This blog is written in front of a live studio audience
I have been thinking recently about places, both primary and liminal, and their importance in our lives. This sort of thing is old hat to some – from what I understand, it’s all that architects talk about when they get together for a few chardonnays.* Indeed, when I mentioned that I had been thinking of writing about the concept, a friend directed me to a book that she had read on just that subject. For me, it’s something that I have kinda acknowledged on some level, but never really explored. More specifically, I’m thinking about our places of belonging. More specifically still, I’m thinking about the Local.
Now these things vary enormously from person to person. Your Primary place is your home; perhaps that’s a house, an apartment, a room in a shared space, or the family home. It may be a place you live alone, or it may include your parents or siblings, your partner or children, any configuration of pets and plants, friends, lovers, housemates or relative strangers. There are a thousand things to say about the importance of Home, but that is not the purpose of this piece.
Your Secondary place is work; that place where you spend the majority of your time outside of your Primary place. Whether that’s an office, a hospitality venue, a factory, your vehicle – there are as many of these as there are jobs, so I won’t go into those in too much detail. There is a tremendous amount to say about these too, both positive and negative. From the value and satisfaction of purpose, of labour and work, of community, of financial chains and sometime emancipation. Of capitalist neo-slavery, of breathing room, and pressure, and stress, and freedom. But neither is that the purpose of this piece.
After the others are accounted for, once you have laid the foundations for yourself, your family, your friends, your lovers and your new family, there remains a space as yet unexplored, undefined. A third space. Outside family, outside friends, a personal space that exists within other people and places. Your Tertiary place is where you want to go when you are outside of those first two. Again, this can take as many forms as there are ways to pass the time, but most often, they tend to revolve around some act of consuming. Cafes, bars, pubs, music venues or restaurants. I think the majority of my true Locals throughout my life have been cafes – somewhere to be alone, to drink a coffee and read the paper, to drink a second coffee and do the puzzles. A place to have a casual meal, a friendly chat with your barista or waiter. Somewhere to take a friend and catch up on everything, or somewhere to take a lover the morning after. A peaceful place, a rejuvenating place, a spiritually refreshing place.
Of course, that could equally take the form of that little Italian joint where you’ve gone every Friday night after work for twenty years, ordered the same thing to enjoy with a glass of wine. Or the social club where you go to smoke cigarettes and play cards, or shisha and backgammon. More often than not though, when someone hears the phrase “my local”, they think of a bar or pub they frequent more than others.
The local is a multi-faceted thing. Whether it’s the place that you feel comfortable drinking and reading alone, or where you prop up the bar and chat to the people behind it and the random punters who breast up next to you; or whether you meet your close friends there, your date, your family on Sunday for lunch. It is, perhaps, best described as almost like another room in your house. Somewhere that you feel comfortable, somewhere that you feel, one way or another, like you belong.
And Community is one of the imperative needs of the human animal. Maszlow placed it third, after immediate physiological needs (food, air, water etc.) and safety (personal and financial security, health etc.) After an assurance we won’t die instantly and after an assurance that we won’t die soon, what we need most is to feel that we belong. Put another way; when everything else is safe and stable, the next thing that we need to be is, as Cheers would have us believe, to go where everybody knows your name.
There is no ‘right’ way to do that. If your local is somewhere you like to sit quietly, so be it. Perhaps the regular punters and staff don’t quite know your name, but they know you enough to smile and say hello. If you like to sit and listen to the music or stare, transfixed, at the screen in the corner and let the hubbub wash over you, sometimes that is enough. Maybe that is all you need to feel immersed into the greater stew pot of society, to hear conversation and laughter roll around the walls, to be included in the odd, occasional exchange. Like walking home through a light shower connects you to earth and the sky; sitting in a space outside your own and bathing in the atmosphere that only other humans can provide connects you to the greater warp and weft of society.
If you’re lucky, you’re on a first name basis with people there. They know your drink, and it’s half-poured by the time you get from the door to the seat. They have an answer for you to the question you asked last time, a follow up anecdote or a few more details to fill you in on as part of some ongoing story. Where at least one out of every twenty punters who walks in the door stops to say hello and have a little chat with you.
Of course, it could be that you have a really good relationship with everyone there. You flirt, you chat, you drink together. They know your woes, and you know theirs. You swap shitty jokes in some sort of shitty jokes arms-race with the bushy-mustachioed chap, and he always buys you a beer if you can one-up him. And of course, you reciprocate when he knocks off in half an hour. You’re as comfortable with them sitting next to you with a drink at another venue as you are as a punter at theirs.
It needn’t be a solo thing, either. This venue might be where you meet your friends for your catchups or good times. You can pour hours of friendships into the cold stones of a place before it starts to feel like a sort of home. There are a lot of ways to fit your puzzle piece into the greater picture of society, to weave yourself into a sense of belonging, and a large part of that, it seems is developing your spaces, growing through them, and inviting them to do the same.
Our need to belong is innate; it is a part of us. Even the quiet ones, the introverts and reluctant ambiverts need, in some way to plug in from time to time. A local is an easy, low stakes, low pressure way to do just that; to connect on whatever level on which you’re willing to engage. A place to hear music and human voices, to feel the warmth of other bodies in a room, to taste fine food and beverages. A place to swap stories, ideas, jokes, viewpoints. It is a place where, after people are fed and clothed, after they know where they are going to sleep that night** can address one of their most basic needs. The Local is a place to go to know that you are part of something greater, and as such, it is one of the most important personal institutions we can cultivate. After all, making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?
**Unless it’s a really good night