I first wrote this blog a couple of years ago, but it seems just as relevant now.
A teacher friend of mine reckons that the first act of the Brexiteers after we leave the European Union will be to announce a return to imperial measures. What better way to reassert our utter Britishness than to scrap those pesky metres and grammes and return to good old pints and gallons, pounds and ounces, and feet and inches.
Let’s face it, we’ve been teaching our children metric measures since the 1970s, but beyond the classroom they see precious little evidence that we really mean it. We fill our cars with litres of fuel and then work out how many miles to the gallon they give us. We buy our food in kilograms but then weigh ourselves in stones and measure our waistlines in inches. Beer comes in pints, wine in millilitres. How tall are you, by the way? And how big is your front room? What about your telly? Something tells me we aren’t taking this terribly seriously.
A few weeks ago in the middle of Swaffham I was approached by a confused looking Eastern European man who asked me whether it was ok to park his car there. He pointed quizzically to a sign which said: “Weight restriction 30cwt unladen.” Poor chap, I couldn’t offer him much help.
One advantage of this return to the 1950s will be the much harder mental arithmetic we will be able to require of our children – all those bizarre combinations of numbers (14 pounds in a stone but 16 ounces in a pound) will make for some fiendish word problems. It will also give me the opportunity to dust off my treasured copy of ‘Diagnostic and Attainment Testing ‘, a book of English and Maths tests originally published just after the war (which I rescued from a skip at a previous school). It is packed with just this sort of real-life puzzle from the baffling world of imperial measures and pre-decimal money.
To warm up for the brave new world to come, try these out:
- I have a piece of string 1 yard 1 foot long, but I want a piece 4 times as long as this, and 1 foot extra. How much more string shall I have to get?
- The milkman leaves 1 pint of milk a day except Sunday, when he leaves a quart. Milk costs 9d a quart. How much is our milk bill each week?
- How much will 3cwt of coal cost at £2 10s per ton?
- A pot of jam contains 1lb of jam and the sugar in it weighs 3oz. What percentage of sugar is there in the jam?
- I spend 1s 6½d on a book, 5½d on a pencil and 2d on a pen. How much have I left from 4s?
Answers on a postcard. Or maybe send a telegram….