Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - April 1997

* Real and Keg Measurements *

"Do you fancy going out for 0.568 of a litre?" Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, does it? Yet it is a sobering thought that the pint in the pub is one of the last official bastions of the traditional system of weights and measures that we have used in this country for hundreds of years.

This is often seen as part of the march of progress, replacing a hotch-potch of measures using all kinds of multiples with a rational and scientific system which is much easier to understand once you get used to it. But the point about the old measures is that they evolved naturally and represent concepts which people can grasp and visualise, while metric measures are artificial constructs which in themselves have no meaning. I was interested to learn that many small craftsmen in continental countries even now use the old-fashioned, intuitive measures almost two hundred years after Napoleon imposed metrication, because in practical terms they are much easier to work with.

Compulsory metrication is the equivalent of making everyone speak Esperanto rather than the confusing mishmash of illogical languages they use at the moment - or drink keg in preference to that awkward real ale stuff with all its peculiar flavours. When a carpet store is actually prosecuted by trading standards officers for quoting prices in square yards we're on the way to punishing people for speaking their native tongue.

Would it not have been better to keep our traditional weights and measures for everyday use, and restrict the metric system to the spheres of science and precision engineering where it may serve some purpose? Far from confusing people with two systems, for the vast majority this would have meant they had measures that actually meant something to them. I suspect that the man in the street today has far less conception of a kilogram or a centilitre than his counterpart thirty years ago would have done with pounds and fluid ounces.

At least we can be thankful that we can still drink a real measure of real beer in the pub, and long may it continue that way!

* Back-to-Front Pubs *

Given that most of their customers arrive by car, it makes sense for country pubs to provide car parks, and entrances direct from the car park so that people don't need to walk round the front and onto the road. In many cases, this becomes the main entrance, or at least the one that is most used. But it's taking things too far when they then proceed to block off the original front door, as happens all too often - look, for example, at the Dog & Partridge in High Lane.

Not only does this subvert the original layout of the pub, it also gives an unfortunate message to anyone who arrives by foot, cycle or bus, suggesting that they aren't really welcome and will have to go round the back. Pubs can't afford to make any of their customers feel like second-class citizens. And it's particularly inappropriate for pubs in urban areas which in practice have a large walk-in trade, such as the Bull's Head in Hazel Grove.

* Smooth, not Sharp *

I spoke too soon when I congratulated our local independents on not wasting time and effort producing their own brands of nitrokeg. Only a couple of months later, what should I find on the bar of my local but Hydes Smooth? Any bets on how long it will be before that goes the way of Amboss? But I still find it hard to see Holts jumping on the nitrokeg bandwagon.

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