More Noughts And Dots That Means Summat And Nowt! (12 July 1974)
I see that the Wizard of O’s has been at it again – to the further bafflement and discomfiture of all we 60 and 70 year olds who now wrestle in despair with the intricacies of the metric system.
This time he materialises in the form of an ‘important notice’ to customers of the East Midlands Electricity Board – and who isn’t one these days?
“This is to advise you that all future electricity accounts received by you will include an adjustment in respect of alterations in the cost of oil and coal in power stations,” he says.
“The adjustment rate is 0.00054p a unit for each penny alteration in this fuel cost above the base cost of £6.48 a tonne.”
Instantly we are in deep water. What is a tonne? We have never before heard the word. For one delightful moment we imagine that the Wizard has gone back in time and has substituted “ye olde English Tonne” for the common “ton.”
Alas and alack, this hope is soon dashed. An up-to-date English dictionary tells us there really is such a word in its own right. It says:
“Tonne, tun (Fr. pron. ton) n. preferred name for metric ton, equal to 1,000 kilograms (0.984 ton) (Fr.).
So a tonne is a metric ton – and apparently French-fried.
Bur the Wizard hasn’t done yet- oh dear, no. He goes on to say:
“For example, if the cost of fuel shown on your next bill is £12 a tonne, this represents an increase of 552p over the base cost of £6.48 and the addition to the price of a unit will be 0.00054p multiplied by 552, which is 0.29808p a unit.”
Then, for good measure, he demonstrates the effect of all this on various levels of consumption.
H’m. We can only take the Wizard’s word for it. We have no slide-rule with us. And by this time we are so befogged by all those noughts and dots as to be almost beyond caring, anyway.
Rather like the Bletchley woman – a pensioner – who, on hearing of the approaching introduction of the decimal currency, remarked quite casually: “I don’t think I shall bother.”
Mind you, electricity has always been expressed in metric terms. We know that a unit is a kilowatt and that a kilowatt is 1,000 watts. So we know – and keep a sharp eye on – our meters if not our metres.
The trouble starts when to this common stock the Wizard applies a metric currency. And we are really in the soup when he next stirs in a metric weight. Where is the improvement on the old pounds, shillings and pence and the normal ton? We didn’t have to run to five decimal points with those, did we?
I personally have always distrusted noughts. Sometimes they mean something and other times nothing; in other words, they are summat and nowt. It all started when I was a nipper at school and they tried to tell me that if I had an apple and multiplied it by one I would still have only one apple, and that I had an apple and multiplied it by nought it would disappear.
Thus were mathematics divorced from reality. Some day. I supposed, a super-Einstein would come along and solve half the world’s problems by matching them up.
Meanwhile, I am much obliged to the electricity board for their interesting little notice. I am even more obliged to them for including on my electricity bill two sets of 00.00 totalling 0.00. I’ll see that that bit gets paid, anyway.