I initially grew up with the Imperial System of measurements and weights. The Imperial System was formulated as a 'rule of thumb' by an agrarian/barbarian society not overly concerned with absolute measurement. Twelve inches to a foot and sixteen ounces to the pound is an incredibly quirky system that could only arise in a pre-industrial society. The fact that the Imperial system worked so well over many centuries in the English speaking lands is a testament to its practical robustness. And today, the Americans are still happy to embrace this illogical but useful system.
Sometime in the 1960's, the British decided to embrace the logical Metric System. A system based on the rule of tens. Ten millimetres to a centimetre and ten centrimetres, to a metre and so forth. Weights also became destined to be decimalised. Now this is a sensible and pragmatic solution to weights and measurements. And let us be frank, the decimal system makes a lot of sense in our modern world. But here is the rub. Although the change in system occurred when I was a mere stripling, I still can't get to grips with the concepts of kilograms and metres. When someone says to me: 1 metre 75 centimetres (cm), this does not form a conceptual picture of length in my mind. I engage the brain and apply basic arithmetic and convert to feet and inches using the principle that 2.5 cm is very near to 1 inch. Sanity is restored (not really, I rely on the blue pills twice a day for that) and I can picture the height in Imperial terms. The same is very true with weights: by applying the notion that 1kg is equal to 2.2 pounds I can grasp the item and weigh it according to my workable conceptual model. Clearly at my age I’m never going to be truly comfortable handling Metric quantities in a conceptual fashion. It matters little during my professional duties where I’m dealing with small quantities of materials being weighed. I really don’t have to conceptualise 00.257 grams. It is simply a matter of following a protocol.
I’m not a ‘nay sayer’ when it comes to the Metric system. It is vastly superior to the Imperial System, although I acknowledge its eccentric lovable quirkiness and its historical and cultural value.
Just to be inconsistent, I still order beer in pints. Both in Britain and in my adopted country of New Zealand, a pint is still the standard measure for a foaming tankard of ale. And let’s be honest, who the bugger can visualise what 500 mls actually looks like?