Phenomenal poetry

Although I was highly disappointed not to encounter thundersnow over the weekend (when I get my white tiger, that is definitely what he'll be called),  my habitual ride through the Warwickshire fields provided ample compensation: a cliche-surpassing wonder of cold, still air and morning sunshine.

Trotting over Edge Hill and past Compton Wynyates, illegally galloping across mud-mulched stubble nourished by the blood of Roundheads and Cavaliers, I felt as close to my national heritage as I will ever get. Because amidst all the retrospectively significant dates and matters of state we use to try and yolk and evoke the past, it's the thinginess of history that makes the cultural memory of my marrow sing. The dirt, the wood, the bits of wall and leather, the tools and utensils and unlovely clothes, the glimpses of metal buried in labouriously ridged and furrowed land: these hardy scraps of territory and identity and daily toil are all that remain of our deluded grandeur, and they comprise the mundane, mortal, tough thingy stuff that truly calls forth our pre-digital past.

The Lodger is an exhilerating work of historical detection woven from the importance of humble things. In this clear, quietly witty account of Shakespeare's years lodging on London's Silver Street, Charles Nicholl carefully exhumes every tiny physical clue available about a particular place, time and community. By refusing to indulge in the standard scholarly fare of imaginaings and approximations, he reconstructs a miraculously meticulous and believable impression of an ordinary life in an ordinary world. It makes Will seem truly extraordinary, because real;  'one Mr Shakespeare', not The Bard.

In the chapter 'Householde Stuffe', Nicholl uncovers an inventory of furnishings from the Mountjoys' house in 1604, during Shakespeare's residency. It includes such items as an old featherbed; a dozen napkins of coarse diaper; two little pairs of scissors; a thin green rug. Nicholl's gift is to situate Shakespeare in the sort of world that inspired him; a world where lives and loves are brokered and broken with crumpled letters, cross-garters and thin rings; where a legendary Roman general commands realms and isles 'as plates dropp'd from his pocket'.

So, as I plodded through Shakespeare country, reins rough-grained in my palms, I felt how each underhoof rut and mound had been shaped and cursed by those who had been there before me, equally drunk on horse-rhythm and horse-stink and horse-heat. It was stuff as dreams are made on; phenomenal poetry. The drama of gear.