Small-town Ireland.

Eddie's flat.

The locals call him the Preacher, the Holy Man.

They don't think of him as a monk - probably never did. The first they really heard from him was his wedding, I think, and married Hare Krishna monks come as a surprise to small-town Irish Catholics. I guess he doesn't think of himself as a monk right now either, probably not since after the breakdown of his marriage, but maybe going back to before then. He's still a religious man, no doubt - still listens to lectures, chants, has holy books and posters arrayed around his bed. He is drinking again, though, and as my middle brother remarked when I mentioned this -

'If he's drinking, he's fighting.'

He wasn't wrong; Eddie's gone right back to his roots.

'Put it this way,' he says to me.
'You guys have always known I was an Irish Gypsy, right?
Well, now I really really am.'

He spends much of my stay regaling me with tales of violence. He is a fine storyteller, if sometimes prone to tangents and frequent re-tellings. The stories I hear the most are these:

  1. The Time with the Biros

    Eddie's drinking in one of the locals when this girl he's been chatting to gets the wrong idea and 'cries wolf', and some guy a couple of feet taller than him appears out of nowhere, grabs him by the throat and pushes him out of the pub.

    After he's gone back in, Eddie follows him to get his pint only to find it gone, and demands a refund from the bar. The barman expresses reluctance, so Eddie whips a biro from each pocket and makes it clear that he means to get his fucking money back. He keeps the pens in his pockets because he is a writer, he'd tell the police if he needed to, and it's largely true. He often keeps a holy book in his bag, should any further proof be needed that he is a peaceful man.

    When he's obtained a full refund, the guy who just pushed him out of the pub is still standing there vibing him; so Eddie explains that if he tries anything else he'll gouge both his eyes out and make sure it looks like self defence. He quickly gets in a cab and leaves.

  2. The Strong Man

    Eddie is drinking in the same pub a little while later, although he is now barred. The barman who barred him - the guy he threatened with the biros - is off-duty, but he tips off the manager that he's supposed to be barred so Eddie is asked to leave. Things start to look ugly, and the off-duty guy is threatening to smack Eddie over the head with a snooker cue when a huge bouncer appears and politely forces Eddie out of the pub in less time than it takes for him to figure out what's going on.

    The next day Eddie returns to talk to the bouncer - 'You're the Strong Man, aren't you?' he asks, and the bouncer concurs but manoeuvres Eddie out of the door.

    'Don't shove me!' says Eddie, but the Strong Man explains that he wasn't really shoving - he's just seven feet tall and big for his height, and he needed to make it clear to him that he couldn't drink there that night.

    'That's fine', says Eddie,
    'I just wanted to show you something...'

    The something is a picture of him with his departed wife, at their wedding.

    'What do you think?'
    'Well, that's my wife, and she left me. So I'm sorry about last night, but I'm still recovering...'
    'You'll get over it,' says the Strong Man, and shakes his hand.
    'You're grand.'

  3. The Time with the Letterbox

    Eddie was freaking out one night about the awful state of his life and the difficulty of keeping on going.

    'You're among friends here,' says a friend.
    'I don't care about you,' dissents someone else who he'd thought was a friend.
    'I hate you and your wife.'

    Eddie is too upset to say much to this at the time, but later on he fills a plastic bag with piss and shit and shoves it through the guy's letterbox. He justifies this from scripture - 'the true devotee will act like fire against those who blaspheme against Krishna or his true devotees,' or as he puts it -

    'It's not about personal glory - it says don't fuck with Hare Krishnas, and my wife's a Hare Krishna and so am I.'

    or more simply:

    'You talk shit, expect shit through your letterbox.'

  4. The Real Clan

    Eddie tells me about different levels of recognition accorded to folk in the Irish Traveller community.

    'There's Tinkers; there's Travellers; there's Clan; and then, there's the Real Clan.'

    His father accepted him as Real Clan just a few days ago, and Eddie is deeply honoured. It is one of the things giving him hope. It means he's a Made Man, he explains; it was like that scene from Goodfellas, complete with the old friend of his father's shaking his hand proudly.

    'If you ever fuck me around with this or take it away after it's meant something to me,' he warned his father, 'I'll probably have to kill you'.
    'That's why I'm Real Clan,' he tells me later.

    He gets me to take a couple of pictues of him posing with sunglasses and a knife and no shirt - 'Two Days After Becoming a Made Man' - and tells me to make sure that my middle brother frames a copy of one and hangs it up as a ward against people who might want to rip him off. He can tell them about his brother, a Made Man in the second most powerful family in southern Ireland, who would gladly kill for him.

While I'm there I finish reading his first novel, a violent yet Krishna-conscious yarn set in the Tinker community of nineteenth-century London and woven together out of fight stories from his Tinker family and friends and his own violent youth and imagination. He tells me he's finished his fifth book - the sixth, I suppose, if you count Poems of a Drug Delinquent Dreamer - another sequel to this one, I think, this time a horror novel. In the first sequel, Earth is visited by aliens from a planet even less spritually advanced than our own. I don't know about the books in between.

I meet his close friend and next-door neighbour, demon-possessed Bob, who Eddie has accepted as his disciple, in the absence of anyone who could better fulfil his need for a spiritual adviser. It's not that he fancies that he is qualified for the job, but he is the only Hare Krishna in town and Bob needed help. Bob says he has actually been much better, but Eddie is taking a bad Karmic reaction off of him; he's been haunted lately, seeing strange bugs and gurning little creatures manifesting themselves, hearing voices. He hasn't been sleeping right.

He shows Bob his his new keyring proudly. He got it at the grave of Billy the Kid, and it says so in small print next to a picture of the outlaw, with Eddie written in big letters above it. He says to Bob -

'You know who my inspiration is? Well, one of them is Prabhupada.
But another is this fucker here - Billy The Kid.'

I also meet his father, a big man if short, a hard man, head of his clan. Eddie introduces me as his good friend from London, not as his foster brother, because he has heard a little of what his foster families have done to him over the years and Eddie worries that like his mother, he might never quite get that ours was one of the families that didn't.

We go to his house, where we sit down in his front room - a shrine to Elvis - and don't really watch an old black and white film about love. Eddie tells his father furiously about what had happened on the way there: We had called in on an acquaintance of theirs who had been going on for days about buying his ring, a gold Gypsy ring with a horseshoe and a horse head inside it. The guy was sitting in the front room with family, facing the corner and reading a paper, when we came in and Eddie asked him if he was going to save his arse - this being bill-paying time - and buy his ring. He barely looked up from his paper to dismiss him with 'I'll think about it'; Eddie took this as an insult, and told him so as he stormed out. When Eddie is done recounting this incident to his father, the man says to let it lie; he's not worth it. Reluctantly, Eddie agrees to leave him unpunctured.

Around this time, a phone call comes in with the news we had been half-expecting for the last few days: Eddie's long-estranged mother - the alcoholic some-time bag-lady from whose haphazard care Eddie was plucked at an early age, and who bitterly resented all of his foster-families because of it - has succumbed to the critical illness which had laid her low since just after I arrived. We know that he will cry for her later, but the relief with which he greets the news at the time is excruciatingly genuine.

I think it is the saddest thing I have ever witnessed.