Metric man is here to stay

19th January 2001 at 00:00
On a working day, my morning routine varies little. I get up around half an hour before the rest of the troops, have a bowl of cereal, then retire to the living-room with a cup of tea.

I will then surf Ceefax and Teletext for a few minutes before spending a little time on whatever writing project happens to be current. If I'm lacking in inspiration or simply in a twisted mood, I'll go back to Teletext page 326 to deliberately annoy myself.

This is the phone poll page - a staggeringly unrepresentative snapshot of public opinion. With few variations, three questions are asked: Is the Government wrong about...? (Yes: 98 per cent); Is Ann Widdicombe right about...? (Yes: 97 per cent); Do you agree with the latest liberal thinking on...? (No: 99 per cent); Are maths standards slipping? (Yes: 102 per cent).

You can imagine what the people who voted William Hague as Man of the Year make of metrication. I've been taught metric measurement for length, volume and mass since early primary school. It's easy to work with the system and it's easy to get a feel for the basic units (an average apple has a mass of about 100 grammes).

I would probably have lost the will to be a physics teacher long ago if I had to spend a substantial part of each lesson piddlig about with ergs, dynes, stones and inches and their associated conversions.

Yet make any suggestion that we might move towards a fuller embrace of the metric system and squadrons of Teletext-voting Daily Mail readers stop polishing their silvery-bland cars to draft letters of venomous complaint.

Well, I've got news for you, you Eurosceptical "give 'em an inch and they'll take the pound" nitwits. Your days are numbered. I'm 40 and I'm metric. Sooner or later there will be an all-metric Cabinet in the Government and the changes that have been creeping up on you will finally be consolidated.

"Never in a million years (one mega year)," you cry, and in truth, I don't know if I believe it myself.

I was in the metric Republic of Ireland last summer and noted that speed limits were still in mph, though distances were in km. More worryingly, my own pupils, when asked their mass in kilograms, will respond with their weight in stones and ask how to convert.

Really, it makes you want to run a m . . . it makes you want to run 1.6km to the nearest pub, down a 600ml and pray that common sense will soon prevail.

Gregor Steele recalls a spoof exam question that required candidates to express the speed of light in furlongs per fortnight.


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