I am a measured half breed of imperial
And metric, from a childhood in Teesside,
A fat and greasy adolescence Stateside,
And going on a decade camped in Brussels.
I measured first in football marks: six, ten,
Unsure from twelve, and weak beyond eighteen;
And now, one score and thirteen years old,
I cling to every inch in half a yard.
The ubiquity of cars brought miles home:
From home in Gainford eight to school in Darlington;
But eighty-five an hour would make mum frown,
Reproach my dad and gently touch his forearm.
I fed on “a pound ‘bananas, fifty pence”,
From traders who could skim avoirdupois.
I sugared each apothecaries’ ounce,
But soon felt this was much too bland for moi.
The Brumaire arrogance grew thick and fast
That debut term of undergrad excess.
I marched kilometres for nothing less
Than guillotining our imperial past.
Diploma earned, at three hundred kilometres
An hour, the mercury at thirty Celsius,
I sped to Brussels, where, from Midi station,
I took the golden path to metrication.
The route was lined, I found, with golden beer
In stylish glasses of a quarter litre;
And girls who measured un metre quatre-vingt,
And wouldn’t lower themselves to drink a pint.
Try as I might, though, I could never tell
What power was really held within a decimal.
The system felt effeminate and sterile
When set against the energy of a mile,
Those thousand unrelenting Roman paces;
The snort of oxen as they plough an acre;
The wrathful waters rising fifteen cubits;
And fathoms measured with the sinking anchor.
Pity the newborn babe whose mother knows
Only what can be counted on her toes:
Our wartime matriarchs measured with verse
In sturdy units that were fool-averse.
To shun the miles that took man to the moon
And served as prey for Bannister may soon
Cut poetry from the abacus like elm
From ancient hedge throughout the imperial realm.