back to article Pints under attack as Lord Howe demands metric-only UK

Lord Geoffrey Howe of Aberavon has demanded that the UK goes fully metric as soon as possible, describing the current mix of miles and kilometres and pints and litres as a "uniquely confusing shambles". Speaking yesterday in the House of Lords, the former chancellor and deputy prime minister insisted: "British weights and …


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  1. dogged

    Piss off, Geoffrey.

    1. Hieronymus Howerd

      Bit harsh

      I wouldn't mind a litre of beer just now.

      1. illiad

        litre of beer??

        that will be £5.70 sir... :) :)

        - its about £3.20 a pint here in sarth london.. :(

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: litre of beer??

          The litre isn't a proper MKS unit -you should ask for 1/1000 of a cubic metre of beer

    2. Greg J Preece

      Piss off yourself. Imperial's a right load of outdated shite people cling on to out of some misguided sense of "tradition". It's the same staring-into-the-past attitude that British people regurgitate every damn day, and it really gets on my tits. Why can't we get rid of all this old-fashioned crap and move on?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Year Zero

        "Why can't we get rid of all this old-fashioned crap and move on?"

        That's what Mao and Pol Pot said and we saw how well it worked out for them.

        It is absurd to change systems that work perfectly well (like selling beer in pints) just because they offend some people's OCD sense of consistency. There are much more important things to spend money and legislative time on.

        1. Ted Treen

          Re: @ Year Zero

          "some people's CDO*", please.

          *In alphabetical order, as it should be!

        2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        3. veti Silver badge

          Re: Year Zero

          Wow, 4 posts to Godwination. (Okay, technically "Mao and Pol Pot" isn't the same as "Hitler", but I argue it's close enough. Maybe the metric equivalent.)

          Seriously, could you get any more ridiculous? "Metrication equals genocide" isn't even disguised as a rational argument, or even an emotive one for that matter, it's not an argument at all.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        For decades or longer people have been smart enough to use both systems. Why change it?

      3. RIch 24

        piss off Greg

        What's in a unit? Why piss all that money up the wall changing over?

        I wonder if some units related lobby group has got to the old duffer. (glass manufactures assn?)

      4. Eponymous Cowherd
        Thumb Down

        Re: Piss off yourself

        A Pint is a shade over 568 ml.

        If we go metric I imagine we'll follow the rest of Europe and have 500ml and 250 ml servings in place of the Pint and Half.

        So we'll only be getting something like 88% of a Pint or Half.

        Anyone want to bet on the prices being reduced accordingly?


        Didn't think so.

        1. The Envoy

          Re: Piss off yourself

          Worse still; some places - mainly in larger cities - that used to serve you a pint OR 500 ml sneakily shrunk the size to 400 ml instead of raising the price. Unacceptable for a person who like me prefer nothing smaller than 500 ml.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Piss off yourself

          Ignorance is bliss. Where I am, we drink 3 decis (300 mls) i.e. more than half a pint, half litres and litres (more than a pint by a respectable margin).

          Do you know what? The taste of the beer does not depend upon the size of the container! What's more, most beer here is stronger. Now where did I put those shillings, old pence, groats, farthings?

          Grow up and learn to adapt. Even the yanks are trying - very trying sometimes.

      5. JEDIDIAH

        People versus Lab Rats

        Metric is great for the lab, kind of nonsense outside the lab.

        The "modern" mindset likes to believe that any thing new is automatically good and anything old is automatically bad without stopping to consider things. The fact that traditional measurements evolved to suit the needs of people in an organic fashion is not necessarily a bad thing.

        Things based on 2 and 3 are great for sub dividing and eye-balling.

        More "modern" measures also demand more "modern" measuring implements to be at all usable.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: People versus Lab Rats

          tried dividing ten by three? In decimal?

          Actually, 12 is a good unit, divisible by 1,2,3,4,6 and itself. However, lacking 12 fingers or toes it is about as friendly in the long run as octal or hexadecimal. How much does a cubic pint of water weight? Now, how about a litre of water? Do you begin to get it? Imagine the savings such consistency makes when applied across a whole country and its schools and industry. It is not a waste of money to go the whole hog. It is wasteful to persist with two systems and, as a result, have children and adults who are barely competent with one and useless with the other, effecting their working and studying ability. What the Americans do is irrelevant.

        2. Burkhard Kloss

          Re: People versus Lab Rats

          > Things based on 2 and 3 are great for sub dividing and eye-balling.

          If you have trouble dividing metric measurements (i.e. 10s and 100s) by 2 or 3 (to a practical accuracy), then it doesn't matter whether beer's sold in pints or litres, you've had enough.

          Trying to change the measurements is a complete waste of time though, since it attempts to solve a non-existent problem. Clearly we've managed to fix the political system and the economy while I was having a post-prandial nap

      6. The Fuzzy Wotnot

        @Greg J Preece

        OK mate, if that's how you feel then you can pay to have all the millions of roads signs up and down the UK "recoded" from miles to kilometres, out of you own pocket!

        1. trog-oz

          Australian managed to change all it's road signs to metric in 1970 and it's a bigger country than the UK. We have more signs as well. At a junction there isn't just a sign telling you how far to the next place (like here in the UK) but distances to all the places the road goes to. The little men did it in a long weekend too,.

      7. Rampant Spaniel

        It isn't tradition for me at least, I Just fail to see enough of a benefit to justify the cost. Especially in the current economic climate. It has been done in some situations where the cost was low, such as the sale of spirits which just required and optic change, and wine I think is sold in metric glass sizes.

        To switch Beer from pints, it would mean a large switch of glasses, for what benefit? Just to unify on a single measurement. It isn't like you need a specific amount of beer (other than more), a litre isn't better, personally I would rather see beer sold by the yard! But seriously, if there is a valid reason, like in building a house as mentioned earlier, than sure, if the benefit (such as alignment with Europe for purchasing materials and setting standards) outweighs the cost of retooling I agree, but in those cases it has probably already been done.

        This is just another case of an out of touch, overdue for retirement fossil wasting our time and money that would be better directed towards improving the huge ass hole we are currently in. We have wasted billions recently on aircraft carriers, planes, NHS procurement etc ad nauseum (not that we didn't need them, we were just inefficient to the point of idiocy), it's about time we got down to some basics, like making more than we spend, investing in our peoples education and health and not making dumb ass decisions that waste a fortune.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      What the fuck does it matter?

      I buy petrol by the pound (sterling), and milk by the carton.

      I too was educated in metric 71... Then went to the US in 1990 and got issued with a wooden ruler with inches along both edges - retro or what?

      Its just another excuse to waste taxpayers money.


      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: Agree

        The US also has a similar arrangement to ours, if not even more confusing as they have 3 different gallons. Tools come in SAE (imperial in effect, but they didn't like the word imperial) and metric, they use cups instead of weight for most baking, and yet shit still gets done.

        I buy my petrol in US Gallons, I don't care what the unit is, I pull the lever until the bikes full. The bike has never rejected fuel because it wasn't sold in litres. On the tools front it means owning more tools which is a bit of a pain. Milk is sold in quarts or gallons, the exact size is rather inconsequential, if I need a set amount I measure it. I don't think I've ever been bothered by it, it's just how it is and you get on with it. It's not exactly killing anyone.

        The comments about the size reducing but the price remaining the same are spot on.

        I was born in the uk in the 80's, I have no issues using either American or traditional imperial or metric. It's not exactly difficult to do.

        Whilst I can see it would make life simpler for the hard of thinking, there are far more important issues to deal with right now and the potential for the gov't to screw this up is immense.

        1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

          Re: Agree

          Re: US units. The worst part of the US use of pints/gallons/miles/etc. is that, despite some of the units not being the same size as apparently equivalent Imperial one, a substantial fraction of Americans call them "English"*. This applies more to length than volume measures, and we have the insanity of the US fluid ounce being bigger than the Imperial one, but the pint and gallon being smaller. (Imperial pint: 20 Imp-floz, US pint: 16 US-floz). Reading /Have Spacesuit, Will Travel/ as a British teenager in Britain introduced me to the baffling assertion that "A pint's a pound the world around."...

          * - well, they did in the 1980s when I lived over there.

          1. Irony Deficient

            “English” units

            Steve the Cynic, the reason why a substantial fraction of Americans call US units “English” is because their definitions originally came from English statutes. The main difference between US units and Imperial units is in the measures of volume, viz the bushel (dry) and the gallon (wet), and the subsidiary units based upon these two. Our bushel remains identical to the corn bushel adopted during the reign of William III., and our gallon remains identical to the wine gallon adopted during the reign of Anne.

            Our “wine pint” of water comes in at about 7300 grains (473 g or so), so it’s around 4% heavier than a pound avoirdupois. Does anyone have the specific gravity of wine handy?

          2. Rampant Spaniel

            Re: Agree

            Yeah, they got pissed off with calling it english so they invented SAE (Society of American Engineers) for tools at least, but it is in essence imperial.

            These days they refer to their 7 pint gallon as a US Gallon, and their other gallon as a US Dry gallon. Interesting they switched from calling it 'english', especially as they used a different size pint, quart and gallon.

            I do sometimes have to remember to convert US > Imperial and back when talking with relatives. I just find it amusing that an average person can cope quite easily with 3 different systems and others find it so difficult. The funny thing is, I think I actually prefer imperial to metric in most things. Base 10 is great for maths, but for actually working with I prefer imperial.

            With tools and similar things it can be important, you need to have exactly the right size spanner, but when buying milk or mince (ground beef to the salad dodgers) it doesn't really matter. The world will not be a significantly worse or better place if beer came in half litres, although we all know the price would go up and the volume would go down.

            I just find it so amusing that the old fart is so out of touch with reality that in the middle of the biggest financial crisis and depression of nearly the last 100 years he wants to waste untold amounts of money changing something that frankly doesn't matter. Does a road sign being in miles actually change anything. Most if not all cars and bikes readout in both, newer vehicles can switch between the two on their lcd displays. I used to believe the house of lords was an important safety guard against a loony house of commons, now it seems more and more that they are nothing more than a hindrance and a waste of space.

            There is a very strong argument to be made for a mandatory retirement age in the house of lords. Howe was born in 1926, making him approximately 86. If this is the most important thing he can come up with I think it's time he was shipped off somewhere with a carriage clock and his ridiculously large pension.

            1. Davidoff

              so they invented SAE (Society of American Engineers)

              SAE is the 'Society of Automotive Engineers' (originally 'Society of Automobile Engineers').

              1. Rampant Spaniel

                Re: so they invented SAE (Society of American Engineers)

                apologies, my mind wandered off to another definition :)

            2. Tom 13

              Re: 7 pint gallon

              It's still 8 pints to the 'Merkin gallon. Granted those would be 'Merkin pints.

        2. hoboroadie

          it would make life simpler for the hard of thinking

          That is one of the few reasonable arguments for supporting this idea. Considering how the hard of thinking are being pandered to these days, some might suppose this issue will get some credence. The true cause, industrial efficiency, does rather raise my hackles; As a Californian Geezer, I still resent the loss of the fifth and quarter gallons of Whiskey. The metric sizes feel feminized to my hand. YMMV

        3. AdamWill

          Re: Agree

          "The US also has a similar arrangement to ours, if not even more confusing as they have 3 different gallons. Tools come in SAE (imperial in effect, but they didn't like the word imperial) and metric, they use cups instead of weight for most baking, and yet shit still gets done."

          With much cursing and moaning. Ask a contractor.

          Better yet, ask any Canadian contractor, who has to deal with both sets of crap.

          1. xerocred

            Re: Agree

            The worst thing I found in the US roadsigns was lack of consistency...

            Exit 1/4 mile

            Exit 400 yds

            Exit 2000 feet

            And that they were in english, not a symbol...

          2. Rampant Spaniel

            Re: Agree

            Is it really that difficult? Not being mean but I was raised with metric at school and imperial at home. I never found an issue with carpentry, even when rebuilding a house, but I am not a professional. Plus, you choose to live with the French, it's your own fault! :)

            1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

              Re: Agree

              I agree with Lord Howe's basic assertion: that the UK's current system of using both Imperial and metric is just stupid. It makes far more sense to standardise. You get the benefits of much easier calculations for a start. No need to remember how many barleycorns* to the foot, for one thing. Everywhere else except the UK and the US uses the Metric system. Yes, it was popularised by the French—although first proposed by a >Briton, so you don't get to use the nationalist card.

              The Imperial yard and the Metric metre are so similar, many road signs have been positioned at the equivalent distance in metres, not yards, specifically with a view to easy conversion to metric.

              Nobody's suggesting replacing every existing road sign right away either: you can just slap vinyl stickers over the existing signs to update the numbers and units. Everything else stays the same. All you need is a printer who can print adhesive vinyl stickers, and those aren't particularly hard to find. They're not even all that expensive: given the quantities you'd be ordering, and the bulk discounts the printing firms would offer—there's plenty of competition too—you could probably do London's signs for about £200K or so. Not free, certainly, but it'll keep some people in gainful employment. That's quite a good thing to do during a period of recession.

              Yes, you'd see a lot of signs saying "Charing Cross 1600 mt." instead of "Charing Cross 1 m", but it's still metric and the actual distance hasn't changed. It's a damned sight cheaper than the typical "Can't Do" attitude of folks here who seem to believe every single sign in the country would need to be re-sited right away for some unexplained reason.

              There's nothing in UK law that requires every sign to be exactly a multiple of 1680 yards, or 1000 metres, from whatever they're pointing at. They're only there to tell you how far away something is. You can move them about later, during ordinary road maintenance cycles, when you'd have had to spend the money on replacing the signs anyway.

              See? Not difficult, is it?

              As for the whole "pints vs. litres" bollocks... please! If you can understand litres of petrol, why can't you understand beer sold in litres too? Instead of asking for a pint, you'd ask for a "half". Instead of asking for a half-pint, you'd ask for "a quarter". Not rocket science, is it?

              And, yes, unscrupulous pub landlords and supermarkets will doubtless not drop their prices slightly to take account of the changes, but so what? Inflation and taxes will have wiped out any differences in very short order anyway; this is an utter non-argument.

              There are very good reasons for switching to the Metric system. There are no good reasons whatsoever for sticking with two inconsistent systems, one of which, like Microsoft Word's file format, isn't even consistent with itself.

              If you're against full metrification because of the "we manage today with the existing complexity and inconsistencies", you cannot possibly have any problem with merely having to cope with bigger numbers on some signs, and ever-so-slightly-smaller beer glasses.

              The French, Germans and Italians have been using the Metric system for generations. It's not hard. It's incredibly easy. That's the whole bloody point of it!

              * (British shoe sizes are still measured in Barleycorns. Presumably, the US Barleycorn is also slightly different from the British one.)

              1. jonathanb Silver badge

                Re: Agree

                The British and American barleycorns are the same, however the length in barleycorns of a size 0 shoe is different.

            2. AdamWill

              Re: Agree

              There are, for instance, two sets of measurements for screw sizes - one metric, one imperial. When you're working on projects in NA, particularly Canada, you're quite likely to come across both. So you're going to need two sets of screws and two sets of drill bits. Which is pretty stupid. It's also pretty difficult to eyeball the difference between a 1/8" hole and a 0.4cm hole (or whatever, I didn't bother looking up the real units).

          3. AdamWill

            Re: Agree

            Oh, although I should have said, cups and spoons for baking are awesome, and way easier to deal with then weighing out every crappy thing. I avoid UK recipes like the plague now.

            1. Stephen Allan Swain

              Re: Agree

              Conversely, I hate recipes with cups and spoons - I can never get a repeatable result. Plus more washing up. My preferred way of measuring ingredients, where possible, is to add everything to a large mixing bowl using digital scales - just keep pressing the 'zero' or whatever they call it button. Also add water/milk this way (making the assumption that milk is pretty much the same density as water).

              1. AdamWill

                Re: Agree

                you have to buy actual measuring cups/spoons. you can't just grab whatever you use to stir your tea and call it a 'teaspoon', you need an Official Measuring Teaspoon. These might be hard to buy in the UK, I dunno. In NA you can buy 'em everywhere, in natty sets.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Agree

              For American recipes you just need sugar anyway, do n't you? No other ingredients are there in sufficient quantity to matter.

              I do wonder why so many contributors to a technical site concerning faintly modern technology find things such as the metric system, weighing and measuring quite so difficult. Worrying if they are in work.

              1. jonathanb Silver badge

                Re: Agree

                Usually corn syrup rather than proper sugar. Most of the world's sugar cane comes from Cuba, and for some reason, Americans don't like them.

        4. Irony Deficient

          three different US gallons?

          Rampant Spaniel, I know of the wet US gallon (Anne’s wine gallon) and the dry US gallon (⅛ of William III.’s corn bushel); what is the third type of US gallon that you have in mind?

          1. Rampant Spaniel

            Re: three different US gallons?

            Sorry it was Wet, Dry and Imperial, only 2 of them are specifically American.

      2. illiad

        Re: Agree

        hohoho yes!!! :) I had forgotten USA still has that!!! :)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just shows how out of touch any politician or former politician is

      1. Chika

        He was rarely IN touch when he was part of the cabinet.

    5. Fred Mbogo

      Metric/Imperial Gaffe

      If a NASA mission can fail because of the metrics/imperial qwango imagine how chaotic the rest of existence is.

      In my country we use a mix-match of units (being a former American interest) and it sucks balls. We use liters for drinks and gallons for fuel. We use pounds for meat and kilos for veggies. We use kilometers for distance and inches for dick size. Cooking is a goddamned nightmare as our products can include weight, volume and usually, it does not match what you are trying to cook.

      Kill it with fire. Its inelegant, unscientific and outdated. Conversions are a nightmare with a system that does not follow a pattern.

  2. Crisp Silver badge

    Point 57 of a litre please.

    It's the same fizzy glass of joy no matter what measuring system you use. Until I can actually buy a litre of beer at a pub, I'm not going to ask for one.

    And who buys milk in pints? Down my local shop it's either a 1 litre bottle, or 2 litres or 4.

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Point 57 of a litre please.

      Down my shop (Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrisons, Asda, corner stores, M&S), you can buy milk in 4 metric sizes, 568ml, 1.134l, 2.268l and 3.40l.

      I've never once seen a 4 litre bottle of milk in a country with the Imperial system. In the US you can get a US gallon of milk, which is 3.78l (and sold at that size).

    2. The Bit Wrangler

      Re: Point 57 of a litre please.

      "who buys milk in pints?"

      We all do - those 1,2 and 4 containers are 1, 2, and 4 (plus 1/2 and 6) PINTS. Check out Tesco/Asda/whoever's websites.

      I agree with your first point, though. It doesn't matter how it's measured it's the convenient (and traditional) amount that's the issue. Half a litre isn't very satisfying (despite being only 68ml less than a pint.

      1. Graham Dawson

        Re: Point 57 of a litre please.

        Aye, but with metric, a half of shandy would last the whole night...


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