Palmerston Park: A Dickensian Design

Chinese Whispers: a game in which a message is distorted by being passed around in a whisper.

Last month I saw Lenny Abrahamson’s third directorial feature What Richard Did. It starred Jack Reynor as the titular character Richard and offered an intense psychological portrait of a depressed teen with a jealous streak who inadvertently kills a classmate.

In an article for The Irish Independent, one journalist wrote, “The film is primarily based on a 2008 novel by Kevin Power called Bad Day in Blackrock but the real inspiration will be obvious to anyone who has opened a newspaper over the last 12 years.” Inevitably I suppose, this was how the film was constantly marketed both in print and by word of mouth; it was about the guys who killed Brian Murphy.

Several days later I was on the bus and heard two strangers discussing the film. As they chatted and touched on the movie’s climax – what Richard did, exactly- they referred to the film’s murder scene as having taken place in Blackrock, a fair assumption given the constant real-event spoiler alerts and Blackrock-centricity that surrounds the public’s perception of the film.

They were however wrong. In fact the scene in question took place only ten minutes away from my house on Palmerston Road in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines.

I was thinking about this recently and decided to take a trip to Palmerston Park, which I rarely visit despite its close proximity.

Walking through the park, the diameter feels smooth and even and, for me at least registered as being probably rectangular or even square. Hours later I crosschecked this on a map and was surprised to discover it’s far from even. In fact it’s more of a crescent.

The park was opened in September 1894 and excluding the modern inclusion of a children’s play area equipped with slides and swings Palmerston Park has remained unchanged in the hundred years since it was designed. In fact it is a perfect example of a Victorian recreational park designed for all seasons and intended for all people.

If the park appears to mirror Stephen’s Green somewhat, this is because the landscape gardener William Sheppard designed both. Both use the same geometric and formally laid pathways while the pond in Stephen’s Green resembles the pond in Palmerston Park.

Occasionally when I’ve mentioned the pond, people have responded and said that they have no recollection of a pond, but it’s there, nestled at the base of a mound and marked with large limestone blocks and a waterfall. The only minor difference is that there is no water in the Palmerston Park pond. Instead it’s now used as a dumping ground for bark and debris.

On the west side of the park and facing onto a staid lawn is a red brick shelter, very much a period piece, bedecked with brick string coursing beneath the eaves, roll-moulded corners and prominent plinths.

The shelter’s interior is of glazed white tiles while the double pitch roof is made using terracotta tiles. The gables meanwhile are finished in a half-timber Tudor-revival style, similar to the nearby Tramway House on Dartry Road.

For me however, my favourite thing about Palmerston Park are the benches: across the park are cast iron timber benches whose legs and frame are moulded so as to look like the gnarled bark of a tree.

My other favourite detail – shared by pretty much everyone – is the pathway that cuts across the park and goes from Palmerston Road toward St. Philip’s Church. Now, in late October, this pathway surrounded with Gothic railings and finished with steel arches and hanging lanterns is covered with a mixture of crispy autumn leaves as well as the wet golden kind.

For a city that boasts more parks per square kilometre than any other European capital, Palmerston Park is unique: it is virtually unchanged and reflects, in conjunction with the surrounding Victorian properties, the ideas and ideals of Victorian architecture and recreational park design.

It’s also probably the only park in Dublin where you’ll have genuine problems spotting a mongrel. In fact I’m pretty certain I have yet to see one non-thoroughbred.

Jeff Jinx: The Look, The Story & The Sound

Short feature on Jeff Jinx for the Music Review Unsigned magazine…

Alliteration is a great thing when you’re a fame-hungry singer out chasing favourable reviews and notoriety like Harry Potter zooming after the Golden Snitch. Indeed, if real-life were more like Hogwarts, perhaps world-renown would be as easy trampoline-ing in the dark with a fishing net and trying to catch the stars. Except, of course, it’s not. And in the absence of the all-coveted one-word monikers brought about through global success – think Florence, Madonna and Ms. Gaga – then an alliterated name is the next best thing. It’s snappy. It rolls off the tongue and seeds in the everyday blog reader’s brain.

Except Jeff Jinx isn’t Jinx’s real name. In fact, He’s Jeff Myers and while I have no reason to believe he’s any relation to Mike Myers, the creator and star of hit movie franchise Austin Powers, there’s certainly a touch of similarity between the pair: one is a cryogenically unfrozen cold-war spy from the 1970s while the other, Mr. Jinx, is a glamorous, David Bowie-esque musician who’s been gigging since 1978. I never said the similarity was great or striking but it’s certainly there.

Except I’m swimming in deep-waters now: Jinx is a guest writer over at Independent Music News and will no doubt be writing a few stern letters about his highly glam look being mentioned in the same sentence as a goofy film spy famed for his bad teeth. Oh well.

The Look:

The Camden pop band Tribes might have been referred to, as a throwback to 1970s glam rock but the guys never got the look entirely correct. Jinx however has got the look down to a tee – a tight-tee paired with black pants. His face is a powdered alabaster white, and his eyes are rimmed with black makeup that creeps all the way up to his eyebrows. His hair is black and while it’s neither long nor spiky, it doesn’t sit floppy or pancake-flat on his head. Instead it tufts up and juts out which gives him that slightly aforementioned Bowie-air.

The past:

Jeff Jinx and his various, previous bands might sound unfamiliar – Dead Horses, Generation X, Cliché, Stranded and Jeff Jinx and The Gems – but the man’s past has been colourful and varied. He’s gigged with Clem Burke of the American group Blondie and formed Dead Horses with former-Sex Pistol, Glenn Matlock. In 1982, Jinx started I Am Alone with his previous Cliché band member, John Watters, and this time Jinx wrote all his own material.

Of course all starting bands dream of being spotted by big musicians but thirty years ago I Am Alone performed in London’s The Embassy Club and entertained some of the modern-day granddaddies of rock and pop. The Police were on their guest list and their pay-in audience members included Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and Lemmy, the lead singer with Motorhead.

But Jinx, the perennial music nomad did not stay with I Am Alone and moved into other bands and projects including, Memory Plastic and Mr Myers Place. He similarly tried his hand at writing, and kick-started an art career designing LP sleeves and magazine covers. On his list of achievements, Jinx counts a glowing review from Q magazine who wrote, “This guy hollers loud and full like an opera singer and the band are subordinate to him.” As a music writer, would Jinx have said it any differently?

The Sound:

The sound is all about the voice, which bellows from start to finish. Only in Dreams kicks off loud and howling and only backs down at the chorus of Jinx’s “Only In Dreams” trill. Childstar Factory on the other hand, which is featured on Independent Music News’ Indie Artists of 2012, captures Jinx’s high-pitched, sonorous voice and envelops it in a blanket of electric guitar chords. While Waiting for The Tide To Turn is short and offers some juxtaposition for the ears: the music is laid-back but the voice is thick and booming.

Perhaps a 1970s throwback rocker has no place in our modern music world, or maybe, just maybe, the Golden Snitch will finally come out to play.

The Ups and Downs of Project Arts Centre’s “Elevator”

I went to see Elevator in the Project Arts Centre on 21 September. I wrote this review a few days later but never managed to put it up until now. Ewps…

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I once told two friends that I thought I’d like to be a psychologist. They each looked at each other and started to laugh. At the time I was a little insulted but in reality they were probably right. I’d be a rubbish psychologist. Instead of taking notes, I’d probably spend the entire session jotting down the different prices of various sparkly jumpers on the Topshop website and having inner-debates about newly released books for Kindle, which I want to buy but will probably never get around to reading.

This kind of egotistical distraction is exactly what happened last Friday during Elevator in the Project Arts Centre at Templebar. For the first ten minutes I stared at the actors onstage and thought to myself, ‘HMMM, these guys sure have problems. But I bet none of them knows what it feels like to be a phone-less audience member who can’t remember where they’ve seen actor Conor Madden before.’

And for ten straight minutes this continued. I stared at the stage as my conveyor belt-brain looped and looped again with the same caps-lock question each time:

WHERE HAVE YOU SEEN HIM BEFORE?

It turned out that I had seen him in the Irish television series Love/Hate, which although totally different is not necessarily a bad place to start in terms of describing ThisIsPopBaby’s recent musical blow-out, Elevator.

Elevator, like Love/Hate is about excess except instead of pushing life to the brink like Love/Hate’s John Boy and Hughie, the brink has been passed and now the free fall is in motion.

The story is straightforward enough: five life-long friends (plus the house-maid) come together for a party except their host, Johann, is gone. And in his absence, the hedonistic quintet of men and women resort to an evening of cocaine and copulation. They do this of course in total elegance, switching from evening gowns to frilly underwear to expensive furs. Throughout the night, the group’s gender orientation is constantly in flux, and it flies from left to right like a pendulum that is out of control.

Inevitably like all Poor Little Rich Kids, the group push the boundaries of drugs and fornication and ultimately find themselves empty, lacking and alone as their drug ravaged-membranes force them to discuss their deepest feelings. Until of course the drugs wear off that is, and then the techno beats resurface to jump-start the party all over before it goes into crash down mode once more.

Regarding Elevator’s cast, they were without a doubt, excellent: each could sing, dance and act; they were provocative and dare I say it, each remarkably handsome. But Elevator’s standout contribution was its music: throbbing beats permeated the show and amplified the characters’ mixed emotions while the show’s finger-tapping synth songs, mixed with layered vocal harmonies, recounted the story while bringing the musical-theatre genre into a more grown-up sphere that shirked the silly spontaneity associated with many popular musicals.

Elevator certainly had its flaws: at times the story stagnated, and I personally felt that the questions it raised regarding the characters’ excess and extravagance were never really answered; simply posed. Nevertheless it was enjoyable, it was fun, in fact it was what I imagine Cruel Intentions and The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be if the two procreated and produced a play. Now if only they’d put the soundtrack on a disc.