Minus twenty? It sounds cold. Is it?

Picture this… it’s 6:30 am. (I am not a morning person). I stuff the hem of my nightgown into my fleece jogging pants, add a fleece jacket and an overjacket, wrapping a scarf around my face, popping a hat on my head. Fleece mittens. Big boots. A plastic bag. And extenda-leash.

It’s really dark. Ice crystals sparkle on the snow. I look like something that’s just evolved from another planet.

But I have to walk the dog. And, I have no idea how cold it is.

I’m one of the dying breed of Canadians who can’t read a thermometer.

It became really apparent that I’m disadvantaged last week when I our trusty thermometer (you know, the kind you pop in the kids’ mouths) bit the dust. We’d had it 20 years at least, one of those mailorder deals you get from one of the gas companies. It had a digital readout, a clock (which we never used) and the best part — it flipped from Silliness to Fahrenheit. It never left Fahrenheit.

I mean, good grief, how would I know what the right body temperature is in Silliness? It’s 98.6 in Fahrenheit and though I’ve been given this figure several times, it hasn’t made its way into my cranium for any length of time. So here I am scouring the shelves at Shopper Drug Mart (which used to be Harper’s Pharmacy, run by Jack Harper, when we first moved here in the early 70’s).

I digress.

Kid sick, home from school. No working thermometer, but she feels really hot to me. Buying a Fahrenheit thermometer turns into a real experience, the kind that makes me wonder if I’m the only person left on earth who doesn’t have a clue whether I’m getting good mileage if it’s 15 litres per hundred kilometres.

“Does this thermometer flip back and forth from Celsius to Fahrenheit,” I ask Laura at Shoppers. “I’m sure it does,” she gives me her best customer service smile. We undo the package, and pull out at least 14 inches of directions written in 5 point type which might as well be a series of straight lines because there’s no way I can read it. While Laura is squinting at the instructions, I’m searching around the shelves for a sign… any sign… that there’s a digital thermometer that will tell me which side of 98.6 my kid is on.

Sometimes it helps to stand back.

The little thermometer packages dance around on the display hooks and I notice there’s a coloured block on the corner of each one. The peach clocks have a white C on them. The blue blocks have a white F. I know what this means! I pay and I’m off to measure the kid. Thanks, Laura.

But, the problem doesn’t end there. Open a recipe book and try to figure out the difference between 3 grams and 4 millilitres of dry product. I can’t.

Or, look at the odometre of your car and say, “boy, this baby’s getting old… we have 250,000 kilometres on here!” My first car went well beyond 187,000 miles (1961 Valiant, slant six engine, three on the floor stick shift, honked all on its own at every left turn) which was the odometre reading when I bought it.

Or, how about mileage! I know that bad mileage is three miles to the gallon and I remember that from a high school romance with a fellow whose 1962 Monarch clocked exactly three miles to the gallon. ‘Course gas was 38 cents a GALLON but we’re not going there. So, today, the digital readout in my current chariot says my fuel efficiency is 11.8 kilometres per litre. What’s that? I can flip a switch out of Silliness world and find that means 22 miles to the gallon. Way better than three, but a pittance compared to my husband’s beetle’s 68.

Try to buy fabric. I know what a foot of fabric will do. What about half a metre?

My world is a bit of fuzz. My brother, who’s six years younger than I and technically oriented, chuffs regularly at me. Donna, it’s easy, you just convert by moving the decimal, adding 10 points, turning upside down and counting backwards for 11 seconds. At least that’s what it sounds like. My brother can also set the clock on a VCR.

Maybe the damage occurred in Grade 3 when we were ritualized into our memory work. Times tables. Measurements. 12 inches makes a foot. three feet make a yard. 1,760 yards make a mile. 5,380 feet make a mile. 16 ounces make a quart. 64 ounces make a gallon. 64 ounces of gas cost 38 cents. Toronto is 50 miles away. Your car gets three miles for every gallon of gas you put into the tank. How many gallons of gas will you need to drive to Toronto? Will you be able to come home? Will you want to? You know, grade three stuff.

It’s a lonely world, the Fahrenheit world. Those of us who live in it have shoots of gray on our heads, and crinkly lines around our eyes. We have happy attitudes because we’ve lived longer than those metric youngsters so we know that all we have to do before we get dressed in the morning is walk the dog and check out the temperature.