However much you try to ignore it, or work round it, or just live with it, being female is an unholy pain. We don't just get paid less than men; we have all these extra expenses because of the constraints men put on our lives with their nuttiness, their greed, their violence and the fact that because we're female we're the people they're going to try it on first. Life for women in an endless cycle of catching cabs because the walk home from the bus is risky; and catching black cabs because you never know what kind of psycho is going to be driving the cheap minicab; of checking over our shoulders when we hear footsteps behind us; of taking our lives in our hands every time we let a bloke we aren't related to into our houses.
In case you hadn't guessed, I got mugged last night. It wasn't such a bad mugging as they go. I can't believe I just wrote that: someone invades my life, grabs my money and keys, which means a wasted day and 100-odd quid spent on getting the locks changed so he can't steal everything else, and already I'm rationalising it with, "I was lucky. He could have beaten me up as well." Well, hallelujah: the world is a better place.
I also feel like a bit of a dumb cow. I know why it happened: after a week shepherding a naif round the handbag haven of Dublin, I had let my guard down because I was on home turf. I made it easy. And women who wear short skirts are asking for it. What happened was this: I was in a bar with Zanna, and we were playing chess. Yes, I know, it's a poncy thing to do in a bar. I don't suppose I'll be doing it again in a hurry. Anyway, as it was just up the road, I'd not bothered with a bag, just stuffed some cash into the leather key-holder my stepsister gave me for Christmas and put it in my pocket. Then, for some reason, I took it out of my pocket and put it on the table beside me.
Our table was the nearest to the door. Zanna had just taken my queen and was chasing my king. The door opened. This chap in one of those stupid sweatshirts with the hood pulled up - mugger's sweatshirts - came in and stood just inside the door. His shirt was bright red. I remember thinking he looked like the murderous dwarf in Don't Look Now. I glanced at his back, wondering what he was up to. He stood there for a while, muttering about wanting a drink, and I decided he was just some poor nutter who had found himself in the wrong place. I glanced back at the board. Zanna had taken my last knight. "OK, OK," I said, "I concede." "You can't concede," she said. "Let's go right to the end", and bang! his hand slammed down on the key holder and he was out of the door.
I'm no whimpy girlie, but I was surprised by the ferocity of my own reactions. I shouted, "Oh you fucker" and was on the pavement and on his heels in less than a second. I was going to tear his head off. I wasn't wasting breath on shouting; I was concentrating on catching him. Then he ducked up an alleyway leading to one of those maze-like housing estates. I was still after him, but beginning to feel those familiar female qualms about dark alleys. Then I heard pounding feet, glanced back and found a man running up fast behind me. At which point I decided that I'd rather not add rape to my list of grievances, and let it go. The second guy shouted something about catching him, and they both disappeared round a corner.
And that's it. There wasn't a lot the police could do, what with the fact that he'd had a hood over his face and that there are about a million young black guys in baggy sweatshirts walking the streets of south London. But I'm angry with him, not only because he invaded my life like this, and has left me feeling less at ease in my surroundings than I was yesterday, not only because he picked on me because I was a woman and a soft target, but because I hate it when people conform to stereotypes. Every black man I've ever known has been exhausted and resentful about the way women look nervously at them when they're alone in a dark street. Now, at least until I've worked it out of my system, I'm going to be doing the same. I've not changed my attitudes - at least, I hope I haven't - but there's going to be a vestige of Pavlovian memory hanging around for some time. I didn't see his face: only his hands. He could be any stranger I pass in the street, and he could be waiting to do it to me again.
Zanna went to Balham and got my spare keys, and hung around for the night to guard my vulnerable castle. We drank whisky and watched The Last of the Mohicans. And talked about the foreboding that had made me ditch my purse and credit cards at the last minute. There was a copy of that day's Sun on my living room floor. She turned to the horoscopes and read smugly about how happy Librans are at the moment. Then she read Sagittarius. "A costly situation could come back to haunt you or you could have to pay for your mistakes," it said.