He fell in behind me as I mounted the long, steep hill that connects run-down Archway, in north London, with my new home in the wider, affluent avenues of Highgate.
His self-conscious whistle unsettled me. As soon as the woman and child in front turned into the Miranda housing estate, he began to run. On the corner, where high brick walls divide private Victorian houses from the dismal, concrete estate, he grabbed my bag. In the struggle I was knocked to the ground. No one answered my screams, and when the bag's strap finally snapped, I was bruised and he had won.
For a moment my slight, blond assailant gazed down at me, nervous but determined, and no more than 16. Then he ran down the hill, disappearing into the estate's maze of subways and passages. I followed, a little tearful.
My neighbours assumed the robber would be black. That, in fact, was the colour of the people who helped me: Sonia, the woman who had been in front and who eventually walked back towards the noise, and a teenage boy from the estate who saw my attacker running and tried to catch him.
Sonia took me upstairs to use her phone. The lift, filled with pink polystyrene, stood open and useless. It was 9.30pm when I called the police. At 10.15pm we called again. They were on their way, they said. Just a little busy.
All this time the black teenager stood outside in the cold waiting to direct the police. The security buzzers were on the blink again. As Sonia dispensed coffees, she explained how she never went out alone here after dark. Winter meant long nights of confinement. Nineteen years ago the estate was a fine place. Now it is crime-ridden and full of problem families.
A friend arrived and we searched unsuccessfully for a discarded bag. The Miranda estate deceives the outside world. Hidden behind high bushes are hundreds of box-like homes on four floors stretching far into the distance. This Seventies design now offers a hostile environment to those forced to live there.
At 10.45pm we called the police again. Sorry, they would try to get someone there as soon as possible. I wondered if a Highgate address might have proved a greater lure.
We gave up and went to the station. The police had lost their chance to speak to the teenager, who thought he knew my attacker. The officer on the desk was still apologetic; it was a busy night. He took my details and gave me a number that would help me to claim the insurance.
At 4pm the next day the special locksmith for the special lock gained entrance to my flat. A message from a policewoman awaited on the answering machine. I called back. She was busy. I left a message. Then there were seemingly endless calls to cancel credit cards.
Then came my new neighbours, bearing personal crime stories, each more horrific than the one before. Tales of gold chains being ripped from throats in broad daylight were superceded by midnight ground-floor burglaries and eventually culminated in a unsolved murder in the flat downstairs.
My smart block in this leafy N6 street was obviously under siege from N19's 'poor and jealous', dwelling hundreds of feet below.
Next day brought a prompt letter from the local victim support team. I was more interested in a progress report from the police. That afternoon a woman from a bank called to say someone was trying to use my cash card. There was a possibility of arrest. She was excited and in a hurry. She would call me back. I waited two hours then called the police. They promised my woman police officer would call me back.
I've heard nothing from the police since and seen nothing of the robber I was able to describe so clearly. Navely, perhaps, I still believe that a community policeman who knew the estate could have found the boy that night, armed with information from me and the teenager who thought he recognised him. Someone should care more about someone so young who snatches handbags. I look for him each morning when I walk past the estate; at night I join the hordes of Highgate dwellers who bypass it by taking the bus.Reuse content