It started the minute I left St Peter’s Church in Ruddington. It was dark, and as I stepped out and walked down the path to the road, I went straight into alert mode.

The meeting of the Ruddington Gardeners’ Association had been the first face-to-face get-together since February 2020 and the 40 of us were buzzing as we listened to a talk on plants that attract wildlife.

But when I reached the road, I adopted my familiar approach to solitary night-time walks; one of vigilance. I’m in my 60s now and it’s been my habit for as long as I can remember.

Keys in my hand to use as a weapon if needed. Mobile phone in my trouser pocket for accessibility. Purse in my coat pocket in case someone grabs my bag. It was one of the coldest nights of the autumn so far but my woolly hat was pulled up a little so I could hear anyone approaching. No Lloyd Cole on Spotify tonight – I needed to hear every sound in the quiet streets.

A quick look around and I strode out for the walk home.

One of the drinkers outside the Red Lion pub cracked a joke and raucous laughter echoed around the street. Without looking up, I checked the sound to make sure none of them were moving away from the group and towards me. ‘Stay there’ I thought. My heartrate quickened.

Still reeling and seething after Sarah Everard’s death, the tension has been ramped up for me. I’m sure it’s the same for those women who walk home alone at night, be it from the tram stop after a shift at the QMC, or the female bar staff on the last bus home who change into their trainers so they can run from danger if they need to.

It has got more tense because those evil men who want to control women, who are willing to con them, hit them, rape and kill them, know that women are scared out there.

Those who have recommended self-defence classes for women and improved street lighting and camera coverage are well-meaning but perhaps miss a deeper point.

If we are serious about making changes, we must start with fathers and mothers explaining to their children that respect for girls and women is paramount, and non-negotiable.

Of course, not all men and boys are a risk to women. But all men and boys must understand they have a real responsibility to think about how they conduct themselves, how that makes people feel, and then act on it.

Then maybe we’ll all have the confidence to walk those dark streets unafraid.

Image: Moonlight Walk by John Atkinson Grimshaw