He was an ordinary person's hero -
an extraordinary ordinary person.


It is damnable that he dies a criminal
owing to these totalitarian regulations.

On March 14, 1947, Orwell wrote his second-to-last AS I PLEASE column for Tribune magazine. A month after that he left his home in London for the last time and headed to the island of Jura to write 1984.

In that Tribune article Orwell discussed his opposition to metric conversion, and then, not long afterwards, wrote about it in his masterpiece.

I am reminded of Orwell's thoughts on metric conversion today because I have just read about the death of the grocer in England who took a stand against metric conversion. He died on March 14, 2004, exactly 57 years after Orwell's words were published.

I'm sure that wherever Orwell is, Steven Thoburn will be too, and hopefully it's a place where beer comes in pints and bananas in pounds. ~ Jackie Jura

from AS I PLEASE column, by George Orwell
Tribune, March 14, 1947

...Another thing I am against in advance — for it is bound to be suggested sooner or later — is the complete scrapping of our present system of weights and measures.

Obviously you have got to have the metric system for certain purposes. For scientific work it has long been in use, and it is also needed for tools and machinery, especially if you want to export them. But there is a strong case for keeping on the old measurements for use in everyday life. One reason is that the metric system does not possess, or has not succeeded in establishing, a large number of units that can be visualized. There is, for instance, effectively no unit between the metre, which is more than a yard, and the centimetre, which is less than half an inch. In English you can describe someone as being five feet three inches high, or five feet nine inches, or six feet one inch, and your bearer will know fairly accurately what you mean. But I have never heard a Frenchman say, ‘He is a hundred and forty-two centimetres high’; it would not convey any visual image. So also with the various other measurements. Rods and acres, pints, quarts and gallons, pounds, stones and hundredweights, are all of them units with which we are intimately familiar, and we should be slightly poorer without them. Actually, in countries where the metric system is in force a few of the old measurements tend to linger on for everyday purposes, although officially discouraged.

There is also the literary consideration, which cannot be left quite out of account. The names of the units in the old system are short homely words which lend themselves to vigorous speech. Putting a quart into a pint pot is a good image, which could hardly be expressed in the metric system. Also, the literature of the past deals only in the old measurements, and many passages would become an irritation if one had to do a sum in arithmetic when one read them, as one does with those tiresome verses in a Russian novel.

The emmet’s inch and eagle’s mile
Make lame philosophy to smile:

fancy having to turn that into millimetres!..."

from NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, by George Orwell:

"...The old man whom he had followed into the pub was standing at the bar, having some kind of altercation with the barman, a large, stout, hook-nosed young man with enormous forearms. A knot of others, standing round with glasses in their hands, were watching the scene.

'I arst you civil enough, didn't I?' said the old man, straightening his shoulders pugnaciously. 'You telling me you ain't got a pint mug in the 'ole bleeding boozer?'

'And what in hell's name is a pint?' said the barman, leaning forward with the tips of his fingers on the counter.

' 'Ark at 'im! Calls 'isself a barman and don't know what a pint is! Why, a pint's the 'alf of a quart, and there's four quarts to the gallon. 'Ave to teach you the A, B, C next.'

'Never heard of 'em,' said the barman shortly. 'Litre and half litres - that's all we serve. There's the glasses on the shelf in front of you.'

'I likes a pint,' persisted the old man. 'You could 'a drawed me off a pint easy enough. We didn't 'ave these bleeding litres when I was a young man.'

'When you were a young man we were all living in the tree-tops,' said the barman, with a glance at the other customers.

There was a shout of laughter, and the uneasiness caused by Winston's entry seemed to disappear. The old man's white-stubbed face had flushed pink. He turned away, muttering to himself, and bumped into Winston. Winston caught him gently by the arm.

'May I offer you a drink?' he said.

'You're a gent,' said the other, straightening his shoulders again. He appeared not to have noticed Winston's blue overalls. 'Pint! he added aggressively to the barman. 'Pint of wallop.'..."

Metric martyr market trader dies
BBC, March 14, 2004
The north east greengrocer hailed the Metric Martyr after being prosecuted for selling fruit and vegetables by the pound, has died suddenly aged 39. Steve Thoburn, a Sunderland market trader, was convicted for selling goods only in imperial measures in 2001.

The group's appeals against conviction were rejected all the way up to the House of Lords and this February, by the European Court of Human Rights.

Fellow campaigner Neil Herron told the BBC Mr Thoburn died at home on Sunday. Mr Herron said: "This man had the courage to stand up and be counted and it was a pleasure to know him. "He was an ordinary person's hero - an extraordinary ordinary person."

Mr Thoburn became famous after his scales were seized from his market stall by Trading Standards officers who caught him selling bananas by the pound. It triggered a legal battle in which he was joined by four other traders - from London, Cornwall and Surrey - to fight European regulations requiring food traders to sell produce in metric measurements. Their legal battle was funded through the Metric Martyr Defence Fund, raised from donations by the public.

The British Weights and Measures Association (BWMA), which campaigns against compulsory metric conversion, also paid tribute to Mr Thoburn and said their continued fight was dedicated to his memory. It said in a statement: "Steve Thoburn is indeed a martyr - he should be regarded as a national hero. For his sake, we must succeed. It is damnable that he dies a criminal owing to these totalitarian regulations. We will ensure that his brave fight for our much loved traditions will endure after his passing."


Metric Martyrs Defence Funds Tributes to Steven Thoburn

Britain's grocer who stood up against compulsory metric conversion died on March 14, 2004 which was the same day Orwell wrote the AS I PLEASE article about metric conversion on March 14, 1947.

Read about Jackie Jura's visit to ORWELL'S LOCAL PUB with excerpt of Orwell's touching metric conversion dialogue

18.Newspeak (The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought ~ Orwell)

Reminder: "We are spiritual beings having a human experience", by author unknown

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com