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The day Bill came to town

Prime Minister Bill English was in Masterton on Tuesday. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

By Seamus Boyer

“He’s just a small man, isn’t he?” says a woman to no one in particular.

That observation made, she continues on her way down Queen St.

The Prime Minister, Bill English, is in Masterton, and there’s a small crowd outside Newbolds when he pulls up accompanied by numerous security staff and his wife.

He looks relaxed, dressed in his shirtsleeves and not wearing a tie.

He shakes hands, smiles, chats.

He’s running late, so over the past ten minutes a small crowd has formed, getting cameras ready and watching a teenager dressed in black pull wheelies up and down the street on a mountain bike.

A young bored looking woman wearing socks without shoes has been smoking cigarettes and sipping a can of V.

But now Mr English is here and he’s shaking a lot of hands.

“Who’s that?” asks a little elderly woman trying to get down the street.

When she hears it’s the PM she hides behind a journalist.

“I vote for Labour, don’t tell him that”, she laughs, before walking right up to him and telling it to his face.

He laughs too.

The television crews have arrived and Mr English is doing selfies.

A couple in their 70s eventually get their turn for a chat after hearing the PM was coming and deciding to hang around.

From Auckland, they “usually vote National”, even though the woman admits she’s related to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

Across the road two shop workers stand in the sun, watching and chatting.

One wants to know what Mr English will do about GST on imported goods.

“It’s hard work for small businesses,” she says.

A man in jandals and socks points at the lamppost – “I wonder if he knows they’ve parked just in front of where those young fullas died?”

“Yeah, that’s bad karma, isn’t it,” notes one of the shop workers.

The teen on the bike pulls another wheelie down the street.

Outside Newbolds a young mum waits with her toddler.

Mr English is taking his time.

“We just want to get in and buy a vacuum cleaner,” she says.

“Do you know if they even sell vacuums?”

She’s a big National fan and contemplates approaching the PM.

“I want to say to him that we always vote for him. That his policies are awesome.”

But they’ll have to wait.

Mr English is generous with his time, in fact, too generous – he’s mucking up the schedule.

“We’ve got to get him down the street to the café,” says Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott, who steps in to pull his boss away from an extremely large flatscreen TV he’s discussing with staff.

Mr English emerges and he’s off down the street.

He sidesteps into Flight Centre for a quick chat with staff before making his way into Ten O’Clock Cookie café, followed by his retinue of security staff and reporters.

Across the road a middle-aged man bristles at the suggestion he approach for a handshake.

“Why would I shake the hand of someone who’s destroying our education system?”

He’s angry.

A woman tells him to go let the PM know what he thinks, but he’s not having it.

Inside the café Mr English is gatecrashing everyone’s lunches to sit and chat and their tables.

A group trying to have a meeting get up and leave, none too happy.

Eventually the PM makes his way over to the sandwiches and sweets on offer for a bite to eat.

There’s blue balloons hanging above the tables.

A grumpy looking older man stands at a distance, arms crossed.

A staunch National supporter, he’s no believer in the Jacinda Effect.

“People are bloody shallow aren’t they.

“This Jacinda, she’s got no experience at all.

“People just go by how she looks, but all she’s got is big teeth.”

Mr English sits and chats with a Times-Age reporter.

His schedule is in real jeopardy of getting thrown out altogether, but if he cares, he’s certainly not showing it.

“He’s shorter than I thought,” says a woman at an outside table, tucking into her lunch.

That’s twice now.

The prime minister emerges from the café, gets into the car with the ‘CR1’ plates, and heads off to Martinborough.

It’s a lovely spring day, two and a half weeks out from the election.

You get the feeling Mr English will be shaking many, many more hands before this campaign is over.

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