Home Forums General Discussion Jess Phillips and the number 11 bus

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    Dear Jonathan Coe,

    My "Warrior MP" daughter tells me that she has been in contact with you. Us Brummies have to stick together don’t we! Yes, I’m willing to concede that even people born in Lickey are Brummies. After all, I used to go on the tram with my Mom and Dad to the Lickeys ‘of a Sunday’ didn’t I.

    I’ve just read a crit. of your book No 11 which I haven’t yet read; I have read most of the others. I thought I would get in touch and tell you that if it wasn’t for the No 11 bus Jess probably wouldn’t be here – how so? Well after leaving school, then one of the first Comps, now paradoxically a Foundation school like your own Alma Mater, and Jess’s for that matter, I had an atrabilious period in which I ended up working in a bank for a time. Don’t ask! This involved travelling each day on the 11 from The Yew Tree in Yardley to Hall Green. I began to observe a group of rather attractive girls who were travelling each morning to what was then Harrison Barrow Girls Grammar School in Hall Green. One of them in particular took my eye, and into the bargain looked familiar. I had been a keen athlete and competed for many years in B,ham Schools and Warwickshire Schools Championships and it struck me one morning that this was the County Sprint Champion that I had seen some weeks before. It then further dawned on me that she was also the sister of my mate Neil. So I went home from the pub one night with Neil.

    Well as she says in her amazing blog "Famous Last Words", we met when she was 15, fell in love when she was 16 and married at 18. Sadly 43 years later we lost her to a rare sarcoma. You should read her blog Jonathan; it’s amazing. It chronicles her last months with perspicacity, honesty, humour and a withering ironic expose of the NHS which I think you would appreciate. Senior leaders in the NHS said that if they had the power they would make all NHS staff read it. She worked in the body representing NHS organisations for most of her life.

    Well there it is, if that sad, lost little bank clerk had just kept wallowing in his copy of Albert Camus’s Outsider and not spotted that rather winsome girl then "Labour’s Warrior MP" as The Guardian had her might never have sprung to life. Burst into life might be a better phrase. Her Mom and I said that the first time she looked at us through the glass of one of those troughs they put babies in she seemed to be saying, "OK, who are you then. I hope you’re going to treat me in the way I require!!" She hasn’t changed much!

    By the way I much admired your biography of B S Johnson. According to the synopsis I read, your No11 novel seems to have some of the characteristics of his texts. I shall go and buy it tomorrow.

    Stewart Trainor


    Dear Stewart

    Many thanks for this message. I have indeed been in contact with Jess on twitter. I’m full of admiration for her courage, her energy, her honesty and independence of mind – not by any means typical qualities, these days, in MPs from either of the main parties. I wish her well not just in her constituency work but in the Herculean task of helping to make Labour a strong electoral force again.

    And thanks for drawing my attention to Jean’s blog. I’ve started dipping into it and it’s incredibly inspiring – readers of this board would do well to take a look:


    Thanks also for your kind words about my BS Johnson biography. I hope you enjoy Number 11.


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