I ALWAYS thought that I was invincible. I gallivanted around London from the age of 14, and felt immune to anything.

On a glorious sunny day, at 11 o'clock in the morning, I was alone on the platform at Kensal Rise, looking at the train timetable, when suddenly someone pulled my arm behind my back. A lot of people walk around all the time thinking every man is going to attack them, but I never thought like that, so when someone grabbed my arm, I actually thought it was a friend of mine, playing a joke.

But when I looked up and saw him, my blood ran cold, it really did, because I looked up into his face - and his eyes were absolutely full of hatred; and I thought, God, anything can happen to me.

The thing is, being the outward- going person that I am, I'd actually spoken to him in the station hall. Waiting for my ticket, he was right behind me, and I'd said, 'This takes a long time, doesn't it?', which in some ways makes it worse, because you feel you made some contact.

I didn't know how to react, I didn't know what to say - what do you say when someone mugs you? I thought, I've got to do something; and so I kicked him very hard on the shins, and because of that, he hit me over the head.

That wasn't very painful, but it was a shock. And then he punched me in the back between my shoulders, which absolutely winded me, and I began hyperventilating, which hasn't happened to me before. I could hardly breathe.

He then reached into my bag and grabbed my purse, and ran off across the train tracks. The whole thing only took about five seconds.

I couldn't believe it had happened, and I didn't know what to do, I mean I didn't know how to react. I just stood there. 'Oi,' I went, and I never say 'Oi', but it just sort of came out. And then I started screaming. 'Help]' and 'You bastard]'

The ticket man either heard me or saw the boy leap over the ticket barrier, and the flower seller outside the station realised what had happened and they chased him down the road, but he got away, disappeared.

The flower seller and the ticket collector came up and comforted me and they were nice, very nice actually, and suddenly, from having been in a deserted station, this incident had drawn in a crowd and I was surrounded by people, all being kind.

The ticket collector rang the police, and they asked when I was going to be at home and arranged to meet me there, and told me to ring my bank to cancel my credit cards.

Eventually the crowd melted away . . . and there was still this awful feeling of not knowing what to do.

I was actually on my way to a meeting in east London that morning. I'd taken the train instead of driving because it was quicker. I decided to go to the meeting and I got on the next train. But as I walked along the street I just burst into tears: every man who walked towards me I thought was going to hit me, or take my bag. And when I got to the meeting I said: 'I've got to go home.'

That evening a policeman and policewoman in uniform came to my house and took a statement from me: exactly what happened, what he looked like, what he was wearing, and so on. I was able to give them a good description. I won't forget what his face is like, I really won't, even now.

The first question they asked was: 'Was he black?'

I wished I could say: 'No, he was white, carrying a lap-top computer, and wearing a suit' (because he was the stereotype mugger, young, 18 or 19, tall - very tall, six foot four or something - and black).

When I told them I'd kicked him they said I shouldn't have done that. 'Never retaliate,' they said. 'Let them do what they want with you.'

I don't know . . . I'm actually quite glad I kicked him.

For weeks and weeks afterwards I couldn't sleep. At three or four in the morning I'd get up and look out of the window, walk around the room, look out of the window again. And I lost my concentration; I just couldn't work at all. And for some months I could hardly bear to go out, even in my street, where I know virtually everybody and have always felt really secure.

It changed my personality. From being someone who was pretty confident about most things, I changed into someone quite timid and nervy. It's probably sensible, but I now always try to park as near to my door as possible, and scurry to the front door, house keys in my hand, all the things I've never done before. And I still don't feel safe.

I don't think I'll ever be exactly like I was before. I'm sad that a piece of that person who was really quite carefree and devil- may-care, who gallivanted around London at three in the morning, has gone.

One of the most emotionally painful things was that photographs of my father, who died a year ago, were in that purse, and they were very special to me. They were pictures taken 10 or 15 years ago - just how I wanted to remember him. It was always nice that wherever I went, I had photographs of Dad on me, I had carried them everywhere.

Charlotte Owen is a journalist.

(Photograph omitted)