The French Revolution attempted to sweep away many of the everyday cultural anchors that attach a people to a way of life: the currency, the calendar and the systems of weights and measures. The new calendar did not last but the currency and metric system did. The French lost forever an important part of their shared experience. It was perhaps the first attempt at a Year Zero obliteration of the past not by an invader but by the elite of a people.
Britain has never experienced a cultural upheaval as starkly dramatic as the French Revolution, but revolution can come in subtler ways. In the past forty years she has seen her counties butchered; lost her historic currency and suffered a creeping undermining of her traditional weights and measures. Like the French revolutionary experience, this damage been inflicted from within.
Edward Heath’s re-drawing of county boundaries through the Local Government Act 1972 (active from 1974) saw Cumberland and Westmoreland lost as they were merged into Cumbria; Herefordshire, Worcestershire and England’s smallest country, Rutland, obliterated; Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Somerset, Gloucester , Northumberland, Durham and Warwickshire shorn of much of their historic territory and population through the creation of the metropolitan “counties” of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire and the meaningless new counties of Avon, Cleveland, Cumbria, Hereford and Worcester, and Humberside created.
Of all the things which give a human being a sense of belonging and permanence it is the land in which they live. People form an emotional attachment to things. They buy products because of their branding. They give names to their cars. Sailors have an intense relationship with their ships. How much more potent is the relationship with the place where they live. Unsurprisingly, human attachment to land is the most emotional attachment after family. Territory is what men have fought for more than anything else because a secure place to live is the source of all security. Humans need continuity, not incessant and dramatic change.
Few if any things are more disorienting than the re-naming of the place where you live. It seems to strike at reality. That is why when politicians try to make such changes, the old names commonly live on for generations, sometimes centuries; why Petrograd became St Petersburg again so readily after the Soviet Union fell.
Why did Heath do it? Ostensibly on the grounds of administrative convenience. He might as well have suggested the Church of England would have been better served by demolishing its great mediaeval cathedrals and building new modernist ones. It was the act of a man who at best lived beyond the touch of history and at worst was a willing destroyer of English culture in his desire to translate Britain into a province of a United States of Europe.
Decimalisation was primarily promoted on the tawdry, false and utterly soulless grounds that it would substantially increase business efficiency, a claim as improbable as Nye Bevan’s belief that the cost of the NHS would soon drop as the population’s health improved due to better healthcare . Even if the claim of business efficiency had been true, it would have been a criminally trivial reason for ditching a currency with a 1,300 year history dating back to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the 7th century with their silver peningas (pennies). It removed from circulation those reminders of the past, the many old coins in circulation. Before decimalisation every handful of change reminded one of England’s history. You looked at coins and saw the heads of different monarchs, ran you hands over the coins and felt the centuries which they represented. It was common to find coins dating to Victoria’s reign and there were a fair number older than that. Occasionally something really old would appear (the oldest coin I ever received in change dated from the reign of Charles II). It was a form of informal education. With decimal coinage all this was swept away if not exactly at a stroke – florins, shillings and sixpences limped on for a few years – but most of the history was lost immediately because pennies and halfpennies became obsolete overnight.
Metrication replaces measures which grew organically over the centuries from the natural usage of the people – a hand was the breadth of a hand, a foot the length of a foot, a yard is the distance of a man’s arm – with an alien and contrived system. Imperial measurements are man-related. Metric measurements are simply arbitrary measures derived from such things as the diameter of the earth. They are the imposition of a foreign and arbitrary system on the English. No one forced the English to use imperial measurements. They grew out of Man’s natural behaviour. It is natural to use an arm, hand or foot to act as a measure. Even today we use our feet place close one after another or paces to measure a distance. The yard arose from need and inclination: the metre was an artificial construct. Imperial and metric are a pair akin to English and Esperanto.
Choosing units which grew naturally out of men’s needs means that they are the units with which people are most comfortable. For many everyday purposes metric units tend to either be too large or too small because they have been based not on experience but on an intellectual construct of the Age of Reason. A pound feels naturally right, a kilo too heavy. A centimetre is too small for many measurements and a metre too large. Imperial measurements offers an intermediate measurement the foot. So it is with other measures. We have the pint, quart and gallon; metric gives us merely the millilitre and the litre. Of course, Imperial standard measurements are the result of an Act of Parliament, but they were based on the usage which grew from human beings developing what they needed. That made Imperial measurements comfortable to use.
The same people who constantly attempt to debunk any claim to uniqueness or distinctiveness about England and its people will doubtless point out in their pathologically self-hating way that miles are derived from the Latin miles and pennies the Latin denarii. That is irrelevant. What matters is that a people takes and moulds words to their own wishes. It is like a man who takes clay and melds it into one pot rather than another. The clay is the same, the pot is not.
The argument that the change to a decimal currency and metric measurements is justified because of its greater ease of use holds no water. As one who grew up using Imperial measurements and a currency denominated in pounds, shillings and pence, I can vouch for the fact that this caused no great difficulty in everyday life. It was what came naturally. It is also debatable whether in pure arithmetical terms a base of ten rather than twelve has more utility. The duodecimal system can be factored more fluently, for example, 10 is factored by just 5 and 2, 12 is factored by 2, 3, 4 and 6.. Nor is a base of ten natural. Commonly amongst primitive peoples the counting system is something along these lines: one, two, plenty. No automatic use of ten because we have ten digits on the hands and feet.
The creeping metrication has produced a disturbing result. Those who are older still think entirely in Imperial and are confused by metric. The young , who have been taught only metric* in schools, often have no firm grasp of the system because a system of weights and measures formally taught is no more likely to be remembered by most than is algebra. Consequently they are confused by both Imperial and metric measurements. (A good way of testing whether someone understands metric is to ask them their height in metres or the waist measurement in centimetres. If you get five in a hundred to give the correct answer I would be surprised. )
The upshot of this change to metric is not an increase in efficiency of ease of calculation by the population as a whole but a widespread abrogation of individual judgement on the value of things by measurement simply because people do not understand the measure being used. This ignorance also has effects on work in those jobs where precision of measurement is necessary. If someone mixing paint does not know the difference between a millilitre and a litre trouble is assured. The general effect is for large numbers of people to have lost any sense of proportion in measurement. It is akin to the number blindness of those who cannot do arithmetic without a calculator and consequently have no idea of whether the result they get from the input is correct.
There is also the political dimension. Since 1896 Britons have not been forced to use Imperial measurements . (They were at liberty to use either imperial or metric in trade after Parliament passed the Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act in that year). Britain’s membership of the EU has removed that freedom with metric measurements now being the legally required system when used for goods and services sold by quantity. Dual labelling – metric and Imperial – was allowed by the EU but this was meant to be phased out by 31 December 2009. However, that demand has been dropped and what the EU calls ‘supplementary indications” (Imperial measures) are continuing without any definite end. Nonetheless, the metric system is the dominant legal system and any trader refusing to use a metric measure is liable for prosecution as the “Metric Martyrs” (most famously Steve Thoburn) discovered. If you want to sell a pound of potatoes you have to weigh it on metric scales and price it according to the metric price.
It might seem strange that the people who continuously tell us that the preservation of cultures is the most important thing in the world are also the people who pushed through decimalisation and are in the process of forcing metrication on us at all costs. Sadly, there is no mystery. It is cultural cleansing arranged by our elite in who are Quislings in the service of liberal internationalism in general and of the EU in particular. The upshot is that English children have been and are being denied what has been part of being English for many centuries.
I have entitled this piece the English Year Zero. Why not the British Year Zero? Because counties, our currency and the Imperial system of weights and measures have their origins in England. Their antiquity and origins make them more valuable to the English than to the Celts. A native of Yorkshire calls himself a Yorshireman but a Scot does not refer to himself as Midlothian or a native of Lanarshire a Lanarkshireman. Rather, a Scot will refer to themselves as a highlander, by their clan, their religious affiliation (Protestant or Catholic) or derive their status from a city such as Glasgow. The Welsh and Northern Irish have similar cultural reference points. Similarly, the Celts have in the back of their mind that the pound sterling and Imperial weights and measures are English imposed devices which makes them value them less at best or even be actively glad to see them destroyed or under threat.
* school pupils are taught “rough metric equivalents of imperial units still in daily use”, but are not taught how to manipulate Imperial units – Mathematics – The National Curriculum for England Key stages 1–4, Joint publication by Department for Education and Employment and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 1999.