Boris Johnson wants to revive the use of imperial measurements to mark Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee.
Britain has yet to see any material benefit from Brexit, but our neighbours will soon enjoy the freedom to buy their groceries in pounds and ounces again instead of the metric system imposed by those pesky eurocrats in Brussels.
In fact, as the law stands, there is nothing to stop British shopkeepers using imperial measurements, but they also have to display metric. And, of course, over there they still measure beer in pints and distances in miles.
Johnson has described the use of the old-fashioned measurements as “an ancient liberty”. But to suggest that this liberty was taken away by Brussels is false. Britain began its move towards metrication before it joined the EU in 1973.
The Labour MP Angela Eagle has described the move back to imperial units as a “pathetic attempt to weaponise nostalgia”.
So where do we in Ireland stand on imperial and metric? We may live in the era of kilos and kilometres, but when it comes to measuring language, imperial is still the yardstick.
“Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” has not yet been converted to “Give them 2.5 centimetres and they’ll take 1.6 kilometres”. And we still “go the whole nine yards”, seeking our “pound of flesh” along the way. Anyone who says otherwise is not the “full shilling”.
If you ask a kindly passer-by for directions, they are unlikely to tell you in kilometres. Instead, the answer will be something like: “It’s one-and-a-half miles down that road, turn left — go half a mile down there — and it’s 200 yards in on your left.”
I grew up in the 1970s in an era when imperial measurements were still the norm, but we officially started to switch to metric. As a result, my brain is a confused mishmash of measurements, with inches on one side of the ruler and centimetres on the other. I have never quite grasped either. I know that a beefy prop forward in men’s rugby is likely to weigh more than 17 stone, but ask me how many pounds there are in a stone, and how many ounces in a pound, and I would be flummoxed. If you gave me the player’s weight in kilos, or his height in metres, it would mean nothing to me.
Our great move to metric in the 1970s was a gradual and incomplete process that ended at the door of the local pub, where we still go for a pint, rather than a half litre.
From the 1970s, distances on road signs were given in kilometres, but speed limits still appeared in miles per hour until 2005.
Perhaps if the British are restoring “ancient liberties”, we should bring back our own units of measurement, such as the Irish mile (1.27 standard miles) and the Irish acre (1.6 standard acres). Both units of measurement survived into the 20th century.
Going back further in time, we could restore the standard Irish unit of land known as the “tír cumaile” (the land of the three cows). Some historical records estimate it at 23 acres, others at 34.5 acres.
And while we are at it, we should give national recognition to a unique unit of measurement for stout in Castlebar knowns as the “meejum”, a glass filled somewhere between a half pint and a pint. I am told that the precise measurement of a meejum depends on the generosity of the barman or barwoman in John McHale’s pub on any given evening.