It was a funny day. Not in a; 'funny ha-ha!' way - a bit more like a: 'What the hell was that all about? That was really horrible!' way.
Strange day, the day my mate's head exploded. When I say 'my mate,' I don't mean that too literally; I mean, I never invited him to come round to my place and kip on the sofa or anything. Or ever loaned him my last tenner - nothing like that. But I knew him, and he used to join in with a crowd of us down the pub of a lunchtime.
We were mainly all unemployed back then, and he was about twenty years older than me, but he was okay, basically. He still lived at home with his brother and his mam. Neither him nor his brother had ever done an honest day's work in years; they'd rather just hang about round the pubs in town, bumming drinks off people and working frantically towards becoming full blown alcoholics.
They used to tell tales on one another to their mam - probably because she controlled the purse strings - and it could all get a bet surreal at times.
I mean, imagine a 44 year old bloke telling his brother that he was going to tell their mam on him. It was all a bit daft really. More the kind of thing you'd expect from a nine year old.
But he never deserved having his head explode, the way it did that day.
As I recall, we were having a conversation about aids - it was new then, and widely misunderstood. It all seemed a long way away in those days. Anyway, I'd read in the paper that it wasn't directly the aids which killed people, that the virus essentially destroyed the immune system, and that people died of all manner of diseases which they couldn't fight off because their immune systems were shot at.
I said that people were dying of pneumonia, flu, cancer - all manner of things, because the HIV virus destroyed their ability to fight these illnesses. I'm not a doctor, but I do have a certain ability to absorb what I read, and at that time, that was my understanding.
Which I voiced to the lunchtime pub crowd.
Hacksaw Mick (who made his beer money by nicking scrap metal in the dead of night) told me not to talk like a cunt. He said that people didn't die of cancer or pneumonia if they had aids. If they had aids, it's what they died of.
End of story.
Seems like most people agreed with him. Me, I sat there chastened, thinking that I should probably move to another town or something, because my credibility in this place was getting blown up at the foundations on a daily basis.
To be honest - I got a bit of a sulk on. They started talking about cancer, and how everybody's basically got cancer. It just takes something to trigger it off. Then when it takes hold, it invades the body like ivy, spreading through a network of tendrils, like an insidious vine - which I knew to be load of ill informed nonsense, but I lacked the will to argue the toss.
That's when I looked across the table at Toby - the bloke whose head exploded. My sort of mate.
He didn't look well. He'd even dumped his roll up in the ash tray, (this was way before the smoking ban) half smoked, as opposed to what he normally did, which was peel the paper off and scoop the bits of tobacco back into his baccy tin. For recycling, like. Bit of a pioneer in that respect, he was. Bit ahead of his time.
I noticed then that he had an almost invisible coating of red dust about his person. Just this vague patina. And I could see that he was having trouble breathing, sort of tearing at his shirt collar, and gasping, breathing in great gulps of air, only to release those same gulps as shallow sighs.
Nobody else appeared to have noticed at this point. So I sort of alerted the gang to what was happening, and pointed at Toby.
"Dunno what's up with Toby - but he isn't right," I said.
Everything went quiet then as the gang gawped at Toby. Who by this time was bright red, and with all the veins on his head and face, sort of sticking out and pulsating. Like something out of a horror film.
It wasn't until later that I associated Toby's demise with the red dust. But apparently a shooting star had landed down by the river the previous night, and anything wich came into contact with the red dust it deposited seemed to have gone a bit mad. The swans down on the river had been seen earlier that day floating on their backs and barking like dogs...
So I looked at him again, and I said that we should think about calling an ambulance. Toby was obviously in distress, but Hacksaw Mick said:
"Ah, leave him be. Probably had a bad pint. He'll be right. Here, he hasn't shit his kex again has he?"
But one of the women, Rio Rita - renowned for being as pissed as a fart from waking up to bedtime, announced:
"He's never right. Lookarrim! I'm callin' th'amberlance."
Then it all got even madder.
As Toby's episode increased in severity - an ambulance crew arrived to take him to hospital, but one of the paramedics flatly refused to have any part of it.
"This is nowt ter do wi' us," he said. "He looks like he's got one of them community table pandemics or summat. Not our job that mate. You need the coppers. Or the Fire Brigade. We don't have the kit to deal wi' folk like him An' it might be catchin.' Know warra mean?"
A few minutes later, the police and the fire brigade arrived - and they wouldn't take him either. Not within their remit, they said.
So they started arguing between themselves, over who should take the patient on. And all the time. Toby's head was swelling up like a big fat watermelon, and his veins were popping and pulsating as if they were being pumped up with, a bicycle pump, a foot pump or something nasty like that, and he started to look like the elephant man out of that film, and then his fucking head exploded.
I kid you not, there was blood and snot, and bits of skull, and everything blown all over the shop. Fuckin' 'orrible it was. There was even an eyeball landed on a beer pump, and his cap, and part of his scalp, landed in a lady magistrate's lap. We was all covered in bits o' human head, like.
And the stench was awful.
Then the coppers and the ambulancemen and the fire brigade got into this almighty row about who was responsible, and who was going to clean the mess up.
Apparently, the brewery told the pub manager to keep well out of it, as it wasn't a brewery issue, rather one of public health. And they'd get their lawyers to look into it.
Me, I went home and had a bath. Discovered I had some eyelashes that I hadn't had when I left the house that morning.
Bit disgustin' that was.
So that's basically what happened the day me mate's head exploded.
On a positive note - the swans made a full recovery.