I was born and brought up in Burton-on-Trent, a brewing town in the English Midlands. It's the hardness of the water, its particular mix of dissolved minerals, that makes it suitable for brewing beer. This poem makes use of a couple of Burton expressions, the traditional greeting "Hey up me duck" and the word "mardy", which just means "moody" or "sulky".

Hard Water


I tried the soft stuff on holiday in Wales,
a mania of teadrinking and hairwashing,
excitable soap which never rinsed away,

but I loved coming home to this.
Flat. Straight. Like the vowels,
like the straight talk: hey up me duck.
I’d run the tap with its swimming-pool smell,
get it cold and anaesthetic. Stand the glass
and let the little fizz of anxiety settle.
Honest water, bright and not quite clean.
The frankness of limestone, of gypsum,
the sour steam of cooling towers,
the alchemical taste of brewing.

On pitiless nights, I had to go for the bus
before last orders. I’d turn up my face,
let rain scald my eyelids and lips.
It couldn’t lie. Fell thick
with a payload of acid. No salt –
this rain had forgotten the sea.
I opened my mouth, speaking nothing
in spite of my book-learning.
I let a different cleverness wash my tongue.
It tasted of work, the true taste
of early mornings, the blunt taste
of don’t get mardy, of too bloody deep for me,
fierce lovely water that marked me for life
as belonging, regardless.

from Hard Water (Jonathan Cape, 2003), copyright © Jean Sprackland 2003, used by permission of the author and The Random House Group Ltd.

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