Taxi] The young man who shouted is dressed in white tie and tails. I'm crouched behind the steering wheel of my cab, outside Emmanuel College, waiting for the traffic lights to change.

'Taxi]' shouts the young man again. I wind my window down.

'Can't you see I've got a fare, mate?' I shout back.

But he's beyond seeing, this chap - or hearing, for that matter. He stands alone on the pavement, a half-empty bottle of port in one hand, the other groping for a street lamp that isn't there. He sways from side to side. He staggers back, seating himself on a low wall outside the college.

'Oh, no,' he says, taking firm hold of the wall. 'Oh, no,' he moans. He leans forward, his head between his knees.

Unseen, an elderly gentleman - a college chaplain, I believe - approaches. Beside him now, the cleric makes to extend a helping hand. 'Thanks,' says the young man, before vomiting over the reverend's shiny black shoes.

Cambridge University May Week has begun.

It's 11pm on Friday 10 June. I've been on the road since 7pm. Ahead of me are eight more hours of hard slog. I'm wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and trainers, standard dress for a Cambridge cab driver.

Sitting on the back seat, immaculate in his dinner jacket, is Henry. We stop outside Robinson College. It's a fine but chilly June evening. A fire-eater entertains a long queue of May Ball-ers as they wait, hand in hand, to gain entry to the first big event of the week. Above their heads, a giant screen showing cartoons adds a surreal touch to the festivities. In the background, the muffled beat of a rock band.

Henry pays the fare. He turns to go. He stops. 'Thank you, driver,' he says, passing me a 4p tip.

'Taxi]' shouts a straw-boatered wag, perched halfway up a chestnut tree.

A solitary, inebriated 'crasher' finds an open window. He slips inside. His departure from the building - in the hands of security - follows so quickly upon his entry that the two acts seem almost simultaneous. I pull away from the kerb, heading for a lay-by and what I mistakenly believe to be the relative sanity of the town.

12.15am: Magdalen Bridge. I pull into a lay-by and pour myself a cup of coffee. Here I can listen to the sweet, distant sounds of a string quartet. I watch as the girls, delicious in their ball finery, arms linked with their escorts, stroll past. Two students duel with empty bottles of Bollinger.

2am: The city centre, abandoned by the students for the night, has been taken over by 'the town'. Any minute now the clubs and discos will disgorge their rabble on to the streets.

2.05am: 'Red Alert'. The base radio tells me that a taxi driver is in trouble on the Market Square. He has been headbutted through the open window of his cab by a drunken thug.

2.15am: 'Red Alert'. I am advised to keep clear of the market area: all hell has broken loose. Trouble is, I'm already there. About a hundred young men and women are swarming over the road, pushing, shouting, screaming for taxis. A running fight breaks out. One youth falls outside the post office. A hooligan puts the boot in. Two young girls, they can't be more than 17, join in.

Four police cars and a police van arrive, blocking my exit. A youth, blood oozing from one nostril, tries to force his way into my cab. I reverse quickly up the street, snapping the locks shut as I go.

6am: The sun has been up for two hours. My head throbs. My eyes ache from the confrontation with daylight. I'm hungry and

exhausted.

Taxi] It's chucking-out time at Robinson. The ball survivors, good-natured and friendly, pour down the ramp from the porters' lodge. Taxi] Taxi] Taxi] There are about 15 of us cabbies lined up, waiting for a fare.

Close by, alone on a grass verge, sits a pretty, black-haired girl. She stares into space. Suddenly, she screams. The screams subside; in their place a wailing noise rises. Mascara-stained tears course down her cheeks. 'I can't stand it,' she sobs. She begins to tear strips from her ballgown. Pieces of scarlet material, like discarded bunting, cover the ground beside her. Some revellers watch in horror. Others, embarrassed, hurry by.

A handsome young man rushes forward. He sits beside the girl, his hands caressing her bare shoulders. He kisses her gently on the cheek. The girl screams again. She pummels him on the chest with her fists. 'I can't stand it, Mark,' she cries, 'I simply can't stand it. I'm so . . . so happy]'

I've had enough. I'm going home.

6.30am: Suburban Cambridge. Traffic lights. At this hour there isn't a soul in sight. I'm safe - two minutes from my wife and daughter and . . . peace.

Suddenly, as if he'd dropped by parachute, a yob appears not six feet from my windscreen. He is carrying what looks like a baseball bat. He throws back his shoulders. He shouts: 'Taxi]'

(Photograph omitted)

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