Sunderland greengrocer, Steve Thoburn died suddenly of a heart attack in 2004 aged 39. No, this is not a post about the dangers of vegetables. Steve was a metric martyr.
He was the victim of repeated prosecution by trading standards officers who objected to his selling bananas by the pound rather than the kilo. They even confiscated his scales, and several times brought him before the beak. I believe he even served time.
Today is a great day for those who love Imperial measurements. The European Commission announced yesterday that it had abandoned plans to force Britain to abolish Imperial measurements by 2009. EU trade and industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen declared that the marking of goods in imperial and metric would carry on indefinitely.
To my mind this drive towards the imposition of metric measurements derives from that tyrant Napoleon. As with other Napoleonic impositions, like driving on the right, government interference with the individual and the loss of ligatures from the English language (Noah Webster was a disciple of Napoleon), the metric system was a French plot to do down the English.
In a thousand years time this current period will be seen as the heyday of British hegemony. Of course, power has largely passed to a former colony, but their success has largely stemmed from their refusal to be cowed by government and their loyalty to Imperial measurements.
The French do a lot of things right, of course, wine and cheese, especially, but what the British and their former colonials have that allows them to triumph is that they are numerate. Our current areas of great success are all based on the ability to calculate rapidly. Take the London Stock Exchange: it is largely staffed by young men disparagingly called 'barrow boys', men like Steve Thoburn, men who can calculate the price of a pound of bananas in pounds shillings and pence. These are men whose minds are not trapped withing the prison of ten, but who can calculate with base 3 or 4 or 8 or 9 or 12 or 14 or 16 or 20 or 22.
Cricket pitches are one tenth of a furlong (or a chain) long. Unlike Rugby, which has changed the 25 to a 22 to accommodate the metre, cricket has remained true to the Empire. But then the French don't play cricket. (And that's probably the source of the problem.)
I was cheered to see Nicolas Sarkozy as French President. The French have been such lackluster economic performers recently that there has really been no decent competition. I hope that Sarkozy will be able to convince Frenchmen of the value of hard work. When they put their minds to it Frenchmen perform with style, but I fear that their warm climate and pleasant countryside make it too easy for Frenchmen to relax.
I am reminded of an old "Yes, Prime Minister" episode where Jim Hacker wanted to get rid of our nuclear deterrent. "Can you really believe that we would ever bomb Russia?" he asked the generals. And of course we would never bomb Russia or even Iran. The whole, complete and only reason that the British have a nuclear bomb is because the French have one.