Carry on muddling

In these uncertain times, politicians are often keen to point out areas where Britain leads the world. We have a suggestion: creating a measurement muddle. Examples follow.

One of our readers has drawn our attention to his Ageas Countrywide Avenues House & Home Insurance Policy. In the Policy booklet dated Oct 2017, under ‘Buildings and contents, section five, STORM’, it is stated:

“By a storm, we mean … winds over 55mph … Rainfall … more than an inch falls in an hour.  Snow … if 12 inches or more falls in a 24 hour period.”

However, when we consulted our home insurance policy, issued by Towergate Insurance, we read:

The property “Is free from rivers, streams or tidal waters within 500 metres of its vicinity”.

So, rain or snow falling on a property insured by Ageas will be measured in Imperial, but after it reaches the ground Towergate will assess the resulting risk by its distance away in metres. Hmmm.

On Wednesday, we picked up the Evening Standard and, while browsing the Homes & Property section, we noticed, even before we had passed page 3, the following:

“… Harry the Hermit, who won squatters’ rights to a half-acre plot on the edge of Hampstead Heath …”

“Glamour comes big for this power couple with 3,300sq ft of space …”

“For extra pampering, there is a 25-metre residents’ swimming pool, …”

So whether you are a hermit or a power couple, your property will be sized in Imperial, but as soon as you visit the pool you will need to think metric.

Pages 6 and 7, listing the winners of the New Homes Awards 2018, we noted references to:

“Generous-size houses, typically 2,000sq ft”,

“the lovely green backdrop of the 200 acre Syon Park”, and

“A vast open-plan living space stretches to 21.6 metres”.

But we weren’t quite sure what to make of this:

“a programmable mood lighting system has no fewer that 2,700 Kelvin warm white lamps.”

There again, if you are muddling through with two measurement systems, you can’t be expected to be expert in either.

The advantages of being the world leader in the creation of a measurement muddle are open to discussion. Britain does benefit from being the origin of the world’s most popular second language. But is our hybrid mix of metric and Imperial measurements likely to catch on? We think not. It took less than 200 years for the metric system to be adopted by all but a handful of the countries of the world, and in the 21st century there is no sign of a retreat. But that won’t, it seems, stop Britain carrying on muddling.

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9 Responses to Carry on muddling

  1. Ezra Steinberg says:

    I thought acres went out the window in the UK years ago. What happened???

  2. Cliff says:

    I think the Evening Standard and The Independent are probably the most metric friendly UK newspapers. However, the Homes and Property section, which I think is common to both papers, looks like it was written in 1950 with all those square feet, acres and 20 foot reception rooms. Maybe it's written by ex real estate agents. Real estate seems to be the last industry in Britain still holding out against metric measurements. I don't understand why because buildings have been designed and built using international measurements for more than fifty years.

  3. Ezra Steinberg says:

    It looks like some folks in Canada are tired of their own muddle:

    Let's hope they decide to finish the job there once and for all!

  4. Ezra Steinberg says:

    A great example of how muddling works (or more to the point, does not) is shown graphically in the 1995 movie "Free Fall: Flight 174" that depicts the story of the infamous Canadian "Gimley Glider":

    Check the movie out starting at the 5:14 time mark up to 5:55 where the ground crew exhibits its confusion thanks to the muddling mayhem they had to muck with. A very graphic example of how NOT to convert a country to metric!

    Time for Westminster to convert road signs, lean on the BBC and other media to ditch Imperial, and chuck "stones" into the dustbin of history! 😉

    Once you lot do this, we here on this side of the Pond will hopefully use you guys as an example for us over here in the States to get cracking and convert to metric as well!

  5. Daniel Jackson says:

    The last holdout is about to metricate. Liberian Government Pledges Commitment to Adopt Metric System

  6. Cliff says:

    Sales brochure for new apartment development in East London that has just come onto the market.
    The floor areas on the first page are given only in square feet. No mention of square metres at all. Admittedly by clicking the View Property tag a floor plan with the area in square metres and square feet is given but I really don't know why the area in SI units should be relegated to second place when SI units are the legal requirement for selling property in the UK.

  7. Alex Bailey says:

    Sadly current political events really highlight how mixed up we are as a country where a vocal (and often well financed) few are managing to force their will on the rest of us.

  8. Martin Vlietstra says:

    For those who are not scientifically-inclined, a 2700 kelvin light emits an orange glow (See for an illustration). This sounds like estate-agent speak for "dingy".

  9. Ezra Steinberg says:

    So, I get that the UK is in a metric muddle and that local radio (even the BBC) can reflect that.

    But the BBC World Service touts itself as "the world's radio station". So, why on earth would a foreign reporter who is located in a metric country and reporting on a news item from that country use Imperial?


    This Egyptian reporter (with a clearly Arabic accent) was telling the listeners about how the government there is cutting back on the allowed cultivation of rice (which needs lots of water) because Ethiopia is building a dam upstream on the Nile river. Important bit of news, I agree. But what on earth is he doing reporting on the area of cultivated land to be reduced by referring to "acres"????

    Maybe I should use the BBC feedback channel and ask them what they could possibly thinking when they allow this sort of thing. I am sure that news segment was recorded so it could have been done properly using "hectares". (And is it not a bad sign that an Egyptian reporter still assumes in 2018 that English listeners will not understand metric? So much for "global Britain", eh? 😉


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