Dear Dave

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Give them an inch...

Dear Dave,

What constitutes a last shot?

That's a tricky question. It's all very well yelling, 'We're going home! Time for one last go!' when you want to leave the swing park but what do you actually mean? Is it one go on everything or a single shot on one thing? What if one child wants a turn on the swings and the other wants to go down the slide? A turn on the swings probably has to be a couple of minutes long to be worth it, so the kid on the slide should be allowed four or five shots to fill the time. Then again, four or five last shots is quite a lot. The kid on the swings is bound to complain that they're only getting one. And that's before they both start wanting a quick spin on the roundabout...

If the weather is nice and you're not desperate for a coffee or the toilet, you may be inclined to humour them but, if thunderclouds or vultures are circling, you may decide to hurry them up. Either way, it's liable to end in tears. Even if you do give them another five goes on the slide, a lengthy shot on the swing and enough time to turn themselves green on the roundabout, there's still a high probability they're going to throw a tantrum as soon as you mention leaving again. Sometimes it's best just to bite the bullet, tell them it's time to go and then go. If you're going to have to carry them off kicking and screaming, you might as well do it before it's started to rain.

Trying to ease through a transition can just prolong the pain. Sometimes a clearly defined and definite decision is the only way. If you're in any doubt, look out the window and try and estimate the distance to the end of the street.

Since, like me, you went to primary school in Britain in the Seventies, I'm guessing you have absolutely no idea how far that is. You're probably not even sure whether to answer in yards or metres. More than that, you know your height in feet but measure things in centimetres. You buy cheese in grams but weigh yourself in stone. Milk comes in pints, petrol comes in gallons and Coke comes in litres.

This is a mess. As far as I can work out, Britain tried to change from imperial to metric units at some point, got halfway through and then everyone who'd grown up with imperial complained that they couldn't be bothered to learn the new system. Concessions were made. We got stuck using both. With all the confusion, I didn't really get taught either.

Given the choice, I'd go for metric. Metric units are a great deal easier to work with than imperial units. I had to do a semester of high school physics in the States and I simply couldn't believe I had to use feet and pounds. It was a nightmare. Still, if I'd been brought up using the system exclusively it would have been second nature and better than the confusing mix I was brought up with. One or the other would have been better than half of each. The Americans did manage to get men to the moon after all.

I, meanwhile, struggle to bake cookies.

Jen over at The Road Less Traveled recently put a picture of some cookies up on her blog. They looked very tasty. She offered to send me some but, worried that Customs would eat them, I asked for the recipe instead. Then, when Fraser had a friend round, I distracted Marie by getting her to make the cookies with me. I imagined an idyllic father-daughter bonding session that had the happy by-product of melt-in-the-mouth chocolate chip goodness. I was prepared for the recipe to be in imperial units. It wasn't an issue. I'm used to chopping and changing between imperial and metric in recipes. 8 oz of flour is roughly 200g. I wasn't expecting to have a problem. I had most of the right ingredients - how badly could it go?

Then I read the recipe and discovered that I didn't need 8 oz of flour. I didn't need 200g... or 300g... or 10 oz... or any other weight. I needed two and a quarter cups.

That's not different units - that's an entire different scheme of measurement. It seems to be standard practice in the States but I didn't know that anyone measured solids by volume (other than Archimedes, of course, and clich├ęd new neighbours trying to scrounge some sugar).

Under different circumstances, I might have looked up conversion charts online but I already had various potentially laptop-destroying foodstuffs all over the table and an excited child waiting expectantly in an apron. I quickly hunted around and found a measuring vessel marked in cups. Whether these were American or imperial cups, I have no idea, but it was better than nothing. (Americans don't actually use imperial units - they use something closely related but even less wieldy, so all the more credit to them for dominating the world. Having to work in Fahrenheit and fathoms is clearly character building.)

I got Marie to help measure things out. Flour was OK, sugar was easy, but when it came to the butter, well... that wasn't so good. The recipe seemed to acknowledge that measuring butter in a cup wasn't the best plan, however. It happily told me that a cup of butter is equivalent to 'two sticks'. This wasn't all that helpful. I can only assume that a stick of butter is more than a twig and less than a tree but none of this really helped with the cookies. Everything became somewhat less precise at that point. It's hard to imagine anyone doing any lunar exploring using this particular system.

Apollo 13: We've fired the thrusters but we're still off target!
Mission Control: Oh shoot! We figured everything out on the basis you'd be coming back with 513 cups of moon rock. Hang on a minute while we recalculate everything.
Half an hour passes...
Apollo 13: Come on, we're heading to Mars here!
Mission Control: Yeah, yeah, we're working on it. Hey, by the way, do any of you guys know if it's three sticks of basalt per cup or four?

We got there eventually:

Delicious looking cookies.

I think I may have used half a branch of butter rather than two sticks but the cookies were pretty tasty nonetheless. I made some with nuts and some without but all the children then point-blank refused to eat any of the nutty ones.


Munch... Munch, munch...

Anyway, I'm sure it would have been easier if I'd grown up measuring things in cups. Just as I'm sure that my life would have been simpler if some government official in the Seventies had stubbornly decided to ignore the whingers and press on with metrication. If they'd told the European Commission to get lost and gone back to imperial that would have been fine too. Hopefully our kids will only be taught metric but I will probably never know how far it is to the end of the street or be able to estimate how many limbs a bag of Pic'n'Mix is going to cost me before I reach the checkout. ("What do you mean, 'two arms and a leg?' Hang on while I put these Strawberry Laces back...")

Yep, sometimes an easy transition isn't worth it. A clean break is what's needed.

I like to give my children fair warning of where we're going and what we're doing but I've let them wheedle 'another five minutes' or 'one last extra, extra shot' out of me a few too many times. They've come to expect it. Getting them to appreciate that we really have to leave right now is very difficult and tends to involve me having to shout. I've started being much firmer. There's still some shouting involved at present but, if they can learn that when it's time to go, it's time to go, life will be less difficult in the long run. There'll be fewer tears and we'll get soaked less often. Hey, you never know, there may even be more cookies...

Oh, no, my mistake, I've eaten them all. Mmmmmm...

Yours in a woman's world,



MumAtWork said...

I have a similar problem with summoning children (and sometimes adults) when food is ready. When I was growing up, a shout of "tea's ready!" meant that the food had finished cooking and was about to be served. It meant I should finish what I was doing (read to the end of the page, listen till the end of the song) then wash my hands and head food-wards.

In my husband's childhood home, it meant the food was already on the plates, on the table, with the rest of the family likely sitting around watching it get cold.

As you can imagine, this caused us a bit of confusion when we were first married. He would get annoyed when he called and I didn't come running. I would get stressed when he arrived too promptly and stood watching me serving up.

We sorted it out eventually, but now we have the same problems with our kids. If we tell them it's nearly lunch time (on arriving home from the park, say), they will immediately sit down and grumble impatiently as we get the food out. On the other hand, if we ever wait and call them when the food is actually on the table, it's bound to get cold...

Anonymous said...

Firstly, ''ok one more minute then we go!!!!'' is more effective than ONE MORE GO. I didn't say effective I said MORE effective. Less confusing.

Secondly, if you want to measure things in cups then just look at Ranger's season.......

I wish I could remember my blogger's ID

jenk said...

Yay! You made them! I'm glad they came out okay. I was worried. Sorta.
Okay, that's not true. I knew you would figure it out. Eventually.
A cup is a cup and a stick is a stick. I am flabbergasted that you don't know what that means. Hee!

As for not switching to metric? It's because Americans are so stubborn that we can't accept anything else. When they tried to put up metric road signs in the seventies in an attempt to switch us over, Americans shot the signs down. *Ahem*
At least y'all are nice enough to give it a try.

DadsDinner said...

Regarding minutes:

This system also requires some level of interpretation. Is that a parent minute (as in "I'll just be a minute") which can last up to half an hour or a child minute (as in "I've been waiting for minutes and minutes and minutes") which lasts approximately five and a half seconds? (Handily, these definitions can be reversed, depending on the situation, for added fun.)