Sidelong Glances At The PCU Characters: Janice Longbright
Janice Longbright is an amalgamation of all the tough women I had ever encountered working in London’s Soho. I spent over a quarter of a century negotiating the madness of this tiny square of land, working and socialising there, but not being much of a late night person I was never one to drag a party on into the small hours. Neither was Soho for most of its life, really – only a very few venues remained open after midnight. But the Soho afternoon was long and the partying was hard.
You’d see the Soho regulars throughout the day; the old Italian ladies cleaning their steps (now gone), the punters queuing to get into the sex cinemas (also gone) and lunchtime strip joints (mostly gone). The strippers would dart across Soho Square heading from one venue to another without bothering to change, and the club hostesses stood in doorways keeping a gimlet eye out for punters.
The alleyways, pubs and neon-lit cafés are all still there, but the sense of risk that filled the Soho night has dissipated, replaced by the more polite hospitality of SE Asian dining bars. There used to be a lot of residents in Soho, living alongside the tailors and butchers, strippers and waiters. Janice is born of this milieu. It’s why, like your gentle author, she feels out of sorts plonked in the countryside and can’t wait to get home.
This feeling was instilled in me by my father, whose sole trips out of London took place on family jaunts that lasted from 11:00am to 7:00pm (he didn’t like night driving) so by the age of 18 I had only been as far as Kent or Sussex, and then briefly. When left to my own devices I went further intro the centre of London.
I suspect that this limited capacity for movement is common among hardcore city dwellers. I have a friend who thinks that the countryside starts at Hampstead, and even for me now, going as far as Wimbledon is an adventure. I’m reminded of JG Ballard, who rarely left Shepperton to come into London, and about whom it was said; ‘He doesn’t mind where he is, because he lives inside his head.’
Janice comes from a long line of townies, all blue uniforms, her mother Gladys having featured in earlier books. The love of Janice’s life was Ian Hargreaves, with whom she had a daughter, but Ian proved less of a workaholic and got out while Janice chose to stay on at the unit. She has regrets, but being able to train Sidney at the unit is a great compensation.