14 thoughts on “On Dark Wings – Stephen Gregory

  1. I note the contents list also contains stories called ‘The Late Mr Lewis’ and ‘Dreamcatcher’ as one word. I hope I am not too late to this author! And I must read the stories in order, starting with…


    “…the wildlife gallery and tea shop owned by my father.”

    A disarmingly eerie, charmingly light-fingered tale of the security problem in this tea shop gallery near Dartmoor. I first suspected something strange when the father cursed or accused a real heron in the garden looking like a finely painted heron in the gallery with making off with a fat goldfish. I knew it was not the waitresses, at least, who done it.


    “Her face was mottled and oddly misshapen, on her right cheek there was a wrinkled map of her sleep, the imprinted material of her armchair.”

    A compellingly page-turning, engagingly characterised, movingly poignant, refreshingly innocent, deceptively profound, puckishly humorous, eerily atmospheric, often suspensfully panicky, wholesomely nature-studying story of an informal boarding-school trip organised by an inexperienced young male teacher called Mr Drew, a trip for five boys in the woods at night to collect owl pellets… One boy goes missing. The repercussions for all concerned reminded me, inter alia, of a sort of port in the storm of an erstwhile hanging-rock’s picnic, where time was drawn as a long note by Drew upon a cello’s string. I was imprinted with its tension. The chocolate treats, notwithstanding.


    Of luff and marital yaw, samphire and two damaged thumbs, this is the story of as it were a rogue element – a cormorant – being instilled as a pet into a situation in a pub and its lord and lady of land and sea, to tease out the hidden cracks in a settled cast of characters, as I try hard to get my own nib to its nub of message beneath the plotted plaster.


    “Worse was to come.”

    This engagingly sad story of a man not dissimilar to the one in the story of a boarding-school teacher’s owl pellets; here it’s the short-eared owls themselves, but the teacher is now much older, having memories of unrequited and discarded loves with the distaff of our kind. Indeed, I get the sense I am granted views of such things in writing by someone who really wants me to see them as some raison d’être of life, but paradoxically they make me wonder about what I have been doing all these years; why have I not been letting such engaging works as these slide over my mind as a forgettable pleasure; why have I forced myself to retell them via my quaint viewpoints on literature; why have I found myself hawling, dreamcatching them, and finding cross-references, synchronicities, preternatural gestalts &c.? But here the owls are not what they seem. I even found myself somehow trying to work out an anagram for Ed Debba! (Bead bed?)


    A vicarious vignette of being tiger-like. A man who merges with one of our woodlands where we live, in his ironic camouflage of orange pullover. Not so ironic, perhaps. He IS the forest, sometimes inadvertently frightening visitors with his abrupt presence. His caravan’s fire was orange, too, I guess. His presence lingering on like a tricksy chameleon. This man still seems a good one. That other orange man whom I infer elsewhere, notwithstanding?

  6. 799F0959-B343-4FCA-A24F-E8D1BF893F63THE BOYS WHO WOULDN’T WAKE UP

    “At the overgrown ha-ha, Mr Hoddesdon told Ian to leap down into the dilapidated bandstand and find owl-pellets…”

    This is an excruciatingly poignant story in the boarding-school cycle, a story, inter alia, of sad cold sunlight on even sadder snow, a buried boy’s head or the headmaster’s own head when he was a boy, I extrapolate, any flames, notwithstanding. A story that is excruciating in an effective way, that is. The odd headmaster, odd by name and manner, old, too, 70, left alone at the small declining school, alone with a boy, 7, Ian, whose parents cannot take him home for Christmas hols. Excruciatingly awkward, I would guess, but the two of them manage together, with stilted conversations, and an outing with a picnic hamper (that hanging rock picnic again?) and Ian sleeps and brushes his teeth in the dormitory with the other empty beds. But the oddness later turns into a sort of madness – with memories about some fire tragedy, the other boys involved, when the headmaster was 7 himself and slept in the same dormitory, even in the same bed as Ian does today. Unforgettable as a story, a putative classic of its kind, I suggest.


    “, dreaming and steaming…”

    A ghost story, of a ghost embodied as a deformed, deaf and sightless pig, sleeping and no doubt dreaming under the other pigs as part of a pen’s gestalt-pig, I’d say. Or if not a gestalt ghost, it is a reincarnation of another schoolboy burnt to death or bacon? Soon to become the ghost, ignited by lightning, a ghost that I first assumed it to be. All witnessed by a different boy. We all take our turns upon this Gestalt Wheel? Or become just a final dream? Or buried by where we once lived?


    After the earlier pig, now a moth, one that sometimes sounds like a rodent, is exposed to a potential flame’s engulfment. A Humming Bird Hawk Moth, as Celia at the tender age of 20, having escaped early the silly student behaviour of others at university, writes and directs her own play in the village hall, both helped and hindered, both cowed and inspired by the moth in the Hall, with differing audience reactions to the results of her moth phobia, a phobia she’s had ever since encountering a Death’s Head one as a child… but why on Earth am I trying to retell this story leading to an ending I do not fully (as yet) understand? The story should stand or fall on its own perceived performance, bespoke or otherwise, to each individual reader as part of a gestalt audience of readers, waiting to applaud together… I’ll keep my powder dry, meanwhile.


    “There was a cormorant fishing. […] One bird jabbed its beak on into Henderson’s beard and flapped away screaming.”

    A movingly vicarious vignette of a man drowning, then dead, as if you still live through him, amid the elements of Gaia that enfold him and somehow keep him alive by suspended disbelief.


    “Mr Lewis taught me things.”

    A touching story from the owl pellets cycle of boys’ boarding school stories, where a teacher was never late, till he was! What did it all mean, as the boy, like I was also a boy from the 1950s, wonders? Well, my Gestalt real time reviews will continue after I have gone. Mark my words.


    Swifts and swallows, come one after the other, the latter first, swifts that sleep on the wing, but it is the I of swift not the all of swallow as we imagine the projected I or self of David the boy intent on rescuing a wounded swift, unlike the earlier year when one of his teachers stoned it to a peaceful kind death, so called.
    The boy precariously climbs a tall tree with it between shirt and chest, and then let it go. The ending is iconic and needs to be anthologised regularly in bird story anthologies. But had I read another story where the boy jumped with it? – if so, I must have dreamt it.


    “…a secret, a secret between herself and the blackbird.”

    There is somehow a musically erotic theme to this story, a secret well kept, perhaps, till now. Or it may be something I imagined. Whatever the case, a touching story of a woman flautist whose car accident, as well as causing a marital bereavement for her, also not allowing her to continue as a world famous concert performer. Until she reaches a synergy of assonance, with the blackbird and its song that had earlier haunted her. An assonance via her lips.


    A story of the eponymous boy who is born mentally abnormal, soon after his father had died, his words not words at all, but no doubt full of meaning. A story of healing, but who is healed? Anything more I say about it would spoil a chilling gem of a story. Chilling, but somehow uplifting.


    “One of the shapes, something dead and broken, stayed where it was. The other lifted off, with a sudden heaving struggle of dark wings.”

    I have long since called my book reviews Dreamcatcher ones as well as Hawler ones. And that quote above seems the perfect description of these two aspects, and indeed an emblem for this whole growingly perfect book, an emblem of fight and flight. This story of a man in the Dreamcatching film industry of California takes time off after a struggle with the aspirational Gestalt of creatives working on a certain film. Towards a hotel they booked for him, but he wilfully wanders off in his car into the desert. Whereby part of this book’s dual collusive, collisional conundrum somehow watermarks itself on the windscreen and another part becomes its own roadkill that had always been roadkill, looking for pellets rather than the bird itself? I hope I have managed to dreamcatch this book as equally well as it has watermarked me. Me and this book in constructive collision and collusion?


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