A voracious appetite for pork, some truly dreadful pop music, and all pubs selling decent beer whilst stoically resisting Carling, Fosters and Carlsberg are just a handful of examples, as is the wholesale use of the metric system. Anyone who has seen Pulp Fiction will know the ‘little differences’ that can occur when one country operates a different system of measurement to another ‘Know what they call a quarter pounder in France?…A ROYALE with cheese!’
For some reason I have been strangely troubled by the damage that the metric system could do to several of our beloved institutions. Here are six of the most worrying:
1. The Proclaimers – 500 Miles
‘And I would walk 804.672 kilometres, then I would walk 804.672000 kilometres more, just to be the man who walked 1,609.344 kilometres…’
Anyone who hasn’t danced giddily in a drunken reverie to this song past the hour of 3am at some point in their life just hasn’t lived. The beauty of it is in the simplicity. For someone that they love, Craig and Charlie Read (The Proclaimers) wouldn’t just walk 500 miles – because they’d also walk 500 more. These wonderful round numbers make the addition in the song (500+500=1000) simple to follow, and also allow the rhythm to become mimetic of stomping, leading to the brilliant dance where you just walk exaggeratedly and heavily on the spot and grin like a moron at the people nearby.
If the song was written in Germany, not by Craig and Charlie Reid, but by Craig and Charlie Rothenburg then the title would be ‘804.672 Kilometres’ and the chorus would go ‘And I would walk 804.672 kilometres, then I would walk 804.672000 kilometres more, just to be the man who walked 1,609.344 kilometres…’ Not only would this destroy the genius of the ‘stomping’ rhythm, but it is also way too many syllables and a bloody nuisance to try and remember. It would still be better than ‘She’s So Lovely’ by Scouting for Girls though.
2.Miles Davis Mutated By Metric
It could all have been so different for Miles Davis if he had been born in the Mordor-like world of the metric system. Surely his name, coupled with his supreme talent, helped to propel him into the limelight before becoming one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Miles is a name that suggests this is an individual with a talent that can go the distance. In the metric wasteland, Miles would have been called ‘Kilometres Davis’ and probably would have spent his days sticking trumpets up his arse instead of playing them, denying the world one of its greatest Jazz performers.
3. Ruining Roger Bannister
Roger Bannister was the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. This remains one of the landmark athletic achievements of all-time, and has ensured that has name has gone down in history with other watershed performances like Dick Fosbury’s pioneering high jump technique, or Bob Beamon’s nigh-on-but-not-quite unbeatable long jump. But to a metric mutant this is how the conversation would go:
You: Amazing that Bannister managed to run the 4 minute mile.
Them: What is a mile?
You: A unit of measurement.
Them (gets out phone and uses Google conversion): That is 1609 metres, allowing for the rounding down of decimal places. Why would a man wish to run such an illogical and arbitrary distance? Strike his name from the record books immediately.
4. Porn Of The Dead
In the mid-late 80s the phenomenon of ‘Pun-Porn’ was born, and has carried on to this very day. This is a niche of the adult industry that has spawned titles such as: Forrest Hump, Jurassic Poke, Schindler’s Fist, Dr. Do-Me-A-Little and Grinding Nemo. Whether or not bongo movies are your thing, the ingenuity that goes into the titles has to be at least grudgingly respected. Sadly, the metric system commits pun murder in this category too. Most of us will remember mainstream-but-raunchy erotic thriller ‘9 And A Half Weeks’ starring Kim Basinger and a not-yet-mutated Mickey Rourke. This film was inevitably turned into porn-pun movie ‘9 And A Half Inches’. Can you imagine the disappointment of a shifty, dirty trench coat wearing loner after walking into the video store, lustfully eyeing up the top shelf and only being met by a movie with the title ‘241.3 Milimetres’? Well, at least the experience and long walk home would have been hard.
5. Eminem Loses Himself In The Metric In The Moment
Eminem wrote the entire critically acclaimed score to his debut movie. He also won plaudits for being one of the few rappers to transition into Hollywood without looking like the special kid from class 6B who was given a part in the nativity play because of the school’s inclusion policy. The movie was, of course, called ‘8 Mile’ – named after the stretch of road that acts as a dividing line between the rich and poor in Detroit. In ‘Metricland’ the movie would have been called ‘12.874752 Kilometres’; nobody would have gone to see it because the title was so ridiculous, and Eminem probably would have gone the way of Ice-Cube and lost all his professional credibility after making a series of sub-par family comedies revolving around white-trash families going on unlikely holidays.
6. Shakespeare’s Centimetre and Verse
One of the most arresting scenes from Shakespeare’s array of tragedies was when Jewish moneylender Shylock demanded a pound of his nemesis Antonio’s flesh as recompense for unpaid debts. Imagine the horror on the faces of the Elizabethan audience at hearing such a statement. A POUND OF FLESH. Prizing it away from a living human like the measurement of meat from a market vendor made it all the more chilling, all the more cruel and barbaric sounding. It has the ring of a substantial, certainly fatal quantity, to it. If Shakespeare was metric Shylock would have been demanding 456 grams of vengeance; it just sounds so puny and stunted in comparison to the meaty ‘pound’. And where would we be now without the expression ‘demanding his pound of flesh’? How would we insult the rich who wish to get richer, the wealthy who extort from the poor? We could just call them bastards, but then we wouldn’t feel all literary and clever, and that just wouldn’t do, would it?
Best Of The Rest
Honourable mentions also have to go to Right Said Fred, whose girl (or on reflection more likely guy) with the ‘Spanish eyes’ would no longer have legs that went on for ‘miles and miles’ but for ‘kilometres and kilometres’.
Also, mildly amusing crime-comedy caper ‘The Whole 9 Yards’ would now be ‘The Whole 823 Centimetres’ and a popular American idiom would have been buried alive. My final one is the gage for a really tall person. If you’d seen a really tall person and wanted to tell somebody about it, you could open with the gambit ‘they were at least 6’6”’ However, a metricophile would be oblivious to what this meant, and if you told them that it meant that the person was 198.1cms then they would just ask you ‘why didn’t you just say they were 2 metres tall?’ to which you would reply ‘because they bloody weren’t’. Right, I don’t know about anybody else but I’m off for a yard of ale and a quarter pounder.