to ground again
Going to Ground by Jeremy Taylor
became the constant of my bedridden days.
I have always admired the language, the intellectual depth,
the honest sturdi-ness of Taylors writing.
His range of subjects is gripping, and his views are strong,
especially on politics and religion.
I was sick and lay in bed, boredom was a challenge, and
I would scrounge around my bookshelves looking for ones
that had got away, or old faithfuls to revisit. It was defined
more by moods than anything else, anything that would hold
my shortened attention span and keep me from dreevaying
around the house and fretting about its growing disorder.
One of the books that called meI have to say called
because it dropped into my thoughts, and I went and ferreted
it outwas Going to Ground, a collection of journalistic
articles by Jeremy Taylor published in 1995. It became the
constant of those bedridden days because everything Taylor
wrote about over that 20-year period from the 1970s seemed
The 68 pieces are grouped under eight headings: Watching
TV, Worrying, Music and more, Books and writers, Caribbean
dreams, Politics and development, Soapbox and Questions
of belief. Some are short radio commentaries; others range
from articles that appeared in the Express and the Guardian
and longer ones for magazines and periodicals.
I wanted to write about this book because as I drifted through
it in no special order, the thought kept recurring that
this was the kind of writing I wish we could have in our
time, especially within the newspapers.
I have always admired the language, the intellectual depth
and the honest sturdiness of Taylors writing; it is
graceful, decisive, informed and stimulatingqualities
so hardly present as a group within the current multitudes.
Taylor himself, in a 1982 post-Carnival comment on the quality
of broadcasters covering the parade of bands at the Queens
Park Savannah, was exasperated by the laziness and lameness
of reportage on Peter Minshalls Papillon specifically,
but on preparedness on the whole, conceding that:
are still only three ways of handling that Savannah commentary.
One is to do the necessary legwork in advance so you know
what to expect and you can say something intelligent about
productions and sections as they appear. The second is to
get hold of a band member to guide you, as happened with
several bands this year. The third is to rely on guesswork.
People are joined together in a convoluted kind of
exuberance; savages are streaming across the
stage in a mixture of tights. This is what happens
when commentators have nothing but their wits to fall back
on. The only thing to do was turn down the sound.
Mas bands now routinely provide their guides to commentators
(although there is hardly anything to be said that cannot
be seen), but Taylors comments are as true now about
general media reporting, especially outside the news cage,
as they were then. Legwork seems to have disappeared as
an element for producing a story. Reviews on the work of
hapless artists are either ignorant gushes or ignorant sneers.
Either way it is uninformed, repetitive and provides a gross
disservice to the artists subjected to it, because it offers
no clues as to the quality of their work, not for them or
to the public.
It is probably abetted because so few people read widely
anymore. Taylor laments this in a 1988 essay called The
lost art of , which struck me for a prediction he
cited by George Steiner that foretold the imminent
death of the serious, literary book as a genre. Not, as
the conventional argument has been, because film and TV
and video (and the Internet and DVDs) will make print redundant,
but because not enough people in the world will still be
capable of reading at the required level.
As a writer, that prospect chilled my bones. There is so
much evidence around us to substantiate itthe functional
illiteracy of the majority of students, even at tertiary
leveland 20 years ago, when this was written, Taylor
was citing a Ministry of Educations survey on school
reading which found that of 4,023 junior secondary students,
73 per cent, had a reading ability below the level of Standard
But I am going off on my own hobby horses, and Taylor has
his own that are as worthy of reading today as they were
when they were written. His range of subjects is gripping,
and his views are strong, especially in the realms of politics
and religion. His humour is pervasive, as in the opening
line of a piece on beauty pageants:
name is Juanita Gonzalez, and I am a 22-years-old muddle.
Because he writes so searchingly about the T&T that
is very recognisable still, no matter what has changed,
the book has a particular poignancy. It calls to mind something
from the not so distant past, but because it reminds us
how little things have moved on in any substantial way,
it brings a sense of sadness that we seem doomed to wallow
in one perpetual state of being. I dont know if it
is available anywhere anymore, but it is certainly worth