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....