Monday, November 13, 2006

Size matters

If there’s one thing that irks the British, it’s being asked to change. We don't like change. We never have and we never will. Our dislike of change will not change.

Consider our money. Twelve of our fellow EU members had no qualms about giving up their individual currencies and adopting the euro, while we stick with the Queen's own sterling.

Then there are our weights and measures. We cling white-knuckled to the British Imperial System instead of fully embracing metrication. Look how firmly we cling. Look how white our knuckles are. Our road signs display distances in miles, not fancy foreign kilometres, and hardcore market traders have been prosecuted for flogging us bruised fruit and amusingly misshapen vegetables only in pounds and ounces. Not using metric scales when weighing them out for sale is a clear violation of the Units of Measurement Regulations 1995. Honestly.

And what about our pubs and bars? There, pints are still pulled, not bigger, frothier Euro-friendly litres as served elsewhere. In an age when binge drinking is our most popular leisure pursuit, slurping away on hefty megamugs of continental-style foamy lagerbrü would make perfect sense. Why? Because litres are bigger than pints, and bigger helpings equals less time wasted queuing for refills equals more time for drinking.

For nearly 40 years, British schoolchildren have been taught the metric system in class, only to be bombarded by imperial units when they venture into the real world. Are they left bewildered and befuddled by these double standards? Of course they are, and this posting's image offers some proof of that confusion.

Studio 24 is an Edinburgh club that regularly hosts under-18 events. Outside are several pieces of entertaining graffiti written by young punters as they queued to get frisked for blades and breath-checked for booze on the way in. Among the messages and insults scrawled as they killed time lies the entertaining effort seen above.

Though it's not drawn to scale, the author - we won’t call him Grant, as for all we know that name may have been added later in an attempt to steal someone else’s thunder - has included a measurement, to help viewers get a sense of proportion.

But this artwork is tainted by metric/imperial confusion. Partial inches should really be expressed as fractions, not by using decimal points. Trying to mix the two is just messy. If he wanted to use decimal points, he should’ve written 18.288 centimetres. Not only would this be mathematically accurate, it's also a more impressive number and would therefore appear bigger. Like an optical illusion.

There’s also a more serious problem though. The positioning of the arrows indicate that the scrotum has been included in the calculation. This represents a flagrant breach of accepted measuring etiquette. It’s cheating. Everybody knows nuts don’t count.

Purists might object, but The Filthy Pen is prepared to forgive and forget, because such mishaps and liberties are part and parcel of graffiti. Rules are made to be broken, and this piece breaks them in style. It might be a right cock and balls-up, but it's all the better for it.

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