Following stints as a traffic warden in London’s busy West End and as a squid cleaner in a Basque Country restaurant, Macrea Clarke is now running ‘Daddytxo’ - a new method for learning English through theatrical techniques.
Despite living in the Basque region of Spain for the past 13 years, the father-of-two remains, first and foremost, a proud Derry man.
“I must say it is ‘the town I love so well’,” he says. “I miss our crowd - we’re thirteen of a family and that leaves a big part of you hollow. The craic at home was priceless.”
It was in 1992, aged 28, that Macrea left his hometown.
Despite good opportunities in the field of acting - following impressive performance in “Shadows on our Skin” and Neil Jordan’s ‘Angel’, starring Stephen Rea - Macrea decided his only salvation was to up sticks and leave Derry.
And so to London where he soon found himself working and living with people of all nationalities. It was also in London that he caught the stand-up comedy bug - something he intends to return to “as soon as I feel that I have mastered the Basque language. This way my act with be totally unique.”
Macrea lives in Urretxu - a small village of 6,000 inhabitants located just 30 miles miles from the coast.
“It’s a sometimes rugged and forlorn landscape but with some of the most valued surfers’ paradises in Europe. It’s a fairly lively place at weekends - somewhere any good Irishman would feel at home!”
Learning the Basque language - Euskera - is, says Macrea, no easy task.
“I have been learning it for about seven years and I’m only now beginning to speak it. Spanish was so much easier. I think learning Russian and Japanese at the same time would be easier than learning Euskera.”
Macrea’s recollections of growing up in Derry remain as vivid as if they were only yesterday.
“Helicopters and petrol bombs! The loud and repetitive sound of ‘pigs’and ‘sixers’ as they sped through our streets and gardens. The screaming insults from friends and neighbours as they banged the binlids with all their might.”
However, there was life outside of the Troubles: “I remember playing football on the Melmore Gardens roundabout, breaking my glasses and listening to The Undertones while sneaking a fag. At the weekends, Rosemount Primary School was our playground.”
Filming ‘Shadows on our Skin’ was, he says, a “mind blowing experience.”
“I recall the first night the crew gathered at the hotel they were staying in and they decided they wanted a swim. Not knowing beforehand that the hotel had a swimming pool, they had arrived with no swimming outfits. This, for a group of artistic people, was not an obstacle and they all began, one by one, to strip off to their underwear and dive into the pool.
“The manager was duly called and he advised the crew that he could not permit their flamboyant display, insisting that it was prohibited to enter the pool in common underwear. To my surprise, everyone then stripped off to their birthday suits and returned to the pool! I had never seen such nudity before. The manager was left speechless and left the pool area quicker than he had arrived. I then realised that life was not for taking seriously - at least not always.”
Life in the Basque Country is, says Macrea, “full of surprises - pleasant and unexpected.”
“The people, in general, are noble and easy to communicate with. My integration was slow and sure and my eventual tri-lingual future will have been worth the effort. Living here for 13 years allows me to claim, quoting my grandfather, that “I know half the village and the other half know me. The people here and in Derry are quite similar because of our shared sense of humour. It’s as black as soot.”
Turning to his new venture, Daddytxo, Macrea describes it as a “simplistic new method for learning English.”
“Based on theatrical techniques, the majority of the classes are structured towards speech development. I learned Spanish listening and speaking and being very creative.
“The majority of Basque people are bi-lingual and are more accustomed to work with languages on a spoken basis. My use of creativity allows the children to study English in a more flexible and pragmatic way. The learning of a language is only complete when you can talk, listen and comprehend all communications forms.”
So, what does the future hold for Macrea Clarke?
“Que sera, sera. I’ll always be a happy wee Derry man, wherever I go. My daughters’ (Iosebe and Aisling) generation, and their children, should be the benfactors of a more stable and less violent society. My upbringing in 30 Melmore Gardens imbued in me an ability to bounce back and come out fighting - the spirit I witnessed as I grew up in Creggan and my education in the Bogside.
“The future’s bright if the past be used as an indicator to prevent the repetition of social injustice and erroneous political decisions. History cannot be allowed to repeat itself again and again.”