Sunday, 16 February 2014

Do you remember?

It is forty three years today since Great Britain 'went decimal'.   I remember it well - but of course you have to be of a certain age to recall the day when you walked into a shop and all the prices looked as though you were in a foreign country.  I remember going into Marks and Spencer after my day in school and finding Golden Delicious apples were seventeen pence a pound (about three and fourpence in old money) - somehow the price is ingrained on my memory.  (G D apples must have tasted better in those days too, because now I wouldn't think of buying them, they are absolutely tasteless).

There is a photograph in yesterday's Times of Lord Fiske (Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board) standing behind the counter at Woolworths in the Strand.   All the shops were expecting a day of crisis - the article says that Harrods had trained 75 'decimal pennies', girls dressed in boaters and wearing blue sashes, but that they weren't needed.

Why, oh why, didn't we go completely metric at the same time.   We still seem to have a mixture of both and I find it so confusing.  My little aid, which I keep on the shelf above the Aga - and woebetide anyone who removes it - is my British History Ruler.   On one side it lists (starting at Roman times) the kings of England, starting with William I in 1066 and ending with Elizabeth II in 1952.   You can't imagine how useful that can be - my rhyme, starting with Willie, Willie, Harry, Ste,Henry, Dick, John, Henry 3 - stops there so I do often refer to my little ruler.   One the other side it has thirty centimetres - and by golly that comes in useful too.  How many of you can estimate the length of your kitchen in metres?  I certainly can't. And those thirty centimetres are near enough a foot.

Apparently Lenin said of the English that there was a plank in everyone's head beyond which no new idea could penetrate.  Well he was certainly proved wrong with our decimalisation.   How quickly could you translate 137pence into the old system?   And how quickly could you do an addition, subtraction, multiplication or division sum in pounds, shillings and pence?   Don't bother to even try - it is just a waste of time. (the farmer and I tried over breakfast and got it hopelessly wrong in our heads.  We were about to get a piece of paper and a pen when we decided it was a pointless activity!)

Something strange is happening outside today - the sun is shining.   Long may it continue.

24 comments:

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Ah, yes, I remember eet well!
I also remember being told by one of my maths teachers that it was a waste of our time knowing about miles, hundredweights, gallons etc. because before you know it everything will be metric. That must have been forty-three years ago too!

Rachel said...

I remember the day well. I made myself go into Barclays Bank on Euston Road to change a cheque in my lunch hour. The tube journey from Euston to Oxford Circus which I made regularly in my lunch hour to go into Top Shop went from being 6d to 5p thus doubling overnight.

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Disconcerting but welcome sun here too. And silence - eery after the roar of the wind. I rarely need to measure much except when baking. All my recipe books are in lbs and ozs - my balance scales too. So I trundle along in two worlds.

Crafty Green Poet said...

sunshine here too. I agree - we should have gone entirely metric, I think in a bizzare mix of imperial and metric measurements

Tom Stephenson said...

Imperial measurements were based on affirmable divisions of the Earth's circumference, and also had an indivisible relationship to time and space. Hours, minutes, seconds, etc. The Yardstick in the British Weights and Measures office was created using astronomy. After the French Revolution, the revolutionists did away with anything beginning with the word 'imperial' and the decimal system was based on one degree between Paris and some other town. The trouble is that they got the measurement wrong, and now the world's metric system is based on a rather bad set of miscalculations which cannot be verified in any astronomical way. Still, it's useful for computers, even though I miss watching foreigners trying to grapple with £.L.D.

Tom Stephenson said...

I meant L.S.D. of course.

Elizabeth Wix said...

What I still find utterly bewildering is the temperature in centigrade since we are still farenheit here.
I always suggest someone buy me a thermometer with both C and F on it for Christmas.

Do you remember chains as measurements of distance?

Gwil W said...

Interesting topic. On the one hand there's a pint of ale which is 1/8 of a gallon of beer and on the other hand there's a decimal price for the said pint.

I remember having to learn the multiplication tables up to 12. Why? Because there were 12 pennies in a shilling perhaps? And 144 pennies in 12/= as it was written. But in a pound there were 240 pennies and in a guinea there would be 152 pennies and in a crown 60 pennies.

This way of ours to coin a phrase is neither moss nor sand.

As to the temperature it should be obvious to every child above the age of 6 that the freezing point of water is zero. To say water freezes at 32 degrees is the height of nonsense.

There's a lot of work still to be done. You'd think by the 21st century we'd have it all sorted out.

I daren't mention the difference between a European billion and an American billion ... it's too vast.


Heather said...

I remember my favourite chocolate bar going from 9d to 9p overnight! No change in price? Only doubling it! What a swizz!! I think quite a lot of that occurred.
We have sunshine here too - I've even done a bit of gardening, and it's so quiet and peaceful after all that roaring wind and pounding rain.

Mac n' Janet said...

I'm afraid we'll never come to terms with the metric system in this country. We've lived in Europe and so I'm comfortable with it, but I always convert things back into inches, feet, pints, quarts, gallons and miles.

the veg artist said...

Ha! I was a Saturday girl in Boots, and had to deal with all of the complaints because of the price rises (of course everything was rounded up!!). Metric measurements, though, seemed to go over my head, and I still need a ruler or tape to convert lengths.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

The US made a stab at metric - 1972 if I remember - it was a flop for sure, because no one would even try to utilize it. Our money system stayed the same - pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters and dollars - good thing or we would have had complete confusion.

We use inches and yards - our friends from British Columbia (a mere 23 miles from our house) come down to shop for fabric and ask for meters - and we are all confused anew. Their gas is in liters - ours in gallons - all I know is - don't buy gas in BC - it will cost you almost twice as much as in the US - and if you shop in BC, use your credit card so they convert the currency for you.

When we moved to WA 12 years ago we were to the good by 27% over Canadian Currency - and then these past few years we were totally even and sometimes BC was a few percentage points better - but now we are sliding again towards about 10% over Canadian currency - so dinner and shopping are cheaper if we prefer to bother with the border crossing - which, since 9-11 has become increasingly longer and more difficult. Getting into Canada is not the problem - the US Border Patrol makes it super difficult for US citizens to get back into our own country - you'd think we were all carrying bombs in our back pockets from the way they treat us. I think we should be safe - but my goodness - they needn't be so gawd-awful nasty about it. But that is off the subject - so I'll be quiet now.

I liked the comment about it making sense to say that water freezes at 0 - but to me it makes sense to say it freezes at 32 degrees - we've always done it that way - the time and temperature signs in town give both C and F - and I have to wait for the F to show so I know what the temp is - I could convert it - but my brain gets a little slogged down when I try - so I just wait. I suppose it is all in what we have gotten used to.

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

Hi Pat,
As you know, here in the States it's imperial. But I learned the metric system in nursing school. I'm pretty good with cm and ml. When we visited Canada it took about a day to get fairly comfortable with kph. But I can not for the life of me get any intuitive feel of celsius temperature except to know that 0 is the freezing point. Our our money is based on 100 pennies to the dollar, but we still is fractions -which are a PAIN when dealing with 7/9 - 4/6 or something like that.

Dominic Rivron said...

£1 7s 5d. Had we not done away with the poor old 1/2p, 137 1/2 p would have been a far more convenient £1 7s 6d.

I used to have a little blue booklet with samples of all the new coins in. Surely no child kept them for very long! Pristine originals must be worth a bit.

rachel said...

I remember it well. And later, if you wanted to fire old ladies up, you could ask casually, "Did you ever think you'd be paying 8 shillings (40p) for a sliced loaf?" - the conversation and the outrage would go on for ever!

Virginia said...

Interesting post, as ever. Thank you. New Zealand "went decimal" in the 1960s, and did both currency and measures. I remember that I found maths difficult before that, and a breeze afterwards.

Although saying someone is "six foot two" or "five foot nothing" still makes more sense to me than 1.8 metres or 157cm.... I have to convert those back to 'the old way'.

Elizabeth W - do you remember furlongs too? I think they might have usually been used in horse racing.

Cloudia said...

Glad you are enjoying the sun we sent you. Consolation prize for not joining the rest of the metric world!


ALOHA from Honolulu USA
Comfort Spiral

=^..^= <3


thousandflower said...

I need one of those rulers with the kings and queens on it. I get hopeless confused when reading historical fiction that takes place in England. Is there a rhyme for everyone up to Elizabeth II?

Cro Magnon said...

Over here, supermarket prices are shown in Euros, with the French Franc equivalent underneath. Maybe they know something we don't!

Cro Magnon said...

p.s. Home grown GD apples are very good. It's the big commercial growers who seem to squeeze all the flavour out of them!

Robin Mac said...

We went to decimal currency in Oz on Valentine's Day 1966, but not metric till some time in the seventies - I can't remember just when. I can get my head around most metric measurements, but height defeats me, I still think in feet and inches for that. My husband and I have disagreements about millimetres and centimetres - engineers use the former, dressmakers use the latter!

Em Parkinson said...

Being born in 1964, I spanned both but still talk in imperial when describing distance particularly. Centigrade I have come to terms with fully because of the thermometer we had in the dreaded Renault!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Golly, this has got you all going hasn't it? Does anyone know the rhyme about the kings and queens of England and how far it goes? If so I am sure Margaret would like to hear it.
We all seem agreed on one thing - it was a good excuse to put prices up!

The Weaver of Grass said...

John's comment shows that I was making assumptions about who blogs. Thanks to all of you for commenting - it seems we are all of one mind and really value our virtual friends