There have been several articles in the press recently speculating about reverting back to pre metric weights and measures and old money once the UK leaves the EU. At first my reaction was that it was a great idea, but then I began to wonder. There is a well known British saying that goes ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ and I believe that they are usually wise words. I’m having a little debate with myself as follows:
Pounds, Shillings & Pence VS Decimal Currency
The decision to go decimal in this country was announced to parliament in 1966 after a very short conversation between then prime minister Harold Wilson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jim Callaghan. Decimal coinage was gradually phased in until the last of the new coins were released on February 15th 1971. The banks even closed for 4 days to prepare for the final changeover.
Some of the currency was similar, just 10p instead of 1 shilling and 50p coins instead of the 10 bob (10 shilling) note. We quickly lost the threepenny bit and old pennies and halfpennies, but the very popular sixpence or tanner worth 2.5p lasted until 1980 due to public opinion. You can see the conversions at http://www.metric.org.uk/decimalisation
I was 16 and working on a market stall when decimalisation happened and thinking back to those days I remember the confusion and especially amongst the elderly. I can remember old folks offering me their purses and wallets to take the money for their shopping because they didn’t understand the new currency, it was sad really.
With the conversion came many higher prices, i.e. if a product had cost 11 pennies in the old money (12 pennies = 1 shilling or 10p) the new price became the slightly higher 10p because there wasn’t an equivalent.
Then there were some unscrupulous traders who took advantage and really hiked their prices up. Suddenly for instance something that had previously sold for 4 shillings and 6 pennies became 46p in the new money when really the conversion from old to new should have been approximately 22½ pence.
Apart from the confusion and the rip offs it must have been very expensive changing over vending machines to accept the new currency. To me it would be a waste of money that could be better spent on the NHS to change all of the vending machines again. I also think that it’s too late to revert back to old money when only those my age and older understand it. So in my opinion it’s a big fat no to changing back despite the sense of nostalgia many of us older folk have for £sd.
Imperial Weights & Measures VS Metric Weights & Measures
I’m a bit conflicted with this one. As with currency metric weights and measures were gradually introduced. When the UK entered the common market (now EU) compulsory deadlines were set to convert completely but due to resistance of the public the deadline was altered several times until in 2009 the requirement to ultimately cease use of traditional units alongside metric units was finally removed. That is why we have a dual system of weights and measures.
After many years I still find it difficult to think in metric weights and measures and so do a lot of people my age and older and have been glad of imperial measures being phased back in again.
Having to use metric weights changed my shopping habits for the worst. For instance when I bought meat instead of going to the butcher shop and having meat weighed out I started to buy pre packed meat from the supermarket. That was because I could see how much I was buying rather than getting confused with the conversion. It was the same with fruit and vegetables, buying pre packed instead of weighed out.
When butchers and greengrocers were again allowed to use imperial weights alongside metric in 2009 I went back to buying weighed out fresh foods and found that I was actually getting more for my money at the butcher shop and greengrocers and better quality than pre packed.
Yesterday I bought just over ¾ lb (pound) of beef mince at the local butcher shop for £2.43, it was made from lean British beef and of a good quality. If I had bought a pound of beef mince it would have cost about £3.20 and I would be looking at paying £4 and over for good quality lean British mince in the supermarkets in my area. I’ve found that I get more rashers of bacon for the same cost at the butchers than when I buy pre packed.
Again with measures I just can’t think metric. I can visualise how long a foot or yard is but not a centimetre or metre. I know that when I buy trousers that I need a 32 inch leg but haven’t a clue what the metric measurement would be. When I buy things on the internet that give the size in metric measurements I find it a nuisance to have to get out a measure and check how big the product is before ordering yet I have no problem with imperial measurements.
Although I’ve never had a problem with the decimal currency and am happy to keep it I do have problems with metric weights and measures. I obviously prefer imperial weights and measure having never been able to get used to visualising in metric weights and measures..
I think that it would be better for all of those younger than me who have grown up with the metric system if everything stayed the same, but imperial weights and measures be used alongside metric as long as people of my generation need them.
What do you think? Would you rather go back to imperial, stick with both systems or completely change to metric.
I Patricia Jones am the author of this article and owner of the site. I live in West Yorkshire in England and work part time in a largish store.
In my spare time I go swimming regularly, draw, make jewellery, socialise and write. Not much time left over but whatever is left is for building this blog.