On the beach (in North London)

The onset of foggy mornings and dark evenings reminds us that winter is on its way. Ronnie Cohen has written an article that may just get us thinking of those lazy, hazy days of summer spent on a continental beach (metric measures taken for granted) or perhaps even on an urban beach alongside the North Circular Road in North London.

The Beach Brent Cross was a combined funfair and urban beach opposite Brent Cross Shopping Centre in London that was open from 10 July 2015 until 2 September 2015. I went there shortly after it opened and was pleased to see that it used only metric height measurement boards. These were marked with primary lines in metres and decimetres with figures alongside them and secondary marks in centimetres.  They showed the minimum height beside each ride or attraction. All measurements were metric except one – the Bumper Boats specified a maximum weight of 9 stone.

Elsewhere, minimum heights were specified exclusively in metres. These were the minimum heights for the following:

  • Alpine Thriller: 1.2 metres
  • Aviator: 1.2 metres
  • Beach Party Ride: No height restriction
  • Beach Party Slide: No height restriction
  • Bungee Trampolines: No height restriction
  • Carousel: No height restriction
  • Donkey Adventure: 1 metre
  • Helter Skelter: No height restriction
  • Log Flume: 1.2 metres
  • London Fun Bus: No height restriction, however, those children less than 1.2 metres tall must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Mach 5: 1.4 metres
  • Mini Wave Swinger: 1 metre
  • Pirate Boat: 1.2 metres
  • Racing Coaster: 1.2 metres to ride without an adult, 1 metre to ride with an adult
  • Rocking Tug: No height restriction
  • Showtime: 1.2 metres
  • Thriller Coaster: 1.2 metres

All the specifications of the Alpine Thriller ride were also given exlusively in metric units, including speeds in kilometres per hour, rarely seen in the UK thanks to successive Ministers of Transport since 1970. Here is the ‘Alpine Thriller’ technical information:

  • Average Constant Speed: 37 km/h
  • Maximum Speed: 97 km/h
  • Duration of Ride: 1.3 minutes
  • Track Length: 465 metres
  • Angle of Ascent: 85%
  • Angle of Descent: 60%
  • Horizontal Centrifugal Acceleration: 2.5 G
  • Vertical Centrifugal Acceleration: 2 G
  • Max Declivity on a Curve: 173%
  • Structure Height: 18 metres
  • Structure Weight: 110 tonnes
  • Base Size: 50 m x 20 m

The transportation requirements for the Alpine Thriller equipment was also given entirely in metric, with all measurements given in tonnes and metres.

I salute the staff and management of The Beach Brent Cross for having confidence in the British public to measure themselves in metres without the aid of medieval measures. Given that it is uncommon for Britons to express their height in metres and usually do so in feet and inches (another issue for which our Transport Ministers have been largely responsible), it is reassuring that small children are being encouraged to use international measures to express their height.

There is a general perception by politicians and journalists that Britons cannot understand the use of metres for personal height and need imperial conversions. Of course, this depends on what you are used to. If only they would have more confidence. They should realise that familiarity comes with usage. Britons can adjust to the use of metres for personal height, just as they have adjusted to the use of Celsius for temperatures in weather reports and to grams on the supermarket shelves. Imperial conversions are not only unhelpful to the transition to metric measures but hinder it by encouraging people to pay attention to familiar measures and to ignore the simple, rational and universal ones that should have replaced them.

And for next year’s holiday? Imperial aficionados might want to consider Disneyland in Florida. For the rest of us, the world is our oyster, even perhaps North London.

11 thoughts on “On the beach (in North London)”

  1. The last two lines says all.
    Join the real world, or seek out the remnants of a bygone era.


  2. Disneyland is actually in California. Disneyworld is in Florida.

    Ronnie says: “…familiarity comes with usage.” Indeed it does. When Canada started to metricate its construction industry in the 1970s, I found it a bit hard at first, and there was no doubt that it would have been easy to do what some of my fellow quantity surveyors did – get a metric scale that read in imperial units. (This is the exact opposite of what I used to do in South Africa just after it converted – get an imperial scale that read in metric units. I still have that scale, complete with Dorman Long Vanderbijl Limited logo.)

    But I persevered, and found that using metric was way easier. I soon got used to using metric units, to the point that today I think ONLY in metric. I have no use for imperial – it’s dead as far as I am concerned. I talk only in metric to people, and if they don’t understand, then that is their problem. I have renovated three houses this year, and very last bit of the work – for both myself and the contractors I have employed – has been conducted in metric units.

    What I find interesting is the number of people of my generation – now retired – who are actually very sympathetic to my approach, and just wish they had made a similar effort all those years ago. It’s still not too late, I suggest – but they feel they are too old to make that effort today. As Ronnie suggests, the younger generation CAN think in metric – if only the older generations would let them.


  3. I am one of the said people of the younger generation (born in 1981) and I have always used metres or centimetres to measure my height (unlike most of my peers in the UK, I concede). When people asked me, even as I was younger, what my height in feet and inches is, I simply said “I don’t know”.

    I wonder what politicians and journalists would make of that?

    Despite the measurement mess I have always thought in metric, even as I grew up and lived in the UK (I live in Germany now, and lived in France for 5 years).


  4. @ The Glob

    “When people asked me, even as I was younger, what my height in feet and inches is, I simply said “I don’t know”

    When people ask you your height in feet in inches, your reply should always be: why?
    Assuming that most if not all have either been educated in metric units or have encountered them in the market place there is no logical reason for them to ask. Some may pretend they don’t know metres and prefer to speak and hear feet, but there is no excuse for not understanding metres when encountered.

    It always appears that one encounters feet and inches solely in discussions of height, but how boring can a conversation become that one or more in the party have to start discussing personal height. I would find it very strange if someone would ask me my height or weight. It just never happens. Is this more common with some other people? Are their conversations so dull that they have to resort to discussion personal size? Or is the metric system so infused in the daily lives of the population that the only way they can get the warm and fuzzies is to find some niche topic to which they can use imperial? Obviously the marketplace is so metric that even if someone did a conversion one who prefers imperial would still feel depressed by having numbers dumbed down for them, making them feel out of step and ridiculous.


  5. On the subject of personal height, I find it depressing that the police still generally state the height of people they are seeking only in ‘feet and inches’, generally with no metric figures. The police are a body in society who routinely make reference to the height of a person they are seeking when they make announcements to the general public. Surely there should be an onus on the authorities, especially the police, to use the measurement units taught in school and acknowledged by government as the official ones. Britain is also a very diverse country now with many people from purely metric backgrounds, so either those people will not understand the information from the police or they will need to do, or be assisted to do, conversions which could easily be avoided by the police using metric units. I wonder if there is any police manual that lays down instructions on how the police should express the heights of people they are seeking.


  6. @ Jake, you hit the nail right on the head.

    One of the most used excuses has been “we don’t use metric because we prefer to use the system that most people understand”. It was until recently the excuse used by DfT for not changing the road signs… the idea that at some point more drivers will be metric educated than imperial educated which means it will be safer, but now we have more metric educated drivers on the road the excuse changes to cost. Same with the news media and the likes of the BBC who claim that their target audience doesn’t understand metric but who are merely giving in to the vocal minority who complain when a presenter doesn’t give the depth of snow in inches. Then there are doctors and nurses who now seem to convert everything to imperial for their patients without being asked because they know they probably will have to anyway and don’t want to be on the end of an abusive patient or new parent if they refuse.


  7. Regarding doctors converting into imperial, I recently saw my doctor and he was very put out that I gave my height and weight in metric; he even offered to convert it into imperial, and offered again even after I said “no thank you”.


  8. Gary,

    Time to find a new doctor. One who practices medicine in the 21-st century, not the 18-th.


  9. @ACM

    Imperial measures were in use well before the 19th century, as a ‘system’. They were ‘standardised’ in the 19th century. And your ‘Herr Direktor’ smacks of anti-German bias.


  10. There is a very simple reason why all the fairground restrictions are quoted in metric units – the law requires it. The EU “metrication directive” (EU directive 80/181/EEC) applies that metric units (with certain exceptions) be used for ” economic, public health, public safety and administrative purposes”

    Unfortunately certain people have spent a lot of time looking for loopholes in these regulations and appear to be more interested in scoring political points against Brussels than they are in promoting safety. If our political leaders spent more time ensuring that the population at large understands the metric system and less time fawning to those whingers who are trying to “bash Brussels”, not only would our safety standards be improved, but maybe we would have a few more real scientists and engineers rather than political scientists.


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