'Help! Help me!' A male passer-by sort of stops, but does nothing
The man's unshaven, dirty, greasy haired - walks in a slumped, twitching sort of way. And his sleazy smile bothers me. But I tell myself he's harmless enough. Sad Urban Fact Number One: we take for granted that right now our streets are full of people who cannot take care of themselves.

As I leave my car on one of the cramped, Victorian side streets, he licks his lips, "Hello lovely, bet your pussy's blonde, isn't it? Gonna give us a feel?"

I walk briefly off - never thinking of getting back in my car. It's four and if I don't hit the family planning clinic now, I'll have to queue. Sad Urban Fact Number Two: women are entirely used to being verbally abused by men in the street.

But he crosses to my side of the road - shirt untucked, dribbling - "C'mon, c'mon, sexy - let's see your pussy."

Heart somersaulting, I cross back and keep walking and - oh, Christ - he follows, at a run. I jog-walk, blood heating through my head. He catches up, grabs me, hands on the sleeve of my coat, my waist.

"Leave me alone!" I'm loud, assertive. A male passer-by sort of stops, startled, but does nothing. "Help! Help me!" My attacker is snarling now, throwing his weight at me, grabbing with both hands - shock prevents me from feeling it or even knowing where.

"Gotta knife" - he spits these words out somewhere between "pussy" and "fuck" and "eat you" and I see that I'm in the middle of the street and only seconds have passed and people have seen, but nobody's really getting any closer, are they?

So I stumble hopefully in front of a slowly passing car. Somewhere in my head is the idea that I'd rather be knocked down in the street than stabbed - run over gently by a nice, understanding, sexually balanced person with a clean car and maybe later in the hospital, we can be friends.

"Please, please! Help!" I bang on the red shiny bonnet and the driver quickly opens the back car door.

My attacker lets go - "What did she say?" he roars into the air. "Did she say I tried to rape her?"

And I'm in the car, fingers numbly scrabbling to get the lock down but not in time because he pulls open the door and grabs and I scream - noise coming naturally now - thrust him away. Slam door, lock it - and I'm shaking so much I can hardly breathe.

I don't know where he goes, but he goes. No one seems to apprehend him.

"Sorry, sorry," I tell the driver, apology always my refuge from stress. I've just lived through Deliverance or Straw Dogs and now I'm ready for the crane shot of the police car, the shocked and injured being led out under blankets, cue bleak music and titles.

"I could drive you to the police station" - my rescuer's a million years younger than me - striped shirt, tie, kind face.

I think of my place in the family planning queue. "Think I'll just go home actually," I say brightly through chattering teeth and tell him my car is just around the corner.

"I don't know if you're in a fit state to drive," he says. "Look, I live right here - why don't you come in for a cup of tea?"

It's really nice of him and his house will probably be calm and reassuringly tidy with a CD player and Habitat mugs and maybe a flatmate who's a lawyer, but I can't face the contact, the conversation. I explain that if he just drives me to my car and sees me get in and lock the doors and drive off, then I'll be fine, really. I promise to call the police when I get home.

"Did you notice if his flies were - er - at all undone?" the police officer asks me later, his uniformed bulk reassuringly squashed between a naked Tiny Tears doll and a Toy Story sticker book on our sofa. I say I didn't.

"Trouble is, if he's a mental patient, there's very little we can do. I don't want to get into politics and that but, you know, Care in the Community."

I realise I haven't been physically attacked in the street for about 10 years and you really do get out of the habit. I remember how just this morning I was in Boots buying Disprin and the woman behind the counter showed me a thing that looked like a roll-on deodorant and said, "Look, it's just come in: the Suzy Lamplugh Alarm. Good, isn't it?" and I said isn't it? But without really looking or thinking about it, which shows just how smug and comfortable and safe you can get to feel.

Once I stop shaking, I decide I might as well go back to the clinic. I park right outside and, when I get back in my car, I lock all the doors and find myself driving right back to where I was attacked, cruising the streets, just looking, just thinking I'll clock him and tell the police. Why? Maybe just that now my fury surprises me (What if my children had been with me? What if there had been a knife?) and it's good to feel as if I'm the prowler trawling, narrow-eyed and heartless, for my victim.

I don't find him.

When I get home, I see that a bruise is coming up on my right wrist and the right sleeve of my coat is covered in black marks. Trembling, invaded, disgusted, I throw it down on the hall mat where it sits awaiting the dry cleaners.

Next day, a freak tom cat sneaks into our house and pisses all over it.