Monday, 10 November 2014

Mileage Counter


We take them so much for granted really don't we? No, not the signpost, (increasing numbers of which are disappearing, at least in this traditional form) but miles themselves. I always knew that there would be creeping metrication that would eventually see them banished, and it's started. I was going to go on about this before I heard on the news that height and width restrictions are soon to be in centimetres or whatever, after all newsreaders and journalists continually use metric, temporary roadworks are signed using it, and it's all now horribly and unnecessarily ubiquitous. And then I started reading the delightful and thought-provoking Claxton by natural history writer Mark Cocker, and was brought to a halt by this, talking about barn owls, where: "...within eight kilometres of this spot I know three churches that have housed them..." I double-checked whether Mark was writing this in the Carmargue, but no, he was still in the nexus of the River Yare in south Norfolk.

Well, I've had this problem with editors before, who have insisted I use metric for measurements, probably so that they don't upset the one person who kindly buys my books in Belgium or the curiously huge numbers of Chinese who I think use something else anyway. But we've always been able to compromise, where miles are left alone but heights of bridges, say, are awkwardly noted in both systems. But the Forth Bridge for me will be always held together by 6,500,000 rivets weighing 4,200 tons. Perhaps Mark had someone breathing down his neck at Jonathan Cape's. I do hope this is the reason.

The Highways Agency, or whichever darkened room recommends these things for roads, have said that information in both systems will improve road safety. Yes, that old rock cake. No it won't, it will only confuse. They will doubtless cite the poor old truck driver from Uzbekistan who has thundered across Europe with just one tyre with a decent tread who is suddenly confronted by a low bridge in the fog.

Unmitigated England is going to have to be mobilised soon in the cause of saving our miles. After all, it's not "How many kilometres is it to Babylon" is it? Robert Frost didn't say The woods are lovely, dark, and deep / But I have promises to keep, / And kilometres to go before I sleep, / And kilometres to go before I sleep....   

16 comments:

TomB said...

Go for it Peter!

Don't give a centimetre!

Ben Ashley said...

This is why Eminem didn't release his movie "8 Mile" in Europe as "12.874552 Kilometre".

Tony Unsworth said...

Give the bastards 2.54cm and they'll take 1.6092km

Peter Ashley said...

Thanks chaps. You will also remember, Ben, that Mike Oldfield avoided metrication with his Five Miles Out album.

Philip Wilkinson said...

'Within eight kilometres of this spot': You just wouldn't say that, would you? This is a classic example of what I call the editor's unidiomatic metric conversion. Cocker no doubt wrote 'Within five miles of this spot,' which anyone WOULD say. The editor has done a straight metrical conversion (8 km being as near as anything 5 miles) and come up with something that destroys the prose. It's a travesty of editing, apart from being a betrayal of the traditional (and yes, sorry, imperial) measurement system.

Jonathan Dudley said...

This one could run and run Mr.A - wholly in agreement with your observations. Those merry songsters the Byrds would never have conceived of 12.874752 kilometres high, rather 8 miles…in either measurement quite high enough, even by the exacting narcotic standards of the time.

Sue said...

You'll be driving on the right next! I write children's books and often have this discussion. Generally, I will tend to talk in metric for basic info, as that is what children are taught. But then there are the exceptions. There are expressions - "he inched out" - and then when my hero travels back in time to the 1960s, all the Imperial Weights and Measures can come out in their full glory.

Peter Ashley said...

It's only our topographical distances I'm concerned about. And I suppose that's all to do with culture and history blah blah. I use metric measurements every day for my design stuff, and actually do manage to work things out now in that new-fangled decimal coinage.

Alistair Fitchett said...

Sadly, these days there is a danger in conflating cultural/historical meaning and context with Political Standing. I'm not sure there is a way of 'taking a stand' for Imperial against Metric without coming across as some benighted anti-European UKIP supporter... but maybe that's just me :)

I personally don't see that mixing the two systems is an issue though - I use mm and cm in measuring images but use pixels per inch when measuring resolutions. I think it's unlikely that will ever change. You don't need to know how big an inch is in order to effectively use different resolutions. Also, I use kms to measure my cycle ride distances because that's the cultural language of cycle racing. It doesn't mean I don't also know how far ten miles is.

Alistair Fitchett said...

I should have added in that last comment that I'm also not sure that it's possible to argue for a blanket Metric versus Imperial approach and not come across as some kind of benighted and blinkered bureaucrat...

Peter Ashley said...

Welcome to Unmitigated England Alistair! I'm not arguing for blanket metrication either. It's really just the mile thing. I don't even know how long a perch is unless it's in a parrot cage.

Ron Combo said...

In Italy all television and computer screens are in inches (why??) and I'm pretty sure that plumbing measurements are the same. On the high seas salt-stained and rum-crazed captains use miles and knots and Red Bull-frenzied Ryanair pilots at the limit of their daily flying hours use feet and mph. So all is not (quite) lost. Of course if one really wants to go to the bastion land of Imperial measurements, then the USA is the place to be. Lord, they still have gallons. Even for their hats. Yee-hah!

Philip Watson said...

Yet for some reason, we have been told to start teaching imperial units again, so that, at least, some approximate conversion can be made mentally. I still think in imperial (and in pounds, shillings and pence, for that matter), so it's no hardship for me, but some of our younger teachers seem a bit puzzled by it all.

Red_Cardinal said...

It has taken a long time to get to this point though. As a child of the seventies (hurrah!) I started school in 1971 and my intake was I believe, the first to be taught the metric system (for that 'bright' new world where everything would be in 'metres).

We all have continued to use feet, yards, miles, pounds and stones to this very day, some 40 years later.

So if it is creeping, it is doing so very slowly :)

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