In the unlikely event of Donald Trump deciding to buy a measuring tape while he is in Britain, he will find a wide choice of a type that is popular in the US. Indeed, he may have difficulty finding any other. We look at availability.
Designers of measuring tapes assume the user will hold the tape in the right hand and read the top scale. For the past fifty years, most of the tapes available in the UK have been the hybrid US pattern, with the primary scale in inches and feet and the lower scale in metric showing centimetres. Its popularity with suppliers may be due to the potential market in the US and UK being six times that in the UK only, thereby reducing costs and increasing profits.
For a while, Homebase offered a hybrid UK pattern tape, with the primary scale in metric and the lower scale in inches and feet. It seems no longer to be stocked – perhaps the UK market is too small.
For those who were taught metric, now over half the UK population, who use it as their measurement system of choice and who prefer to read the top scale of the tape, the choice is limited. Few DIY stores stock metric tapes. The internet has a selection, if you are happy to pay postage and wait a few days. Alternatively, you can do as I do, and pop into a hardware store during your next continental holiday.
Continental tapes are normally marked in centimetres. However, when the UK construction industry changed from imperial measurements to metric over fifty years ago, it was decided to use mm instead of cm whenever possible. Dimensions on drawings or in conversation could be given without units – the context would make clear whether the measurement was in metres or millimetres. This has worked well, but the tape manufacturers have been slow to respond. Indeed, it was only when my son visited Australia a few years ago, that I acquired a metric tape that reflects the reality in construction.
Early in the 1970s, I was involved in the design of Centre Beaubourg, now Centre Pompidou, in Paris, working in the London office of a British firm of consulting engineers. The centimetre continued to rule in France, as the inch had done in Britain, and I remember asking visiting French engineers how they were coping with our use of millimetres and metres. “No problem,” they said, “it’s your Newtons that are giving us a headache.” Yes, the UK was one of the first countries to adopt SI, well ahead of France.
But that is another story.