There is a special Irish interest at this year's London Olympics. Not just Katie Taylor and the rest, but your very own Gombeen Man, who lived in Stratford for 7 of his 9 years in London back in the late Eighties/early Nineties.
It's a bit strange for yours truly to see the reporters standing outside Stratford Shopping Centre, which he trudged through on a daily basis while travelling into Old Street tube station for the daily grind on many a morning, before landing a job in nearby Limehouse which was a bit more convenient.
Back then Stratford tube station was a bit shabby, as was the shopping centre - though not anything as shabby as Crisp Street near the Limehouse workplace. Newham, the borough where Stratford resides, was one of the poorest local authority areas in England back then... it might still be.
I have fond memories of the place though, and our octogenarian neighbours who were a bit Alf Garnett...
They were sound once they got over the idea of a couple of young Irish people moving in beside them during the height of the IRA bombing campaign, which killed many in London and elsewhere. (And yes, I am also aware of the murderous activities of the UDA/UVF scumbags back then too).
Once Alf and the other 'alf (Bob and Anne, actually) twigged we didn't have a stash of Semtex in the shed, and a couple of balaclavas under the mattress, they couldn't do enough for us. Or any blow-ins who might move in, I should imagine. Stratford was like that - at least in our experience.
One other fellow-Irishman might have noticed it too... Stratford staged a couple of Brendan Behan's plays at its Theatre Royal as long ago as 1954, under the guidance of Joan Littlewood. And if you have seen any of Behan's plays, you will recognise that was the very epitome of tolerance.
Good luck to Stratford. I hope it benefits from its status as the venue for the 2012 Olympics.
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