Monday, 20 March 2017

Saturday Morning with Mark Staplehurst

In order to find out what a UKIP councillor does I had arranged to follow Mark Staplehurst around on a Saturday morning.

I meet Mark at 9:00 in the morning. He is recognisable from 200 yards away as he is wearing his trademark UKIP purple hi-viz vest. Mark has already been out in the ward on his scooter since 8:00. The scooter has recently been repaired following an accident that Mark had in January. As I don't have a bike we decide the best plan is to walk.

The first stop is a Children's Play Area where Mark pulls a bin bag out of his pocket and we pick up some litter. On the next street we say hello to a passer by who Mark knows. Then we stop at Londis to buy a coffee. Another passer by who Mark knows stops to talk while we drink our coffee.

Back on the move, and picking up litter as we go, we head off to investigate a report of fly tipping. We find some grass cuttings that have been dumped over a fence on a vacant plot. The manager that Mark wants to speak to is out but his assistant fills us in. Then we knock on the doors of a couple of local residents and hear the other side of the story. At the second house there is a dog which makes a break for freedom when the front door is opened, but we eventually manage to coax it back indoors. The grass cuttings issue is not resolved but Mark intends to follow it up later.

We head past the roadworks on West Heath road and meet a cheerful bloke who discusses the roadworks and agrees to put up a UKIP poster at the next elections. Shortly after this we knock on the door of fellow UKIP Councillor Dave Bell. We discuss the upcoming county elections over a cup of coffee.

Further down the road we knock on the door of a lady who is coming to 'We'll meet again', a social event for older residents that Mark helps to organise. Mark fills her in on a slight change of plans. The rest of the morning is taken up with similar calls; Mark clearly feels that his job involves taking care of people who do not have other family around.

Round the corner we visit a couple and Mark asks after the wife. It turns out that she is feeling much better than previously and is in the conservatory having her hair done. The husband complains about never having seen the Police in the local area and also mentions a large pothole on a nearby road that needs fixed. Mark pulls out a small voice recorder and notes the location.

The next door that we knock on there is no response. However nearby Mark notices that the pavement is subsiding and the voice recorder comes out of his pocket again.

On the following visit, we are invited in to the kitchen. The lady is worried about her neighbour who has family problems. They call the neighbour on the phone and the issue is sufficiently sensitive that Mark offers to return without the hi-viz jacket in order to be discreet. Mark makes a note to call back later.

At the next house we visit is a lady who has recently moved house. Mark has helped organise getting her gutters cleared. We also discuss the TV aerials and the security light at the front door before moving on.

Our last visit is another lady and she invites us in for coffee and a biscuit. She describes how Mark helped fix her gas cooker and then says "I have lived in Farnborough since 1953 and Mark is the only councillor I have seen round here in that time". Before we leave, Mark offers to help appeal a parking ticket she received because she thought that the ticket machine was not working.

By now it is approaching midday and I think it must be time for lunch. Mark has to take one of the people from his ward to a meeting with Gerald Howarth (the MP for Aldershot) to discuss disability benefit. He then plans to head back to the ward for some more visits. After following Mark for less than half of his day I need a rest, however Mark still seems to be going strong. Follow Mark's Facebook posts and you will know that he is out doing his rounds in Farnborough every saturday (even at Christmas time).

A friend of mine once told me of old highland proverb: "If you want anything done, its best to see the busiest man in the village". That seems to describe Mark rather well.

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