This week’s OA is none other than the Mayor of Aylesbury himself, Tom Hunter-Watts (Paterson, 84-90). Tom was elected to the role in September of last year and continues to serve as the councillor for Bedgrove, a position he has held since May 2011. He took some time out of politics to talk about his memories of the school, what interested him about becoming a councilor and the issues he’s been tackling over the last few years, including his frustration at the Turnfurlong parking nightmare…
Hi Tom. What are your memories of your time at AGS?
I have fond memories, but they are not particularly nostalgic. I think that when you go to school as a child it’s not particularly different to when you to go work; it’s the place where you go because you have to, you do your business and then you go home. To me, it always felt more like a place of work than anything else and I suppose that I treated it like that.
I was a solitary sort of child really, so I filled my bag with books, did my homework and handed it in. It was lovely to be here, but I didn’t enjoy it more than I enjoyed being part of the council, or being in a workplace – it felt much the same as that.
What were your favourite subjects when you were here?
Latin, Greek and English: they were the only things I had any interest in. I plodded along very conscientiously in all the subjects that I had no interest in whatsoever, but I didn’t enjoy them; I was only interested in languages and creative things.
I was excited by words and by language. I was interested too in the excitement of ancient history and the marvellous world that opens up for you, which, in a way, is the world hidden behind this one because it’s the history which has made us what we are. I think if that is taught well it is exciting to anybody, and can open anyone’s eyes.
In games I was floridly bad, really wretched. When I was in sixth form they introduced the option of doing table tennis because certain students were rather feeble and not capable of doing rugby or football, so we got to play table tennis instead. In practice, that meant that you went to the assembly hall where they had laid out some table tennis tables, and you sat on the stage beside the curtains to chat about literature instead. I have fond memories of that!
What was it that motivated you to become a councillor?
I have always been interested in politics and was always an avid consumer of news programmes and the papers. It’s a subject that virtually everyone has an opinion about and some very strong feelings, but few want to commit themselves to it with a party or organisation.
I wanted to take the risk of doing something politically to see whether it could be fulfilling and worthwhile. I was motivated originally by my loathing of the government of the time; if you can move beyond the expression of hatred into something more positive then you know you can have a life in politics.
What issues have you been trying to tackle since you were elected?
As a politician there are so many unforeseen difficulties with everything you try to do. For example, I’ve been working with some colleagues to try to improve the car parking situation outside AGS. We started doing this, full of determination, almost immediately after I was elected, but there’s been no change made at all.
We’ve had great cooperation from the schools, but it has taken an incredibly long time, through a remorseless sequence of consultations and even still you have to continually push and negotiate.
I am told that there are improvements on the way, with some dedicated spaces for boys over at Walton Street car park and marked parking bay areas to allow wider turning spaces for all the coaches; it sounds promising but it really should have happened two years ago, and I apologise.
How are you finding the job of Mayor?
I am enjoying it tremendously. As Mayor, you get the opportunity to meet lots of dedicated, hard-working volunteers who are making very wonderful things happen in their own communities. You really see the extent to which our communities organise themselves and work to maintain a civilised environment; that cannot fail to make you feel good and feel happy about things that are happening.
I do enjoy the day-to-day business of chairing meetings, but you also get to make quite a few speeches. I like to try to make the words mean something that isn’t fatuous or false, to make an impression or stimulate some thought, while at the same time not being overly serious. The other thing you have to do these days is to keep up the website and the Twitter; I find that because I am comparatively young people expect me to be very savvy with that, so I feel like I have to maintain those things – really I hate it, but I have to do it!
By and large the job is tremendous fun, and I’m very proud to do it.
Could you ever have imagined yourself in that kind of role when you were at school?
Oh yes, certainly. I could have imagined myself as a teacher or a vicar, anybody who’s paid to pontificate! I was quite shy at school, but then shyness often masks self-regard, doesn’t it?
I don’t think that I would have been surprised to have ended up in politics, although I am certainly very surprised to be Mayor – that’s something which I didn’t expect at all and an honour you really can’t refuse. It’s not a job that you campaign for or negotiate yourself towards; it’s more of a unifying role. That’s why I was particularly honoured to be offered it, and why I accepted almost without hesitation.
Are there any particular campaigns that you are using the position to promote?
I am raising awareness and funds for the cancer care and haematology unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital.
I am also promoting advanced driving skills; the traffic situation in Aylesbury is so bad, and it’s not going to get any better without a bypass which is never going to be built, so I think it’s important that we try to protect ourselves as drivers.
Because of these road conditions some people get very aggressive and very impatient, so it’s important to ensure that you can get the most fun out of the driving experience and have the most straightforward journey possible from A to B. I’m blogging my own advance driving course on the town council website; I am not a great driver at all, so I think that I’m a useful test case to see if something better can be made out of someone with lots of scratches down the side of their car.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
Representing the town on Remembrance Day, because my father was involved in the British Legion for many years and, although he died last year, he would really have enjoyed seeing that. Undoubtedly, that experience makes it all worthwhile.