Thursday, 15 October 2009

L.S.D. in metric...



They're refurbishing Wadhurst station - one of my many routes up to town, depending on how I feel when I walk out of the Turrets. The lady and the chap who work there are charming, very friendly, and always have a pleasant comment to make; even to a dishevelled bloke with a Senior Railcard, and travelling after 9.00 am...

On Wednesday, when I arrived, the lady was sitting in the waiting room surrounded by what looked like bomb damage, with weapons of mass destruction in every corner, and a huge hole in the wall. It was clear what they were doing; replacing the ticket office window, which had always seemed too high, and not appropriate today with the myriad of electronic kit you have to survive to buy a ticket.

One of the two chaps working there, suddenly exclaimed that he couldn't understand what "12s and 17s 6d meant"... He'd discovered a shred of old newspaper tucked in the wall cavity, and was reading the adverts for rooms to let in Clapham. We couldn't find the date, but it was probably about the early 1900s.

I translated, and even then got it wrong at first, but 60p and 87.5p seems a fair price if you want to live in Clapham. He was delighted too! So there we have the result of all the bungling of changing to decimal coinage in February, 1971, (the week before I first went out with Mrs S), and it's taken all this time for the change eventually to filter through! There was the usual political disorganisation, bureaucrats who still had to use their fingers to count, and weasley traders cashing in on the disorientation - especially the Government; oooh yes... Euro anyone?

I had to learn construction measurement in both Imperial and Metric in the late sixties; we were in the first wave of students who did this and it seemed a nightmare at the time. I still work in both regimes, e.g., I made the Electro-K bass in Imperial, but am currently making a cold frame in metric, and agent's particulars still print space sizes in both, with one in brackets!

It still seems to me that like most politically expedient gestures, there's an awful lot of work for state pen pushers, and their 'consultants', to get paid for, just to fiddle around with the rules and get nowhere. I bet there's an office somewhere in London, where about three hundred people have spent all their working lives on achieving almost nothing, dealing with the change to European weights and measures!

Meanwhile, the good people at Wadhurst Station can soon have a cleaner place to work, most passengers will be happy too, and I will at last be able to reach the buttons on the keypad...

31 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

LSD? Now you're showing your age ;-) These days it's E, H and Coca Cola!

When I was at school we were told that metric was "the future" and that by the time we got to working age nobody would still be using Imperial. I suppose we should have been speaking Esperanto, too, but that never seemed to catch on.

I use metric and Imperial for different things. I would never describe someone's height in metres, but I would describe a room's dimensions in metric. I walk in miles, but altitudes are metres. I cook metric but measure my obesity in stones.

As for the Euro - well perhaps now we are at 1:1 it is the time to switch! Quick, before the maths gets nasty!

mutleythedog said...

I also grew up with both systems and the weird rules surrounding them - e.g all road distances have to be in imperial, miles, feet, yards etc. Except to public toilets which are metric - but which have to be accurate to within 1 metre. So you get signs saying "Toilets 213 metres" very odd...

Calfy said...

I don't have any difficulty in converting to LSD, but my bemusement arises through the comparative value of a shilling in the 1860s and a shilling in the 1960s etc. I had the same problem with piastres when I moved onto French literature. I'd love a chart showing how many contemporary pennies would make a sovereign in 1910...or farthings, florins, groats, as required! I suppose that there'll be one online. Oh, I remember learning that "m" was the abbreviation for "metres" and half expecting an almighty splash when I read the sign "Hastings: 40m".
My grandfather's most famous refrain was "It all comes down to LSD".

I learnt a bit of Esperanto with a friend so that we could talk to each other about anything we wanted in public without fear of being understood. (The first choice was Welsh but that proved too difficult). It must be over a hundred years old now; another conception (like the USA) so modern that one wonders how it could have gone so badly wrong. I've never met another speaker (aside from my friend). Wikipedia said that the Chinese teach it, but my Chinese friends had never heard of it.

Philipa said...

Oh I hope they will frame the newspaper, or someone kept it. What a delightful find.

A friend is making an extension lead for me for my birthday as the one available in the shop is too short (ends = more than complete item). The one in the shop is 10ft coiled so I said around 12-15 feet, 3 ft to a yard so make it 5 yards max said I. "I'll make it 5 metres" said he "as a stride is about 1 metre".

Well I didn't like to say it depends on how short your legs are. He's got metric legs. I have imperial legs.

Elby the Beserk said...

LSD very good for kids to learn how to count in their heads. Sadly, a momentary blip means I can't recall the phrase for this, but I do recall horrifying a cashier in a supermarket by telling her how much my trolley of purchases amounted to.

And NO - calculators should NOT be allowed in exams. Slide rules, maybe.

Hate metric as it does not relate to real life; how much better all our wonderful old measurements, many related to allotment sizes

Length: inch, foot, yard, mile, fathom, rod, furlong, league, mil, pole, perch, hand, link, chain.

How much more imaginative than

millimetre
centimetre
metre
etc.

Also, I believe the metric system to be French in origin, therefore really not suitable for our different brains.

Elby the Beserk said...

Ireland for a while had speed limits and distance signs in one of metric or imperial. Being Ireland, the signs didn't indicate which.

Elby the Beserk said...

And of course the old LSD system was again far more imagination provoking

Farthing
Ha'penny
Penny
Thruppence
Sixpence
Shilling
Florin
Half Crown
Crown
Pound
Guinea

I associate metric and decimal with Puritans, Roundheads and hence, New Labour. Imperial and LSD with the Cavaliers and all the bad boys and girls of history.

Elby the Beserk said...

Calfy,
n many parts of North Wales, if you go into a pub or shop, people will still switch into Welsh when they hear you speak English (even if they were talking in English themselves up to that point). Best always to have a Welsh speaker with you, so that you can insult them back.

rvi said...

Elby has it. I suspect that the reason LSD and our other old measurements were used so successfully for so long was simply because a base of 12, being directly divisible by 1,2,3,4 & 6 was far more flexible - and therefore useful - than the metric base of 10. How can anybody over the age of about 45 not remember with joy trying to multiply £45-19shillings and 6d three farthings by 67? And in part 2 of the question dividing that sum by 18? Those were the days of real money (and goodness knows what half the youngsters of today would make of it all - and without the aid of a calculator too).

The metric system is based on the distance between the equator and the north pole on a line running through Paris. A metre is one ten millionth of that distance (I think!) The official metre length is a platinum strip embedded on a plinth somewhere in Paris and I have vague recollections that it might have been Napoleon Bonapart's idea (but remain prepared to be corrected on this) to set up this system. Apologies to my history and geography masters if I have "mis-remembered" some of this, but it was a very long time ago!

..and now back to my Beano.

Thud said...

Working on old houses we find old newspapers etc all the time and the prices are a source of amusement to my younger workers. The confusion in measurements is best illustrated for me by the way in which at lumber yards I order 4 meter lengths of 2x4!

Philipa said...

I thought Scrobs might pick me up on the logic of my last post - tis the other way around.

How many yards in 1 metre? The answer is 1.09361329834. So a metre is longer than a yard. Metric legs are longer than imperial legs.

Elby must have metric legs.

Scrobs... said...

Now look what's happened! My PC goes on the blink for a couple of days, and I have to beg, borrow and steal Mrs S's to answer...!

Blues, I am indeed old (Father Time), and indeed Metric was a word which cast fear in everyone's mind - mainly becaise we'd only just learned how to work in Imperial!

Wash your mouth out about parity, it's a con still...

Scrobs... said...

Ha ha ha Mutters!

Like the story of Toilets; as if a couple of centimetres meant that much....


....WATCH IT.....

Scrobs... said...

Calfy "I'd love a chart showing how many contemporary pennies would make a sovereign in 1910...or farthings, florins, groats, as required! I suppose that there'll be one online."

I'm sure those of us who 'Lurve' Excel will oblige...

I've got an old 'De Resque' cigarette box loaded with old pennies, halfpennies etc, and waiting for the day when I can either sell them all, or just chuck 'em away...

No Groats though, not my generation...;0)

Scrobs... said...

Pips, I thought you'd grown out of being on a lead...


Ha ha ha - my little joke...

I'd have bought five metres too, but when I pace out a building frontage, I shorten my stride a fraction, and make it a yard. It seems to be pretty accurate - good enough for what we want anyway...

Scrobs... said...

Elebers, somewhere in the roof, I've still got my Dad's old cylindrical slide rule! Still in it's box too; he treasured it and used it all the time!

Next Blog or three...

Still can't relate to metric - especially where weight is concerned!

Scrobs... said...

Elbers, I thought for one monent that you were going to say that they had Imperial on one side, and metric on the other...

Scrobs... said...

Agree about your list of coins Elbers, and the Welsh trick is also rife in Aberystwyth too!

Why was a sixpence called a 'Tanner', and a Threepenny piece a 'Joey'?

D'ya recall silver ones then?

I don't...;0)

Scrobs... said...

Reevers, before you get stuck into Lord Snooty (could you rephrase that please...), you've just recalled a nightmare, multiplying money sums...Yuccccch!

One of the first jobs you're taught in Quantity Surveying is how to apply Duodecimals, i.e. multiplying squares and cubes in feet and inches...

Bugger me that's boring, and kids just starting spent all day (pre-calculators this ), doing them by hand. And then another kid would have to check them all afterwards...

No wonder I left and went to do something else...

Scrobs... said...

Thud, that's spot on!

Round here, the bricks are the old Imperial, and there are lots of these still in the garden after the old house on the site was flattened by a V2 'Juring ve Wooor' and they're mostly used up now.

Just try marrying these with Metric bricks, and you have a quandary...

I can get really excited about old brickwork, and have long wanted to do a post on it, but fear that all the girls will get fed up and never come back again...

And we need them here...

A lot...

Scrobs... said...

Pips; Got it! Indeed Elbers has Metric legs, in fact he has legs up to where most other people are starting thei rib cage, and perhaps higher.

I'd say that Elbers' legs are in fact a pseudonym for L'Arc de Triomph, except that he may compete by owning both of the masts to be seen on the hill in Crystal Palace...

Naaaah, they're longer than that...

Trubes has got legs like that too, but we haven't seen her lately...

Thud said...

Scrobs...bricks and stone...post away,I'm sure the ladies will give you a little room for a slight indulgence.

electro-kevin said...

I expect the hawks have already been down there stripping out memorabilia. Railway stuff goes for a fortune on Ebay.

Just discussing the very subject of EU funded navel inspectors with bro' E-K. It's one of our biggest sources of employment.

Philipa said...

I'd love a post on bricks. I like blue bricks.

Scrobs, can you imagine trying to do 3D fluid dynamics without a computer? They must have had rooms full of clerks doing sums all day. Or they didn't - no wonder everything was over engineered. How can they have done dynamic testing? Just build one and give it a go I suppose. Much cheaper now.

Scrobs... said...

Thudders - It'll take some research, the books are in the roof, but hang in here...

Pips wants to see something so we're nearly there...

Scrobs... said...

Elecs, I think you're right, although I suspect that it had had a 1960's ruination before.

I did see the old teak counter, which would have been in my car boot in a flish, had my car not been about twelve miles away...

There's no accounting for taste though, at Etchingham, they'd replaced the door handle with a plastic one from Homebase...

Kenny (incumbent ticket man and a good guy was livid)!

Elby the Beserk said...

Pip,

I am, when shod, 6'6" - i.e. the Two Metre Man.

When small kids ask me how tall I am, I look down at them and say

"VERY tall".

At least, I did, before it became a crime to talk to strange children.

I can remember being at the County Ground in Bristle watching Gloccy play some other county. The enormously tall and hugely adored Courtney Walsh, who was backstabbed out of the county by the loathsome David Graveney (salute his pa, though), was walking the boundary at lunch. Mum comes up with small boy who wants his autograph. Small boy leans back and looks up at Courtney, somewhat alarmed.

"Don't worry, little man", says Courtney, "I ain't going to eat you" :-)

On the imperial system - I seem to recall that diaries used to have all the various measurements in them; and that I loved to pore over them.

Mind you, I used to go into the big old-fashioned stationers in Cambridge, near the market, when I was at school there, to look at the slide rules.

I was a strange lad...

rvi said...

Scrobs: It is clear from your response to me that doing those sums gave you duodecimal ulcers..

I am happy with the longer metric measurements - ie kilometres, tonnes etc, which I can relate to, but it is the shorter ones which floor me. If somebody tells me a box measures 18 x 6 x 54ins, I can visualise pretty accurately whether or not it will fit in the boot of the car. But if somebody says that the box is 157 x 92 x 84mm I have no idea what they are talking about. Similarly for height. Anything over 2 metres and I am all at sea. When my wife goes shopping for material to do a spot of dressmaking or whatever we simply use yards and add a bit. Curtain height? 7'6", so we need two and a bit metres...

Seems to work for us.

PS: Somewhere in the attic I have a complete and until this day completely untouched full set of 1964 coins, a present from a good friend at the time. May be worth something one of these days. I also have a full set of first day issue euro coins given by a French friend whom I used to tease remorselessly about losing the Franc. Serves me right, but they may also be worth something one day soon judging by the constant decline of the pound.

Scrobs... said...

Reevers, I completely understand!

We used to say that a foot was 300mm, and work on that basis, but quantity surveying in the sixties was a harrowing job, all prissy and without humour, and I hated it!

One chap I worked with actually had a folded Kleenex next to his row of Biros, so that he could wipe off the blue bits (or sometimes red or even green), which accumulated after writing a long list of numbers to total up. He'd use a ruler to put a line across the final number, then another to close off the sum.

Awhhhhh F*** off please!!!

I had to get out - and I did! Now, I see these same sorts of people still doing the same thing and wondering whatever happened in their lives...

Absolutely right on your method of measurement! If it looks right, it probably is!

And, those coins may well have a few notes in value, but you and I may have to be several years older when we spend them in somewhere like North West Europe (UK)!

Philipa said...

Wow, Elby, you are VERY tall. Your legs are fine by me as long as they continue to stand by Lils. Bet you're glad she's home safe. My parents are away and both of us won't be quite ok untill they're home safe. They both have mobile phones and never turn them on. They use them as a kind of pocket phone box and don't consider it important that someone might want to phone them. They have our email addresses. Yeah, like that's going to happen!

Reevers - know exactly what you mean, me too.

Elby the Beserk said...

Never worried about L & K in Syria at all. Everyone I know who has been to Damascus has loved it, and my experience of such a country, two months in Morocco in my hippy days, was of wonderful hospitality and respect everywhere.

Cylindrical slide rule - never seen one of those. I have a wooden one to hand, courtesy of our local Freecycle which is a "Froudes" slide rule, used for some sort of naval calculation. So I have no idea how to use it, but it is rather splendid. I was in my day a whizz with a slide rule, but then I was also the sort of lad who would happily read logarithm tables.

Really :-)