“As you know by now, in 1997 we shall all be a single community, with a single business market, and to facilitate the most productive and efficient use of working hours within the EU, plans are now well under way to implement the decimalisation of time. The old imperial system of 60 seconds to a minute, 24 hours to a day and seven days to an imperial week is riddled with inconsistencies and is naturally therefore confusing and in urgent need of reform.
The new system, to come into effect on June 1st 1997, is to be called ‘Eurotime’ and will offer a vastly simplified ‘decimalised’ time programme, with ten Euroseconds to the Eurominute, ten Eurominutes to the Eurohour, ten Eurohours to one Euroday and ten Eurodays to one Euroweek. Further to this, there will be ten Euroweeks to one Euromonth and ten Euromonths to one Euroyear. Decades will remain unchanged.
As the new Euroyear will be composed of ten as opposed to twelve months, it is proposed that the months be completely standardised and renamed in honour of the longest serving members of the European Parliament.
While converting to the new time system, you will be able to easily reckon the Eurotime equivalent of any imperial time by simply multiplying the number by 12.374 and then dividing the result by 4.42 and subtracting seven.
A full brochure and handy reckoning table, will be sent to your property closer to the time of conversion. In the meantime, if your joint income is below ECU 3,000 per annum, you may qualify for a grant to convert your household to Eurotime, and should apply now care of your local M.E.P.
The distribution of announcements by electronic means is a new venture for the Bureau of Administration and Planning, please help by forwarding this letter to anyone you know with an electronic mail address. Thank you.”
Remember that one? I’ve not been able to track down its precise origins, but it did the rounds in the 1990s, abetted by the newfangled internet, which we were now all getting on our home computers and whose main purpose in those days was emailing gags to friends and family.
Europe, and European integration, is one of those issues which the British spend long periods ignoring, and other long periods getting very passionate about. The above comes from the last time it was a hot political issue, when John Major was Prime Minister, and when the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 turned the European Economic Community into the European Union.
Europe and our part in it has been a constant fixture of British postwar history. What’s odd, though, is that Europe has produced so little British humour. What there is almost always revolves around stories, often exaggerated or completely untrue, of petty bureaucracy meddling with beloved aspects of the British way of life. This has been going on ever since Britain joined the EEC in 1973, if not longer.
For one of the cleverest plays on this, see the 1984 ‘Yes Minister’ Christmas special – the one where, with a little help behind the scenes from Sir Humphrey, Minister of Administrative Affairs Jim Hacker takes over as Prime Minister, partly by stoutly defending the good old British sausage from Eurocrats who want to re-name it the ‘Emulsified High-Fat Offal Tube’.
Scriptwriters Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn were probably at least partly inspired by European moves dating back as far as the 1970s to re-label chocolate confectionery according to its vegetable fat content, leading to rumours that British chocolate would henceforth have to be known as ‘vegelate’.
Of course Europeans have jokes about Europe, too. The best-known has been widely circulating around the continent for decades (it seems to be a favourite in language schools) and so comes in lots of different versions. It generally looks something like this … European heaven: Where the British do the policing, the French do the cooking, the Italians do the lovemaking and the Germans do the administration. European hell: Where the policing is French, the cooking British, the administration is Italian and the lovemaking is German.