Mary Irvine’s blog: Two rants: the metric system and Greece and the refugee crisis


Gallons, quarts and the ilk


By L. F. Labrousse (engraver). J. P. Delion, Paris (publisher). –, Public Domain,

Have you seen the news re the existence of dinosaurs? They’re alive and well and living in the UK. They belong to the sub-species that hark back to an ill-remembered idyllic past.  An idyll that never actually existed in reality. That’s apart from the age of Arthur and Camelot and we all know that was the real idyllic time. Their name ‘letsgetbacktosauros’. The leaders of this anachronistic group are now lobbying for the return of lbs. and oz. Pleeeese!

Are we really expected to force all those outdated forms on to our children. Numbers and words* that don’t bear any relevance to modern times. Gallons, quarts and the ilk.  Why not include rod, pole and perch.  My knowledge of 1,760 yards in a mile and 5,280 feet in the same mile have remained totally superfluous all my 60 + years of knowing. Although I am thinking of starting a group to restore the groat!

Where will it end? Bringing back all the imperial measures? Ah, maybe there’s a clue there to the mindset of above mentioned dinosaurs. Imperial as in Empire? Why not go the whole hog and return to the imperialism of Robert Walpole, Lord Palmerston et al and their answer to any jolly foreigner who tried to interfere with GB, to wit, gunboats! Remember the War of Jenkins’ Ear, the Don Pacifico incident, the Chinese Opium Wars? Ah, those were the days! Hate to mention it but we can’t go back. (We don’t have the naval supremacy for starters!) That’s why I don’t go back to re-unions. You cannot resurrect the past. As Heraclites (late 6th century BC.) said δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης/δεν μπορείτε να μπείτε στο ίδιο ποτάμι δύο φορές.  You can’t step into the same river twice. (Thought I’d be clever there and try Classical and Modern Greek. Am quite prepared to be shot down – metaphorically, that is.)There’s only one way to go and that’s forward.
These dinosaurs are probably the same ones who only look at the negative side of immigration. GB has a long history of offering refuge to refugees, both political and economic. Where did Glasgow’s rich culture and vibrancy come from? Think about it.

The days of isolationism are also gone. Like it or not the Great in GB now only refers to the largest island of the British Isles, not an imperfectly remembered influence on the rest of the world. We can no longer stand alone. I can’t wait for this particular species of dinosaur to become extinct.

Some of the more erudite readers may have come across the following which has been a favourite of mine for many years… don’t ask! Not the Heraclites I quoted above but a poet c. 200 years later. When this Heraclites died, his friend Callimachus wrote an epitaph. Cory’s poem is a translation.

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead, 
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I 
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
William Johnson Cory (1823-1892)
*Info for people younger than 50 or so…

16 ounces (oz) = 1 pound (lb) – not to be confused with £
14 pounds = I stone – would have thought depended on size of stone!
8 stones = I hundredweight (cwt) – as above and where did the hundred come in?
1 long ton (the mind boggles) = 2,200 pounds

12 inches (in) = foot ft) – would be trite to talk about size here!
3 feet = 1 yard (yd) = whose yard?
1,760 yards = 1 mile
5,280 feet = 1 mile (unless it’s a nautical mile in which case …….

I’m bored already as I’m sure you are so let’s leave it above and the metric system as it is, eh?


And whilst on the subject of Greece…

The Refugee Crisis

Am all for human rights for everybody but what happens when one group’s human rights not only impinge on another’s group but affect them adversely? The indigenous population of some Greek islands, I understand, are now vastly outnumbered by refugees. The recent clashes between refugee factions at the Moria Detention Centre on the island of Lesvos, is a case in point. I emphasise here it was interracial clashes between refugees from different ethnic backgrounds and not between refugees and the islanders.

A few months ago thousands of refugees were arriving every day. Because of the EU/Turkey agreement the number has dropped to hundreds. The present conditions are not ideal in any respect for the refugees but the islanders are also suffering. No need to go into the Greek economic situation surely. And yet people sit in their own safe and comfortable homes and have the nerve to condemn Greece for ‘inhumane’ conditions of these camps. Most islanders are doing and sharing what they can but it will never be enough. And what if the impossible happened and all the refugees were found safe havens around Europe? What about the long term effects on these islands?

Tourists obviously do not wish to holiday on these islands and tourist liners have diverted their tours away from these ‘troubled’ areas. Could it be that passengers who have often paid top prices for a dream cruise do not wish to have their cruise interrupted by having to pick up the new ‘boatpeople’ and then spend time finding a country which will accept them? All this has removed the mainstay of the island economies with the inevitable consequences for the islanders.

The expression ‘Charity begins at home’ is documented as early as the 14th C but is so very apt in the 21st C.
Greece has her own problems, many of which are self-inflicted, but please do not condemn her whilst others turn their backs

Anne and Mary's Local Tales, Dumbarton Library
Luminate Scotland's Festival of Ageing – Autumn Voices 12 – 15 October, 2016

This section: Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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