A pints a pound the world round

I lived in America until about a year before George W Bush was elected president. Except when I was taking physics or chemistry courses or volunteering on an archaeological dig I mostly used the ‘Imperial’ measurement scheme. Distances were in inches or feet or yards or miles. Weight was ounces and pounds. Volume was ounces or quarts or gallons except when cooking when it was all teaspoons and tablespoons and cups. The price of gasoline was listed in dollars per gallon. A big gulp was 32 oz . . . I think. Or was it 64? And 72 degrees was a good temperature for being outside.

Despite the fact that England is where the Imperial system originated it’s mostly gone over to the metric system now. With a few notable exceptions. Temperatures are mostly reported in degrees Celcius or Centigrade. Zero (or nought) degrees is the freezing point of water and one hundred degrees is when water boils. Volumes are measured in litres and millilitres and sometimes even centilitres. A bottle of wine will be labelled as containing 75cl or 0.75L. When you go to a hardware shop you need to know your measurements in metres or centimetres or millimetres. And most people are going to tell you their height in centimetres. Large areas are measure in hectares which I can never remember what they are!! The national map grid is all metric.

For some reason I’m mostly ‘converted’ except for temperatures. I have no idea why but I still think in degrees Fahrenheit. If I hear that the high temperature is going to be 15 degrees (not unusual even in June this year) I do a quick conversion in my head: double 15 and add 30 . . . so about 60 degrees. I do prefer feet and yards to metres but I handle that better than temperatures. Likewise with pounds and kilograms. (By the way, I do know the difference between mass and weight so I know that pounds and kilograms are measures of different kinds of quantities but I’m just talking about the common usage here.)

BUT . . . for some reason, longer distances are still referred to in miles. Every highway sign which tells you how far you are from your destination is in miles. Sometimes local signs report distances in yards. The speed limits are listed in miles per hour. You buy your petrol (gasoline) at a petrol station and pay so many pounds per litre but your distance is measured in miles.

Another common holdout is weight. Many people over the age of 30 will still tell you their weight (if they know you very well) in stones. A stone is equivalent to 14 pounds. You can buy bathroom scales that measure in stones along with pounds and kilograms. Butchers won’t flinch if you ask for half a pound of mince (hamburger). The scale they measure it on will be reporting 0.5 kg though!!

And, one of my favourite ties to the past is beer. In every bar and pub and restaurant you can still get a pint of beer. Lovely. And, even better, a pint in Britain is 22 ounces. I feel better already.