s a legacy of the French Revolution! I’d love to hear your definition of ‘totalitarian’.

Would you still hate it so much if it wasn’t a French invention? Hmm? Be honest.

Recipe books and celebrity chefs likewise drivel about grams of butter and flour.

That’s because metric is much more precise and universally understood, especially when baking. Americans (who don’t like metric either) use cups, good luck cooking with those instead.

The fanatically metric BBC is dedicated to giving rainfall and snowfall in centimetres and millimetres

They’re not so fanatical when it comes to giving high temperatures in Fahrenheit for that extra heat factor!

Though it is always noticeable that the weights of newborn babies are invariably given in pounds and ounces. As Steve Thoburn’s friend Neil Herron remarked, if babies’ weights were given in kilos, most people would not know if the child involved was the size of a baby elephant or a small tomato.

If babies’ weights were given in kilos, “most people” would soon learn! Try telling a French mother her baby weighs 7 pounds and 3 ounces and watch her panic. Not so intuitive now, huh?

Kilos, metres and litres sound – and always will sound – cold, ugly, alien and oppressive to me

And imperial measures sound archaic, unnecessarily complicated and just plain bizarre to me. Tit for tat.

No wonder the metric system appeals to communists and similar fanatics. It satisfies their craving for neatness and regularity

Yes, God forbid that measurements should be regular! It makes so much more sense to have UK and US gallons, doesn’t it?

Mind you, in France I have bought butter from farmers by the ‘livre’ (pound) and eggs by the ‘douzaine’ (dozen), two centuries after revolutionary law abolished such things.

Actually, a French livre is exactly half a kilo. It’s a metric measure that still uses an old, pre-metric name. Sorry to disappoint. As for the eggs, this is true but there is obviously a demand for other quantities as you can now buy boxes of ten eggs in British supermarkets. Condolences.

Hell according to Peter Hitchens

I cannot imagine a kilogram, let alone a gram, or a metre or a litre or a hectare. I work out what they mean by converting them into the proper measures that have their roots and origins in the land, as I do – an acre is a day’s work at the plough, a fathom the width of a man’s outstretched arms.

When was the last time you ploughed a field then, Peter? As for metric measures being unnatural, they only are if you want them to be: 10cm is the length of the palm of my hand. One metre is the longest step I can take without falling over. One kilo is four butter sticks or one litre of water. One litre is a juice carton. One kilometre is the distance I can walk in 15 minutes. And so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, the mere mention of a ‘fl oz’ has me running for the hills!

These measures are rooted in daily life, are human, and honest, because they are polished in use, sound like what they are (can’t you hear a gallon sloshing in its bucket?)…

The metric system is rooted in daily life in every country that uses it every day. As for “human” and “honest”, these are totally subjective assessments based on familiarity. You can hear a gallon sloshing in its bucket? Good for you, so can I; I’m just not too sure about the size of the bucket… is it a British bucket or an American bucket?

… and because you can use them in poetry.

Do farmers care about poetry that much? I obviously go to the wrong markets.

There are miles, inches and fathoms in the Bible and Shakespeare, and if you converted them it would sound ludicrous.

This is from the “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me” school of thought. Why not take back one kadam to honour the Hebrew God while we’re at it?

Indy doing his bit against metric

And how about Shylock demanding his half-kilogram (or 454 grams, given his precise inflexibility) of flesh? Or let us see what the BBC would make of Robert Frost’s beautiful poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep And kilometres to go before I sleep.’

Now you’re just being silly.

The metric system officially doesn’t have such a thing as a foot. It scorns this useful measure, going straight from the metre down to the centimetre.

Oops, the Daily Mail’s chronic lack of research rears its ugly head again. It actually goes metre -> decimetre -> centimetre, adding a zero each time. And a foot is only a “useful measure” within an imperial context. In metric, you just measure 30cm and Bob’s your uncle. Need a bit more? No probs, here’s 35.8cm for you. What’s that in imperial? One foot, one inch and, er… some bits. Thanks but no thanks.

See, that’s the beauty of the metric system: it’s easy. All you have to do is add or remove a zero here and there. No multiplying by 3 or 4, no dividing by 12. No need to learn your 11 or 12 times tables (eek). For those of us who are mathematically impaired, it’s a total gift!

Interestingly, Peter Hitchens doesn’t feel the need to complain about the decimalisation of the pound sterling. Could it be because – gasp! – he’s used to it? Does it ruin his enjoyment of Dickens to read about David Copperfield receiving two half-crowns from his mother before being sent off to boarding school?

Mum gave me two half-crowns! That's like one Galleon, seven Sickles and four Knuts! Yay!

Passport burning time

I was reading this blog written by a fellow French Anglophile listing cool things to do in London, and one of them was “Go and watch crazy Brits swim in the Serpentine on Christmas morning”. In the article she mentioned the brave spectators who “got up early even though they celebrated the réveillon the night before, and managed to make their way to Hyde Park with no public transport”. So I left a comment pointing out that British people actually celebrate Christmas on the day itself and there is no réveillon here, and since she seems so well-versed in British culture I was a bit surprised she wasn’t aware of that.

I got my head bitten off! “Such contempt, you just make me laugh, I welcome constructive criticism but not open contempt, you obviously know British customs much better than I do, I must work with the only British people who leave work at noon on the 24th then, why do you think they do that if they’re not having a réveillon, don’t bother coming back to this blog ever again”.

Well fuck you very much then. And people wonder why I’m not interested in spending time in France or having French friends.

I should have expected a negative reaction though, since in a previous post she got really irritated at another comment telling her she shouldn’t talk about “going to the Paki shop” for obvious reasons; she got into a huff about political correctness and it being a perfectly normal word like Indian or Arab and not seeing what the problem was. It was only the next day, after asking the aforementioned British colleagues and seeing the look of horror on their faces, that she admitted she didn’t actually know what she was talking about and wouldn’t use that word again. Twit.

All hands on deck

So, Elton John and David Furnish have revealed they don’t know which one of them is the biological father of their new baby, since the egg was fertilised by a mix of their semen specimens (thanks for that mental image, by the way).

When asked about it, Furnish said: “We both contributed. For the time being we don’t have a clue. We look at him every day and at the moment he has Elton’s nose and my hands.”

OK, three things:

a) talk about projecting! What part of “the baby will have the genes of only ONE of them” is he having trouble with?

b) all babies have Elton John’s nose. I mean look at it.

c) here’s a pic of Furnish’s hands

and a pic of the baby’s hands

Huh? Is it me?

I nearly forgot to mention the strange wording of “We look at him every day”, as if the baby were a recently bought painting instead of a live human being who needs constant care. I know you can’t expect Elton John to change nappies but still…

Happy-go-lucky scampi

I have been following Channel Four’s Fish Fight campaign, and last night I saw this programme: Dispatches – Fish Unwrapped about the shady goings-on within the fish industry.

One anecdote in particular caught my attention: we were shown a bag of “wholetails of scampi coated in crispy breadcrumbs” and then told not to expect the product to contain any whole scampi tails! Apparently, according to the law the bag would be labelled “single wholetails of scampi” if this were the case.

It may be legal and all but I find this practice massively disingenuous. After all, the words ‘whole’ and ‘tail’ are pretty self-explanatory. No one is psychic, and expecting the buying public to instinctively know that “wholetail” actually means “bits of tail that are above the minimum legal size” is asking an awful lot.

Whose side is the law on exactly? What is the point of having regulations if there is so much wiggle room with no obligation to inform buyers that they’re basically being misled?